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3 huts by the sea: the prosiac, the sublime and the, well, rather unusual

Updated: Oct 3, 2018

The "huer's" hut overlooking the harbour near Newquay.

This walk has taken me past many places of shelter looking out to sea. Good places from which to work, reflect or dream.

The 14th century stone building above was occupied by a "huer" at certain times of year. His job was to spot shoals of pilchard approaching the coast. Then he would get out his horn and raise a "hue and cry", to mobilize the fishermen of the village. Apparently, "hue" comes from the Old French huer, which means "to shout", and "cry" from Old French crier. Not every huer had a horn. Others would shout 'Hevva!, Hevva!' to alert the boats to the location of the pilchard shoals. Cornish tradition states that Hevva cake was baked by the huers on their return to their homes, the cake being ready by the time the crews returned to land. After several centuries of sustainable fishing, the pilchards were over-fished in the late 19th century and the industry collapsed. And the huer was out of a job.

A poet's hut, in Welcombe, North Devon.

Ronald Duncan, (1914 – 1982) was a writer, poet and playwright, who settled in the 1940s in a remote valley in North Devon. He built this hut overlooking the sea and would come here to write each day. Nowadays he is best known for his poem The Horse and for preparing the libretto for Benjamin Britten's opera The Rape of Lucretia. Below is a poem dedicated to his daughter, Briony.

Duncan's ode to his daughter (with apologies for my reflection!)

Reverend Robert Hawker (1804-1875), the vicar of Morwenstow, Cornwall's most northerly parish, was a colourful character. Robert was the first resident minister for nearly a hundred years when he was appointed in 1835. He built the hut out of timbers from ships wrecked on the rocks below, and made a special effort to ensure that the drowned sailors were buried in the churchyard. Over the years he retrieved nearly 50 bodies. He used to sit in his hut, composing poetry and his sermons, looking out for shipwrecks and smoking opium.

Reverend Hawker's hut near Morwenstowe, which he built out of driftwood.

"Parson Hawker" introduced the Harvest Festival as it is known today, in 1843. The service was held on 1st October each year after that, and was adopted by other vicars. The local produce brought to the service was distributed to the poor.

The view from Reverend Hawker's hut, showing the rocks where the bodies of the sailors washed up.

Parson Hawker did not dress according to traditional vicar garb. He wore a purple coat or a yellow poncho, a fisherman’s blue jersey, crimson gloves, brown or red trousers, topped off sometimes with a fez. Robert had several unusual pets, including a stag and a coal-black pig named Gyp. Reportedly he rode on the pig sometimes as he visited houses in the parish. Apart from his eccentricities and humanity towards shipwrecked sailors, he is remembered as authoring "The Song of the Western Men" with its chorus line of "And shall Trelawny die? / Here's twenty thousand Cornish men / will know the reason why!", which he published anonymously in 1825.

The church at Morwenstow.

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