Friday, October 1, 2010

PLUG into the sun

The economic way forward for solar energy

Andrew Tanner is one of the country's foremost experts on renewable energy, and Managing Director of the award-winning solar panelling company, Plug Into The Sun. “We aim to be the best solar PV installation company in the UK, offering a high quality professional service to enable our clients to reduce their carbon emissions,” Andy explains.

Plug Into The Sun works with householders, community groups, schools, businesses and Housing Associations throughout the South West. “We get a lot of satisfaction from helping customers power their own homes,” Andy says, “and we're helping larger users like farmers and landowners so we can really make an impact.”

Andy's interest in sustainability started when he was at university. “I had a degree in engineering, but the first earth summit, in June 1992, made me realise that it wasn't just about the environment and the economy. We needed to piece it all together. That understanding of holistic thinking totally changed my life.”

Realising that change must come from within the system, Andy started working for Penwith Council. “But the existing structure was very restricting, so I spent 5 years providing education in schools telling them all about sustainability.” At the time no one in the South West could install solar panelling, so Andy decided to retrain as a builder, electrician and roofer. “I knew it all intellectually but by becoming a builder and general dogsbody, I learned how it worked practically.” Andy set up the company in 2004, and expansion has been rapid. “By Christmas there will be 20 trained professionals ready to assist with installations of any size.”

Information is readily available on the company website. “Free of charge, we assess your property, energy requirements, budget and the technology most appropriate for your site,” Andy explains. “We provide options on quotes and variations, then on accepting the quote we organise the connection with Western Power, do the planning, installation and paper work and you get the Feed In Tariff – we make it as easy and painless as possible.”

Given that we aren't blessed with huge amounts of sunshine, how does it work? “Solar panelling still works in daylight hours, though blue clear skies are definitely better than drizzle,” Andy replies. “We can work out how much solar energy will be produced over the course of a year.”

Andy gives the following example of the cost of solar panelling. “Based on a typical 2kw domestic system, that would cost £9,000 to install and produce 2,000 kilowatt hours per hour (kW h).
The Feed In Tariff scheme introduced by the government in April means you get paid for every unit of electricity that you generate. They pay 41.3 pence per kW h, so each year you would get £826,” he explains. “If you can use that electric you will also save on your bill because you don't have to buy it in. A timer could help so the sun is powering your electrical appliances – that could save you up to £300 per year.”

In summary, Andy continues: “Your £9,000 investment gives you £826 per year and you save up to £300 on your electric bill. So you save £1100 per year which is a 12% rate of return – that's much higher than any other investment will offer you.” But that's not all the good news. “The Feed In Tariff is also tax free, index linked and government guaranteed.” He laughs. “It sounds too good to be true but there isn't a catch!”

Andy believes that solar panelling will soon become mainstream because “the system and technology is all there. But we need the awareness, which is why working with schools and young people is so important. The general public also need to know what an incredible deal this is.” He pauses. “As individuals we can all help save the planet and get our own energy from a sustainable source. We can make a massive difference.”

Plug Into The Sun, Unit 5E, Long Rock Industrial Estate, Penzance TR20 8HX, Tel: 0844 800 9512
For details on the Feed in Tariff and other information visit
Community Energy Plus for independent energy advice and financial aid on 0800 954 1956 or

Cornwall Today October 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010


A walk through a wooded valley, then climb up for wonderful views over Bodmin Moor

On a very cold Wednesday morning, Mollie Dog and I picked up Viv and her dog Titch to head for the wilds of Bodmin Moor. We'd been planning this walk for months – literally - but the winter was plagued by rain, ice, snow and more rain. Then Viv had the flu. So we set forth, desperate for a good walk and a catch up. Ditto the dogs.

Heading up the A390 we turned left onto the B3360 to Doublebois (“do you pronounce it Dooble bwah?” asked Viv), crossed over the A38 and continued until we reached the hamlet of Redgate. We took the lane on the left and a quarter of a mile crossed over Draynes Bridge. Beyond that is the Golitha Falls National Nature Reserve and opposite a large car park with some public toilets that were closed because of snow (though the snow was long gone). Crossing the road we followed a man with two boxers and set off through the woods towards Golitha Falls.

There are various footpaths leading through these woods along the banks of the River Fowey. For the first time in months, the sky was a clear blue and sun dappled the ivy clad trees, but there was an icy wind that had us huddling into our scarves and coats, walking fast to keep warm. Mollie and Titch, having been cooped up in the van for over an hour, burst forth like rockets and powered up and down the river bank, in and out of the trees, greeting other dogs as they ran.
The beech trees are all covered in a thick green moss, like hot water bottle covers (very useful given the recent winter) – though the moss is apparently lichen which I've been told is a sign of pure air. The trees are protected by a Tree Preservation Order and are a relic of the ancient woodland that once covered much of the surrounding area. There are several abandoned mine workings here, some of which are home to bats such as the noctule, brown long-eared and lesser horseshoe. Many varieties of birds have been recorded here, including buzzard, dipper, nuthatch and treecreeper. And if you visit in warmer times, you can see all kinds of moths and butterflies, including the silver-washed fritillary.
As we walked, we noticed a large pipe suspended over the river on mini pylons. This made the dramatic surroundings look like a James Bond set and I quite expected Judi Dench to pop out of the hillside saying, “Oh, James!” Sadly there was no sign of Daniel Craig or the esteemed Dame, so we wound our way over a succession of small wooden bridges back and forth over the river. At this point the dogs realised they'd got stuck on the other side and Titch panicked and decided to swim back to us. Not a good idea in mini-rapids. Viv plunged into the freezing water to retrieve him while I coaxed Mollie back along the river bank and, nerves frazzled, we decided to head up into the trees, away from the fast running water.
Looking down, you get a much better view of how the Fowey River passes over a series of cascades for over eight hundred yards. Golitha is actually pronounced 'Goleetha', from the old Cornish word for obstruction, and the falls looked magical with the sun sparkling on the pounding waterfalls against a backdrop of moss covered boulders. As we climbed up we noticed an extraordinary tree, again covered in lichen, with clumps of little twigs sprouting from it like baby hedgehogs.
We joined a higher path which wound through abandoned mine workings and eventually back to the car park. We had intended to walk up to Siblyback Dam, but the instructions were too confusing so we set off for King Doniert's Stones instead. Leaving the car park, we noticed a sudden drop in temperature as we walked back over Draynes Bridge, which was built for pack horses in the 15th century. “Do you think something terrible happened there?” said Viv, her voice wavering.
I consulted my book. “Yes, King Doniert drowned somewhere along here.” We looked at each other and hurried along the road where suddenly the temperature rose – and not just because the sun had come out. “Spooky,” muttered Viv darkly as we turned right over the bridge.
At the end of this road we turned left at a T junction and climbed up the steep road until we reached King Doniert's Stones which have been set in a walled off area on the right of the road. The Doniert stones are parts of early mediaeval crosses made from local granite, richly carved and dating back to the 9th century. The shorter stone carries a Latin inscription which translates as “Doniert ordered this cross for the good of his soul”. It's thought that King Dumgarth (Doniert) died in AD875.
There are incredible views over the moors from the stones – the village of St Cleer snuggled to our left, the church spire dominating the clutch of houses, and Viv recommended The Crows Nest pub at nearby Darite. We sat on some granite slabs to eat Viv's home made rock cakes which lived up to their name, and, rising with very cold bottoms, we headed left, back the way we'd come.
According to our OS map, a series of public footpaths led back across the fields to the car park. We found the first through a gate a few yards down the road on our right and confidently headed down through very rough moorland, pockmarked with hoof, paw and footprints. The lichen here was even more dramatic, dripping from the branches like ghostly grey beards. On our right was a quarry, into which whole trees had fallen, and a pond on our left, covered in thick emerald weed.
Ahead of us, through the hawthorn trees, lay a discarded sign, trampelled into the mud, a yellow waymark sign pointing to heaven. Viv was undeterred, and crashed through the gorse, map to hand. “We go down here, then turn left at a junction,” she called.
Sure enough, we found a path on the left which led back to several large fields – but the footpath disappeared, and the only route back was through a gate leading back to the road. Poring over the map in freezing wind conditions for another 5 minutes was enough: we retraced our steps back along the road, passing shy clumps of snowdrops, rhododendrons and camellias in bud. The first cheering signs of spring – mixed with a few flakes of snow.
With visions of being snowed in, we hurried back to the car park (and experienced the same dip in temperature) and as we climbed back into our van, saw the same man with his boxers, once more setting off towards Golitha Falls. We blinked, but yes, it was his blue van parked next to ours. This time, though, he had three dogs with him. Had two hours really passed? Or were we dreaming? There really is something in this moorland air.

OS Map Explorer 109 Bodmin Moor
Length: Approximately 2.5 miles
Time: 1.5 - 2 hours
Grade: Walking near the falls is uneven with lots of tree roots, though the first part is suitable for wheelchairs. The walk up through the woods is steep in places, and can be very muddy.
Be careful near the river with dogs and young children.
There are public toilets at Golitha Falls car-park and information panels are provided for visitor information
King Doniet's Stones mark the believed burial site of a Cornish King who drowned in the River Fowey in the 9th century.
Nearby Siblyback Lake is one of Cornwall's main reservoirs and a popular watersports and recreation centre.

Cornwall Today September 2010

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Learn to Play - Lawn Bowls

I've always thought of lawn bowls as a quintessentially English game. A smooth lawn of emerald green, the subdued thud of the bowls, and silent men and women dressed in white, frowning over their next shot. I was unprepared by the warm welcome from Helston Bowling Club, who are celebrating their 250th anniversary. Watching them in action, the players take the game very seriously but judging by the sudden peals of laughter, enjoy every second.

Helston Bowling Club was formed in 1760, and are thought to be the oldest bowling club in Cornwall. In those days there were no other teams to compete with, so it wasn't until 1906 that athlete Archie Frazer organised what was probably the club's first match with St Austell Bowling Club.

Clifford Thomas has been a member for 52 years and originally brought along his new wife, Gloria, to help with the teas. “Women weren't interested in playing at first,” said Gloria. “It used to be the more well off people that played. I've been a member since 1963, and am one of the four founder members of the ladies section. Two of the original four became international players – two were Clifford's twin sisters. In 1966 we affiliated to the county and never looked back.”

Clifford explained, “The club was always in debt but since the women joined, they've organised the fund raising and fetes that keep it going.”

Between 1968 and 1984 the Ladies Section won every county competition, as well as national titles. Gloria was National Pairs Champion, British Isles Pairs, World Bowls in Canada, International and World Bowls Champion. I gulped. How long would it take to become a good bowler?

“If you haven't mastered it in 3 years you never will,” said Clifford stoutly. Gloria added, “Like all sports, there are layers of competence. You need a good man (or woman) behind you and you have to have the will to win. At international level you're playing for 3-4 hours so you need to be able to concentrate for that long and that's where a lot of people fall down.”

My hopes sank – how could I possibly learn enough in an hour? But Joint Chairman, Peter Heyden, led me to believe there was hope after all: “It takes about 6 hours coaching to get you to a level to enjoy yourself.”

Lawn bowls is evidently a very sociable game, and people can play at different levels. “Some play in the day for fun,” explained Peter. “The second level of people play at weekends and club matches, and the third level play at the organised leagues and national competitions.”

There are currently 31 lady members of Helston Bowling Club, and 55 men. Ages range from 40 upwards and members are taught by qualified coaches. “Most men who've played cricket or golf adapt quite well to bowls,” said Peter. But Gloria pointed out, “You can't teach the feel of the ball.” She laughed. “So many people say it's like Marmite – you either love it or you hate it!”

In addition to their ordinary fund raising, the club have one day a year for a children's charity. “One of the nicest things is how we all look after each other,” said Gloria. “It's also good exercise and it's fun!”

Lawn bowls is played from the second week in April to the second week in September outside, and short mat bowls are played inside in the winter. “For competitions, you should wear the proper non- slip bowling shoes in white or grey,” Peter said. “The outfits are in brown, with white or grey for county matches.”

So now it was time for me to have a go. First of all Peter handed me one of the bowls, a large black ball weighing 3 ¼ pounds. “We all use different size bowls according to different conditions. The balls are slightly curved on one side, and it's this shape, or bias, that makes it turn,” he explained “The basic idea is to get more of your bowls by the jack (a small yellow ball) than your opponent's. You count one shot for every one of your bowls that's nearest.”

Next I had to learn how to hold the bowl – not as easy as you might think. “Make sure you hold the ball the way you want it to bend – in your case (because I'm right handed) with the heavy side on the inside,” he said. “Take the ball in your left hand so that when you transfer it to the right hand it turns over. You try and hold it on the grips of the ball with the centre finger in the middle – this way it won't wobble.” And he manhandled my reluctant fingers into position.

It wasn't very comfortable and my first shot went wide. “Eventually people find their own way of holding the ball that's comfortable for them,” Peter reassured me. Next to us were some highly competent players, concentrating on their game amid sudden gales of laughter – not aimed at me thankfully.

“Balance your left hand on your right thigh,” said Gloria. “Step forward and let the ball go gently.” I did as she said and - “Look at that!” she said, as the bowl actually headed in the right direction.

From then on I began to get the gist of it, my small hands struggled to grasp this huge black canonball. But somehow it went in the right direction. I could see what Gloria meant – this really is fun! But as she said, “You do need coordination and concentration. And never bowl directly at the jack.”

The next time she eyed me critically. 'You're adjusting your weight now. Very good! Did you feel that was different then?”

I could, but I couldn't have said why or how. Half an hour later, I was really enjoying myself, but my time was up. To my delight, Gloria said, “You'd be very welcome to join the club here – you showed great promise.”

Coming from a World Champion, that was a real accolade, and I floated away with visions of myself following in Gloria's footsteps. 2012 here we come?

Bowls is a sport in which the aim is to roll slightly asymmetric balls, called bowls, closest to a smaller bowl called the "jack" or "kitty".
Bowls has been traced to the 12th century but was banned, fearing it would jeopardise archery, vitally important in battle. Bowling alleys were first established in London in 1455 but many of the alleys were connected with taversn frequented by gamesters
In 1541 a law banned the lower classes from playing bowls at any time except Christmas, and then only in their masters' house and presence. Anyone playing bowls outside his own garden was liable to a penalty of 6s 8d, but those in possession of lands worth £100 annually might obtain their own licences to play.
The (Royal) Victorian Bowling Association was formed in Austrralia in 1880 and the The Scottish Bowling Association was established in 1892, although there had been a failed attempt in 1848 by 200 Scottish clubs.Today the sport is played in over 40 countries with more than 50 member national authorities.
The average bowling green is 40 yards square
Indoor games last about 2 hours whereas outside games take 3 or 3.5 hours.
At international games take 4-4.5 hours.

Cornwall Today July 2010

Port Isaac Fisherman's Friends

“We're just a bunch of middle aged men having fun!”

There can be few people who haven't heard of the Fisherman's Friends' sudden leap to fame after Johnnie Walker's producer heard this group of friends singing while he was on holiday in Port Isaac. He later rang and offered them a £1m recording deal with Universal Records.

John Brown starts the story. “When we first got the chance to get this contract Peter (Rowe) said 'I think we should hang on a couple of years'. And I said, 'Peter you haven't got a couple of years!'”

The Fisherman's Friends consist of ten men, all connected to the sea by fishing, lifeboats or coastguard work. They range in age from 50-76; nine out of the ten met at Port Isaac primary school and have grown up together. “We're suspicious of what the others are doing so we have to stay together to find out!” says Peter Rowe, the oldest of the group at 76. There's a burst of laughter, before John Brown grins. “I'm so naïve – I thought we were friends!

The group started singing with Wadebridge Male Voice Choir years ago because “that way of singing keeps the timing and keeps us in tune. You need discipline. And yet our success comes from the complete opposite way of singing,” points out Billy Hawkins.

The tradition of singing had almost died out in Port Isaac “so we started singing to keep some of the old songs alive, then we broadened it to shanties,” says John Brown. “We sing for the love of singing,” adds John Lethbridge, “and because we're all too old to play football so we had to make an excuse to go to the pub somehow!”

These men have remained firm friends over the years, which is evident from the easy banter and roars of laughter that punctuate our conversation. “We're like a big family unit that all has little squabbles but they don't last,” says Billy cheerfully. “We're all very in touch with our feminine side now!” adds John Brown.

Their catchy sea shanties have found an incredibly diverse audience, with worldwide fans ranging from aged 2 to 90. “The thing is that we all enjoy ourselves,” explains Peter. “We're not a manufactured band, and our singing comes from our soul because we love singing. There's no point in singing songs we're not happy with – they don't mean anything to us,” adds John Brown. And they are determined that success won't change them. “That's one thing we would hate,” says Trevor Grills staunchly.

Their CD came out in April 2010, and became an instant success, being the first ever folk song to be in the Top Ten. “The songs are very catchy and now we've put music to them I think it's broadened the appeal to different age groups,” explains John Brown.

Part of the appeal of the Fisherman's Friends must lie in the fact that they are a tight knit group whose lives are not ruled by material possessions. “We're pretty much lucky people,” says Billy. “We enjoy what we do and we manage to make a living out of it.”

“A bit of money would be handy I suppose, but we've got everything we want, and we live in a beautiful place,” says John Brown. “Cornwall is right behind us and it's much appreciated.”

Cornwall could have no better ambassadors than these quick witted men with their wholehearted appreciation of the community in which they live. To say nothing of their stirring voices.

Cornwall Today July 2010

Anyone for tea?

In 1841, Duchess Anna Maria, the wife of the 7th Duke of Bedford, started drinking tea with a snack mid afternoon, to keep her going between lunch, at 1pm, and dinner at 7pm. She began inviting others to join her, and it soon developed into a social occasion. By the 1860s the fashion for high tea was very popular, with tea drunk from the best china and bite sized morsels arranged on small china plates. Bread and butter, scones, finger sandwiches and cakes were among the foods on offer.

Charlotte Lean, 41, wasn't satisfied with running her own business organising corporate events, so she set up another one, specialising in promoting Cornwall as a destination for visitors from all over the world. Then came the opportunity to use her organising skills in a different capacity – planning weddings. On top of that came the idea to hire out vintage china. “Apparently it's called a Portfolio career!” she laughs as her husband makes tea for us in their kitchen (in mugs, not vintage china cups).

She started collecting vintage china in May 2009 because she saw a gap in the market. “Someone put an email out on Network Cornwall asking if anyone knew where she could get hold of vintage china in Cornwall,” explains Charlotte. “I said I'd find out for her so I did some research and the girl who had hired out china had moved away. There was a company in Dartmoor but no one in Cornwall, and I thought - I could do that!”

Charlotte's drive and enthusiasm are evident, as is her flair for business. “It ate away at me for about 24 hours and I thought - I've got to do that! So I did.” She was helped by the fact that her mother used to be an antiques dealer. “I've always had a bit of a rummage thing going on! I like jumble sales, car boots, charity shops – I love finding a bargain.” She smiles. “I didn't have an inherent love of china at first but I do now!”

Unlike many collectors, Charlotte doesn't collect sets of china, but simply buys what she likes, so nothing matches. “It's all unique with different designs,” she says. “I've got some Doulton, Staffordshire, Spode - some really expensive pieces - but I choose my pieces because I like them and I think someone else is also going to like them.” And evidently her taste is just right.

At the time of interviewing, Charlotte had enough china for 220 people “and counting!” which is kept at home, though she is looking for a more secure lock up place where the whole collection can be displayed. It's no wonder her shed is bursting given all that she has collected. “I've got pretty cups & saucers, gorgeous cake stands & plates, table linens & runners, candles, candlesticks, bon bon dishes, glass cake stands, lace edged doylies, big china platters, sugar bowls, tongs, milk jugs and teapots,” she says, proudly showing me examples from the collection, stacked in huge plastic boxes.

Given that she is rightly proud of this fabulous collection, I was intrigued to know how she cleans it. “I ask for it not to be washed at all so it comes back as is, covered in cake and cream,” says Charlotte. She talks quickly, as I suspect she does everything, and you can almost see her ideas brimming up and over. “I do all the cleaning and hand wash everything except the cutlery (which is the only stuff that's new). Now I know how to do it properly to avoid breakages.” She has learned this system through trial and error. “The thing is the pieces become very fragile when they're warm,” she explains. “So everything's hand washed and air dried – no towels as that smears and streaks the china. It also gives me the opportunity to check it over for cracks and chips before I put it away again.”

So far Charlotte has hired out her china for weddings, charity events and for Kneehigh Theatre three times. “We did a Brief Encounter tea party once as a thank you to the Friends of the Hall for Cornwall and that looked amazing,” she says. “I'd also like to do special occasions: 60th birthday tea parties or Golden Wedding anniversaries – anything with a nostalgia look.” She stops and grins, as we've both just seen Alice inWonderland. “I also thought about doing Mad Hatter Tea Parties!”

So far she is fortunate in not having had any breakages, although “I do have on every quote that breakages, losses and damages are payable at replacement value.” Charlotte can cover the whole of Cornwall, and transports the china in insulation wrapping, either in large plastic containers, or wicker baskets.

When it comes to cost, Charlotte is prepared to be negotiable. “The prices are on my website but I would hate to think that on someone's special day, they can't afford what they want. I have 20% off at the moment as a summer discount.” The reason why it's difficult for Charlotte to quote a price is because everyone has different requirements. “I had a phone call last week for a wedding on the Sunday and her mother in law came the day before and picked it all up! Literally, if I have the day free, I don't need much time to set it all up.”

Charlotte is flexible enough to provide a DIY service if people want, or she can set everything up. “Every event is completely different and special to those people,” she explains. She provides a free initial consultation and can also find venues, visit on site, organise a florist, catering and suggest themes.

Witnessing her enthusiasm, it's evident that Charlotte has found her niche here. “What I most enjoy is having that initial contact and seeing it through to completion,” she says. And what does she hope other people get from her tea parties? “Something that's organised and is there for just them. When people need you the most, being there for them.”

Given this kind of work, there must have been times when things have gone wrong. So how does Charlotte cope? “I've likened it to having the most calm exterior and just have a back up plan for absolutely everything!” She grins, and it's easy to see why she is so successful. “I'm solution based rather than problem based so there can be the most horrendous disaster going on but 1) don't look like there is, 2) don't react and 3) think it through logically without panicking.”

By this time we have explored just about all of her lovely collection of china, in perfect condition, lovingly washed and wrapped and stored. She shuts the shed door and we return to the house to check over the bargains she bought at the weekend. “Vintage is the ultimate recycling,” she says holding up a beautiful china teacup. “It's all being used for what it was made for.”

Charlotte Lean
Wedding and Special Occasion Services

01726 71520 / 07737 712770

Emily Barr - an author well known for running away

Emily Barr's latest novel, The Perfect Lie, is about secrets, lies and escaping. “As in all of my books there's a lot of running away,” says Emily. “I don't know where that comes from, but the idea behind it is that you can't run away from your problems. You have to face up to things and the fear is worse than the actual confrontation. Not that I'd like to leave my life behind but part of me is living the idea of that freedom.”
Ten years ago Emily took a year out of journalism to backpack around the world and wrote a diary column for The Guardian. “Part of me felt I'd done a bit of career stuff and it was the time to do it,” she explains. “The world was out there and I had no responsibilities - it seemed like a now or never kind of thing. But it was a very impulsive decision.” When she returned she began writing bestselling fiction, set in exotic locations.

Now with three children, her travelling time is severely reduced. “I researched my first book, Backpack, for a year and now I'm down to a week if I'm lucky,” she says. “The last one was set in India and I managed 10 days away.” She looks out of the window. “There's a feeling of freedom about having all your stuff in a bag. Maybe we could do that again when the children have left home because I really do miss it.” She laughs. “My eldest is always asking when he can come along too – he's 8!”

In The Perfect Life, when a stranger records Lucy rescuing a child from the cliffs, the footage ends up on television, and Lucy's 'perfect' life begins to unravel. She flees to Venice, desperate to stay one step ahead of an evil figure from her past.
Emily's books all have a sinister twist, but she's not sure where that comes from. “I think my dark side comes out in the novels, but I do think that makes the characters more interesting,” she says. And Emily's main characters tend to have dependency issues with alcohol or drugs, Emily doesn't write from personal experience. “I don't think I could be addicted to anything no matter how hard I tried, but I do know someone who's an alcoholic and is estranged from the family. I find it fascinating that someone can be ruled by a substance to the extent of dropping everything else.”

Emily counts herself as lucky – all the unhappy things in her novels are made up. “I got quite alarmed when I was writing The Perfect Lie, thinking 'where is this coming from?' It was horrible.” She flips back her hair, a habitual gesture when she's thinking. “But my parents split up when I was 6 and I spent my whole childhood trying to keep both parents happy.” She smiles apologetically. “I'm almost glad now, because I think if you've had a totally happy and secure childhood, maybe you don't have much to write about.”

All writers have different ways of working, but Emily needs activity around her. “I can't sit at home and write,” she explains, so she writes in a cafe. “I work much better if there's something going on around me.” And being a writer fits in well with motherhood. “It's good discipline for me to stop and get the children from school which I think is nice for them.” She pauses. “Though sometimes that can be deeply frustrating! I love spending time with my children but it would drive me crazy to do it all the time.”

Emily and her family moved from France to Falmouth last year and she feels it's a wonderful place for children to grow up in. “I'd always thought that we couldn't move to Cornwall because everyone would hate us for being English rather than Cornish, but it's so not the case. Children's lives can be so restricted now and I try and let mine have more freedom but it's hard. James takes them climbing at Maenporth up the rocks and through the caves and I have to restrain myself from looking!”

Cornwall has even given her some ideas for the future. “In addition to my novels, I am interested in branching out a little bit. I feel there's a gap in the market for easy children's chapter books for age 5 and 6 and I'd like to have a go at that.” She smiles. “I have half an idea for a children's book already – a kind of Swallows and Amazons adventure set in the creeks.”

If her adult books are anything to go by, the children are in for a real treat.
The Perfect Lie is published by Headline in May 2010

Monday, June 7, 2010

Leader of the Pack


Dr Uwe Gerecke, 44, has a quiet steadiness that animals – and humans - respond to. He came to Britain from Germany 12 years ago, met the lady who is now his wife and moved down to Hayle to be with her. Since then he has combined his work as a veterinary surgeon with that of an animal behaviourist. “It's always so intriguing to get behind the cause of a problem,” he says in his calm voice. “It's like detective work: trying to find what has caused it, what triggers it and how you can go about changing that.”

It was Uwe's interest in animal behaviour that led him to becoming a vet. “A vet practice is set up mostly for small animals and the vet has an average of 15 minutes for a consultation, clinical examination and conclusion, so that's not enough time for behaviour cases,” he says. “Now I work part time as a clinical vet two, three or four days a week and the rest is animal behaviourism.”

Uwe has found that if a dog has a problem, it can often be traced back to how a dog sees his place in the 'pack'. “A pack is a family so you have the parents - the leaders, the 'alphas'. The others are the followers, usually females,” he explains. “Dogs in general are happy followers which makes them well sorted domestic animals if you get it right. But quite often the dog doesn't understand what his place is and that's when the trouble comes in. If a dog has a problem they like to rely on the family to help them.”

Another very important aspect is that dogs regularly check whether the leaders are doing a good job. “If the leaders are too old or ill they can't do the job any more so it is a natural thing for dogs to check them. We might see them as being naughty but that is just how they are.”

This observation of pack behaviour led Uwe to set up pack walks near his home for animals with behavioural problems. “A pack walk is a very natural thing for a dog – it's an activity that the pack does when they migrate, forage for food, or check boundaries,” he says. “The leaders have to keep the order and signal to everyone not to stray too far, especially to the young ones, and there has to be a certain discipline for it all to work.” He smiles. “For us dog owners we have to take on that role. It's always a bit of a balance. The dogs can't just do what they want and think they are the leaders.”

Uwe first noticed the benefits of pack walking when taking out clients' dogs. “I introduced other people with dogs with behaviour issues and I found the clients were very happy to find other people who know about dogs with behaviour problems,” he explains. “A lot of dog owners get very hostile looks from people if their dogs have problems. They get very awkward and embarrassed but here in the pack environment, it doesn't matter because we can talk about it.”

Uwe likes to have a consultation with a dog and its owner in their own home before they come on a pack walk. “I need to assess the dog, and see how it is likely to respond to other dogs,” he says. “For instance, I can't have a very aggressive dog for safety reasons, and if the dog is very anxious then I would keep it in the background during the walk.”

Uwe can take up to 8 dogs on a pack walk including his own two lurchers. “Usually people come for several pack walks, but we have our regulars who just love it. Owners and dogs gain confidence at the same time.”

As my editor had suggested I take part in a pack walk, Uwe first came to my house to visit myself, my husband and Mollie. Mollie is renowned for providing an exuberant welcome, but to my astonishment, she bounced up to him, sat down for a pat and then took herself off for a snooze while I interviewed him. Star quality. I wasn't quite so sure how she'd fare on the pack walk, however. She has a tendency to either be bossy with other small dogs, or go to the other extreme and cower behind my legs.

So we arrived at Uwe's house on a damp and windy Tuesday morning and met the other walkers. Today there were 9 dogs, including Uwe's 2 lurchers, for the benefit of myself and the photographer. We set off with the dogs barking at full volume, but by the time we reached Trencrom Hill, the dogs had calmed down and were let off the lead. Being the smallest, Mollie found all these huge dogs a little intimidating, so we loitered at the back.

One of the walkers was Steve, whose dog Wes, is half Beagle, half Labrador. “We've only been on one pack walk, but we've never had a dog before and we have two small children,” he said. “Wes just had small problems like pulling on the lead. He was starting to bark at us a lot and we didn't want him to get aggressive but Uwe says he's just being playful, so we're doing the right thing.” He smiles down at Wes, cheerfully chasing his new mates. “We came last week and it was good exercise and good discipline and has definitely helped.”

Juliet is a regular on the pack walks with her Jack Russell Hal and Bracken the Border Terrier. “Hal doesn't like other dogs and he can be quite aggressive,” she says. “Hal has a lot of issues but here he's mixing with other dogs and is more relaxed because Uwe's in charge. I think a lot of it's to do with me because if I go out and I'm fearful, he picks up on it whereas here I'm much more relaxed.”
Her sentiments were echoed by many of the pack walkers.

Led by Uwe, we walked round Trencrom Hill until we reached the top, where the dogs had a wonderful chase round the rocks. We then headed back down the hill, nearly losing Bracken in the bracken, and at the bottom, the bigger dogs started scrapping. Instantly Uwe was there, calm and quiet. He parted the trouble makers and order was reinstated – in minutes.

Many of Uwe's cases are rescue dogs, as are several of the dogs present on this day. “Some dogs develop problems if they have to move homes,” explains Uwe, “or they have issues with their first owner and when they can't cope, they pass the animal on so the next owner has to deal with issues dating back to the first owner.”

Thankfully Uwe is on hand to give these dogs and their owners the advice and help they need. Too often we dog lovers treat our animals as children, when of course they're not. “Many people see their pets through human eyes and humanise them,” says Uwe. “When I tell them just a few basic things about how dogs think, that's a real eye opener.”

By this stage of the walk we're in the field outside his house and the dogs are having another play session, bounding through the grass, tails wagging. “This work teaches me to look at both the dog and the owner,” Uwe says. “Not only to look but to talk and to listen. What do they say? What do they think? How do they feel about their dog?” He smiles thoughtfully. “In the process you meet a lot of nice dogs – and people. Oh – and cats!”

Dr Uwe Gerecke
Gonew View, Lelant Downs, Hayle TR27 6NH
01736 337076
07779 035131

Consultations available by appointment via email, by phone or at home.

Cornwall Today June 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

Juliette's Stall

The roadside stall that was once home to pigeon carriers

“My parents started this stall over 40 years ago,” says Juliette Burley, her bright blue eyes assessing me like an inquisitive bird. “I first came here when I was 13 years old, with a stall and a trailer - and now I'm 45!”

The stall in question – which was once a pigeon carrier - is along the A39 Truro to Falmouth road, in a layby near Perranarworthal. Anyone who travels along this road will know it – the tubs of freshly picked flowers outside, racks of fresh vegetables and fruit, and inside is a cornucopia of delights ranging from free range eggs and freshly picked mushrooms, to home made cakes and Vicky's home made bread. Everyone is greeted by Juliette – or one of her two daughters – with a cheery “hello, bird,” a twinkly smile, and there's always time for a chat.

“In an average week I must have produce from 10-15 local farmers,” says Juliette. “It's all local sourced from the other wholesalers. Then there's Vicky's bread from Helston, Gwavas supply the milk, butter and cream; cheese is from the Lynher Dairies in Stithians and the flowers are from Cox's in St Keverne.”

We go and look at the produce section. “The honey's from Bob at Peninsular Apiaries, in Moresk Road, Truro – he's been supplying it for 20 or 30 years but he's threatening to retire now,” she says, miffed that a friend could do such a thing. Then there's marmalades and jams from Kernewek marmalades, and home made cakes from The Cake Tin at Tregony. “She came to me as she runs a chicken farm and needed something to do with the surplus eggs,” says Juliette. Behind the counter are trays and trays of eggs. “I sell every egg you can imagine – Jumbo, Large, Duck, Goose, Chicken. They're all free range and all from our farm.”

As to her selection of produce - “I supply what I'm asked for. And mainly what's in season – I try to stay with the seasons. The suppliers come to me, but then it's got to be the quality and the price.”

Popularity of food depends on the season. “I started with cauliflowers and people come to me for them because they want the bigger ones – the ones you can't get in the supermarkets. Anything that we can get local that the supermarkets don't stock I do well on, like Sevilles in January and English apples.” And winter is usually her busiest time. “Winter's always busy because people cook more,” she explains.

Seeing Juliette at work, it's clear that she wouldn't swap it for anything else. “I've always done it, except for 4 years off when I was a postie,” she says. “I love it so there are no pros and cons! I would one day love to put up a shed here but that's not going to happen,” she continues resolutely. “We'd never get planning permission. It'd be nice to make it easier. But that's life in general, isn't it?”

She nips off to serve a customer and returns, where we left off. “I get fed up when it's quiet and the day drags, about this time of year,” she says thoughtfully. “We don't ever have a day off. But I come and go as I want.”

Juliette and her partner farm her parent's farm at Perranwell. “We've got 500 chicken, 70 or 80 pigs, a few bullocks and lambs for the freezer here – and of course I breed my Kune Kune pet pigs! I've been breeding them for 6 years – they make great pets but they also make fantastic sausages – people come for miles for the sausages.” I blanch at the idea of eating my pets and Juliette nods. “I have Dilly and Daisy and there's no way I could eat those two – they were my first two and my breeding pair.”

Breeding pigs is clearly in the family as Juliette's older daughter Michelle is breeding Mangalitza pigs. “They're pigs but with sheep's wool,” Juliette explains. The woolly coat helps them to survive the harsh winters in their native Austria and Hungary, and in the summer it helps protect them from sunburn.“We're the nearest farmers from Cheshire to have them. They have marble-effect meat which is very tasty, and they're nearly ready to eat now.” In amongst the photographs of pigs (her own reared pork and lamb is kept in a chest freezer to the right of the counter) are pictures of beautiful floral designs at various weddings. “Michelle's a florist by trade,” Juliette says proudly.

Despite the never ending work, Juliette clearly thrives on the contact with her customers. “I have hundreds of conversations in one day,” she says happily. “I see people coming in with their kids and now the kids have got kids, they've been to university and now they're back home again! Generations of 'em!” She grins and those bright blue eyes twinkle again. “I get holidaymakers that come every year for donkeys of years and they book so they can take stuff home with them!”

Perhaps surprisingly, Juliette has noticed that a lot of her customers are teenagers. “It's the students now (from University College Falmouth) that are starting to eat properly,” she explains. “It's been slowly building up over the last couple of years I suppose, because vegetables are cheap food.” She laughs. “They come in for mange touts and what not and there's none of them at the minute so I'm trying to educate them with the seasons!” Luckily for her, she's found that the recession hasn't had much impact. “Sales of the big bags of potatoes have gone up because people realise that £3.50's a cheap meal.”

Many of Juliette's customers come from miles away. “I've got a girl from Exeter and she diverts from wherever she's sent in Cornwall to get the bread!” Juliette laughs. “Then there's the onions, shallots and garlic come from Roscoff – my little French man comes over four times a year and people come from miles around to buy them.”

Given that Juliette has run this stall successfully so long, I am interested in what advice she has to anyone wanting to set up a similar business. “It is hard work – there's never a break,” she says thoughtfully. “But I was taught, don't be afraid to make waste. You can't sell waste so if it looks off, eat it!” She grins and insists on wrapping up my bunch of carrots for me. “That'll be a pound, please, bird!”

Shopping at Juliette's stall is more than just buying quality food at good prices. It's about having a chat and a smile, lifting the mood of the day. Which is why Juliette's stall, like her, has become such an integral part of so many of our lives.

Juliette's Stall Opening hours
Open Tues – Thurs 9.30 – 4
Friday 8.30 – 4
Saturdays 8.30 – 2


Cornwall Today June 2010

Halwyn and Old Kea Church


On a springlike afternoon, the first after what has seemed an endless winter, Mollie Dog and I took the A39 Truro to Falmouth road and turned off at Playing Place for the King Harry Ferry. Just past the Punchbowl and Ladle pub at Penelewey is a turning left to Coombe. We continued along this road, past the head of Cowlands Creek, up the hill and past a farm where we turned right and after about a mile took a sharp turning right down to Coombe where we crossed over two cattle grids and parked on the side of the road.

Here we were given a joyous welcome by Viv and Titch. Mollie surpassed herself by singing a soprano solo which was answered by Titch's reedy tenor, and to this tuneful accompaniment, we headed down onto the foreshore and turned right by the public footpath sign to Lower Lanner Farm.

Heading up a steep path in between houses, we passed clumps of snowdrops on mossy banks, the first primroses, and sleepy orchards on our right. At the top of the lane we ignored the signpost to Cowlands and carried on up and over a stile and into a steep field. At the top of this was another gate and we hauled ourselves into another steep field with a bunch of crows, a few stray daffodils and an old wooden seat next to a few fir trees.

From here we drank in the wonderful view looking down on ships moored in the river Fal which wound its way round to Cowlands Creek nestling through the trees to our right. After a brief rest we continued on, through another muddy field where the dogs frenetically chased rabbits, and at the bottom was a gate where we turned left into a lane. Opposite Lower Lanner Farm was a public footpath sign on our right – and another sign saying Bull in Field. Viv and I wavered, neither being that fond of bovines, let alone the testosterone-fuelled, untethered variety. But this was work, so I clambered over the gate to do a recce while Viv held onto the dogs on the other side of the gate.

Wading through thick mud, I saw no bulls but what looked like woolly mammoths. They were probably a fold of Highland Cattle, for they were shaggy and would have been rather cute if they hadn't been quite so large, nor had such fierce Viking horns. We eyed each other up, and I looked back at Viv. “They're behind an electric fence,” I said hopefully. “They can't hurt us.” Viv shuffled through the gate, whereupon all the cows got to their feet and trotted towards us to say hello.

Viv turned very pale. “Hello,” she squeaked to the cows. “We're just doing a walk for Cornwall Today...”

Perhaps the cattle are keen readers, for they jostled nearer but I grabbed Viv and we hurried along, escorted by our hairy friends. At the far end of the field, pink faced and laughing, we tumbled over a stone stile and landed in a small lane. Here we turned right and continued for about a quarter of a mile, arriving at Old Kea Church which was dedicated to the lesser known Cornish Saint of Kea, also known as Che, Lan-te-Ke, and Landegea. His help is sometimes invoked to cure toothache.

It is said that St Kea landed here on his first visit to Cornwall, making it one of the ancient sites of Celtic Christianity. The crumbling 15th century ivy clad tower is all that's left of the old church and is fenced off, but the chapel next door is well worth a visit. This tiny place worships using the 1662 prayer book, and services are held twice a month and at Christmas and Easter. The churchyard has only a few ancient headstones, but is a wonderfully peaceful place, with clumps of snowdrops nestling in the grass, a dessiccated rhododendron, and birds tweeting in the still of a spring afternoon.

Leaving the church behind, we continued down the lane following the smell of woodsmoke to several cottages by a fast running stream. To the right of this was a public footpath sign and we headed across an open field and through an iron gate that led to an orchard with a small granite cross on our left, and an upturned boat and a small wooden bench on our right. We continued through another gate, past a large thatched house on our right where the lane twisted round past last year's rosehips, through a huge puddle and past two cottages on our left which led to a small road.

Turning left here, we walked along a lane full of catkins, heard the squawk of a pheasant and the distant drone of an aeroplane flying over Coombe Creek on our right. “Look – that must be a sign for the tea shop,” said Viv hopefully, but as we neared, it said Temporary Road Surface. The lane must have been hewn out of a hill, reminding me of Elizabeth Goudge's Little White Horse - the banks were about six foot high, with green roots and gnarled branches twisting eerily out of the gloom. In some parts, the walls were composed of moss and slate covered in dusty pale green, like tarnished copper, and topped with all kinds of patterned ferns.

At the top of this hill we reached Higher Trelease Farm and further on, a sign saying Unsuitable for Motor Vehicles, and we headed down that hill. (If you're going to Halwyn for tea, park here and walk down the hill.)

The scenery here was like a Rowland Hilder painting – bleak fields with leafless trees stark against a grey sky and a buzzard soaring high above the woods. Further over were the densely wooded banks of the Fal river and the huge ships moored up there.

At the bottom of this hill, the lane petered out and we saw a sign to Coombe. Next to this was an old wooden gate with Halwyn painted in faint letters. “Oh good – tea,” said Viv. A beautifully restored farmhouse lay ahead, so we walked into the yard, past bright tubs of crocuses and polyanthus, and two inquisitive cats peering at us. Unfortunately the tea shop doesn't open till Easter - “What, no food?” cried a horrified Viv, so we skirted the house and climbed over a stile on our right into a field with a horse in. The path led through the bottom of several fields and over more stiles until we reached a path on our left into some woods.

Walking on a carpet of oak leaves, we noted glossy young holly trees, but everything else was smothered by ivy, glistening darkly in the feeble sun. There was thick mud in places so we stopped and looked down on Roundwood Quay opposite, which looked like a setting from Swallows and Amazons, with adventure in the air. Further on was an orchard which in spring looks wonderful with a carpet of daffodils and snowdrops, and we followed the path downhill and turned right towards Coombe Creek.

As we came out of the trees and walked along the footpath we could see that the tide was very high, covering the entire foreshore, and not a ruffle of wind disturbed the water. Whitewashed cottages with plumes of woodsmoke were studded into the hills amongst Kea plum orchards, and a few mallards swam quietly down river. We stood in silence, for this really is a little piece of paradise.
It even made up for missing tea.

Map: OS Explorer 105, Falmouth & Mevagissey
Length: 4 miles
Time: Approximately 1 ¾ hours
Grade: A few steep hills, can be very muddy in parts
Refreshments: Halwyn tea shop open from 3rd April 2010
Directions to Halwyn by car: Follow directions above but ignore the last sharp right turning to Coombe and continue up the hill past Higher Trelease Farm. Park by the sign saying Unsuitable for Vehicles and walk down the hill to Halwyn, though there is parking for disabled at Halwyn itself.

Cornwall Today June 2010

Liz Kessler


“This town has everything I've ever wanted, all in one place,” Liz Kessler says, showing me round her lovely house in St Ives that looks incredibly tidy considering she only moved in the previous day. “It's beautiful, and has a real community that I feel we've become part of and been welcomed into.”

Liz is originally from Manchester but moved to St Ives last summer having lived on a narrowboat, then toured round Europe in her campervan with her friend Laura, and her Dalmatian, Poppy. “St Ives is quirky and cool and cute and it's got a very artistic community for artists and writers,” she says. “It just has everything I want to keep my soul happy!”

Which is just as well considering that Liz has a busy year ahead. “I've finished the Emily Windsnap series and the Philippa Fisher series will be finished with the next one out in June,” she says, with a bubbly enthusiasm that is catching. “I've just been offered a contract for the next two, and in America Orion have announced 2m worldwide sales which is great.” Then she looks at me, anguished. “I don't want to boast, but I have to say that, don't I? So in September I'm going to Atlanta Georgia and Nashville for a book tour. And I'm doing St Ives Festival in May and September, and various other ones. So a busy year but all really exciting!”

Liz doesn't have children, but is adept at getting inside her characters' heads. She attributes this in part to her nephews and nieces, but also “I think it's the way I look at the world. I'm idealistic, open-minded and bouncy, and writing for children allows you to have fun, be innocent and excited about things and fantasise!” She grins. “And I love being around children.”

Liz started off as a teacher, then trained as a journalist and taught Media Studies in a Sixth Form College. One day she played Fantasy Lives with her mother and everything pointed to her being a writer. “That was in 1999 and I said I'm going to be making a living as a writer by the end of the year - though I didn't know how!”

Liz signed up to do an Novel Writing MA but soon after was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. “In a way that fuelled the whole idea,” she says. “I was 33 years old – it's just not what you expect. But I think cancer often has a gift inside it and that was quite an important part of me becoming a writer. If you want to do it, just do it.”

With that outlook, it's not surprising that Liz sold her first book, The Tail of Emily Windsnap, which turned into an extremely popular series. Her other series, about Philippa Fisher, came from an experience she had as a child when making a daisy chain. “I just had this very strong feeling that the daisy was going to become a fairy at midnight,” she says, and became so scared in case it became “a bad fairy” that she threw it out of the window. “The next morning I was devastated because I knew that was my one chance to have a fairy and I'd thrown it away.” Thankfully a friend had other ideas. “She said, Liz this is great – you're a writer. This doesn't have to be the end of this fairy.”

Thus Philippa Fisher was born, and in the last in series, Philippa Fisher and the Stone Fairy's Promise, she and her best friend, Daisy, must prove their loyalty to each other. “Having strong relationships, whether it's with friends, family, partner, or a combination of all, is what life's about for me,” says Liz. “I don't consciously write about them, but if those ideas of love and loyalty and trust seep through to children in terms of feeling good about themselves, then I'd like that.”

Bullying is another theme but not, thankfully, one that Liz writes about from a personal experience. “For me it comes from a sense of justice and fair play,” she explains. “I like people to stand up to things and for people and not just let bad people get away with things.”

Liz says she owes her inspiration to two women, the first being her grandmother. “I loved her with all my heart,” says Liz. “There was nothing literary about her but I made her a book of my poems when I was little.” The other was Liz's English teacher in the sixth form. “She changed my life really,” she says. “I think of her as the first person who really made me think I had any talent and she had the ability to bring it out.”

Listening to Liz, it's clear she is extremely content. “I love what I do and I love my life and I'm so grateful for it, particularly now, living here in St Ives in this lovely house,” she says. “I don't want fame and fortune. I just want to be able to make a living doing the thing that I love doing.”

Philippa Fisher and the Stone Fairy's Promise is published by Orion Children’s Books on 3 June 2010 in hardback, £9.99

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Enys Estate

A sheltered inland walk around ancient woodlands in between Truro and Penryn

My American friend, Izzy, discovered this walk not long after arriving in Falmouth. Unused to strange names such as Restronguet, when her partner asked her where she'd walked her dog, she said, 'Oh you know, over Restaurant way.' Since then, this has always been known as the Restaurant Walk.
So one disconsolate Saturday, Mollie Dog and I drove through Penryn and turned right towards Mylor and Flushing. This road took us to Mylor Bridge, where we met Viv and Titch, Mollie's boyfriend which resulted in a joyful and noisy canine reunion. Taking the first left into Comfort Road we drove past Mylor school and continued until we reached Broads Lane on the left. We followed this road to the end, turned left in between two granite gateposts, a Public Footpath sign, and signs saying Recadjack Cottage and Ponds Cottage, and parked in on the right.
From here we headed uphill along a rocky path and the dogs bounded ahead, making up for several weeks of abstinence. On our right were open fields and on our left, the woods and boundary of Enys Gardens.
The Enys estate, which has been owned by members of the Enys family since the 13th century, starting with Robert de Enys in 1272. In World War II Enys Estate provided the shore headquarters for the Royal Dutch Navy crews and the garden is considered the oldest in Cornwall. J D Enys (1837-1912), an inveterate traveller, regularly sent seeds and plants home from New Zealand and Patagonia, so the garden is well worth a visit. The lakes in the lower valley have a water wheel which raised water to the house, and in spring the bluebells in the parkland, known as Parc Lye, provide a fabulous rich purple carpet.
Passing a sign to Ponds Cottage and then Recadjack Cottage on the left, we continued uphill until we reached a yellow waymark sign on our left and clambered over the granite stile into dense woods. “Spooky,” said Viv, a wobble in her voice. Being in company I felt much braver, though the first time I came here I jumped at every snapped twig and ran when the wind rattled the trees. Today there were no such distractions, and as the first rain drops fell on the leaves high above, I reflected that as this walk is largely undercover, it's a good walk to do when it's wet. No wonder I know it so well.
We walked on a carpet of well trodden leaves, in amongst younger beech trees and ancient oaks, past young bright ferns and ivy entwined round various branches. Emerald moss grew, so thick and luscious it was almost like fur, and further on were huge ferns, and the biggest oak tree I've ever seen: you could set up house in its roots.
Following a Public Footpath sign stuck in a tree, the path curved round to the right past a smallholding down below us and we continued through a collapsed kissing gate – had there been too much passion? - to emerge in a large meadow, where the dogs ran riot. We carried on down the path by the side of the meadow, through another ramshackle gate and down steep steps into Horneywink Wood.
A stream runs here, which the dogs love, so we stopped for them to have a good splash and then carried on up into the woods, which became thicker and more dense. This area is believed to be undisturbed since ancient times, and contains many trees of a great age including oak, beech, sycamore and rowan. Given the other-worldly feel of the woods, it was almost like a scene from Narnia, and I wouldn't have been surprised to meet a centaur or faun and invited for tea. But nothing as excited transpired, so we headed up a rockier path with the stream chattering on our right. Here was evidence of some very ancient trees, stone walls smothered in moss and rotten tree trunks lying like beached dinosaurs.
Further on we took a right hand fork – there are no waymarks here so the path is not very clear - through a thick patch of rhododendrons with young waxy leaves, past toadstools like dirty golf balls, while the two dogs roared up and down like greyhounds on a racetrack. When we came to a very muddy patch, we turned sharp left up another leafy lane. At this point we thought we'd lost both dogs but Mollie appeared and waited while we shouted for Titch (a not uncommon event). Finally he appeared so we were able to continue, past rowan trees and brambles, until we came to a junction where we turned right past a waymark scene and into a field that led to Enys drive at the top.
We didn't walk along the drive as there were cattle grazing, but retraced our steps back through the field on a carpet of dense clover. After so long of walking in the woods, it was pleasant to step out and feel sunshine on our arms and faces. Out of the field we followed the yellow waymark sign and turned right, where it looked as if a huge tree trunk had blocked the path, but in fact we squeezed round it and continued downhill, back into the woods.
This steep leafy path, covered in crunchy leaves, was skirted by ivy on our right and rhododendrons on our left – the leaves had curled up looking like cigar casings (a new sideline for the Enys estate, maybe?). Ahead ran Mollie and Titch, like a canine Bonnie and Clyde, until we came back to the loop where we'd branched off earlier.
Retracing our steps, we found the granite stile out of the woods and turned left up the rocky lane until we passed a sign to Recadjack Cottage on our left, passed through a kissing gate and into a ploughed field. Following the path round to the right we kept to the right hand side of the field where Viv was convinced she could hear a child crying. In fact it was a lone buzzard that mewed and swooped overhead so, relieved, we reached the end of this field, passed a campsite on our left and turned right down a stony path which can be very wet and uneven in winter.
At the bottom of this path we turned left down an even muddier bridleway with stone walls on our left. At a junction we turned sharp right past a sign to a cattery, and headed downhill past a rickety shed on our left, and Elin Cottage on the right, to a farm. I'd been telling Viv about this farm's wonderful (and very good value) free range eggs, but sadly when we got there – “Oh no!” I cried. “No eggs!”
My menu blown for that evening, we continued down the rocky path, past a huge wood pile (I eyed it wistfully thinking of our woodburner), past a sturdy stone cottage on our right that Viv fell in love with - “I can just imagine myself living there,” and finally returned to the van. Faced with the prospect of no egg and chips that night, we just had to go and have a cream tea at Enys Gardens.

The Enys Trust
St Gluvias
Penryn, TR10 9LB

Map: Explorer 105 Falmouth & Mevagissey
Distance: 3.5 miles
Time: 1 ½ hours
Grade: Rocky paths, can be muddy and frequently wet underfoot
Refreshments: at Enys gardens
Enys gardens open from early April until end of September, every Tues and Thurs from 2-4pm and the first Sunday of every month from 2-4pm. The gardens are closed in winter.
Dogs must be on a lead in the gardens.

Cornwall Today May 2010

Dear Hound


The Worst Witch author turns to her own dogs for her latest book

“It's a bit like falling in love,” says Jill Murphy, sweeping me along with her enthusiasm. “Illustrating is like breathing because I've always been able to do it – it's fun. But getting the story right is a delight. It's almost as if the character sits on the end of the bed and waits for you to put them in the next scene.”

Jill is probably best known for her Worst Witch books, which are some of Puffin’s most successful titles, having sold more than 3 million copies and been made into a major ITV series, though Jill has also received various awards for her picture books.

Unlike some writers who take years to learn their trade, Jill began very early. “I wrote my first book at the age of 6, stapled it together and the teacher read it aloud,” she says. “Afterwards one of my friends said could she borrow it, so I wrote a sequel and I had a little lending library for all of my friends.”

When Jill was young, there was very little choice in children's books. “I read everything that Enid Blyton ever wrote, but there wasn't really anything else.” So she and her friends made their own entertainment. “Because I was the quickest reader, I would read a book and then we'd play it all day! Libraries were incredibly important then, because there wasn't anything else to do.” She shifts on her beanbag. “Nowadays there are so many distractions for poor kids – they never get five minutes peace to sit down and concentrate on anything.”

As a voracious reader herself, Jill is keen to encourage others. “I hope my books make children want to go on reading,” she says, and the passion is evident in her voice. “Reading is such a lovely thing to be skilled at because it's the gateway to everything else you want to do – even stuff on the internet.” Her own taste is very wide. “I'm fascinated by the Tudors at the moment, but I love any factual historical stories.” She smiles. “I can read anything from Womans Own to really quite cerebral type novels!”

She gets up to stoke the fire. “I don't think many people can say that their dreams have come true, certainly about their career. But it was just there, all the way through me like Brighton Rock!” Her words tumble out at speed, and I get the impression of a strong person, yet with great sensitivity. “My mother and father were amazingly supportive – they were always behind me. All I wanted was to sit at home and draw and tell my stories, which is what I've always done so I've been incredibly lucky. One thing I learned when I was growing up was how to be grateful.”

Jill's interest in Cornwall began when she was in her mid-twenties, visiting a friend in Rock. “I just fell in love with the North Cornwall Coast,” she explained. Ten years ago she settled in St Mabyn, where she now lives with her son and two deerhounds. “St Mabyn is my perfect place to live. The people are friendly, there's an excellent primary school, wonderful village post office and shop which is the hub of the village. And a beautiful church with a high tower which is so comforting when you’re driving home.”

It's Jill's interest in her surroundings that provide the inspiration for her books. “I wrote all the earlier books before I had children just by observing everyone else's,” she explains. “Everything is based on something that has fascinated me.” She smiles. “A lot of Mildred (in the Worst Witch series) was based on me at school as I was always very scruffy and untidy.” And this understanding of what children – and their parents want – comes across through her many fan letters. Iris Drouet, age 7, writes, “Mildred has a cat called Tabby who's a clumsy cat and he hates flying! I liked Tabby as a character because he’s special in his own way.”
Jill's affinity with animals is clear from her books, and it was a real life incident that prompted Jill's latest book. DEAR HOUND is about Alfie, a large deerhound puppy who loves cheese, digging holes and his owner Charlie. But one day, Alfie gets lost and he’s scared – of thunderstorms and never seeing Charlie again. Meanwhile, Charlie doesn’t know what to do – but one thing is for sure: he’ll never stop looking for his dear hound.
“It actually happened,” says Jill. “Grace was my son Charlie's first dog and he absolutely adored her. We did everything it says in the book to try and find her.” The illustrations are delightful and poignant, particularly one of Charlie, looking desolate. “I found him looking out over the gate and he said, 'I'm making her come up the road, Mummy.' He was so sure she was going to come out, I could almost see her coming round the corner.” Then just as Jill started to write the book, Madeleine McCann went missing. “I was so upset I had to stop,” said Jill. “Eventually I pulled myself together and finished it - I think sometimes children need happy endings.”

At this point she goes to fetch her deerhounds. As they nose the door open, I'm stunned by the size of these gorgeous grey animals who sniff me all over, then give my face a thorough wash. Scout drinks my coffee dregs and Kiera settles onto my lap with a contented sigh. “Their characters are so extraordinary, so gentle,” Jill says gazing fondly at them. “If they were in a fairytale they'd be enchanted elderly aristocrats from the Middle Ages. They're eccentric, and just lovely!”

Dear Hound is a wonderful tale of never giving up hope, of a child's best friend – and the best possible tribute to these truly loveable dogs.

Dear Hound is published by Puffin.

Cornwall Today May 2010

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Contact Details

Mollie is integral to the to the walks that I write about, for companionship, for joy and for laughter. She is my fun side.

01326 312356

The Kidz Are In Town

“One of the kids wrote me a letter saying, 'I wouldn't be alive now if it wasn't for Kidz,' ” says Phil Barnett, founder of St Ives-based Kidz R Us, one of the leading youth theatre groups in the country. And in today's fame obsessed culture, these children learn vital life skills. “These days it's all computers and things you do on your own, whereas here they make friends, they work in a group and learn discipline. They also learn that if they work hard they can achieve something really extraordinary.”

Phil, 49, fizzes with enthusiasm, which is just as well considering he works on six productions at a time and has so far directed 59 of them. His day job is his hairdressing business in Hayle which seems apt given his surname. “I've been here over 25 years and built up quite a good business,” he says cheerfully. “I'm able to just do a few mornings a week and then I come here 60 or 70 hours a week volunteering.”

Phil's great love of the theatre stemmed from seeing his first pantomime aged 9. “I was totally spellbound by it!” So at the age of 10, unknown to his parents, he went alone to the next auditions. “They gave me the part of a henchman,” he says. “Ten years later, someone dropped out of a show so I learnt the principal part over the weekend. That gave me the bug again!”

From then on there was no stopping him, and in January 1994, he and Margaret Banfield, from the local operatic society, assembled a group of children to stage a concert to raise money for Save the Children Fund. This was such a resounding success that Kidz R Us was born and now caters for up to 100 children from the age of 6 upwards.

But it's not just about talent. “I was a trouble maker at school and I understand those kids best because I have an affinity with them,” he says. Other children, who might have been abused or self-harm, are referred by Social Services.

“I believe in education and I send the kids on lots of courses,” he continues at high speed. “Every 3 months we have a professional choreographer, physical theatre classes, or one of the top vocal coaches in the country. I believe you can increase your skill level in whatever you do, so I try to get the kids working on their weaknesses. If they have the confidence and self belief to stand up here on stage then I tell them a job interview's a doddle.”

In January 2009, Kidz created the Amateur World Premiere production of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Likes of Us, to an enraptured audience. "Tim Rice gave them a standing ovation and said the production was actually better than the show!” says Phil, beaming. As a result, Tim Rice is now their patron.

Choosing each show is a collaborative effort. “I make a shortlist of six and talk to the kids,” he says. “Last year our turnover was over £300,000 so we have to find that amount of money. They have to be box office shows otherwise you don't get bums on seats.”

Throughout the year, Kidz produce 5 or 6 productions, with most shows in the summer holidays. This hard work is made possible by 130 dedicated volunteers including the superbly talented wardrobe mistress, Jane, who has worked for the Royal Ballet and Norman Hartnell. “We've won awards but I believe it's also the determination of the help here to reach the high standards,” says Phil, who desperately needs more volunteers. “There are grants out there but we haven't got time to apply as we're working on so many productions. We really need a Grants Officer.”

Kidz R Us now has a manager and administrators, which means that Phil can start to scale down his contribution, but his primary concern is to keep the company going. “I don't want it to have done all this work and when I finish, it finishes.”

Phil's enthusiasm is a huge inspiration to everyone. “When I was younger I wanted my name on this and that, but now what I'm doing satisfies me,” he says. “I give people a chance.” He pauses and his face lights up. “Sometimes when I'm in the audience and there are 300 people laughing their heads off, it's a wonderful feeling to bring joy to so many people and to think 'we started all this'.”

Kidz R Us has won endless awards including the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service
They have performed at the Royal Albert Hall, The London Palladium and the Criterion Theatre, Piccadilly Circus.
Kidz R Us has a younger group of ages 6-13; the older group is for age 14+. There is also an adults group.
A variety of theatre courses for children and adults are run every 3 months
Adults and children's choirs
Over 60s Club
Kidz Club on Saturday mornings (stage school)
Crafty Sew and Sew teaching sewing classes
NVQ qualifications can be obtained in Youth Work
Costume hire is available
The next production will be the amateur premiere of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, at the Minack Theatre in the Easter holidays.
For all enquiries telephone box office 01736 797007 or more information have a look at the website

CK Kitchens


Interview by Sue Kittow

What are your backgrounds?
Keith: My father was a plumbing and heating engineer in Falmouth and I've been in the building trade, then Kevin and I met in May 2009 and it turned out we knew each other through our sons playing football together!
Kevin: I worked in the hydraulics business, then had my own restaurant in Falmouth and used that experience to help set up this business.

What interests you about kitchens and bathrooms?
Keith: I have had an inherent love of building – I'd been carrying my dad's toolkit since the age of 6.
Kevin: I did a training course on kitchens in Denmark, and working in a restaurant taught me the practical side of things.

Tell us what makes your kitchens and bathrooms different/special.
Kevin: They're British made and factory assembled – no flatpack. All the doors and drawers are soft close as standard and the mechanism is Blum, the Rolls Royce of soft close.

Where are the bathrooms made?
Keith: We're using Kudos which are made in Cumbria, and soon we'll be introducing Jacuzzi, and the sanitary ware for that is made in Newcastle - we're trying to keep to British products. We've also got Merlin which are from Northern Ireland.

How would you describe your style?
Kevin: We have all styles: contemporary, modern, old fashioned – there's something for everyone. We have a reputation for innovative design and can offer a massive range, from solid oak to high gloss.

What can we see in your showroom?
Kevin: We've got a large range of kitchens, appliances, tiles, we're launching wooden flooring and have all different types of flooring available, including Altro and lino. We've also got handles and sample doors - you can see the doors all the way around in reception.
Keith: And we've got about 28 different colours for carcasses, and a wide range of worktops.

What's popular at the moment?
Kevin: We have a new Impressions range which is contemporary doors, high gloss, made-to-measure. That's selling really well.
Keith: This range has been introduced during the recession and is very good value for money.

Who are your customers?
Kevin: They're probably middle to late age, recently moved down to Cornwall. People who want a complete service.
Kevin: Yes, we can project manage the whole job, from electric, gas, tiling – we'll do it all.

When a customer comes in, how does it work?
Kevin: We give them a guided tour round the showroom, then leave them in peace. If they're interested we give them brochures to look at, then if they want, we measure up the kitchen and give them a free quotation.

Why is customer service so important to you?
Kevin: It's vital for repeat business. You can't put a price on service. Also, our customers know they'll always deal with either myself or Keith.
Keith: Customer service is the most important aspect of being a local business: we get lots of word of mouth recommendations. We're open 7 days a week, for that service, so we've proved that it works. And there's free parking!

What would impress me as a customer?
Kevin: Seeing what's available with the high technology of servo-drive, along with all the space saving devices. We're here to offer good quality kitchens and bathrooms that won't cost a fortune.
Keith: We're well worth a visit!

Visit CK Kitchens at Toyota House, North Parade, Falmouth TR11 2TD
01326 319993 or 077911 589 05

From A to 3B


3B INTERNATIONAL is a worldwide delivery business based in Helston and owned by Ann Booth and her daughters, Claire Culm and Suzie Hackland. They manage deliveries on behalf of their clients and offer storage and a pick and pack operation. “Both Claire and Suzie have their forklift licences,” says Bryn Hackland, Managing Director. “I'd like to think we're the first contact point for anyone wanting to ship goods out of the area.”
The company was originally formed in Halifax in 1998 by Ann’s late husband Geoff after he retired from TNT, and named after two other partners whose surnames also began with B. After Geoff's sudden death the family decided to make a fresh start and moved to Cornwall.
“I think Dad would be amazed at how we've managed to turn the business around, move it 400 miles and sustain a living,” says Suzie. “We used to be a despatch company for bigger companies but when we came down here we realised that there were a huge amount of small businesses that needed servicing. They'd been penalised by big carriers on rates so we opened up avenues for them to get their products out without being penalised on prices. It was a huge learning curve!”
3B now have a client base of over 500 and 100 regular weekly traders. “Being a family business counts for a lot with Cornish people,” says John Harvey, Business Development Manager. “The company is owned and run by women, and that's gone down well.”
They soon found that business in Cornwall was very different from Halifax. “People are more loyal down here so you build better relationships,” says Bryn. “There are about 9,000 business in West Cornwall that employ under 5 people and we work for a lot of them. They want to concentrate on their business, not have to worry about where their product's gone.”
3B believe that flexibility is very important for their customers. “If customers come to us with a cashflow problem we will work with them to get through it,” says Bryn. “The recession has actually been good to us because a lot of people have traded down,” adds John. “Deliveries are an easy area to cut costs and we can help with that.”

3B have two vans which cover West Cornwall, and for collections further afield send in courier companies. Their second warehouse allows them to offer storage facilities, same day deliveries throughout the UK and hold stock for a handbag company based in London.
“Because 3B are a small company, we are able to take on specialist jobs that require project management from start to finish,” says John, who has years of experience in the business. “We have a very personal approach, are cost effective and very friendly. We're tapping into a lot of experience here.” Thanks to John's many contacts, he recently coordinated a seemingly impossible overnight delivery from Cornwall to London, Paris and Brussels, when half the stock was stranded in the West Midlands due to snow. “That's job satisfaction!” says John with a smile.
The company have just undergone a rebranding exercise. “We have new vans arriving with the new logo, our second warehouse will enhance our storage facilities and Ann Booth has decided to take an active role in the company again,” says Bryn. “We like to help small businesses help each other, so we've rented some office space to a new design company. Their first job was to redesign our website and logo!”
Looking to the future, expansion is definitely on the cards. “At the moment we're well known in this area but there's the rest of Cornwall to tap into,” says John. “There's massive potential.”
Perhaps what makes them so special is that unlike most larger companies, 3B treats customer service as paramount. “Most of our business is personal recommendation,” Claire says. “We're on first name terms with our customers – we care about them.” And one of their strengths is that whatever the product, it is treated with the same care. “We might send out a tender document worth £500,00 or a box of pasties worth £15,” explains Claire. “It doesn't matter what it is – it's how it gets there that's important.”

Clients include: Roskilly, Ballardsfield Farm, Cornish Cider Farm, Cornish Seafood, Polgoon Vineyard, Crepe Cuisine,Cornish Crisp Company, The Cheese Shop and daffodils from Scilly.

3B International
15/16 Tresprison Business Park
TR13 0QD
01326 572636

Website design -

Men an Tol


One grey Sunday, Viv, her dog Titch, MollieDog and I set off for a walk in darkest Penwith. Leaving Penzance, we took the Madron road and after about ten minutes passed Lanyon Quoit and found a small parking space on the right, opposite an old granite schoolhouse.

In fact we didn't see Lanyon Quoit until the end of our walk, but it is clearly visible from the road which says little for our powers of observation. It is thought this was a burial chamber of a long mound and was originally tall enough for a horseman to sit under. It collapsed in 1815 and reassembled in 1824 but to a smaller size than its original position.
Having parked, we headed up a farm track and on our left spied a large black and white cat. Eerily we saw a similar feline on a walk at Carn Brea last year, making me wonder whether this was the same one lying in wait, knowing Viv's allergy to cats. Luckily it didn't pounce so we walked on and after 15 minutes turned right over a stile which led to Men-an-Tol. This megalithic monument is a wide, shallow stone one metre tall, carved into a circular shape and known as the Crick Stone or Devil's Eye. In the middle is a hole 45cm across and either side of this is a standing stone, about 1.2m tall. It is thought that Men-an-Tol is the remains of a chambered tomb, with the holed stone forming an entrance.
These stones are said to provide healing, so naked children were passed through the hole three times and drawn on the grass as a cure for tuberculosis and rickets. Adults would crawl through the hole as a cure for back complaints, but would need to go through nine times for it to work. Passing through the stone has also been used as a fertility aid, but there are many and varied stories attached to these stones.
Viv decided to try and cure her bad back. “But I'm only going through once, and it's far too cold to take my clothes off.” Having struggled through the hole, aided by our curious dogs, she emerged red faced and smiling. “My back's much better!” she pronounced, and promptly wrenched her leg.
I decided to leave my bad back and we retraced our steps, returning to the original path and looked out as the sun shone down over Bosullow Common, illuminating Ding Dong Mine in the distance. Here is open moorland but hardly a tree in sight; mile after mile of scrubland interspersed with the occasional farm. A view that some find uplifting and magnificent but others find too harsh: there are none of the soft rolling hills of South East Cornwall here.
On our left was Men Scyfa, a stone marking the grave of Rialobran, a sixth century chieftan warrior who was killed here around AD500. Poking our heads through a gate, we decided to give it a miss as the stone was in amongst a field of black cattle who stared at our dogs and licked their lips. So we continued up the very rough path fenced in by bronzed bracken, the last of the blackberries and desiccated heather: not a good time of year for vegetation.
Where the path splits in front of a derelict building, we took the right hand fork onto a track over moorland. This path climbed upwards, and as we walked, a small plane took off from Lands End aerodrome. We passed a group of smaller stones but headed further on to Nine Maidens which are 11 spaced stones that do not in fact make a true circle. Boscawen Un Circle, as it's known in Cornish, was an ancient Druid meeting place and the location of the first Cornish Gorsedd. But the name refers to the phases of the lunar cycle rather than the number of stones. Legend has it that maidens dancing on the Sabbath were turned to stone, and the fiddler who supplied the music and followed their fate was the Blind Fiddler Menhir.
Having admired this atmospheric spot, along with several other enthusiastic visitors – this is a popular walk – we followed a well worn path to our right through waist high gorse to Ding Dong Mine engine house. In the distance, not far from the mine, was an old campervan, with a large turbine strapped onto the back. As we grew nearer we admired the speed at which it spun round, and marvelled at the incongruity of it all. Any second now, I expected it to take flight, like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and soar over Ding Dong Mine, with children cheering in the back.
Sadly nothing as extraordinary occurred and we arrived at Ding Dong, reputed to be one of the oldest mines in Cornwall. According to folklore Ding Dong worked 2000 years ago and was visited by Christ and Joseph of Arimathea, but the earliest mention of the mine was at the beginning of the 17th century. In 1714 three separate mines were operating: Good Fortune, Wheal Malkin and Hard Shafts Bounds, but Ding Dong did not become famous until the turn of the 18th century.
By the end of the 1850s the mine employed 206 men and boys, but was struggling to break even. Due to the continuing fall in the price of tin, the mine shut on 11 July 1877 following an unsuccessful attempt to sell it at auction. Since that time three other attempts have been made to reopen the mine; the first failed because of water problems and the other two through local opposition.
Standing in front of the engine house, we took a path below, across a stone stile and followed the path downhill for about 15 minutes. Along the way we came across the only trees we'd seen: two gnarled hawthorns with autumn red berries. All the bracken was bronzed, dried out by the fierce winds that sweep across the open moorland. The path turned marshy here and the dogs rolled in fox poo with delight, promising a poisonously smelly drive home.
The narrow path appeared to be turning away from our destination of Lanyon Farmhouse, but as Viv was following instructions for a St Ives walk, this could be why we were slightly off course. We took a right hand fork and reached a metal gate between stone walls which led to the road where we turned right and before long found Lanyon Farmhouse where you can indulge in a cream tea. I was lured by a promise of Viv's award winning home made ginger cake, so we continued back to the van to eat cake there. (It turned out that she won third prize out of three entrants.)
From here it was a ten minute walk back to the car, passing Bosullow farm's stall of orange pumpkins and, surprisingly, red chillis. Viv bought one of each and insisted on lugging the dead weight back to the van, concocting recipes as she went. From now on I will always think of Bronze Age Cornwall in conjunction with Curried Pumpkin Pie.
Standing outside Ding Dong mine is a sight I will never forget. In the distance stretched the Lizard, lit by a sudden blast of sunshine, and below us was Mounts Bay, with St Michael's Mount in the fairytale distance. There is a dizzying sense of height, and depth, and space here and it's still possible to catch a glimpse of Cornwall as it was many thousands of years ago.

Landranger Explorer 102 Lands End, Penzance and St Ives
Distance: 3 miles
Length: 2 hours
Grade: easy going but some rough tracks and can be muddy in parts
Refreshments: Lanyon Farmhouse provide cream teas
Free parking

Canine Bowen Therapy


Many people in Cornwall combine several jobs, but it's refreshing to find someone who really enjoys several very different careers. Frances Carter, 47, has run the Hibiscus (women's) Surf School in Newquay for the past 7 years, has been a complementary therapist for the past 25 years and is a lecturer at Truro College. “I'm a sports therapist,” she says cheerfully, as she sits on her kitchen floor making friends with Mollie Dog. “I treat animals and humans, and I teach complementary therapy on the Foundation Degree course. I do the surfing in the daytime and the rest in the evenings.”
While combining complementary therapy and surfing might seem a strange combination to some, for Frances it makes perfect sense. “Surfing is one of my passions and complementary therapy the other, so that's where the balance comes in.”
Frances trained as a human Bowen therapist and became interested in using these techniques to help animals. “I used to do complementary therapy on my dog and I've often thought that dogs are much more in tune with their own bodies than humans are, so that makes you more in tune as well,” she explains.
The Canine Bowen Technique is one of the fastest growing complementary therapies in Britain, based on the principles of the Bowen Technique developed by Australian Tom Bowen (1916 – 1982). Its adaption in the UK for use on dogs was started in 2001 by Bowen therapists Sally and Ron Askew, who integrated it into their own dog behavioral and rehabilitation work. In 2003 they founded the European Guild of Canine Bowen Therapists and designed a professional programme of training.
“My training took just over a year and covered five modules,” says Frances. “Anatomy and physiology (taught by a vet), nutrition, behaviourism and dog psychology, and throughout we were learning the actual techniques, with an exam at the end. I've also done an OCN level in Companion Animal First Aid which was taught by a local vet, and I'm fully insured.”
For any vets uncertain of her qualifications, Frances is quick to reassure. “Canine Bowen therapy is regarded as manipulative therapy covered by the Veterinary Surgery (Exemptions) Order 1962 of the 1966 Veterinary Surgeons Act, allowing qualified practitioners to work on animals who have been referred by the animal's vet,” she says.
She also points out that Bowen works in conjunction with, never as an alternative to, proper veterinary care. “All dogs must be thoroughly checked over by their vet, and get their vet's written approval prior to starting a Bowen session,” she says firmly. “I am not a vet, so I would never diagnose an animal, nor would I ever prescribe or alter any medication. This is purely a complementary therapy which has been deemed by vets to help dogs.”
While some vets are unsure about Bowen Therapy, Frances worked very closely with her local surgery. “I've got a really good relationship with my vet who's supported me 100% ,” she says. “We've also written a first aid course together.”
At first her vet didn't understand how Bowen works, so Frances had a practical solution. “I treated his dogs and then I did him because he didn't understand why one minute his dog was a snappy terrier and the next minute was asleep in its cage! After treatment he had a much better understanding of how the dogs felt.”
Bowen therapy is an holistic therapy “which means we do a thorough observation looking at the dog's daily life, background, medical history, diet, exercise profile and how it's handled,” Frances explains. “A dog may be brought in with, say, rear-leg lameness, but I may well treat other parts of the body as well, such as the front-legs, in order to sort out other possible problem areas caused as a result of the dog compensating for the problem.”

The actual hands on therapy is a very light touch in specific places that's adapted from the human Bowen Technique. “We know that there are millions of sensory nerve endings on the skin and these light touches send a disruption through the central nervous system that can help the body rebalance itself,”she adds.

The benefits are many and various. “It can help encourage a greater range of movement,” Frances says. “It can also help a dog be pain free or at least reduce pain.” She has treated dogs for all kinds of problems, from ear infections to hip displasia and even tennis elbow! “Ear infections are usually due to an imbalance in the immune system,” she explains. “I've also treated re-homed dogs from the RSPCA – if they come from kennels and suddenly go into a home environment then the dog can have a lot of problems, particularly if there' s already a dog in the household. If a dog is highly stressed, Bowen can give it better quality rest because it makes them very relaxed.”
She has found that dogs seem to know instinctively where they need to be treated and when they've had enough. “When a dog's had a treatment and they trust you, they often come back and give you a paw or whichever part of the body they want done!” she says. “As humans, we're told what's the matter with our bodies – dogs have no preconceptions, so they're much more in tune with their bodies, as we were hundreds of years ago.”
A session usually lasts about 45 minutes, though the hands-on treatment usually takes around 20 minutes. Before the session, Frances needs a signed veterinary referral form, and will ask for a detailed medical form to be filled in. “I like to know everything about the dog because sometimes when owners fill the form in they often realise other factors that might contribute to the dog's condition,” she explains. This information helps monitor changes between treatments and gauge how the dog is progressing. Therapy is not forced upon the dog, and the dog is not restricted at any time during the treatment.
An initial session costs £25 for the first session and £20 for sessions thereafter; travel charges are 30p per return mile after 15 miles. The number of sessions needed depends on the dog and its reaction to the treatment. “With some dogs you see a change in the first session,” Frances says. “Usually you see some sort of change in the second or third treatment, but it's never a cure; it's aimed at helping the dog in the way it needs.”
Seeing how Mollie reacts with Frances, it's evident that animals trust her, which makes her work very rewarding. “I love working with animals more than humans because you see such dramatic effects and it's lovely when you can help the dog,” she says. But she also finds working alongside a vet very interesting. “My vet said that we pick up so much more than they can during a consultation because they only have a few minutes with the client,” she says. “I always write a report back to the vet after a treatment so the vet can see what I've found and that can change the way he treats the animal.”
Frances has been working with dogs and horses for over 28 years and has competed with both at championship level: she shows her own Newfoundland, Douglas, at Crufts. “Equine Bowen therapy is much more established because of racehorse owners and stud farms,” she says. “More and more vets are coming on board and scientific research is being carried out on the human Bowen technique, so hopefully it will eventually be more widely recognised.”.
And looking ahead? Frances smiles at her huge Newfoundland, Douglas, making friends with diminutive Mollie. “I would like to see Canine Bowen Therapy available at vets as a complementary therapy to help the likes of firework fear,” she says. “Personally, I aim to continue improving my knowledge and skills in both human and canine therapies.”

01637 879374 or 07810 6428981