Caught by the River

Lines Made By Walking

Jude Rogers | 30th July 2010

by Jude Rogers
18. Site Lines

So we all hopped on a train, or started up a fiery engine, and headed down to Cornwall for the Port Eliot festival. I ventured alone, from Paddington to St Germans, a four-man tent on my back, as well as mud-weather wellies, scruffy clothes for all seasons, and a dog-eared copy of Rob Young’s Electric Eden – which would later be used as an impromptu pillow, wrapped in a jumper and yesterday’s dress. The cider, rather sweetly, made sure I didn’t feel it.

Then on Saturday morning, like a world-weary Ranulph Fiennes, the boots are squeezed on, and the muddy puddles come calling. The site yawns out its rolling hills in the harsh morning light, and then holds its hand out to me, pulling groggy limbs upwards.

a. I leave the fancy teepees behind – I am parked behind them, like a prole having a nose at the high life – and clamber up the hill. It is early, and few people are around, many of them, no doubt, dozing off sleepless nights, thanks to 3am trudges in the dark for the toilet, the 5am lamplight of the sun through taut canvas, the cambers of the ground jabbing into slumbering flesh. All is green, glorious green, as deep as the earth, the sky cutting through it, all papery-white, trying to make its impression on this old, rugged land.

b. I walk down along the river. An old man in a smart hat casts his fishing line outwards, biting his lip as the grey lumbers on. A little girl sits on her dad’s knee, her mouth open like a cuckoo, copying the calls of the small morning birds.

Then the St Germans Viaduct comes into view, stately and stunning as it cuts through the water.

A young couple are asleep on the bank, a messy, lovely tangle of hungover limbs. I think of festivals when I was young, the skinny boys, the warm kisses. The Glastonburies full of mud, muck and murk, then the retreats under tent poles. I shrug off the years, feel my smile glisten, walk on.

c. The path runs out before I reach the village, and the quay that was once busy with timber, coal and limestone. There is an air of privilege hanging on these stones and wet rocks, a gentility that carries itself with the breeze.

The end-point of this pathway is this gorgeous little house, and this tiny little garden, with its lonely, rusting gate. I think about trespassing over its outer limits, and then I see a wooden sign that tells me that it is private. The tiny cannons next to it underline the subtlety.

d. Slowly, around the houses, I walk back. An old, knobbly tree sits tiredly on the incline, wearing its age so nakedly, yet so utterly perfectly.

There are footmarks across the estuary on the sludgy, sodden sand, and branches discarded on the ground like swords left in battle. Red and white bunting sits strewn across the grass , telling me that people have been here, that they have made their mark.

e. When I get back to the boathouse, the sun is coming out, bringing human life with it, gingerly, tenderly. Bill Drummond’s woodwork is set up outside the Idler Academy, while mums and dads loll on deckchairs, straining to keep their eyes open, as the fruits of their pasts roll around on the grass. It is time for another coffee, then a cider, then everything.