Saturday, July 30, 2022

Cornwall, Part 1

Having read many books set in Cornwall, I was eager to see it for myself and asked my friend Cath of Read-warbler, who grew up there, if she and her husband could spare the time to go there with me, following my month in London. I was delighted when she agreed not only because I knew it would be fun to meet her in real life but also because I knew I would see more of Cornwall with two experts. And I suspected that three book lovers would never run out of things to say!
St. Ives from above
Most of the USM students had left for Heathrow very early, so it was a bit odd not to have said goodbye, but because one of the elevator banks had stopped working, the group terror of having to carry luggage down many flights had superseded ordinary farewells! We were admonished to bring our bags down the night before to avoid crises and, laden with much luggage, I was lucky that the bus stop just yards from our front door took me to Paddington for my train to Devon. After about two hours, I reached Tiverton where Cath and her husband Peter were waiting for me, and took me to their home, a lovely house on an incline with an impressively-tended garden and greenhouse. It was nice to be spoiled after a month in a dorm – Cath had made a lavish lunch and then a high tea at night, with scones and cake and a tart! I swore silently I would return to the gym the minute I got home and then indulged. Peter is also a big reader although prefers ebooks, so there was much congenial discussion, sitting in their living room. I also really liked the sunroom they had built onto the house, which I could imagine brightening up many long winter days. I slept in her granddaughter’s room which was full of books I knew and loved.
Strolling in St. Ives
On Saturday, Peter drove us to Cornwall. It was not as far as I expected and although I imagined it would all be narrow curvy backroads there were highways for most of the trip. When we got hungry, we stopped for lunch at the Trevathan Farm Shop and Restaurant, where families could pick strawberries before having a meal. Back when I was in college, there was a bakery chain called Warburton’s known for its mouthwatering Cornish pasties and equally delicious square muffins. I had not had a Cornish pasty since the Warburton’s chain was acquired by Au Bon Pain in 1992 and I was not disappointed. I think we all got steak and onion pasties which were very good.
St. Ives Harbor
We checked into our hotel, a Premier Inn in Camborne, which was well situated and quite comfortable, with an adjacent restaurant. Cath and I laughed that the first thing we saw in the lobby was two shelves of discarded books (nothing very appealing, although we checked). After settling in briefly, we jumped back in the car. We drove to Mousehole (pronounced “Mowzel”), a fishing port south of Penzance, known for its narrow harbor and picturesque village. Some may know the award-winning, The Mousehole Cat, a children's book by Antonia Barber (I am a big fan of her book, The Amazing Mr. Blunden). Based on the legend of Cornish fisherman Tom Bawcock and the stargazy pie (which sounds picturesque but dreadful), it tells the tale of a cat that keeps its owner company on a risky fishing expedition in rough and stormy seas. There was some festival going on that made it impossible to find parking but we saw a lot anyway and it seemed quite charming.Equally important was a visit to the best ice cream in Cornwall – Moomaid ice cream in St. Just, another very small village. Peter got me hooked on their specialty, Shipwreck, sea salt ice cream made with local milk, dulce de leche caramel and honeycomb.  Nice to be with those who like ice cream as much as the Martins do!
The next morning we set out early to beat the traffic and went to St. Ives. What a beautiful town! After parking, we descended carefully down steep paths, with great views from every angle and getting better as we got closer to the water. We breakfasted in a café that had originally been a bank. The food was good, and it was on a main street across the street from the library (alas, closed) and afforded good people watching. Then we continued to make our way down, stopping first at a charity shop to check out the books (Peter waited patiently outside, although did tell me, totally deadpan, that I was a bad bookbuying influence on his wife!), then walked further down and found the St. Ives Bookseller, a delightful bookshop that managed to squeeze an amazing assortment of books in a relatively small space.
Lunch at the Tinner Arms
I was tempted by all the books on the Cornwell “local interest” shelf and finally settled on a beautifully packaged mystery called The Lamplighters by Emma Stonex, beautifully packaged by Picador. Cath surprised me with a tote bag after we left, which will be a nice reminder of this trip. We sat overlooking the harbor and enjoyed the people (and dog) watching for some time. I had liked a women’s clothing store I had seen in Wells called Seasalt, full of pretty prints, the sort of shapeless clothes that look charming on some people and make others look like neglected orphans. There was a branch near the bookshop so we went in and I admired the merchandise but did not purchase anything, although I think Cath found some socks.
Seen at the Tinners Arms
Soon we were hungry again and set off for the Tinners Arms in Zennor, built in 1271, originally intended to accommodate the masons who constructed St. Senara’s Church nearby. There was a sunny garden on one side but we opted for shade near the church. Peter had explained to me that a cheese and pickle sandwich did not include American-style pickles (which I dislike) but was more like cheese and chutney so I considered trying that but instead opted for Buttermilk Fried Chicken Goujons, which were delicious, sort of like chicken tenders with coriander and a lime dressing. Then we walked up to see St. Senara’s Church. The present church also dates to the 12th century, but it is thought to stand on the site of a cell founded by the 6th-century saint, Senara, whose name has been altered over the centuries to become 'Zennor'.
St. Senara's, Zennor
Initially, we thought it was locked but probably I didn’t pull hard enough at the door because suddenly it was opened by the Vicar who invited us inside and showed us its famous carved mermaid chair. The carving, which shows a mermaid carrying a comb and mirror, is generally estimated at between 1400-1500.
The Mermaid of Zennor
She told us the legend, that a local choirboy, Matthew Trewhella, was known for his pure singing voice. A mermaid named Morveren, hearing his song, came into the church to listen. She was smitten by Matthew and lured him into the sea at nearby Pendour Cove. He never returned, and on warm summer evenings it is said that their voices can be heard singing from beneath the waves. We enjoyed exploring the church and graveyard; it looked as if there was a baptism in the church after we left.
Cape Cornwall
We got ice cream again at the Moomaid in St. Just before driving to Cape Cornwall, a dramatic headland on the southwest tip of Cornwall. A cape is a place where two great bodies of water meet, and Cape Cornwall marks the point where the Atlantic currents divide. Some of the water flows north into the Bristol Channel and the Irish Sea, and the rest becomes the English Channel. The road we had driven in revealed chimney stacks from when the local mines were active, while the view of the water was stupendous. It was very windy but fun to walk around on the rocks, although impossible to capture the beauty in pictures. I could well believe the Brisons Rocks in the distance had caused many shipwrecks.
Cape Cornwall
Our final stop of the day was the beach in Marazion, with the tidal island of St Michael's Mount close enough to walk to at low tide. Cath said she used to come with friends as a child to hang out at the beach. We walked along the pier, admiring the castle which is now owned by the St Aubyn family. It was a truly magical few days, made possible by the kindness of my hosts, who were determined to make sure I got a real taste of Cornwall.
Marazion, looking at St. Michael's Mount


Cath said...

After the trials and tribulations of the last couple of weeks it was 'so' nice to be reminded of the excellent time we had in Cornwall. Your post brought back so many happy memories... lots of wonderful book chat, all kinds of other chats, ice-cream, pasties, that walk down to Menibily, bookshops... and so much more. It was all just delightful and thanks for posting about it. I'll do a quick post on my own blog later linking to the post.

Jeanne said...

I've always wanted to go to Cornwall so it's nice to read about someone who did! Also I love the way you write, especially this: "the sort of shapeless clothes that look charming on some people and make others look like neglected orphans."

Jennifer said...

I've always wanted to visit Cornwall so this was lovely to read. The photos you posted make me want to go even more badly. How nice of your friend to give you such a good time.

Jerri said...

Lovely blog post, almost makes me feel I was there with you. What a lovely follow up to your time in London. Thank you for sharing.

Some of my favorite books set in Cornwall is the four book series by Carola Dunn that starts with Manna from Hades. I love the "older woman" heroine and the setting. Another favorite of mine is The Shell Seekers by R. Pilcher.

CLM said...

Thank you again for such a good time, Cath!

I am sure others have wanted to visit Cornwall and like me, wondered where to start. I was trying to think if most books use real or made up settings.

Jerri, I have read some Carola Dunn but not that series. I will look for it. I had read The Shell Seekers long ago but it was the first thing I read when I returned! It was even better the second time around.

Katrina said...

So many of my favourite books have been set in Cornwall so for years I wanted to go there and eventually made it about 20 years ago. It's a long drive from Scotland, but it rained almost the entire week, and it was July! It looks like you had great weather. I loved Tintagel.

TracyK said...

What a wonderful post with lovely photos and great descriptions of food. It sounds like you, Cath and Peter had a great time and they knew all the best places to go.

Susan said...

What a beautiful place Cornwall is. Wow! And Cath sounds even lovelier in person than she is online. How fun that you got to meet up with her.

LyzzyBee said...

How lovely! There's a great bookshop in Penzance (the Edge of the World) and St Just as well, can't remember what it's called, and another second hand bookshop in Pz, I think The Penzance Bookshop. Nice to see places I knew well a few years ago, thank you for sharing!

Nan said...

This was wonderful!! I envy you both. What a wonderful time. We were there in 1977. I'm sure there are zillions of changes since, mostly I would guess more people. I also read that locals can barely afford to live there. So sad, and happening a lot of places.
I wrote a little bit about our trip many years ago.