12. The Minack Theatre
The picture above is of Rowena Cade, creator and intrepid builder of the Minack Theatre; which hugs the side of a cliff in Porthcurno in Cornwall. The village's main claim to fame is as the home of the world-wide network of telegraph cables - the museum's strapline is 'home of the Victorian Internet'.
The other main site to visit in Porthcurno, well, apart from the gorgeous pocket of golden beach and stunning aquamarine appearance of the sea, is the theatre. Miss Cade made it her life's work and passion to establish and make a beautiful open air theatre that could be used by the local community. A large chunk was built with concrete made with the sand below, sack-full after sack-full hauled up the cliff path by the lady herself until she started thrashing motor vehicles to speed things up a bit. She clearly was a savvy thing - for example:
"Tom Angove...recalled how single handed Rowena carried twelve 15ft beams from the shoreline right up to the Theatre. Customs men looking for this "wreck" from a Spanish freighter met her on the beach. Challenged as to whether she had seen the timber, Rowena admitted that she had taken up some wood that morning. She suggested that the men should come and see it. Concluding that such a frail looking woman could not have lifted what they were looking for, they went on their way. "I didn't tell them a lie now did I?" remarked Rowena as she and Tom built the twelve beams into the new dressing rooms."When I visited the Minack four years ago I was enchanted not so much by the theatre itself, although the romantic arches and the view of the sea beyond is stunning, but by the obvious obsession and vision of one spritely old bird who knew how to make something happen. It was blowing a gale and I had toothache at the time and the wind was making my face hurt. I found some strange little seat out of the wind behind the arches and sat looking across the sea trying not to feel sorry for myself. I was sitting upon and surrounded by Rowena's handiwork and it was hard not to feel humbled by the evidence of tens of thousands of hours of hard labour.
The theatre occupies some grey area between secular temple and private devotion. It is one woman's dream made real and a place that people visit even when there are no performances. I should imagine that most people come for the view or the Shakespeare, and I do intend to go back and experience a performance there. But for now, this is my temple to what can be achieved when you just stick your head down and keep on going.
Oh and if I ever decide to blog a series about my heroes, I think Rowena may feature again. I know she must have been young once but in my mind she's the kind of old bat that I aspire to be when I'm in my dotage.