Gardening: Cornwall turns a profit

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The Independent Online
I have a special feeling for the Wayside Museum in Zennor, near St Ives in Cornwall. My father spent summers there in the Twenties, when it was just a couple of primitive cottages. The place was owned by the Lloyd family of St Ives, and George Lloyd, a year younger than my father, was his companion in damming streams and building hideouts. The Lloyds turned the place into a shrine to a disappearing Cornwall, but not before the teenage George wrote his first few symphonies there and, by the age of 20, Iernin, his first opera, which was a hit when it opened in London a couple of years later.

George Lloyd's music is like the plein-air painting Cornwall has produced: direct, richly coloured, muscular but romantic. People may say that it sometimes seems to have a slightly Bax-like drift, but I rather like that, and some of it (try the Fifth Symphony) fairly drives along.

Lloyd's Iernin is now on CD (on Albany) and I have been getting to like it a good deal, not least from playing it as we drove through low- lying cloud to Chysauster, near Zennor. This iron-age settlement is set in the kind of landscape where one fairly trips over ancient stones (Iernin was a local fairy turned to stone by a Christian saint for leading local boys astray).

The Wayside Museum is now owned by a couple who have, unlike the Lloyds, managed to make it turn a penny. Yet it seems as true to its founders' intentions as it was 30 years ago when I first mooched round it. The owners plan to mark its 60th anniversary with a celebration of the creativity of the entire Lloyd family, and especially George.

I have been exploring Cornish theme parks this month, not least during a little pilgrimage to a place graced by an Edith Wharton character. Nan St George (in The Buccaneers, 1938) was one of Wharton's best creations: a feisty and romantic American marriage-hunter. Fired by watching some filming for the BBC's forthcoming serial of the book, I hotfooted it north to Tintagel, the setting of the fateful meeting of Nan and young, stuffy Lord Tintagel.

Goodness knows what the place looked like in the 1870s (the period of the novel), or even in the 1920s, when Wharton wandered in the mists there, but it is now hard to see it as a dreamily romantic spot. (To film the scene, the crew went off to Northern Ireland, where things are less trampled.) The nearby village is no worse than any other tourist trap, and serves its purpose (loos, pasties, car parks) as well as may be. English Heritage, the manager of the promontory site itself, has not ruined it. I was glad of the steps and handrails, and bits of the castle remain suitably dangerous. The kids were happy to romp over it and swam from rocks in the bay with an enterprising fat cockney child whose sense of fun made my lot wistful for their own east London days.

There has been a good deal of fun in the papers about some ministerial diktat requiring English Heritage sites to make more money. In utilitarian terms, one recoils from the idea either as an elitist (because places may be dragged downmarket) or as a populist (because they may be dragged upmarket). Still, the Economist (the nearest I admit to a bible), points out that commercialisation can work pretty well, and cites the National Trust as an example. I cautiously agree.

While we're being snobbish (which I suppose is what my sniffiness amounts to), I can't say I agree with the Economist's correspondent who enjoyed the Land's End experience. The owners resist the idea that this private headland, hotel and entertainment complex is a theme park, but a theme park by any other name would still smell of burgers. Don't get me wrong: there was much better food on offer than might be expected, and everything is quite tastefully done. The youngest child enjoyed the Last Labyrinth multimedia offering, and it was not the worst event on earth by any means. Still, one would have to be pretty desperate for entertainment to call it much of a show, and pretty short on attention span to call it an education.

There are three reasons, however, for celebrating the commercialisation of the site: it appears to have prospered ecologically from the new funding; anything that helps Cornwall thrive must be at least half good; and this honeypot presumably takes pressure off other sites.

At the other end of the cultural spectrum, the Tate Gallery in St Ives seems to me a far worse deception. As an art gallery, it would have made quite a good villa on Ibiza. Apart from Patrick Heron, the St Ives moderns seem to have produced work of startling banality. Call me old-fashioned, but I far preferred the solid, representational work of the Newlyn School. It took me a while to find it: the art gallery in Newlyn was full of primary-school daubings by some moderns or other; the real stuff is a few miles away in the Penzance and District Museum and Art Gallery (the information is cunningly buried in obscurity in the relevant brochures).