« VorigeDoorgaan »
with this on the main. of either fortress or bridge. The chasm has doubtless widened and deepened since their disappearance, and in the present dimensions of the isthmus we observe the wearing action of the wind and sea. The waves at some future day will meet from either side, and the "Island" will be an island in reality as well as in
But not a trace now remains
I went down the hill and to the mouth of the ravine, where the stream tumbling headlong into the sea forms a pretty cascade, and ripples across the rocky bay. By a path at the base of the precipice you get to the isthmus, and from there by zigzags up the face of the cliff to the top of the Island. This ascent must have been less practicable in former days than it now is, if we may judge from description. "In passing thither," says Carew, "you must first descend with a dangerous declyning, and then make a worse ascent, by a path through his sticklenesse occasioning, and through his steepnesse threatning, the ruine of your life, with the falling of your foote. At the top, two or three terrifying steps give you entrance to the hill." Another writer compares it to the passage between Scylla and Charybdis. But though the path be narrow and rough, it is hewn into stairs in the steeper places, and you may mount in safety; though perhaps not without frequent pauses to contemplate the view from different elevations.
The door in the barrier at the top was open, and appeared to have been for a long time unfastened. Within you see a few fragments of an ancient chapel, and an irregular surface of coarse grass, thistles, nettles, thrift, interspersed with turfy hummocks and boulders
of quartz, and crags of slate protruding around the margin. Make the tour of the Island, and you will have a magnificent panorama. Waves sweeping in from the broad bosom of the Atlantic, and breaking in foam on the tables of rock that jut out at the foot of the cliff-the ocean stretching away to infinite distance, the faint silver line where it meets the sky scarcely discernible. Then returning, the magnificent range of cliffs, headland after headland to the east and west breasting the tide with iron-like buttresses. How the white wings of the sea-birds gleam against the dark background! and how the breakers rush into the innumerable caverns and hollows, sapping the foundations of the slaty barrier! Passing the door again, you have the opposite cliff before you; the sea heaping its surges into the bay on either side of the isthmus; the castle on a level with your eye; the church on its bare ridge; a bleak range of hills in the distance; and the mouth of the ravine, the cascade, and the projecting timber stage, which serves as a pier for the vessels that carry away slate. In presence of such scenery you will be tempted to linger; and you will perhaps think that with such coasts Cornwall may afford to be dreary in the interior.
The gull had gone back to its perch on the stone, and seemed a haunting spirit placed to scare intruders. While I stood looking down at the cascade, the swift swoop and discordant shrieks again sounded close to my ears, and the spiteful bird kept up its attacks until I descended to a lower level. From the isthmus I scrambled down between the rocks and huge boulders to the patch of sand, from which the tide was slowly receding. Striding from one lump to another, I could look from the last into the mouth of the cavern, which,
as a tunnel, pierces the Island from side to side. The waves, rolling up the steep sandy slope, rushed foaming under the arch, and then retreating, left the sand bare for a brief interval, during which the dash of the wave at the opposite end could be heard. The tide had begun to fall: I watched my opportunity, and ran quickly across to the cavern. It is slightly curved, about nine feet in height, and a hundred in length, with a floor sloping upwards from each end to the centre. Here I stood observing the effect of the cross lights streaming in, the turbulent play of the water outside, and the rush of the surge as it dashed into the cavern. At times a wave advanced on either end at the same moment: then there was a sudden gloom, a closing of half the entrance, followed by the hissing plunge that sent the quivering foam almost to my feet. Once or twice the water as it came rolling in seemed piled high as the roof of the cavern, threatening a flood from end to end, and inspiring a momentary terror; but it fell down harmless. I stood long enough to impress the scene well on my memory; the green gloom alternate with crossing light and the pale gleams of the foam; the ceaseless roar and heavy wash of the sea on either hand, and then following a wave down the slope got back to the rocks again. Among these huge masses, and under the frown of the mighty cliffs, one feels reduced to insignificance.
The heavy and perpetual wash of the sea is one of the characteristics of this side of the county. On the south, it is only when the wind blows half a gale, almost too strong to be walked against, that you see the mighty surges come tumbling in in their power and magnificence, and without which no visit to the sea
side seems complete. But here on the north, owing to a continual ground-swell, a succession of huge breakers is always rolling in on the rugged shore with a voice of thunder. Even on days when no air is stirring, the long, dark swells present an imposing spectacle. A gentle breeze increases the effect; and under a brisk wind, the sight of the waves urging one another onwards to the beach, becomes impressive beyond description. It is this ceaseless commotion that renders the few harbours on the Bristol Channel so difficult of And the water, never at rest, has fretted the cliffs, already stupendous, into forms savagely sublime. Starting from Ilfracombe, a whole month might be devoted to this north coast with rich reward to the wanderer.
A short distance from the head of the ravine you come to the village of Trevena-Tintagel town, as some call it and a wild-looking little place it is. Not the same aspect of wildness as in Penwith, yet not less striking. Some of the houses are roofed with yellow stone-crop; and the door-posts and lintels being set off by whitewash, and the walls built in zigzag layers, a novel sort of physiognomy is produced. The appearance of the two taverns, the King Arthur's Arms and the Stuart Wortley Arms, denotes the softening influence exercised by visitors. A group of children returning from school were dabbling in the little brook that runs by the roadside, teeming with cresses and wild mint. "Where's Jenny ?" said one. "Hur's gone on a brave bit," replied another; and others, inquiring for a playmate at one of the cottages, were answered, "Hur's gone to hur bed."
Following the road to Boscastle, you have the cliffs
on the left, and a range of hills on the right, once the debateable land between Briton and Saxon. You pass Bossiney, a borough of which its former representatives must have felt as much ashamed as Falstaff of his ragged regiment. Two miles on and the road crosses a valley at Longbridge. What a charming scene, in either direction! Almost a glen, with furze, and trees, and a brawling brook. What a picture in that little mill and its surroundings! Walk down the valley to the sea: you will be delighted. Return, and walk up the valley, if you can. Nature has it her own way above the bridge, and you will not find it easy to get through the brake, sedge, and tangle of the little forest. But a passage may be accomplished, and at the end of a mile you will be well rewarded for the adventure.
Here it is a glen, crossed by a ridge of rocks about fifty feet in height; and guided by the sound of falling water, you scramble up, and find yourself in a narrow chasm, where, tumbling from a cleft thirty feet above your head, a cascade falls into a circular basin, in which it whirls and dances, and babbles of coolness as it flows away to a lower level. Apart from the refreshing noise, the overhanging trees, the trailing plants, the luxuriant mosses, and ferns drooping from the rocks, all combining in the umbrageous canopy, make up a scene that repays you for dusty roads and hours of weariness. And this is St. Nighton's Keeve.
The Reeve is the basin, or bowl, into which the cascade plunges, worn apparently into its present form by the long-continued action of the water. The bowl used by the miner in washing his nuggets of tin is called a keeve. There is another leap of about ten feet, and you may descend to it by returning to the outside of the rocks,