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Posts Tagged ‘Falmouth’


I am pretending to hold up a neolithic stone monument said to be 6000 years old (Bodmin Moor)

It’s said to have fallen down around 1805, and that a very early team of archaeologists put the four plinths back as well as the capstone with whatever hoisting equipment available at the time. This “Lanyon quoit” is in West Penwith. On Face-book one kind friend joked: “Thank goodness you were there to keep it from falling!,” to which I replied: “Ellen to the rescue, handbag and scarf notwithstanding.” You can’t see my face: I find myself recalling Cassandra’s portrait of Austen where you can’t see hers.


Arguably lighthouses may be taken as a symbol of Cornwall — there are many to be seen, working away still at different levels of technology.

Dear friends and readers,

As I wrote last time, this trip was for me a return to Cornwall, and I have to admit it was something of a disappointment. The last time I went I saw more. Perhaps this time was too short, but a couple of afternoons were (to me) wasted trying to get (however cursorily) to famous tourist sites (Jamaica Inn) that we didn’t stay in long enough (Boscastle was worth seeing had we had the time), some of which we saw from afar (St Michael’s Mount) or barely at all (Tintagel was out of sight from the bus). A couple were chosen for a couple of hours (!) because a TV show had been filmed there (Port Isaac for Doc Martin, Charlestown for Poldark).

I also felt one of the guides (a young woman) either knew nothing or gave distorted views of history; the other, Peter Maxted, who has written a remarkably concise and clear topographical environmentalist book on Cornwall (The Natural Beauty of Cornwall), was drenched in knowledge of the place, but seemed unwilling to talk much; you would ask a question, and he would say he was saving that up for later on, and then sometimes seem to forget anyway. Ask about the Cornish language, and he would produce words of Cornish slang, not what family the language belonged to, any sense of its relationship to other languages, any history or geography.

What the trip did was give me a larger picture of Cornwall as a county and I came away having placed much that I saw last time and what we did see this time geographically in relationship to one another. This time I participated in and was alert to how we were going to this place from to that, and kept my eye on the map, which I had not been able to do last time at all. We kept driving in and out of Truro and I got a sense of how it’s central to the economy or geography of the county.  I think I should not go again except if I can get up the courage, time and proper permissions to investigate the Winston Graham archive in the Royal College of Cornwall. I had the (for me) sense of thwarted experience of several times seeing signs to the place but never seeing it. I can imagine better what this research library and community center looks like is about the gain there.

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So what did I see? The first afternoon after arriving in London, Tuesday (May 14) we took a walk in Kensington; the hotel, the Radisson Edwardian Vanderbilt is right near the Victoria and Albert museum, the Albert Hall, St James and Hyde Parks.


The Victoria monument

I did feel that sense of coming back to where once I had a feeling of home as it was the place that Jim emerged from. As in the other 5 times now I have come to the UK since Jim has been gone from me (6 years now) so I felt inarticulately gladdened to be back where I met him and the happiness I have known began. I’ve spent my life reading writing about studying British lit so I didn’t ask to see much, just to be there. I wasn’t asking much that first day, just relieved to be back. Relieved is the odd word.


Albert Hall — Jim and I and Izzy too were once inside to hear a concert (a day of severe heat) and I never saw it clearly from the outside or understood where it is — now I do


From the beautiful flower gardens of Kensington

I was told if I were to ignore coming back to meet the group, I could try a bus to Windsor Castle, but I was tired and assumed I should return on time. In the event the young woman guide was actually unwilling to facilitate people introducing themselves to one another.

Once we got into Cornwall, I was again aware of how one is never far from the sea, and how central the sea has been to Cornish culture. Last time I took a train around the edge of Cornwall and found myself looking down steep cliffs of rocks and swaying forests, clambering once I got there on large stones by the sea; this time we took several ferries and wherever we were the sea was at our backs, through the window, near the terrace, making for a cool wet breeze


Falmouth Bay seen in the evening


Often unromantic — a working boat during the day

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Wednesday (May 15) was the long trip by bus to Cornwall. As on previous trips, we used this time to see places of real interest on the way. I’ve seen Exeter before: Jim and I stayed in a clock tower in Lympton to go to a Trollope conference, but we did not go to the older parts. This time I did, and explored more: there are two Waterstone bookstores in the town. I bought a pretty copy of Woolf’s To the Lighthouse from a young man who had read the book; just by Exeter there is a statue of the Anglican divine Hooker whose works I once read in (oh so many years ago). We were in time for a tour of the remarkable cathedral.


The nave


The windows survived the English civil war and the bombing in World War Two

I was sort of with a friend, Stephen, who I had met on the Lake District tour. (I roomed with someone else, an 82 year old woman, very hard of hearing, a retired nurse, a sweet well-meaning person.) Stephen is a vegetarian and drinks no liquor (bad for the liver! — he is a retired physician too) so we found a very good vegetarian cafe (told about it by one of the guides) and I had a savory vegetarian tart, he a dish of potatoes and a vegetable looking soup, and both camomile tea.


Stephen in Falmouth

The hotel was as fine as the photos suggested; the room I shared looked out over the bay; there is a good bar, and the food was well-cooked.


My corner of said room — I added heavy blankets — I caught a cold while there

Thursday (May 16) we explored Falmouth in the morning: it has a long history as an important harbour, maritime center for shipping & commerce.


Our guide Peter in front of the church of Charles the “Martyr” it’s called; Falmouth was strongly royalist in the civil war and its aftermath.


A lovely ancient mansion still kept up


Residential houses — posh


A chain store on the streets


Falmouth art gallery

We then took a boat trip


The ferry pier

to St Mawes, a fishing village, where we explored one of the two fortified castles that guard the entrance to the bay

We then individually or with a friend had the choice to stay in Mawes (a small village), take the ferry back and go to the maritime museum or Pendennis Castle. Stephen and I chose a snack meal (again pasty and tea) and climbed up the other hill to Pendennis castle. I’ve looked at pictures of this place so often; the interest comes from how long it has been in use as a military site: rooms showed its used from the time of Henry VII through two world wars, in the second of which it was a training place for soldiers crossing the channel on D-Day.


Pendennis seen from afar


World War one cannons and guns

Julian Barnes’s The History of the World In 10 and one-half chapters contains ironic satire of touring group like the ones I’ve been in and I have to report just about all are murdered by the terrorism of state gov’ts and crazed impoverished people combined. I read this book at the bar overlooking the gardens surrounding the hotel one evening. I was aware that when the young woman guide did talk it was ever to tell us of some battle, some war that began or ended here or there.

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Friday (May 17) was a second good day. We set off down south to Lands’ End, and on the way stopped at neolithic sites, one at length, an iron age Village, Chyauster, where the Romano-British people living there had “courtyard houses” of stone, quarried tin carried and shipped it to Europe from the bay, practicing at the same time an agricultural way of life. I found just as interesting that the village “disappeared” suddenly in the 3rd century (see just below) but was known to be there by the local people over the centuries and there is evidence to suggest that in the 18th the methodists, ejected from the hierarchical Anglican churches (controlled by landlords) came up to use the sites again as temple/churches. This guide was slick and found it amusing to keep saying how little the archeaologists know: I asked about the intervening period between the 18th century and today: when did scientific digging begin again, what was it like here just before this began, but got no answer. I hope to discover this in the informative-looking guidebook we received after we paid:


A Chyauster mansion ….

Face-book diary entry: I anachronistically wondered if one of the smaller areas was the nursery. Dating from the first century AD, it was one in a community of people involved in trading with Romans for mining natural resources. Abandoned in the 3 rd century, but people in the area knew this settlement had been there, and in the 18th century, Wesley and/or other Methodists came; ejected from Anglican churches as utterly disruptive, subversive of the order which put aristocrats and their appt clergy in power. There were also there these long hole tunnels: with Bars cross-crossed in front. I thought to myself if the Romans saw these first no wonder they thought the Celts were Barbarians. This village and its rooms are said to be Celtic, after being influenced by the Romans.

There were some touching scenes of mother and baby ponies:

We then drove to the southernmost edge of Cornwall and wandered close to the shore, walking about and taking photos from afar too:


Sennen Cove, Land’s End

I believe it was this day that we then drove to the Old Sussex Inn and had delicious fish and chips — an enormous plateful


Old Success Inn

In the afternoon another fascinating experience: we went to the Levant and Greevor mines and a guide provided an almost two hour talk as he walked us through a landscape by the sea, dotted with some remnants of ancient machinery, imagining for us the stages of mining, and then taking us into the mine a small way and out again through the steps of treating the extracted ore

His accent was to me lyrical and the final stage of walking back up to where a shop and the bus was consisted of his recital of a folk story in verse — he was a Bard.

It was late in the afternoon that we saw St Michael’s Mount from a distance. We got off the bus close enough so people could take photos. The irony is that if you give a group of tourists a chance to take a photo, they seem not to care that much that they didn’t go into the place. Last time we spent a long afternoon climbing up, finding out what was there, reading all we could find about the place, such as it’s still in private hands, and the family lives in the back below in very luxurious quarters.

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I saw many lighthouses, too many to remember where: Cornwall has ever been subject to invasion, and without computer technology to detect rocks, its shores dangerous

I didn’t take many notes but have brought home good guidebooks sold at the different sites. If the Road Scholar guides were unwilling to be too informative (so strange), they did give out xeroxed descriptions and history of the streets and houses and shops and larger buildings we saw, and I brought all this home with me. I read Peter’s book in the evening and took it with me on the bus, looking at passages, reading, skimming as we drove through here or there.

I did the right thing to go on this particular tour as a prelude to summer. Although I have signed up for a number of courses (some a few weeks, a class in films by Hitchcock, some across the summer, reading Dr Zhivago, For Whom the Bell Tolls and Darkness at Noon, some just one day (archeaological digs in Fairfax, the history of the English language, a Bastille day at AU OLLI for seeing two French films, one Umbrellas of Cherbourg with Catherine Deneuve), some two (on Greene’s Quiet American) beyond the two I’ll be teaching (Booker Prize, short and short-listed and The Enlightenment at Risk?).

As in the past I expect to have many long days alone with my pussycats and hope this summer to read books I’ve longed to read and not gotten to (some only tangentially related to projects). I will not be engulfed by some paper for a conference or my Graham project — I tell myself.

I can no longer drive at night, and as of tomorrow there will be no Metro (good public transportation) close by for ordinary people like me. We are told to take a bus:

so I’ll go but once to the Smithsonian (I’ll try for a single long day on Country Houses in the UK). I did buy one set of opera tickets for Wolf Trap in the afternoon for Izzy and I (a 17th century Gluck and Ariadne auf Naxos), a friend has promised to come with me to Swann Lake for one evening (fingers cross, but if she doesn’t come through Izzy and I will go there and back by bus). I have some biographical books on women writers to write reviews or blogs about.

I shall not forget my reading about the non-anomaly, women living without men from the 16th through 20th centuries.


Combe is Lundy


I am half-way through Jamaica Inn now, which novel has nothing to do with swash-buckling romance (or Hitchcock’s film)

The summer is already hot and will be long. I am exercising early each morning or some 15 minutes and walking for 20 minutes in the later afternoon. So I’ll see if I can finish reading the second half of Graham’s career and quite a number of novels set in Cornwall as well as finish Halliday’s History of Cornwall. Now the Cornwall books should all make much more sense to me.

When I first joined the group that Tuesday, I found myself having vivid dreams about the people in the previous group: I could see their faces and the faces of the guides so clearly and in the mornings I realized I had been reliving the previous trip to the Lake District and Border of England in dreams each night. Now come home I have been dreaming of this Cornwall trip, the places we went rather than most of the people (there was one very kindly intelligent couple, Bob and Sue, their names, living in Maine, she a retired librarian, he a retired art teacher who now does art in his studio) and only in the last two nights did I wake in the night without thinking I am still on the room in Falmouth. So the confusion, and out-of-reach-of-consciousness distress is passing and I’m beginning to eat and sleep with my usual patterns again. The truth is a shorter trip is easier for me to come back from.

I have often thought the purpose of going away is to make oneself appreciate home (sleep away camp makes sensitive children glad to be home again). Clarycat was meowing at me on and off for a full two hours when I first came back. How dare you go off? and where were you? Then she cuddled into my lap or kept walking on it and around me as I dithered about settling in again.


Clarycat gingerly jumping from library table to the chair near my laptop, careful not to make all the books fall

I assure you, gentle reader, that it is still very hard work to remain alive and sane.

Adrienne Rich: Song

You’re wondering if I’m lonely:
OK then, yes, I’m lonely
as a plane rides lonely and level
on its radio beam, aiming
across the Rockies
for the blue-strung aisles
of an airfield on the ocean.

You want to ask, am I lonely?
Well, of course, lonely
as a woman driving across country
day after day, leaving behind
mile after mile
little towns she might have stopped
and lived and died in, lonely

If I’m lonely
it must be the loneliness
of waking first, of breathing
dawns’ first cold breath on the city
of being the one awake
in a house wrapped in sleep

But in the same way that it hurts to be reminded how separate I am from every other being on the planet, it is freeing to be reminded that I’m the only one that gets to live my life. I’m free to handle situations the way I want. I’m free to grieve over the changes in my life–even more free to grow from them. I’m free to decide what’s good enough for me, what I want, and what I’m willing to do to get there — from Diving into the Wreck …

My next diary entry will be the second half or conclusion of this trip.


Boscastle Harbour — a far shot of its harbor

Ellen

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