At the very south west tip of Cornwall and West Penwith, a few miles south of the tourist trap is Gwennap Head. It is a true Land’s End, though it is not entirely without man-made structures. There are two curious cylindrical cones, one black and white, the other red, the tips of which, when seen in line from the sea, mark the position of the Runnel Stone Rock.
From Gwennap Head there is a spectacularly panoramic view of the sea, the convergence of the English Channel and the Atlantic. Here we can witness every possible sea state, weather-mood and light condition. We look to the south and face the arc of the sun on its journey from east to west throughout the day.
The sun’s light reflected on the sea, on cloudless days a dazzle, but with clouds, shadows form islands of light as far as one can see, for miles to the horizon. In painting such horizons are associated with feelings of infinity, and thoughts of our own mortality.
Far off, passing ships make their way in waters also known as the Western Approaches. Perhaps part of our enjoyment of this view is enhanced by an awareness of our maritime history. Ships passed here in times of peace and war; voyages of discovery, ships involved in the mercantile trade which built the wealth of our nation.
The view is also enhanced by a little knowledge of geography. South of here, over the horizon, lie France and Brittany. To the west, the Scillies, often visible from this stretch of coast, and between the two the great Atlantic ocean and the Americas.
There is always something to be seen; passing sea birds, singular or in flocks. Gannets, sometimes seen earning their living – diving for fish. Men fishing single-handed in cove boats, fishing near the Runnel Stone for mackerel or bass. Larger boats, crabbers or netters head off for their day’s work, and beam trawlers setting off to sea for trips of several days. Yachts pass here on their trip around the land, a voyage I have done many times, and I also vividly recall seeing the land from the sea.
Years ago I made a series of paintings of this wonderful seascape, sitting on the ground in all winds and weathers. I sensed then that what I was witnessing evoked in me a real sense of freedom.
I have since walked many miles of the Cornish footpath and experienced some wonderful places, but Gwennap Head is a very special place for me.