Bell Farm by M L Barneby

“The coast of Cornwall lay basking in the summer sunshine. The sea that in winter raged and hurled itself at the granite rocks which stood as sentinels between it and the gentle farmland, now caressed, and whispered its way in among the boulders, forming blue lagoons with purple shadows, turning to brilliant emerald where the sun caught the yellow sun below. The white gulls sailed lazily in the heavenly blue and cormorants, perched on island rocks. patiently held their wings to dry in the hot sun.

A rough track ran between two fields leading from Bell Farm to the cove. In winter when the gales brought in the seaweed, the farm men used this track to fetch it up in cart loads, mixed with dung it made good manure for the land. Now, the track was overgrown, with blue bells and red campion stitchwort like little stars and tall green ferns. The black birds sang in the privacy of the sloe trees and distant larks twittered high above the granite carn.

The farmhouse was e-shaped, facing south-west, a jutting wing on either side, to keep out the worst of the north and east gales. Outside the front door there was a small garden surrounded by a stone wall, a slate slab path ran between two plots of grass to the wicket gate. Round the edges the borders were gay with summer flowers. Scented pinks, snapdraons, marigolds and hollyhocks, pink and cream, standing like soldiers against the weather-beaten granite of the house.”

Now doesn’t that paint a wonderful picture? Bell Farm is a short book – just 122 pages – but it paints many wonderful pictures as it tell the stories of three generations of women.

Sarah, the daughter of the lord of the manor who fell in love with and married a farmer. She loved her life a farmer’s wife, but she lost her husband in a tragic accident and had to make the difficult decision to sell the farm and build a new life with her daughter Martha.

Meanwhile, after his parent’s deaths in Africa, John travelled home to Cornwall hoping to buy a farm, find a wife and raise a family. Yes, he bought Sarah’s farm and, in time, he would marry Martha.

Martha and John were happy, but they had troubles, and responsibility for the farm would then fall to their daughter Mary.

The story is simple, but very touching. The characterisation is slight, and everyone is a little too nice, a little too ready to help, but somehow that doesn’t matter. The tragedy balances the sweetness, and sometimes you need to believe in communities and that people are intrinsically good.

The pictures that it paints really make this book sing: the sea, the village, the farm, the countryside …

And the set pieces are wonderful. A funeral and the wake; the harvest; a farm sale; smuggling; Christmas. All aspects of Cornish country life are here.

Bell Farm won’t change the world, but it was a lovely book to curl up with for an hour or two on the sofa.

6 responses

  1. I love the first paragraph describing the sea whimpering in among boulders. We stayed at Mullion once and that description ‘transported’ right there.

  2. This sounds wonderful Jane. I love the extract that you quote. Not available here in Oxfordshire Libraries – may have to look for a second hand copy when I’m down in the county.

    • Verity, Bell Farm was self published a few years ago. The Cornish library service has a few copies and I’ll keep an eye open for used copies too.

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