Thursday, March 02, 2006

Cornwall, Penzance and Lands End!

Cornwall is beautiful, and I love the ocean. I’ve never really realised how much I love the ocean until this trip. I used to really dislike salt water, then I went to the Mediterranean, I loved it. The Atlantic is just amazing. As I sat on moss covering a slab of weatherworn rock jutting out over a cliff watching the sunset in Lands End (the furthest west point of Britain) I was not mesmerised by the sunset, as much as the crashing waves…

Stephanie, Morgan and I met at Paddington station to leave for Cornwall on Friday 17 February; we’d left work to catch an early train down and we’d al made it to the station with time to spare. I bought some snacks while waiting for Steph and Morgan to arrive got some money from a cash-point and we all boarded the train to Penzance on Platform 2; like it said on the screens and over the PA… this is a relevant point. We were excited to be on the train so early, we had a whole car to ourselves got a table, put our bags up on the racks, spread out and relaxed; this was all important because the train ride was going to be 5 ½ hours.

The train was scheduled to leave at 2:05p, and trains in Britain are neither early or late but are always on time, to the second if they can be; so this early departure was a little strange. As we watched London start to fall away around us a woman came over the PA and thanked us for boarding the Train to Bristol

I looked at Steph and Morgan, the two of them were wide eyed, a panic stricken look on their faces. They were calm, but obviously distressed; I stood and told them I was going to find out what to do. I walked the length of the train and found the woman at the front, starting to take the tickets there and told her we were looking for the train to Penzance, and they had said Platform 2; to which she replied, “That train leaves at 2:05.” A rather silly thing to say as that it was 2:07 and I was on the train to Bristol I asked her what we could do, and luckily the next stop, Reading (pronounced: Redding), was also a stop for the Penzance train we’d noticed and she said we could change there for the Penzance train, which (we hoped) would be arriving shortly after we disembarked.

We got off the train at Reading and the screens said the next train was for Penzance, as the Bristol train pulled out I thanked the woman, who had stuck her head out the window, and smiled, she returned my smile and moments later our train arrived. We no longer had a comfortable table, all sitting together with our stuff placed as we wished. The Penzance train had over a dozen stops maybe more, so the train was packed with people. I sat with my two shopping bags and a carry-on, on my lap squeezed into a seat by the window next to some guy who looked annoyed that I’d asked to sit there. Morgan was at the same table, but Steph was across the car and down a ways. I read, listened to music, slept and ate my lunch that I’d bought with my snacks and eventually opened some tasty Sainsbury’s Cornflake & Chocolate biscuits (they’re freaking awesome) and shared them around, even with the guy sitting next to me, who refused at first, but smartly changed his mind only seconds later.

After an hour or so the guy next to me hot off and Steph moved to our table so we were back together. We chatted, slept, listened to our various iPods, and generally tried everything we could do to pass the time, including talking about requisitioning the name Team Alpha.

**Side story – earlier in the day Andy had written an Email that named each of the two teams of three travelling separately to Cornwall. Meredith, Andy and Alissa were going to be Team Alpha (according to this email) coming on the 9pm train, and we were going to be Team Delta Gamma in Honour of the frat boy bangers or something. We disliked the implication as well as the fact that we’d be leaving almost 8 hours before them… therefore. WE became Team Alpha. – We now return you to the regularly scheduled blog**

We arrived in Penzance before dark and were, hungry, excited, and exhausted from the long train ride, but ready to drop our packs and get some food. We walked up and through the high street of town, down a sloping hill and found our Bed & Breakfast; the Con Amore. The man who checked us in was very nice, and very bald, with a thin British accent, but very friendly and had very warm manners. He let us drop our bags, answered some questions, and asked us about our train ride; then he gave us directions to a couple of good (and cheaper) places to eat.

We continued down the sloping hill to the Promenade (the street right on the ocean, quite literally, the sea wall was the right side of the sidewalk) and proceeded down the road in the darkness looking out at the sea and listening to the crashing of the waves on the sea wall at our feet. We walked to a place called The Yacht and sat down for dinner; I ordered Mussels in a White Wine and Garlic sauce which was amazing. We even ordered dessert, and laughed as we ate it about how Team Delta Gamma (Andy, Alissa and Meredith) had only been on the train a short while and we were enjoying our dessert. We ordered a bowl of ice cream with raspberry sauce and clotted cream and the dessert of the day (as a gamble) a jammy cake. I think it was a Jam Cake, but Jammy sounds better. They arrived and we dug in. Steph and I each had a half spoonful of Clotted Cream; expecting a sweet flavour I was quite surprised at my half spoonful of what seemed like pure butter. It was of course clotted cream, which sounds gross but when mixed with things turned out to amazingly complementary! Just don’t eat a spoonful of it. We devoured the Jammy Cake, it was fantastic, and then slumped over, exhausted. Not so exhausted that we couldn’t go for a pint though! We headed over to a place called the Dolphin and got a pint each. We talked for a while, Steph and I went into über-dork mode and decided Team Alpha was good, but this was Penzance! We needed a more Penzancian name, so we racked our brains for something pirate-ish as that Penzance was a big pirate/smuggler area (thus the Pirates of Penzance). Everyone was in on the smuggling, even the Vicars, they’d hid the goods in the churches! We came up with ranks for each of us, Steph being the Cap’n, me the 1st Lieutenant (pronounced in Britain Left-tenant) and Morgan the 2nd Lieutenant. Our ship was called the Bonny Anne, the combination of known pirate names and then reversing them Anne Bonny (1697-?) was a female pirate of Irish descent who sailed with Calico Jack Rackham throughout the Caribbean. Much of what is known about Anne Bonny is based on Defoe's "A General History of the Pyrates." Official records and contemporary letters dealing with her life are scarce. Various sources disagree about her birth year, but it was probably between 1697 and 1705.

During our dork-time Morgan was just starting at us. We all found it pretty entertaining. We even did a pirate toast before we left. Finally, we trooped home, and I read my book to wait for the others but fell asleep before they arrived…

The next morning the others were actually at breakfast before Team Alpha/Crew of the Bonny Anne! We got down there and had fun talking with each other across tables and enjoying the breakfast food. We changed and left the B&B, found out our boat trip was not happening that day and decided instead to see the city. We walked down the promenade and realised it was way different in the light of day, there was a huge bay, complete with a giant coast guard boat on the horizon and a castle on a mountain on an island on the distant coast. It was beautiful.

Most everyone wandered down to the water except Morgan and I, we weren’t dumb, I saw the waves crashing against the wall the night before, and with the behaviour of the ocean at that moment I knew it was going to again soon even though it wasn’t at that moment. Needless to say, they all got a little wet as a wave actually made it up to the wall right where they were, almost to the next staircase up from the rocky beach. I was sure to laugh at them.

We kept to the coastline, wandering down by the public pool and taking some pictures of the bay and the waves, but eventually headed into the gardens in the town centre, they were beautiful and although it was still February had many blossoms and lush greenery. Penzance, being right on the coast is warmed by the warm waters of the Atlantic current coming from the coast of Central America (pretty cool eh?).

After a good wander we headed up into town for shopping and to experience Penzance (not just the coastline). Alissa and Meredith bought matching wellys at a shoe store on the high street, I bought bread in an organic bakery (so good) and we went into a number of other stores as well. We stopped for some mulled wine on the cold day and waited for a bus to take us to Lands End, the westernmost Point of Britain! On the bus we spent our time napping and talking intermittently. The ride was around an hour or so because we had to trek all the way across the peninsula.

When we arrived at Lands End it was raining. We walked around in the rain, the girls loving their new rubber boots, and walked up and down the coast taking pictures of the rock formations and the amazing Atlantic. We stopped in the bar there (because everything else was closed for the season) and ordered pasties (Cornish Pasties!!)

**History time!!**

The Cornish Pasty is the forerunner of the Michigan Pasty found commonly in the Upper Peninsula. Cornwall is widely known as an area of mines and miners, but during the populating of the U.P. and the discovery and excavation of the copper mines in the Keewenaw peninsula many Cornish miners moved to upper Michigan! They brought with them their traditions, including the Pasty! Today, the pasty is a strong part of the U.P. Experience, and is the cause of some of the only real feuds in the part of the state. People will fight over two things in the U.P.: Green Bay or the Lions? –and– Ketchup or Gravy (on your pasty).

**End History Time**

After our pasty we chilled and warmed up in the pub while waiting for the bus to take us back toward the east side of Cornwall. While we waited we wandered further down the coast to where a huge barge had grounded itself in 2003, but by 2006 it had been devastated by the pounding of the waves to just a small chunk of it’s previous size. I snapped a picture and we walked along in little groups of two or three enjoying the sounds of the waves and the view.

We took a little too long on our shoreline adventure and had to run back to the bus, or we thought we had, but really we got on and waited the 20 minutes until it left. We got off at the Minack Theatre stop, walking the ¼ mile back up the road (uphill) to the coast again and to the Minack theatre. The Minack Theatre is carved into the side of the mountain. It was the brainchild of a woman named Rowena Cade in 1929, who using the help of a few workers created the open air theatre many storeys above the surging Atlantic coastline. It is still used today for 16 shows a summer (mostly Shakespeare of course).
We got there and it was closed; so we walked down the cliff face a bit and found a spot to watch the sunset. It was amazingly beautiful to sit on a rock over the water and watch the sun setting over the Atlantic. I kept getting caught up in the beauty of the waves and the sun… what a sight. I sat on a rock that was jutting out over the cliff face, Steph was closest to me but didn’t want to climb down to where I was, so I sat and enjoyed the view alone, but it was still fantastic.

After the sun had mostly set and the colours had faded we headed down the other side of the cliff-face onto a beach in a valley of rocks. It was beautiful and sandy, thought with no sun getting cold fast. Steph and Alissa wanted to stand in the water and Andy and I were racing the waves, getting as close as we could and then running like crazy children. I saw a huge wave coming and knew it was going to be too fast to run from, but it was too late… Steph and Alissa got hit and were smiling at the wave as it kept rising and rising, above their boots surging and splashing all the way to Steph’s butt. Andy and I laughed for a long while, and made as many comments as we dared. We went back and caught the bus to town as it was getting very dark and we were getting hungry.

Dinner was at the Dolphin again, pints and seafood mostly. Morgan and I ordered something called Whitebait, not realising what it was. When it arrived… it was a pile of fish. Little ones… with the eyes and tails and scales… Morgan turned white as a sheet, and covered her mouth. I had (thankfully) ordered a starter, and went to talk to the barkeep to let him know I’d much rather have the mackerel, and that Morgan would like a change of order as well. He was very understanding and took the pile of little minnow sized crispy fish (that were staring at all of us) away.

We laughed late into the night, leaving only as the bar was closing, talking about the day, teaching the others Euchre (crazy non-Michiganders… they needed to learn eventually) and as we petered off to bed we all wandered back to the Con Amore.

Sunday was the day of the boat trip. We were up again for breakfast, talked with Keith (the bald, friendly owner of the B&B) for a little while and then went upstairs and waited for it to be time to leave… Team Zach-Morris’-Cell-Phone (what we’d dubbed the other team) was showering and generally taking forever, so we watched a really interesting soap opera that was for the deaf, so there was no talking on the show at all, just sign and closed captions… it was weird, and still a crappy soap; so we watched it for about 30 minutes. After that we became exposed to the horribility (don’t care if it is a word it’s a good description) of One Tree Hill. I’d rather watch a car crash, because that was just schieße.

Finally, they were ready and we put our bags in the dining area for the day and walked over to the Albert Dock for our boat ride. We met with our two boat drivers/tour guides -who were exceedingly nice- Duncan and… dammit I forget her name (we’ll call her Sarah) put on our huge red rain/boat suits and got in the boat. It was about 20 feet long/12 feet wide and had two 80hp Yamahas on the back. I asked and Duncan said it could reach a top speed of 30 knots (34.5233834 mph) which is pretty good for a little boat like that- it even had inflatable sides so it was technically a permanent raft.

We were off, heading in the cold wind across the bay, I refused to wear my hood or a hat (but gloves were a must) and I could taste the salt in the water as it sprayed my face. Before we’d even crossed the bay Andy and I were soaked, Steph was well on her way and Morgan was the coldest she’d ever been in her life… only 2.5 hours to go. I was lovin’ it.

That was in no way a throwback to McDonalds.
McDonalds sucks and for those that are ‘lovin’ it’ – little children everywhere make fun of you behind your back.

When we’d finally slowed enough Sarah started talking about the Mound; which was a Castle on a partially isolated island in the bay. I say partially isolated because you can walk to it in low tide… We learned that the family still lived in the castle (but in the old servants quarters –which is lavish enough– because it would cost a fortune to heat and maintain) so the main part of the castle is left to tourism, which mostly occurs in the summertime.
Looking for wildlife was difficult because the waves were crashing and we were bobbing up and down with the motion of the ocean, as it turned out there were no seals at the mound, but some interesting birds called Scags. We motored over to another place to learn about the coastline and the wildlife, but again no seals. After motoring down the coast seeing some more wildlife looking at the beautiful coasts, watching the boats go by, and unfortunately not seeing any more wildlife (aside from birds).

We went quite far down and around the coasts of Cornwall and eventually back to the beach where we were the night before and got to see the Minack Theatre! HA! Take that people who wanted to take our money. We saw so many beautiful land formations and coastlines, but I can’t really describe them… we’ll have to try some pictures…

After the ride was over, we peeled off our Red rain-suits and headed for a café for coffee/hot chocolate. The nearest one we could find was in the upstairs of the outdoor mall. Which was really fabulous, although a bit pricy; I got Irish Coffee, which makes everything better. After coffee we headed back to the B&B and headed to the train station to go back to London. We were pretty Cornwall-ed out and exhausted after that boat trip. So our fabulous trip ended after coffee and a brief bite to eat. What a great weekend.


Litzner said...

The Lions and Ketchup (of course ketchup, gravy on your pasty is just wrong, WRONG I tells ya!)

Kris. said...

This is an excellent post.
Especially the part where you spelled scheße wrong, and then fixed it.
Have fun on your adventure, I'll miss the sometimes updated blog.