Virginia's Lighthouse: A Cornish View

Photo by David Devanny.

Photo by David Devanny.

As flashes of sunlight beat down on the famously golden sands draped across St Ives Bay, a tall, white beacon glows brightly on the horizon.

Godrevy Lighthouse, perched atop its own natural island, looking over nearby Gwithian Beach, is an imposing structure and one that catches my eye whenever I de-flip flop and sink my toes into the warm sand.

I am very lucky to have Gwithian on my doorstep and over the years I have enjoyed watching its sands ebb and flow with every winter storm or packed with sun seekers on a long, hot summers day. But the one constant in the stunning coastal setting, is Godrevy Lighthouse. A beacon not just for sailors and fishermen over the years, but also an inspiration for one of our most fascinating authors; Virginia Woolf.

As a child, Woolf would take the train from London and travel to St Ives where she enjoyed many a summer with her family. Staying at Talland House in the town, the impressionable young Woolf would have had an uninterrupted view of the sprawling Bay ahead of her; the clear blue water, the golden sands much admired by countless artists, and Godrevy Lighthouse.

In retrospect nothing that we had as children made as much difference, was quite so important to us, as our summer in Cornwall,
— she wrote in A Sketch of the Past.

And that Cornish view had a lasting impact on Woolf, who is said to have used the structure as the creative backdrop to one of her most famous works, To The Lighthouse.

Although set on the Isle of Skye in Scotland, which is just as rugged but not quite as beautiful as the Cornish coast in my biased eyes, Woolf’s inspiration for the work came from her time at St Ives Bay.

And in this excerpt, she describes not only the famous lighthouse, but also the undulating sand dunes and wild grass dotted along the edge of the West Cornwall beach.

For the great plateful of blue water was before her; the hoary Lighthouse, distant, austere, in the midst; and on the right, as far as the eye could see, fading and falling, in soft low pleats, the green sand dunes with the wild flowing grasses on them, which always seemed to be running away into some moon country, uninhabited of men,
— To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

Whether it is being battered by a barrage of foaming white waves, looking down on a line-up of eager surfers, squealing children splashing in the shallow waters or lending a helpful wink to maritime travellers, Godrevy Lighthouse is an iconic part of the local landscape.

And I am pleased that even in some very small way, with every visit to Gwithian, I have an enduring connection to the fiercely creative, feminist, trailblazing literary leader that was Virginia Woolf.

 by Cherie Woodhouse