Christmas 2022 newsletter
Okel Tor Mine 2022
As another year draws to a close I realise that we're now in our 25th year of living here at Okel Tor Mine. Quite extraordinary but what an adventure. It's been so lovely to have been able to share this special place with the many thousands of you who've stayed here. Thank you - all of you.
Very little changes in this sleepy part of Cornwall. The seasons come and go, the Tamar flows by and Mother Nature does what she does best. The last few years have, however, seen quite dramatic alterations to the landscape. Recent guests will have been aware of the creation of a new wetland area between Okel Tor and Calstock village. An elaborate series of ponds and channels were dug. After being left to settle in for a year or so, the river bank was breached allowing the whole area to flood on each tide. The effect has been amazing. From grass fields with sheep we now have a whole new habitat - supporting a huge variety of bird life. It's not just the wildlife that's increased. Twitchers with binoculars can also be spotted! A rather graceful timber bridge now spans the gap in the river bank and provides a great platform for watching both nature and the flowing waters beneath. Or, just chatting with fellow walkers. We wait with anticipation to see how the wetlands mature over the coming years.
They say things tend to happen in threes. Well, in January they did. No electricity, no water and then the boiler packed up. Fortunately the power came back on within the day, albeit after a few false starts. However, the same couldn’t be said for the water. A catastrophic failure of a local water main resulted in several villages being cut off for days. Engineers managed to reinstate the supply but, because they’d had to increase the pressure, it resulted in further failures. Fortunately for us the water was back on within days but for others it took much longer - particularly those who’d suffered bursts in their homes. It certainly makes you all the more aware of something you normally take for granted. Far too many people in the world are not so fortunate. The same can be said for hot water and central heating. When our pellet boiler had its hiccup it was a relatively quick fix. The specialist engineer covers most of the country so there can be quite a delay but fortunately we didn’t have to wait too long. I’m eternally grateful to the cottage guests for their forbearance and understanding. You’re a hardy bunch!
Perhaps not entirely unconnected from the above (re. bathing) I experienced some embarrassment early one January morning whilst walking Jess around the mine. As I approached the river bank I could see a dog sitting patiently and looking down towards the river. I soon realised that it was following the movements of its owner who then proceeded to climb up the bank. The woman was not wearing a thing! I didn’t know where to look. Unabashed she calmly said “Don’t mind me”. Gaze averted and, with some relief, I carried on by. By way of coincidence I met the very same woman this morning - fully clothed this time. I’d missed her having another dip by minutes. She informed me that she was invigorated but that her extremities felt like they’d been crushed by a steam roller. The water was 4º.
As previous guests will know it’s normally so peaceful when it gets dark here. Just the sounds of ducks squabbling on the river and the hoots of the tawny owls. It was one March evening when that peace was disturbed by a pop-popping sound, shortly followed by louder bangs. My initial thoughts were that someone was letting off celebratory fireworks. No, not at all. As the noise increased I could hear shouting too. I went outside and saw numerous flashes and then, corresponding bangs. Outboard motors could be heard. I realised now that I was witnessing a military exercise - presumably by the Royal Marines. It’s not that unusual to see navy craft this far up the Tamar but not firing machine guns - or at night. What made the event all the more chilling was that the invasion of Ukraine had just begun. For us the bullets were blanks, not for others 1500 miles away…
It’s normally peaceful during the day too… This summer we’ve had three drone events - the sound rather than unmanned aircraft. Late one May afternoon we became increasingly aware of a droning noise somewhere down by the river. Expecting to see a hovering machine there was nothing. It was getting louder and, minutes later, we could see a small cloud making its way towards the garden. It was a swarm of bees. Thousands of them. Looking for a new home. The concern was that they would choose a location rather too close for comfort. Sure enough they went for the branch of a tree right next to the garden. It was amazing how quickly they amassed to form the typical “beard” - about the size of a rugby ball. A little research was called for and we soon found the British Beekeepers Association website, along with a list of local members who could advise us what to do. We rang the nearest and a lovely lady answered saying that she would love to help but was holidaying in Wales. Upon her recommendation we contacted a fellow beekeeper and he told us he was on his way. This was a relief as dusk was fast approaching. It wasn’t too long before we heard the throaty sound of an old Land Rover and then saw it reversing in a rather haphazard manner down the drive. The door creaked open and out stepped a wild and disheveled looking fellow. You just knew that this man loved bees… and old Land Rovers. We were keen for him to get on with the job but he kept on chatting for ages. Eventually it was time for action. He donned his beekeeper garb, grabbed a box and brush and was pointed in the right direction. The bees weren’t easy to get to. The poor man had to make his way through brambles and the ground was far from level. He nearly came a cropper on several occasions. We winced. Once there he wasted no time and very quickly managed, using his little brush, to coax almost the entire colony into the box. With the lid in place he retreated to the garden. Job done. He assured us that those few that he hadn’t captured would in all probability return to their original home. The rest he would take home and quarantine for a few weeks. This would ensure that they were healthy and of no threat to his existing hives. All in all a successful outcome. Oh, and he told us they were local bees although couldn’t say whether they were Cornish or from Devon.
Drone 2: One lovely late summer day and there’s droning again. It was getting louder and louder. Some swarm we thought. Here we go again… There were only six individuals and they were not of the natural world. They were paragliders. One was so low we were actually looking down on him. Others were several hundred feet up. We assume they had followed the river up from Plymouth. We subsequently discovered that one daredevil had flown through one of Calstock viaduct’s arches. Quite a sight I’m sure.
Drone 3: Again..? Mid September and our ears are not deceived. The noise was emanating from above - half way up my eighty foot chimney (very much a feature of my home). Even that far up it was easy to see many flying bodies and that they were clearly larger than bees or wasps. They were hornets. Hundreds of them. Now, I’ve had run-ins with hornets before and, though generally less aggressive, when they do sting you know all about it. Twice in my case. The nest had started within a cavity in the stonework but as it grew it expanded outwards. It looked like a small koala bear clinging to the chimney. Essentially made of paper and, being so exposed, we expected that it would be destroyed by the first autumn gales but it was remarkably resilient. Lower temperatures took their toll and numerous casualties appeared on the ground outside the front door. A few months on and much of the nest has disappeared but you can still see remnants of the intricately built honeycomb structure. There is no longer any sign of activity but maybe the queen survives.
As I write it’s minus 2 outside and the roads and paths are glazed with ice. But, despite the wintry weather, I did see a ripe blackberry this morning. Mother Nature must be very confused.
Season’s Greetings and let’s hope for good things in 2023…
Our Very Best Wishes
Nick, Greg & Jess (woof!)