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