Christmas 2018 newsletter
Another Year, another newsletter and, believe it or not, this is the twentieth edition! Yes, twenty years since we took a leap into the unknown and bought a tin mine in Cornwall. A bonkers idea but, the best move ever...
Our first winter was a hectic one. The Count House was pretty derelict and needed complete renovation before it would be ready for guests. We had already taken our first bookings so the pressure was on. It always seems that, no matter how you plan, it’s always a last minute rush to get everything ready - just like on television! We were hanging pictures and plumping up the cushions as our first guests arrived. In a never-to-be- repeated option we provided breakfast - cooking in our kitchen and delivering across the lawn. Our maiden guests had a lovely time and we could breathe a sigh of relief. All had gone well - or so we thought... Our Mine breakfast included a yoghurt and cereal mix created by Greg. He made a few extra for us to enjoy after they’d left. Well, they didn’t turn out quite as expected. They were rock hard and impossible to eat! The guests never said a thing...
Having a holiday cottage was completely new to us and we were learning as we went. We’d always assumed that it would be very seasonal but we soon realised that the demand for a cosy cottage for two was all year round. The Count House was our first conversion and the Smithy joined it a few year’s later. Since opening our doors in 1999 we’ve seen nearly three thousand guests, a lot of dogs, a few cats and a parrot! What is really rewarding is that we see so many of you returning, year after year. We’ve had marriage proposals here, honeymooners and those celebrating anniversaries - particularly their tenth which is tin of course. Sometimes the same people for all of them. Okel Tor is a special place for us and we are so gratified that it is for so many of you too.
In the olden days we used to place classified ads in “The Lady” magazine. Oh how things have changed! Now, an online presence is essential. Our first website was set up over 10 years ago and we were very proud of it. Technology marches on, however, and this year it was time for a completely new one. There’s heaps of information and photographs, an availability calendar and, in January, the facility to book and pay online.
Much has happened since 1998. We became an Ancient Monument and then a World Heritage Site - in addition to already being a Site of Special Scientific Interest and an Area of Outstanding Beauty. All these designations could have been quite onerous but in reality we’ve been able to access funding from the EU and Historic England to help prevent further decay to some of the old mine buildings.
Earlier in the year we had a team of specialists carry out a photogrammetric survey of the site using ultra high definition cameras - some drone mounted. This will provide an invaluable record of the eighty- odd structures that make up the mine complex. Historic England will then be able to allocate funds to repair those most at-risk. Further regular surveys will be carried out in the future to monitor the condition of the mine. A bonus of this photogrammetry is that we will have a 3D visual representation that, on a computer, will enable us to navigate through and help us to further interpret the mine. Ultimately this should be accessible online for anybody to access. Ironically we’ll be unable to properly view it due to our pathetic internet connection!
It’s been another wild and extreme year. Storm Emma (“The Beast from the East”) hit hard back in March. We were relatively unscathed here but still had a lot of fallen branches to clear up. Guests in one of the cottages were unable to travel home at the end of their stay but, fortunately (for them), the next guests couldn’t even leave their house in the Midlands to drive down so our stranded guests were able to stay on a bit longer until the route home was clear.
Then of course, the weather went to the other extreme. Spring sprang with extraordinary vigour. The apple blossom was the best ever and, with warm and calm weather it lasted for ages - boding well for a bumper crop of apples. The vine too had an exceptional year resulting in the biggest grape harvest in the last twenty years. It’s a shame that our vine is only a modest one as it could’ve been a good year for some Mine Wine!
A wild year for other reasons... We were absolutely amazed to see a ripe blackberry at the end of January - a true freak of nature. Pollination must’ve occurred around Christmas time although we don’t recall seeing any flowers. An immaculate conception perhaps..?
In February a cock pheasant came to stay. It’s not unusual to have them here but this one was special. Normally they’re nervous creatures and will take flight and clatter away at the slightest disturbance. This one did not. He would just sit down in the middle of the lawn like he owned it. Baffled barking dogs didn’t know what to do. Pheasants were supposed to be chased! Now and again he would get up and stroll over to the cottages, hop onto the window sill and peck at the glass. He wasn’t the slightest bit bothered by any activity on the other side. We think he may have been one of half a dozen hand reared chicks from the village. A month or so later he introduced us to his girlfriend and thereafter his priorities shifted and we saw less of him. As I write there’s a cock pheasant in the garden. I wonder if it’s him...
We had another unusual bird event - this time while canoeing a little further up the Tamar. It was a perfect afternoon back in June. The sun was shining and the river calm. We caught a glimpse of a bird flitting amongst the overhanging branches. It was small, white and like nothing we’d seen before.We stopped paddling and drifted for a while, hoping it would reveal itself again. Our patience was rewarded and it flew straight past us and perched on a branch just ahead. It was clearly a juvenile, its flying skills requiring improvement. Its perching skills needed rather more refinement since, before our very eyes, it fell off and dropped into the water. Fortunately, and after much flapping, it managed to become airborne again and then disappeared into the trees. Once back home we were finally able to identify the bundle of white feathers - it was a young albino blackbird!
There are quite a few badger setts here but we rarely actually see the animals in the flesh. We know they’re out there and, as creatures of habit, follow the same trails around the site. Occasionally we hear them as they rustle through the undergrowth and, a few years ago, we had guests who set up a camera trap and successfully caught one on film. One morning in June we were taking Jess for our normal morning walk around the mine when, ahead of us, a young badger scuttled across the path. Jess’s reaction was one of surprise and didn’t quite know what to make of it. Before she could engage chase mode the little fellow had disappeared into the woods. It was certainly very unusual to see a badger in broad daylight and we can only assume that, with the very dry ground, there was a shortage of food. They love worms!
In August we had some American guests staying for a couple of weeks. They started their European tour in style by crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary. As it happened, all three “Queens” were in Southampton at the same time and as part of the celebrations there was a flypast by the Red Arrows. Unfortunately our couple had already disembarked and were on their way to Cornwall. Whilst here they crammed in a lot of sightseeing but also found plenty of time to relax outside and read. On one of those occasions I was chatting with them and, blow me, the Red Arrows flew past in formation and headed up the valley! We were lost for words.
Thank you for being part of our Cornish adventure and we look forward to seeing you again one day. We hope that your year has been a good one and that most of your memories are happy ones. Let’s hope next year brings peace and harmony...
A very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Nick, Greg & Jess