ORLANDO ESSAYS Episode No. 1: From Penzance to Land’s End by Luke Edward Hall
"Penzance boys up in a tree,
Looking as wisht as wisht can be;
Newlyn buckas as strong as oak,
Knocking them down at every poke."
Last July I embarked on a short trip to the wild coast of west Cornwall and here, among the crashing waves and standing stones, a seed of inspiration was planted. My friend Ruth Guilding, who runs the cult interiors website The Bible of British Taste (and the newly launched magazine of the same name), owns a cottage deep down in Lamorna Cove, and I rented it for a few days on a summer whim, with a hazy and rose-tinted picture in my mind of morning dips in the sea, pilgrimages to ancient monuments, gorging on fish and chips... What I was really hoping to achieve was an inspired state. I wanted to soak up a little of this patch of Cornwall’s atmosphere of magic and mystery. A few days is never nearly enough, but I still left the coast buzzing with ideas.
It was a long journey with my whippet Merlin in tow: I drove part of the way from my home in the rolling Cotswold hills; the train was slow and sluggish; a taxi down to the cove took an hour to find at the lonely station in Penzance. On arrival we (both man and dog) were rewarded with an ice cream and that feeling of freedom that always transcends when one’s eyes are wide open to an expanse of glorious sea. And there behind us, peering out from the rocks, our cottage beckoned.
Lamorna Cove sits at the end of a lush valley watered by a stream running down to the sea. My friend Lucy joined me after a couple of days and each morning we’d take the bus from the top of the valley in one direction or the other. We ate spider crabs caught the same morning, we hunted for junky old antiques in Penzance, we walked and walked and each night I took a bundle of Ruth’s Cornish books up to bed, my window flung open to the waves. I let myself become immersed in local folklore: mummers and mermaids and ghostly galleons.
Particularly entrancing to me was the tale of the Sea Bucca, an ancient sea-spirit who, according to one legend, inhabits Lamorna Cove. The Sea Bucca, with his tangle of seaweed for hair, swims in the waves and rests in lonely sea caverns. Once a human prince, the Bucca was cursed by a witch. Although he assists local fishermen by driving fish into their nets and crabs into their pots, the Bucca is also capable of summoning terrible storms: he is known as the 'storm god of the old Cornish'.
This tale, combined with the rhyme at the top of this letter, inspired the beginnings of our autumn/winter 2023 collection. In 1890 the Cornish folklorist William Bottrell stated that he had been told, by persons of credit, that within the last forty years it was a usual practice with fishermen from Newlyn and Mousehole (two small villages close to Lamorna) to leave on the sand at night a portion of their catch for the Bucca. Probably from this observance the common nickname of ‘Newlyn Buckas’ was derived and this rhyme came about. (The original rhyme incorporates the extremely charming word ‘wisht’, a West Country English term which suggests haunted or weak.)
As the collection began forming in a flurry of knits and embroidery samples, we had the idea at Chateau Orlando HQ to put a digital zine together. The zine would be a way to showcase the collection via Sophie Davidson’s spellbinding images, but more than this, it would allow us to tell stories. Much more exciting than your standard lookbook, we hoped.
I originally asked the founders of Weird Walk magazine if they would mind being interviewed, and I was delighted when they offered instead to contribute to our zine with their own written, illustrated and photographic take on Cornish folklore. Weird Walk began as three friends walking an ancient trackway across southern England wearing incorrect footwear, and it is now, six issues in, leading and lighting the way. With their magazine, the founders ‘hope to fan the faint embers of magic that still smoulder in the grate and conjure that elusive temporal trackway of history and mystery, a weird walk that bypasses nostalgia and leads us back towards optimism and re-enchantment’.
I am delighted that we were also able to include a short piece of writing from Ruth Guilding on Lamorna and its particular and peculiar atmosphere.
We will be sharing stories from this zine over the next few months here at chateaurorlando.com.