Monday, August 10, 2009
Having spent so much time overseas in the past month, my boyfriend and I decided to take it easy in the UK last weekend. No, we didn’t stay home. We headed to Cornwall for two days of seaside relaxation in England’s southwest.
After a frightening incident in which our driver fell asleep at the wheel on the way to the airport, we arrived in Newquay just as the sun was coming up. Not wasting any time, we headed straight for the Eden Project, Cornwall’s impressive sustainable garden initiative.
After a few hours of wandering through space-age domes with fauna from the Mediterranean climates of France and California and the humid jungles of the Amazon and Asia, we headed up to Padstow for lunch. The town, which is as picturesque as seaside towns get, is better known as Padstein, as celebrity chef Rick Stein has overtaken the town with restaurants bearing his name.
Not in the mood for a leisurely lunch, we picked up a Cornish pasty from Stein’s Patisserie and walked around the tiny winding streets and cobbled waterfront. The tide was out, so all the boats were resting on the sand like brightly colored beached whales. It reminded us a lot of the seaside towns in Norfolk we visited last year.
From Padstow we drove to Trebetherick, the tiny town with the complicated name that was home to our hotel, the St Moritz. After checking in, we took a walk down to the tidepool filled beach. Climbing over the mussel blanketed rocks, we saw big mottled crabs and tiny minnows swimming in the sleepy arms of seaweed.
The next day we walked along the coastal trail to Polzeath, a surf town with a huge beach and a million yellow foam boards in the water. The waves were tiny, but it was fun to watch people honing their budding surfing skills. The town itself was full of surf shops, surf schools, and surf rentals, and felt a lot like a smaller, colder version of Biarritz.
We spent the rest of the day driving west toward the end of the world. Or at least the end of England, which might as well be the end of the world as far as this tiny island is concerned. We first stopped at St Ives, a Padstow-like town full of raindrops and devoid of parking.
Not stopping there, we headed south to St Michael’s Mount, which happens to be the English version of Mont-Saint-Michel. I never would have guessed. We followed the lemming trail down the rocky path through the sea, feeling a bit like Jesus as we walked through kelp beds without getting wet.
Once on the tiny island, we hiked up to the top for a tour of the monastery-cum-stately home and some good views of the Cornish coast. As we walked back down, we saw the tide coming in. By the time we got back to our path, there was a trail of people knee-deep in water trying to beat the tide before it made the Mount an island again. We took a boat.
With a few hours left, our American penchant for Manifest Destiny pushed us farther west again. We drove through Penzance, a town I had always wanted to see after watching The Pirates of Penzance on a random family road trip through Jackson Hole as a 14-year-old. All I remembered from the play was a song with the line “modern major general” in it, and so had that one line stuck on repeat in my head from there to Land’s End.
Land’s End is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s the western-most point of the island and perhaps the most overtly touristy. We drove through beautiful countryside to get there, then ended up in a parking lot with a fun-fair-like marquee marring the view of the peninsula. I think there was a metaphor somewhere in there. We turned around.
As we drove back to Newquay through beautiful green hills and along rocky cliffs, we once again fell under the spell of the English countryside. The Cotswolds had it, the New Forest had it, and Cornwall certainly had it in spades.
As we wound our way through two lane roads that became one lane roads hemmed in by tall bush on either side, followed tractors down narrow lanes, and smiled at all the signs proclaiming Fresh Eggs and Fruit for Sale, I couldn’t help but feel like for all the time I spend traveling outside of the UK, I’m missing out on some pretty amazing places inside of it. I need to travel domestic more.