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St Michael's Mount, Cornwall from Marazion

St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall from Marazion

Spring is a magical time in Cornwall, and this year with Easter arriving in late March we can expect our seasonal holidaymakers just that little bit earlier. We can all look forward to seeing hedgerows clothed in the gold of the beautiful daffodils and gorse of which Cornwall is so proud, and there are so many events in our Duchy this month I hardly know where to start.

March is a busy time in the traditional calendar in the UK; the Welsh have St David’s Day, the Irish have St Patrick’s Day but here in Cornwall we celebrate St Piran’s Day as our national day on 5 March. St Piran is the patron saint of Cornwall. Believed to have been an Irish saint who floated over to Cornwall on a mill stone, he is now celebrated with Perrandide (the week before St Piran’s Day), St Piran’s Day parades in Truro, Falmouth, Redruth and Bodmin, the St Piran’s Play at Perranporth and a major role in the Hal-An-Tow play that takes place on Helston Flora Day in May.

St Piran's Day Parade 2015, Truro, Cornwall

St Piran’s Day Parade 2015, Truro, Cornwall

Last year I had the joy of being in the centre of Truro on St Piran’s Day. The city came to a standstill as children from local schools paraded through towns with costumes, musical instruments, banners and proud renditions of the Cornish national anthem “Song of the Western Men”, or as it’s better known, “Trelawny”. This theme continued into the night with the inaugural “Trelawny Shout”. Held across pubs all over Cornwall, the idea was to get as many people as possible singing “Trelawny” at 9:00pm in an effort to raise money for the local charity, the Cornwall Community Foundation. I went to the Golden Lion pub in Port Isaac, from where BBC Radio Cornwall did a live broadcast with the Fisherman’s Friends, of whom I am an unashamed groupie. It such a fun night, though for anyone planning to go this year, I’ll offer this tip: don’t ever, ever try to keep up with Cornishmen drinking cider; it will always end in tears, and a very bad hangover.

Trelawney Shout with the Fisherman's Friends 2015, Port Isaac, Cornwall

Trelawney Shout with the Fisherman’s Friends 2015, Port Isaac, Cornwall

My charming cider-drinking companions from Port Isaac, drink with them at your peril!

My charming cider-drinking companions from Port Isaac, drink with them at your peril!

This year I’ll be with my family at the Eden Project, celebrating the World Pasty Championships and hopefully catching up with the Fisherman’s Friends too.

Spectacular spring display at the Eden Project

Spectacular spring display at the Eden Project

The day after St Piran’s Day is Mothering Sunday, and what more could any of us mums wish for but lunch Cornish country pub? As you’d expect, you’ll be spoilt for choice, but if this doesn’t fit the bill there’s another more unusual lunch venue on offer this year. The Bodmin Jail has its own restaurant in the Jail’s converted Chapel and this year they’re hosting a Mother’s Day lunch accompanied by the Ronnie Jones Jazz Quartet. So if you like your Sunday lunch flavoured with a little history and some fine jazz, this could be just the thing.

The St Piran Play always takes place in Perranporth on the nearest Sunday to St Piran’s Day – this year, it’s the same day as Mother’s Day, 6th March. It was at Perranporth that, according to legend, St Piran washed up on his journey from Ireland. The starting point will be at Piran Point, and at 2:00pm the grand procession let by the Falmouth Marine Band to St Piran’s Oratory and Church will take place. An update will be given on the recent re-excavation of the Oratory and the audience will be invited to sing along with invited choirs. Hundreds of people gather dressed in the black, white and gold of Cornwall carrying the Cornish flag of a white cross on a black background. Spectators are invited to enjoy the play in which dozens of actors portray the stages of St Piran’s life from his early days in Ireland, his journey to Cornwall, his miraculous discovery of tin and his Christian ministry. Just remember to dress up warm, the wind whips around those sand dunes and the spring sunshine can be deceptive – cast a clout as they say!

In the February edition of CT we looked at the work of the Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network (CASPN), and one of the events that CASPN has revived in recent years is the Fenton Bebibel “dolly dunking” ceremony held in West Cornwall. Now a combination of an opportunity to clear up a difficult-to-find site and the bringing back of an old custom, it’s held each year on Good Friday.   Generations ago, children would take their dolls to holy wells on Good Friday to give them a sort of dolly “baptism”. Now it’s a wonderful way to engage the local community and it’s always followed up with saffron buns – none of these hot cross buns for proper Cornish people – though they may be allowed if you bring your gardening gloves and help out with the clean up first.

CASPN - Fenton Bebibell Dolly Dunking

CASPN – Fenton Bebibell Dolly Dunking

While the egg has always symbolized new life and it is easy to see why it fits with spring rituals, in medieval times it was also a much-needed food item at a time when there was little else about to eat. In other parts of the UK there were house-visiting customs where children would go from door to door at Easter time begging for eggs. Now for most of us the Easter egg is still given to children but in the chocolate variety. Combined with the traditional central European Easter Hare, which was taken to the USA by German immigrants where it became tremendously popular before being exported back to the UK as the Easter Bunny, for many contemporary Easter experience is almost wholly secular. But in Kernow there are still traditional events, both sacred and secular, to enjoy at this lovely time of year.

I have a friend, Alex, who enjoys the Easter Day service at Truro Cathedral so much that she makes a pilgrimage there from Plymouth every year, booking accommodation for her and her family and making a weekend of it. When asked why, she said, “It is the whole atmosphere of the Cathedral; partly the music, which is glorious, and the choral quality is just sublime, but the sense of occasion and liturgy are just part of my religious DNA. When I’m sitting in the Cathedral on Easter Day I feel uplifted, fulfilled and very much at home. My boys love the “theatrics” of the service, especially when the Holy water is shaken over the congregation, and afterwards we felt warmly welcomed and thoroughly enjoyed our sherry!”

Interior of Truro Cathedral, Cornwall

Interior of Truro Cathedral, Cornwall

This Easter’s services at Truro Cathedral will not disappoint. There is so much to enjoy; from a performance of Bach’s St John’s Passion by the St Mary’s Singers on the evening of 20 March, to a 5:30am liturgy on Easter Day (sung by lay vicars and choral scholars), or any of the numerous other services as part of Easter week, they are not to be missed. And of course this year we now have the girls of the Truro Cathedral choir singing for the first time along with the boys and the lay vicars so do go along and give them your support. But don’t be caught out – this year British Summer Time starts on Easter Day (27 March) so make sure you’ve turned your clocks back, it would be a shame to arrive an hour late!

Last year on Easter Sunday our family made a pilgrimage of its own to one of our favourite places – St Michael’s Mount. It was such an adventure: we travelled to Penzance by train, which my children absolutely loved (me too); nothing compares to the excitement of seeing St Michael’s Mount reveal itself as the train nears Penzance. We took a taxi to Marazion, but when we got past Long Rock, the traffic was at a standstill. The taxi driver said that in forty years of driving taxis in Penzance, he’d never seen it so busy, such was the number of people trying to get to the Mount. Maybe it was the Poldark Effect, or just because it was a gloriously sunny spring Sunday, but it was an extraordinary sight. So we got out and walked the last mile to Marazion, and before we knew it we’d made it over the Causeway and were up and into the Castle. We enjoyed our picnic looking over the spectacular view back across Mount’s Bay while our children scarpered around exploring. Later we treated ourselves to an ice cream at the Café with some friends from Penzance and had dinner at the welcoming Godolphin Arms before reluctantly heading back to the train station, tired but very, very happy. This Easter the Story Republic will be performing at the Mount; these talented storytellers are renowned for engaging audiences across Cornwall and they’ll be delighting audiences in the Village between 11am and 3:00pm.

Be aware that St Michael’s Mount is not open on Saturdays and remember to check tide times before you go. For the uninitiated, St Michael’s Mount is a tidal island, reached via a cobbled Causeway at low tide but only by boat at high tide. On our return to the mainland last year, we got caught behind a group of slow-processing, photo-taking tourists and found ourselves sloshing through the quickly rising water with five small, increasingly nervous children. Fortunately we got to the other side unscathed apart from our soaked footwear but it’s not something I’d recommend – leave plenty of time and again, check the tide times online via the website (see below).

Whether you’re a local or down for the Easter holidays, I hope you enjoy all that Cornwall has to offer this month, and let’s all cross our fingers for sunshine.


At a glance

Bodmin Jail


St Piran’s Day Celebrations


Trelawny Shout


The Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network


Truro Cathedral


St Michael’s Mount


The Story Republic


© Sally Bell 2016

Originally published in Cornwall Today