Cornwall : Landscapes of nostalgia
Dusk, memory and silence.
... with the occasional crunch of a Cornish pasty.
That was the first thing I heard as we strolled down the harbour of Padstow in the late evening light. There were people about of course, like London, at this hour. The only difference was the comfortable silence that blanketed the town- the type of quiet that fills the gaps between conversations. And after a day on the road with Doja Cat blaring from the speakers, it was almost unearthly peaceful as chatter resigned to the relaxing lapping of the water against the harbour, the calls of the seagulls above. Dinner was quite the impressive fair as we (as a food-obsessed nation) inevitably raved about the freshness of the seafood and the comparably lower prices from the city. But it was neither of these that truly encapsulated what Cornwall began to mean to me.
Unfazed after an entire day of driving, possible only with the unmatched enthusiasm and stamina one would have on the first day of a trip, there was one more, most memorable stop after dinner.
My first, proper introduction to Cornwall would perhaps forever be the freedom I felt running amongst the tall fields.
An orange-red glow set ablaze the silhouettes of my friends, growing ever intensely as we literally chased a sunset along a narrow pebble road. The fields gave way to a vast expanse of green where time seemed to stand still. With bated breath, I watched, entranced, as that magnificent red ball slowly disappeared behind the mountains in a dark candy sky, now forever imprinted in the depths of memory.
- Day 2 -
There's something about dusk - that magical time when shadow and light merge in a play of drama and allure, evoking nostalgia and probing narratives untold hidden within unfamiliar landscapes. A magic that unfortunately, disappears with the harsh, blinding light of day.
Such was the case during an exciting trip to the quaint village of Tintagel, where many begin their hike to the ruins of Tintagel Castle: a medieval fortress associated with the legendary King Arthur. Where in our case, began with a hearty breakfast of Cornish pasties (one of many yet-to-come adventures with these buttery parcels of juicy filling!)
The glaring morning sun spared no shadow as it laid bare to us, the vast green fields adorned with stone fragments. Seemingly endless steps and long bridges scaled the clifftops as we panted beside fellow tourists while waiting for a photo turn before the glimmering turquoise sea. We peeped through stony cracks, squinted at the descriptions, worked our legs climbing up and down small cliffs, and finally, the heat getting the better of us, resigned to the cold relief of Cornish ice cream.
Dusk approached once again, casting its shadowy hands across the sands. People began to leave. The stomach called for dinner; the body, warmth from the night chill. But as I lingered a moment in the shallow pond that washed away the remnants of the sand on my feet, I could not help but marvel: how dusk and silhouettes can truly turn something as lighthearted as a beach into folds of nostalgia. How the dark instantly calls to mind a faraway voice, plastic buckets and sand castles from a childhood long gone.
- Day 3 -
Time functions differently when all one sees are horizons, cliffs and seas. Despite the flurry of landscapes, the packed schedule did not choke one as it would have in the city. No, time here, was an allusion to the unimaginable stretch of geological time : one that heeds no mind to the finite lives of humans.
Kynance Cove /
It is no mystery why Kynance Cove is regarded as one of the best beaches in the world.
We were puzzled. Because after miles of pastoral landscapes, and having to park (alongside many others despite the early hour) on a big field, there were still no signs of the sea.
Kynance Cove is one that reveals itself slowly, but by way of the other senses first: as we hiked the downward slope, it was the lapping sound of water that hinted of a beach hidden. The heat of the glaring sun never quite reached us as strong gusts of wind tousled our hair, teasing with a whiff of salty air.
Then there it was: a terraced beach amongst the cliffs. The colours were surreal: the richness of that blue-green sea, its rhythmic pulse ending in almost a pure white against the sands. All around, people were sat on beach chairs, watching its performance. So did we, as we satisfied too, our taste buds by way of yet another Cornish pasty.
Sometimes, I wonder if these landscapes do want to be found. To be tucked in such a hidden enclave, its pristine beaches protected from plain sight, fortified again by natural elevations, I could not help but get the distinct feeling that I was intruding. That I was seeing a beach that had not intended to be found or even glanced at by the human eye.
St Michael's Mount /
A castle no doubt magnificent, but one that we admittedly never got close to due to the throng of people queuing at its entrance.
Mackerel Sky Seafood Bar, Penzance /
It was along the streets of the port town of Penzance, in a small rustic shop almost hidden behind a long snaking queue, where one could experience yet another magnificent seafood meal. Where the chips, like every other restaurant we had tried thus far in Cornwall, was an impressive balance of thick and soft with a crisp.
Land's End /
We walked up to an intimidatingly quiet entrance. The shutters were down, shops cold and dark save for the few stalls that remained open and groups of tourists huddling in thick jackets.
The name itself was as ominous as the very chill of the place. And as if on cue, the weather took a mercilessly cold turn. The biting cold wind whipped at our faces, filling our lungs with the crisp salt air. A world away from the warmth of Kynance Cove, I tugged my thin jacket tightly around my shoulders as I regarded the dark beauty of the Celtic Sea.
Land's End. A landmark that had seen visitors for hundreds of years. That had remained a pastoral inspiration since Ancient Greek times. That had served as both a starting or ending point to journeys past.
Here, the ominous dark sea pulsed with apprehension, daring all who dare come near. Gone was the friendly beach that invited idle thought. Here, I witnessed what I felt was a warning glimpse of the true power of nature. Here, discussions on geological time or human intrusion were no longer welcomed topics of innocent curiosity. Here, the landscape gave a taste of just how fragile the human life is in the face of infinite space.
It was hard indeed, to imagine a joyful alternative to the cold holiday complex I experienced. But writing this piece in a cafe one sunny afternoon, surrounded by the familiar sounds of London traffic, I couldn't help but wonder what narratives those dark folds have to tell. Perhaps a joyful departure in the sun? A hopeful adventurer eager for discoveries beyond? But who can truly tell, with the complex paradox that is Mother Nature?
St Ives /
Alas, we experienced our last sunset of the trip in what came to be one of my favourite towns in Cornwall: St Ives (all I knew of this place before really, was St Ives Apricot Scrub).
Oh, but driving here was not for the faint-hearted.
Cottage-lined cobbled streets snaked up and down the town. The filled carparks prompted adventures into ever-smaller nooks, each a heart-wrenching episode of: "will the car be able to pass?" Long story short, we did eventually find one and was greatly rewarded with a quiet, pristine beach and the best (I kid you not, in all my life, THE BEST- just follow the queue) fish and chips I had ever tasted. Savagely, we pretty much demolished that takeaway while walking down the street, with only 2 plastic forks and a lot of hand wipes.
Evidently, I was not the only one who enjoyed the town seeing that all the popular restaurants had a 2-hour wait. Ultimately, dinner was takeaway from the locally acclaimed Thai restaurant. And eaten from plastic boxes spread across a wooden bench facing the harbour like a communal table that made a most enjoyable and memorable sunset dinner. It was the laughter, the youthful crassness of squatting before a bench that turned the eventual shadows of dusk into a joyful, colourful memory.
- Day 4 -
It seemed apt that Padstow (another favourite of mine) which first welcomed us to Cornwall would also be the one to see us off. Our last Cornish pasty, our last (very good) seafood lunch, our last Cornish ice cream.
The calling seagulls, the harsh sun. The salty air.
Shades up, engines revved. The closing of the last car door. With it, the closing of senses awakened, of a weekend of thought and good company. Of an inevitable passing of time and trip gone.
It was 3.30pm.
The car pulled away from the concrete park and made its way down the lush green countryside, back to the austere greys of London.