Just got back from a top weekend away in the most beautiful region I've seen yet. All my tripping so far has been to cities, so it was great to get back out among the rolling fields and near to the ocean.
Setting off early Thursday with my trusty travel mates (the loverliest, most easygoing people to holiday with you could ever meet), we took the hirecar west from Heathrow and into the hinterland. Got out of London okay, but about an hour into the trek the traffic was nuts, so we decided to stop off by a little circle of rocks just off the highway.
The aspect of Stonehenge that is missed in all the photos you see of it is not the thing itself but the commanding position it takes in the valley in which it is situated. Didn't know before I saw it that there are burial mounds around the whole site, so amidst all the questions among my party as to where and why and how, it seemed apparent that it was the ancient relation between the dead and the stars (a la Pyramids, Angkor Wat and others). With the peacefulness of the surrounding countryside, it definitely looked like some sort of grand resting place for important people of the time.
Pressing on, getting somehow lost in Exeter, I fell asleep sometime in the middle of Devon to awake to an extraordinarily sight. As the A30 weaved in and among the rolling hills, always so green, a beam of sunlight occasionally broke through the textured grey ceiling above us and cast its light upon a truly beautiful end of this island. As I returned to full consciousness, the road passed a clump of tall white windmills, a sight more akin to the countryside of the Netherlands, strangely graceful in all their clockwise glory. The landscape was punctuated further down the way by the old smokehouses. From foreground to horizon, they were littered in amongst farms and villages, everpresent remnants of Cornwall's mining past.
Pulling up at what I assume to be a really nice hostel (this trip was to pop my hostel cherry), we walked into Penzance, sought out some fish and chips and pulled up a park bench aside the bay. While waiting at the cafe for my plaice, I couldn't help but notice for the first time the Isles of Scilly, a clump of dots on the map about 30 miles into the ocean from Lands End. Later on, down at the pub at the end of the street, we met a friendly old guy at the bar who ended up being a font of information about the local area. Previously the mayor at one stage, I mentioned my surname and he mentioned three other Guy's he'd known over the years from these same islands. Hmm, the plot thickens!....
First day's trekking was to New Quay, one of the many nice little towns along the coast. Got some good pics, but I have to say I wasn't totally enthralled. There's a gigantic Walkabout overlooking the main beach, and when we ascended to the high road it was crammed with trinkets and silly t-shirt stores. Still, it was magnificent to finally see the Atlantic again, this time from it's eastern shores.
Saturday night saw us pull up a fine pub meal down by the bay before I managed to convince two of the four of my colleagues to hunt out the late night vibe in town, which found us dancing like monkeys in some sparsely populated upstairs barn presumably run by the local Lithuanian mafia (some of which I talked to at the bar, one of which faced me off for a while!). I went up to the DJ requesting some salsa and was given bright fluoro-coloured pop compilations in Russian! Or maybe I really was that drunk?
On the way home we decided to scale the fence at the park at the end of the street to be told off by some woman sitting inside the barbecue area, the brick and concrete adding a strange mythical witch-like effect to her voice as we ran off home.
I couldn't help wonder if I found Cornwall to be so beautiful not only because it actually was, but because of the ancestral connection. Part of my reason for coming was to visit the street in the village where my great grandfather was born, and so on Sunday morning, J-Sax and I caught a cab to Carn View Terrace, Upper Boscaswell, about fifteen minutes away.
Among the mists rolling in from the hill, we kind of stumbled on it by accident. A simple country laneway lined by tiny houses. I don't know what I was expecting, but we did a lap and then went on into the village. Left to our own devices while the others were off, I decided to press on down the hill to the Geevor mine. This and the Levant, a little further up the coast, was apparently where my family used to work as tin miners in the mid 19th century. As we entered the complex, it was amazing to look back at the village....none of this train in from your bedroom community two hours away....back in those days, you lived and worked in the same spot.
After a Devonshire tea with scones and and jam and gluttinous amounts of clotted cream (local specialty - I never knew!), we proceeded down to the cliffs, where the blue Atlantic engulfs one's vision. Walking west along what used to be the mine, we came across more old smokehouses, and with each one the view got more and more astoundingly beautiful. It added something to it too, the fact that my family worked these mines. This is where they were from.
About the fourth chimney along we looked down at the Levant mine. Much smaller than the Geevor, it seemed to sit on some sort of ledge between cliff edge and water, and I suddenly had a visual flashback to a watercolour on the side of the bookshelf in my grandfather's study. I'm guessing our family worked this one too.
We eventually got to about the fourth or fifth chimney, some sitting atop buildings, some just sticking out of the grounds, and united with our other travelling companions, we pulled up for lunch on a rocky outcrop from which we could see the whole thing. What a magnificent view! Such vivid green rolling down cliffs into the white spray and then striking blue. And the orange brick of the chimneys - incredible that the idea of them being there was so man-made, so foreign, and yet they looked like they had been always been there, would always be, gracefully disintegrating into the landscape. Drinking in the view, taking as many photos as I possibly could, I didn't want to leave. Undoubtedly the highlight of my weekend.
We drove along the coast up towards St Ives, a charming little seaside town, the best I'd seen so far. Big old beach right there in town, promenade, big green headland around to another beach, the works! And for Easter weekend, not as packed as one would think. Met up with some mates of J-Sax and drank into the night, but a bit more civilised this time around.
Monday morning saw us ferry over to St Michael's Mount, former castle monastery thingy, for a bit of a a wander. Incredible history, and got to walk back to shore over the causeway at lunchtime's low tide. The drive back was agony - it took us about ten hours all up to get back to Heathrow to return the hire car, and then another two to get home. A small time to waste though for an awesome weekend away.
After all that peacefully quiet civilised countryside and small townedness, with people actually taking time to talk to you and be polite and such, I clambered aboard the last bus home from Ladbroke Grove, and was immediately a little startled at the Londoner vibe. It had only been a few days!....