Rolling verdant hills pulsed against rocky coastline. I’m intrigued by interesting boundary lines/compatibilities, and Cornwall is a collection of visible paradoxes. I loved it as I love all raw edges.
The urban pastoral ideal.
Cornwall is a region of the UK which includes the farthest-most penninsula of the island-country. There, the weather changes faster than the dialect. Locals say with relish that in Cornwall you get all seasons in a day, “r”s rolling like the oncoming storm. When the sun does shine there, the light glows with a purity, a clarity, an effervescence that I’ve only experienced one other time- in Venice. And if you like your landscapes rural and rugged, your air frothy and salt-tinged, and your people friendly and generous, I can’t think of a better place to go. Getting there is a bit of work, but then, isn’t the journey to anything great? And it doesn’t hurt that the landscape bears a striking resemblance to the Shire.
You can’t quite make out the badger holes, but they’re there.
While in Cornwall, I visited St. Austell, St. Ives, Land’s End, the Minack Theater near Porthcurno, Land’s End, and the Eden Project near Boldelva. I recommend them all, but so enamored was I of the light and the look of that land, I have a suspicion that I would’ve loved anywhere in the region.
We’re being closely watched.
I stayed with friends at an organic farm near St. Austell, where bellowing cows and newborn calves followed us up and down the hillsides. It was perfection, a delicious reprieve from London that I didn’t know I needed but nevertheless loved. That night we spent in the only local pub was one of my favorites. We played trivial pursuit, charmed the bartender into letting us stay late, and talked of small-scale revolution. The walk there, down a mile of winding country roads in the sunset, caught and kept our affections for the place. But the walk back, fueled by wine and some unlikely tequila shots courtesy of Mr. H.N., was even better. When we returned to the farm, we rested on the sundial, in the middle of the night, talking forever about nothingness.
St. Ives from the hilltop.
By the next morning, we were eating pancakes and soon venturing down toward the coast at St. Ives. Go there. Now if you can. Old men sit with old men outside tiny tea shops on the coastline, watching the boats come in and eating scones. A Tate museum anchors itself to the cliffs around the bend. Rowdy, crowds fill the picnic benches outside the pub, and an old dog watches. The pace here is almost continental, but the feel is distinctly its own; to me, there seems to be an unpredictable edge to “Englishness,” and I felt it here. Maybe invigorated is a better word.
During low tide, the water drops so far that the entire floor of the inlet is exposed and boats rest on the sandy ground. Standing down on that beach is a fantastic feeling. Three hours later, and you’d be submerged. Here the dogs play with abandon, and here, I touched the Atlantic again for the first time in months.
While in St. Ives, I’d recommend visiting a pub- any will do, according to your preference- and find the little bakeshop that sits on the corner on the second block from the ocean. It has little carrot cake muffins and pixie Cornish pasties to die for. And you’ve got to try the ice cream made with Cornish cream at Mermaid & Zennor by the water.
Tiny mollusks, attached to the concrete walls of the harbor, click and spit, but you’ve got to get close for it to be audible. Bess, being from the ocean, knew to listen for it. For a while, four of us stood there, noses almost touching the wall, facing away from the ostensible focal point. As we looked down the wall, more and more people started getting close, turning ears toward the chatter.
Far out, that iconic lighthouse stands as an impossibly small, white sentry.
Those are all the true blues.
Though I’m a vegetarian, I do make exceptions for critical moments, unique opportunities, new experiences. Fish and chips in St. Ives was an absolute must. We went to a little shop on a secondary street called The Dolphin. I can’t speak to the relative good of them, since I’ve only had fish and chips very few times, but we enjoyed them. We also enjoyed this Boilers cornish ale with them.
St. Ives, land of plenty.
After lunch, we’d decided to split up. I think we were all pretty anxious to get a bit of free time, a bit of alone time, to explore. I wound my way up the hill to the highest, furthest outpost. It had once been a Royal Navy site but is now just a picnicking place. Leaning against the stone wall, watching the waves below, I was feeling a bit too much like an introspective movie loner. When I heard a familiar voice hollering out my name, I was happily surprised to see Bess further down the same wall. Turns out, we’d split, both gotten dessert and then walked up to this farthest outcropping.
“What’re your plans next?” she asked.
“I don’t know, maybe go look at that church and then go to a pub.”
“Glad to hear we’re on the same page. Why’d we split up again?”
St. Nicholas’ Chapel, St. Ives.
The little church drawn on the peak of that hillside on the beer label looks even more remarkably perched in person. Walking up to it feels almost surreal. The wind rips around the hills, crying through the crevasses, pulling froth from the crests of waves and twisting hair into knots. It’s a beautiful, immense place.
The chapel is just a small, stone room with a hearth and a pleasant man sitting at a writing desk. Presumably, he was a volunteer for the Chapel to help visitors or pilgrims.
Dandelions and daffodils.
As Bess and I were making our way down the hillside, we heard a brief peal of laughter. Looking up, we saw two local teenagers flying a kite from the cliff top. They hollered something at us but I’m not sure what it was.
Let’s go fly a kite.
We were visiting Cornwall over Easter break, which just happened to be the same weekend as the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking. In honor of the event, we had plans to see a play about the Titanic at the legendary Minack Theater. But we had a few hours before that happened, and decided to make a detour to Land’s End.
Land’s End is the farthest westward point of England. It’s a small length of coastline with a cheap strip mall and a strange miniature village. But it embodies that rugged aesthetic.
Lastly, the prettiest view of the ocean was at Minack Theater. The Theater was built in the early half of the 1900s by a local woman. She constructed it by hand, in an effort to provide a place for students and the community to experience art. She also created an arena to view the scenery.
On the precarious road up to the theater.
A similar view, from the theater itself.
Though it was one of the worst plays I’ve ever seen, it was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.
The last stop in Cornwall, before we made the five hour train ride back to London, was the Eden Project. The Eden Project is a giant biosphere nestled in a valley. There’s a tropical jungle and a mediterranean grove inside the domes, and a rustic cafe between them. If you like the pictures, you’d like visiting the Eden Project. But I’m not sure it’s for everyone.
Gone to the birds.
The ride home was long, and felt too slow. We rode by the stony towers of Bath, and through the suburbs of London back to St. Pancras station. Walking home, back through Russell Square with my dear friends and planning our upcoming days, I was infected with the spirit of the place left behind. Still am.
Laissez les bon temps rouler,