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Treligga, Cornwall: The first spring squills are massing near the coastal path, among the sea thrift and bladder campion

Vernal Squill and Cliff Quarries near Trebarwith, from an exhibition by Mary Martin ( at West Brendon, St Dominic, Cornwall, from 26 May to 2 June.

Vernal Squill and Cliff Quarries near Trebarwith, from an exhibition by Mary Martin ( at West Brendon, St Dominic, Cornwall, from 26 May to 2 June.
Photograph: Courtesy of Mary Martin

Seawards of the Gaia wind turbines and the pit of Delabole slate quarry, coastal farmland bears the brunt of westerly gales. Stunted hedgerows lean away from the sea and new shoots of flowering hawthorn are singed brown. After a bout of dry cold weather, water flowing from springs has slowed to a trickle; rutted mud in gateways has dried hard; and rain is needed for regrowth of grass already cut for silage.

On this sunny, relatively calm day young Holstein heifers (destined to become replacement cows for two adjoining dairy herds) roam and graze across their fields, but the larger herd of zero-grazed milking cows is out of sight, in a covered yard – fed with grass, cut and brought in daily. Further north, Red Ruby Devon cattle are lying down in their hilltop field, chewing the cud, and gazing across the hazy blueness of Port Isaac bay and down the coast towards Pentire, the Rumps and Trevose Head.

Vernal squill above Backways Cove.

Vernal squill above Backways Cove. Photograph: Jack Spiers

Incised valleys and a few tracks cut through the plateau towards little inlets; damp bottoms are green with rush and water dropwort, thorns overgrow the narrow ways and a few black flies with dangling legs drift about beneath sycamore flowers. Within view of Trebarwith Strand, primroses and violets bloom on north-facing banks beneath outcrops of slate masked in fresh ivy leaves; the tide retreats beyond the rocky foreshore, revealing an expanse of brown sand where visitors stroll and admire the gentle waves and just one wallowing surfer. The coastal path now climbs southwards – up 201 steps to reach 100 metres, passing clumps of pink sea thrift, white bladder campion and the first glimpses of vernal or spring squill (Scilla verna).

The next valley emerges in Backways Cove, where cliffs used to be quarried for slate. Precipitous stony slopes, marked with parallel lines of soil creep and zigzag paths, shimmer deceptively grey from a distance, but up close they are seen as covered in masses of pale blue squill. Up the valley, away from the worst of salt-blasting winds, common bluebells grow among emerging bracken. Tumuli on the next top afford views north, back to Tintagel church on another prehistoric site. Skylarks sing above, and half a dozen swallows swoop across the wind-shaved gorse, flowery turf and prickly thickets sheltering red campion and bluebells.


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