By Gabrielle Morgan
Often a day can be quite remarkable. That day for me was the day I went in search of the village of my ancestors.
I was alone in England, my first visit away from Australia, when I set out from London by train for Penzance, the southern most point in Cornwall. It was a seaside resort where quaint old granite stone houses have been withstanding the Atlantic gales for centuries. The old buildings and mysterious alleyways in the town were a reminder of the smuggling and plundering which had gone on there centuries before. It was easy to visualise those earlier times and sense the hardship people must have suffered.
The Benedictine monks had built a priory in the twelfth century on a small offshore island, now known as St. Michael’s Mount. It later became a castle and was the scene of many military sieges. A boat took me out to the Mount where I braced myself against the strong wind to climb the steps to the door of the castle. Looking back to the mainland, where all the small stone cottages from previous centuries still remained, I was transported in time and once inside the castle, I was completely entranced by the history within its walls.
The antiquity of Penzance enthralled me and I was tempted to stay longer, but the day arrived for me to investigate ‘Luxulyan,’ the small village where I believed my ancestors originated from. At home in Australia, I had studied this spot on a map and was intrigued to find out what it would look like in reality. So, I packed my suitcase to leave the B. & B. where I was staying and after a lengthy chat with the proprietor who provided me with a vivid picture of Cornish life over the preceding few hundred years, I departed Penzance by train.
To negotiate my journey to Luxulyan involved three train connections, and as it was the weekend, a wait of two hours at St.Austell station between trains. However, not to be put off by the look of amazement on the Porter’s face when I told him my destination was ‘Luxulyan’ or by his comment,
“What are you going there for? There’s nothing of interest there.”
I proceeded on.
I had intended to make a return journey to St. Austell in one day, but due to the long wait between connections this idea now seemed unlikely, so I enlisted the help of a kindly girl in the bus depot outside the station. I told her I wanted to visit the town of my ancestors and would like to find accommodation for the weekend. After three phone calls to establishments that were all booked out, she managed to secure accommodation at a B. & B. said to be situated at the top of a hill overlooking the town.
Eventually, after a seemingly endless wait, I was seated in a two carriage train which wound through the magical woods of Luxulyan Valley. If Robin Hood had popped out I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised.
When the train pulled into Luxulyan, I struggled out of the carriage with my suitcase and dragged it along the gravel platform. Remembering the Porter’s words, I was relieved and agreeably surprised to see some quaint stone cottages across the road from the station. A taxi was already waiting for me. The driver, a very pleasant English woman, chatted easily as we drove into the village along the most picturesque street I had ever seen. The cab wound around past the old village pub and along a hedged lane which stretched up a hill to the gate of the B. & B. where it stopped. I stared at the charming two story granite stone house before me. It was situated in an extraordinarily beautiful countryside where cows and sheep grazed peacefully in the hedged meadows sloped against the hillside. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
“Are you sure this is the place?” I asked the taxi driver. “There is a notice on the gate; it says, Christian Retreat Centre.”
“Yes, this is it. They take in B. & B. guests too,” she answered cheerfully.
At that moment, the owner of all we surveyed appeared at the gate. He was a charmingly polite Englishman who introduced himself as Robin. After he picked up my suitcase, he ushered me into an adjoining modern house on the property which was designed to be in complete harmony with the original thirteenth century stone farmhouse where he lived with his wife. This new house I was to have entirely to myself. It was furnished completely to my taste and had a glassed in sitting room overlooking the valley.
Robin told me he had invited a lady named Constance Rowe to meet me and that she may throw some light on the whereabouts of my ancestors’ graves. While I settled into my new surrounds he went to fetch a tray of tea and home make cake for me to share with Constance. The lady duly arrived and I found her to be an extremely interesting and pleasant person. As we sipped tea together, she told me her husband was a history professor who had published a book two inches thick on the history of Cornwall. We enjoyed each others company so much I felt sad when she had to leave but was buoyed by her offer to drive me to the church grounds on her way home.
We wandered around the church graveyard looking at headstones with inscriptions worn with age. I had almost given up hope of finding a Treleaven ancestor buried there, when I suddenly came across an old stone with the inscription, “Mordecai Treleaven of this Parish who died March 9th, 1887, aged 60 years. His end was peace.”
I was elated. I had found a Treleaven grave in an idyllic setting, right under an oak tree in the prettiest spot in the world, beside the parish church of St. Cyriac and St. Julitta, built in the 1500’s. In that churchyard, I experienced a familiar closeness to my surrounds hard to describe, rather as if I had been there before in my deeper subconscious. I belonged, connected to the soil, the freshness of the air, the oak trees and the solidity of the aged stone buildings of Luxulyan. I realised that without knowing it, I had always sought to replicate that special sense of place in the country areas I had chosen to live in Australia.
I reluctantly left Mordecai and walked past the high stone wall of the vicarage and headed up the steep hill to my temporary home. The hedged road was only wide enough to take one modern day car. On the way I passed a two storey stone house that Constance had pointed out to me as being the oldest house in Luxulyan. I decided to go in to ask if the resident might happen to have known the Treleaven family descendants. To walk into a stranger’s house was not something I would ordinarily have done, but as my stay was to be short I felt compelled to do this.
I followed the pathway leading to the back of the house and peered through a window in passing. An old lady sat alone at a wooden table sipping a plate of soup. I hesitated, not wanting to disturb her, but continued on past a beehive to arrive at the back door. When I knocked the old lady opened the door and welcomed me in after I explained I was an Australian visitor. Inside the house I felt as though I had gone back into a time capsule of the past. The only evidence of modern day living in the sparsely furnished room was the family photographs of her children who had long since migrated to America. The lady was very friendly and enjoyed talking about life in Luxulyan, but didn’t have any knowledge of the Treleaven family. I was surprised about this as Constance had told me there was a “Treleaven Farm” in Luxulyan to this day. After I left the lady’s house, I felt I had experienced a very special glimpse into a life still untouched by modern day concerns.
On my return to my new found paradise, Robin’s wife, Maggie, had prepared dinner in the main house equal to any meal you would be served in the grandest hotel in England. It was presented with great delicacy and taste. In conversation, I discovered their Retreat Centre was the result of their passion to provide a home for people seeking Christian Fellowship and prayer; a haven for people needing a break from mainstream living, where they would find solace and peace in a homely and loving atmosphere.
As I lay in bed that night covered by a pretty pink flowered doona in the cosiest, prettiest room I had ever been in, I knew it had been worth while to cross the world from Australia to be there. I smiled to myself as I thought of the words of the train Porter; he obviously hadn’t discovered my nirvana.
The following morning was pouring with rain, but the view through the wide expanse of glass windows in the sitting room was unsullied. Somehow, the heavy mist enhanced the picture post card scene of black and white cows grazing in the green hedged meadows. Robin appeared to advise me that breakfast would be served in the main house. I was speechless when I saw the presentation before me. Every kind of breakfast food, followed by eggs and bacon, toast and coffee, all amazingly presented with a perfection rarely encountered.
Despite the rain, Robin was delighted to drive me to Lanlivery, the next town, where we visited the Church of St. Brevita. There, under the flagstones inside the church lay the graves of the Treleavens. The Treleaven name was also inscribed on the church bell.
My excitement was great, to actually be in the very church where they had worshipped so long ago. To feel the atmosphere and space that was their world cannot be described, except to say, I felt a new comprehension and sense of the importance of their lives. They were now entwined with mine, their purpose somehow linked with mine.
I will go back one day to my hamlet of heaven.
© Gabrielle Morgan