I've never seen the appeal of Cornwall. All those twisty turny vomit-inducing lanes leading to postcard pretty villages full of quaint cottages called 'Sea Breeze' or 'Windy Point' or other charming nonsense. Twee beyond belief gift shops, antique shoppees that frankly should be nailed under the mis-descriptions act and then cream teas, pasties and pubs..... yawn. And thats if any of the aforementioned is actually open. Seen one pretty Cornish village and you've seen them all.
However, there are the views - I'll give you the views. Combined with the famous quality of light.
So, having decided Cornwall isn't really my thing, it took something special to get me to go back - particularly during the rainiest January in living memory.
Maker Heights is a former Napoleaonic military base, set high above the Londoner's favourite 'unspoilt' spot of Kingsand on the Rame Peninsula. Maker is currently home to 'The Canteen' run by a River Cafe chef, a Gallery owned by former Lenkiewicz friend and model, Paul Somerville, 'the coolest campsite in Cornwall' (Cool Camping), a whole host of musicians and, last but not least, The Rame School of Artists.
At the centre of this community sits The Random Arms, a renegade pub sitting on the edge of the world, hosting live music and open mic sessions all year round.
In short, Maker has serious creative credentials combined with all the ingredients to attract the swathe of second-homers flooding the local villages. Plus a 360 degree view that is quite breathtaking.
But, it is falling apart.
Years of neglect have meant that the Artists residing in the main barracks building are struggling with the cold, constant leaks, doors blowing off and even on one occasion a collapsed floor.
I meet painter Heath Hearn and he explains how Maker is a unique artistic community with a healthy mix of painters, sculptors and musicians. They work hard to keep a balance so that one discipline never becomes more important than the others. Artists such as Steve Joy, JK Lawson and Katy Brown are here because of the freedom that the location gives them. Plus of course, the rent is dirt cheap and the studios are massive, with high ceilings and wonderful light from the huge windows. But, they are freezing.
Heath and Katy Brown, have also forged links with the University of Plymouth and offer the art students temporary placements at Maker - giving them access to these huge studios and teaching. As well as being a clear benefit for the students, this constant injection of fresh blood on site creates encourages ideas to bounce around, keeping the whole enviroment alive and vibrant.
One of these students, Chelsea has now become a permanent artist at the site. As well as a painter she is also a musician and so resides at the noisier end of the Barracks.
As an outsider, it's all very well to see this group of creatives stuck on the hill, battling with the elements, as wild and romantic. But in reality, they are currently fighting with mouldy canvas, falling debris and water running down the walls.
Paul Somerville, the gallery owner on site says that visitors are undoubtedly put off by the derelict state of the buildings. His gallery sells top notch stuff from Howard Hodgkin and Terry Frost - but he admits that it can be hard to sell a £20,000 piece when he is next door to the portacabin that houses the loos.
But help is on the way and the whole Maker site has been bought by a sympathetic developer with a vision that will give Maker the TLC it so desperately needs to survive. As Heath puts it 'the dice have been rolled, but we don't know yet how they will fall'. Predictably, there are concerns over the scheme and how the unique 'bohemian' atmosphere can be maintained. But, without some outside help the whole environment is literally in danger of being blown away.
It was such a priviledge to visit Maker and The Rame School of Artists at this crucial time in their history and I will watch closely how this unique community will adapt and flourish within it's new and improved environment. I might even go back.....
Watch this space.
"All my early memories are of forms and shapes and textures. Moving through and over the West Riding landscape with my father in his car, the hills were sculptures; the roads defined the form. Above all, there was the sensation of moving physically over the contours of fulnesses and concavities, through hollows and over peaks – feeling, touching, seeing, through mind and hand and eye. This sensation has never left me. I, the sculptor, am the landscape. I am the form and I am the hollow, the thrust and the contour." Barbara Hepworth
quote from Extracts from Barbara Hepworth, A Pictorial Autobiography, Bath, 1971