The Secret Place
I’m often asked where the valley of Kevrinek is to be found. Is it so secret that it defies discovery? Naturally, as in any work of fiction, there are seeds of reality and a good deal of conjecture, leaving the reader, and the writer, to play with the picture painted as the stories unfold. In other words, it is for each of us to discover their own Kevrinek, and that’s exactly as it should be. Firstly though, what’s my ‘take’ on the feeling of the valley itself?
Let’s call it a sense of reverence. It’s hard to ignore a hint of religious undertone. Saints had arrived on the northern coast of Cornwall as early as the 6th century, the most prominent being St Petroc , adding a much needed mystical and focused element to the lives of souls eager to embrace the promise of eternal life, making the hardship of everyday life seem but a down-payment on the glories ahead. Maybe influences here have origins in pagan times, when the emphasis was on appeasement of the spirits rather than the less tangible carrot of eternal life dangled by early Christianity. Spells and curses had more power than the soft option of prayer. Certain birds and animals were deemed to be evil or brought bad luck. Owls were considered to be birds of ill-omen as were Ravens and a toad on a doorstep was a sign that the house had been ill-wished, the toad subsequently disposed of.
I just see the valley as an atmospheric place, a perfect place for Jon and his sister Tegan and their friends to play as they were growing up, away from prying eyes of adults. The sound of the stream is mesmeric, the ‘cathedral’ of trees I refer to often in the stories being a place where imagination can soar, with an undeniable underpin from history, the feeling that things have taken place here that have left their mark, the footfall of a smuggler perhaps, or a whispered prayer from a monk on his way to the Old Buildings at the top end of the valley. At the lower end, the ‘cathedral’ opens up, the path meandering down to the bay and the remains of the small harbour, which would have been a hive of activity when tin mining was at its height.
Above and to the left of the coast path lies remains of the Penryn mine, now silent but hauntingly dominant, as with countless hollow ruins dotted throughout Cornwall, an atmospheric reminder of the heady days of mining, prosperity and hardship enjoyed and enjoyed in equal measure, peaking to either side of the early 19th century. At the top end of the valley, we find the Old Buildings, so-called because they were the original site of the first monastic buildings, in use a full one hundred years before Ch Nans, or ‘The Retreat’ as it was called, was completed, together with an underground complex, the use of which figures extensively in all the Kevrinek books.
I imagine Kevrinek as being a tapestry of collected images patched together in my mind from recollections from the years I spent in Cornwall. Just as many of the pubs Jon sings in are the very ones I also sang at, albeit named differently in most cases, so the valley exists as a patchwork of memories. Let’s take a shot at narrowing this down.
Geography places the valley in the St Agnes area. Yes, I know thick wooded valleys near the ocean are in short supply, although many exist inland from there and certainly on the south coast around the Fal estuary. But I want Kevrinek to be on the north coast, so trees it has to be. Also in the equation are the cliffs around Cambeak, below Crackington Haven up the coast, the splendid isolation of Rocky Valley near Boscastle strikes a chord, and St Nectan’s Glen, the other side of the coast road, has the stream and gurgling water I hear in the valley below Chy Nans. Wheal Coates and Polly Joke also figure in the mix. The barren splendour of Trevellas Porth brings tin-mining to life in my mind, the small harbour at the lower end of Kevrinek clattering with the urgent exuberance demanded by greedy mine owners.
And yet, my enduring perception of the valley, cove, the Old Buildings and Chy Nans itself is one of brooding peace, a place of contemplation whether thoughts be happy, reflective or in need of clarity. Kevrinek has ‘something for everyone’, a phrase I deliberately avoid when writing. I’d be pleased to know if you have thoughts on your ‘take’ as to the location of the valley. Whatever you decide, it’s right for you, and that’s what matters. Hope we can meet up there.