Cornish Cliff House with Amanda Jennings
There’s always a good excuse to head down to Cornwall..not that you need one. So,when an author with a chilling and disturbing read comes along and takes you to Cornwall…to a cliff house no less, it’s all very exciting…
Especially when it’s Amanda Jenning’s cliff house and there’s a sense of menace in the air….goodness knows what’s in the water…and who’s that girl watching the family on the beach?
The Cliff House is a fictional Art Deco house with white walls and expansive glass windows and a dramatic black-tiled swimming pool set on a clifftop overlooking the sea not far from Cape Cornwall. The book features St Just, Sennen Cove and Botallack, with Penzance, Hayle and Exeter getting a mention. The Cliff House reflects my deep love for this part of the world. My mother is from Penzance and her family is Cornish back for many generations. This area is where I spent significant chunks of my summers as a child, as well as some Christmases and New Years.
We spent a lot of time at Sennen. It was, and remains so, my father’s favourite beach, and my memories of time spent there involve racing my sister into the freezing waves, sticky sand that we’d wash off in my gran’s pink bath, ice lollies which we’d queue for at the small kiosk by the car park, and fish and chips beneath picnic blankets as rain battered the sand. The kiosk makes a guest appearance in The Cliff House, as does the icy cold water running up the beach to touch our toes. Sennen town, with its lifeboat station is also important, as it’s from here that tragedy struck Tamsyn’s family.
Further along the coast is Cape Cornwall. This is one of my own personal favourite spots. My gran would regale us with stories about the holidays her family would take with a ‘donkey and jig’ along the coast. My mother tells of how she had her friends would dare each other to swim out to the a group of rocks off the coast called the Brisons. These rocks, and the swim, also make it into the book. Tamsyn and her family live in St Just and she makes the walk to The Cliff House passing through the National Trust carpark at Cape Cornwall. It’s a dramatic place, at its best, I think, when the weather is raging, and the sea batters the handful of houses that nestle beside the shoreline here.
From here you can also walk further along the coast, in the opposite direction to Sennen Cove, and reach Botallack, where the atmospheric tin mine ruins dot the area. There is something quite magical about these buildings, roofs long-collapsed, floors covered in carpets of tufted green grass. The footpaths which wind their way between the ruined sections are stony and bordered by spiky gorse with tiny yellow flowers. There are signs which warn of danger. And rightly so. If you follow the path down towards the Crowns Engine House the drop to the lefthand-side falls away at a dizzying speed, with the waves churning white, like a witches caldron. It’s not for the fainthearted.
This place is a photographer’s dream, with arches framing the sea, crumbling walls, and granite towers which rise up from the cliffs like temples. When the mist falls a gothic eeriness cloaks the area and with it comes a palpable tension. Botallack and the ruins form the setting for a number of scenes in the book, with Tamsyn and her brother remembering visits with their father from childhood, as well as the ruins providing the perfect curtain for the teens to find time alone. I wanted to recreate this sense of unease in The Cliff House. This idea that something isn’t right, that at any moment it is bound to all go wrong.
Capturing the mystery of Cornwall was important to me. I feel connected to this part of Cornwall, not just by blood, but by memories. Whether I’m writing about the cliffs near Cape Cornwall, the streets of Penzance, the smells of St Ives, the storms or sunshine which pound the coast, or the sea in its myriad of different colours, each moment is somehow inspired by my experience of those places. My parents live in a beautiful clifftop house in Zennor, a pretty village with a gorgeous pub – think open fires, board games and a secluded beer garden – which is the perfect start and end point (did I mention the pub?) for breathtaking coastal walks. Though The Cliff House owes more to the glamour of Gatsby than to this real life home, the essence of my parents’ house is certainly important. A white house, noticeable from the footpath, with a view to make your heart soar.
The area is the perfect place for a holiday. When we are with mum and dad we spend a lot of our time in St Ives. St Ives is blessed with the most beautiful beach, with incredible cafes and restaurants set right on the sand. What a treat to buy a coffee and a bowl of delicious granola, yoghurt and honey, and then sit and savour every mouthful whilst gazing over perfect Porthmeor.
Thank you so much Amanda for a lovely nostalgic and immersive tour of your literary locations!