Later this year I will be inviting OUS Cornwall on a guided tour of ‘Kerdroya’, a 56m diameter labyrinth built from traditional Cornish hedging. If your geography or your diary should preclude you from joining us to visit the labyrinth under construction, here are three things to bend your brain around to help you grasp what is unfolding here in the middle of Bodmin Moor.
Firstly, for many Cornish people, Cornwall has never been a peripheral county on the southwestern fringe of England, for us the peninsula has always been ‘Kernow’, the ancient granite kingdom right at the heart of the transnational Celtic seaways.
Secondly, Kerdroya is not a ‘maze’, a puzzle with branching paths and dead ends, but rather a ‘labyrinth’, a single meandering path that leads the pilgrim to the centre and back again. It is while slowly walking this continuous path, free from decision-making, that many labyrinth aficionados find a spiritual connection, or meditative state. In the Cornish language: ‘Yn milhyntall yth omgellir, yn kerdroya yth omgevir.’ (‘In a maze you get lost, in a labyrinth you find yourself!’)
The classical labyrinth icon is found from the Mediterranean (yes, think Crete and the Minotaur) all the way along the Western seaboard of Europe. Many of these examples date back some 4,000 years to the early Bronze Age with its proto-Celtic lingua franca.
Thirdly, in Cornwall a ‘hedge’ is not a row of green bushes, nor is it a dry-stone wall, but rather a distinctive hybrid of the two. A Cornish hedge is a stone-faced bank with a rammed-earth core; a construction technique that, just like the labyrinth, can also be traced back 4,000 years. Their antiquity has led to the claim that Cornish hedges are amongst the oldest structures on the planet still in use for their original function!
Kerdroya is a carbon-neutral piece of land art that is busily recycling the site-won materials of an abandoned car park into a reclaimed habitat for flora and fauna. Cornish hedges support more than 600 species of flowering plants and more than ten thousand species of invertebrates, including critical pollinators. Not only are Cornish hedges corridors through ecological space, they are also corridors through time – preserving a pre-agricultural seed array within their banks. With many miles lost to development in recent years, and an ageing demographic of skilled hedgers, Cornish hedges are increasingly at risk. So, as part of the Kerdroya project, the ‘Outdoor University of Cornish Hedging’ was launched. The Guild of Cornish Hedgers have been on site nurturing the next generation of hedgers with more than 100 individuals learning the traditional craft.
Once Kerdroya opens to the public, in late 2023, the visitor will walk the path of the labyrinth, through stretches of artisan stonework celebrating locally distinctive building styles from the far-flung corners of Kernow. At the centre lies a bespoke commissioned sculpture, ‘The Heart of Kerdroya’ crafted by father and son metal sculptors Thrussells, whose studio sits just half a mile away. When much of our modern life feels so short-sighted, Kerdroya is Slow Art, consciously taking a view 4,000 years into the past as well as 4,000 years into the future. How shall we communicate with those who will come after us? How do we create something that is benign ecologically, and that sets the tone about de-colonising our relationship with our environment and with our own culture? This is a project that is designed, at its very heart, to be here long after we’ve gone.