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The Last Holiday In England... 
8th-Jul-2006 12:20 pm
bloody horrible early testcard
I'm back from my walking holiday in Cornwall right now, sitting in my boxer shorts tapping away on the PC whilst an entire drum filled with sweat stinking clothes whirrs its way around the washing machine. I'll admit it - I'm quite happy to be home again. The last week has seen some brilliant sights and sounds (and some less than welcome, decidedly mediocre ones) but civilisation has some wonderful bonuses. This is the first holiday I've been on outside the Pacific Islands where not only have I failed to see a single Internet cafe, I've also had no mobile phone signal whatsoever in places. I wanted distance, and I got it. Now I want to invite the world back into my life.

Anyone interested in seeing what I got up to whilst I was away should feel free to click on "Read More", and I apologise in advance for the low quality of some of the pictures. I began to touch them up using the GIMP software system, then lost patience and decided I couldn't be bothered. As always, I'd advise all those of you who are genuinely interested in good pictures of Cornwall to do a Google image search instead - I'm sure the tourist board has some.

We began our journey in Penzance, a seaside town with an undeservedly downmarket reputation. Before we left, we were regaled with warnings about the tackiness of the place, but found ourselves pleasantly surprised. True, any town with a nightclub called "Club 2000" right outside its railway station is calling itself into question, but in general the place was pleasantly bubbly, filled with hilly, cobbled roads and nice little bistros serving delicious food at cheap prices. I wouldn't recommend it as any sort of long-term holiday resort, but if you have to stop off for a day or two (as we did) I can think of few serious objections. It's also well served by public transport to local villages and sites of interest, so what are the complaints about?

From there, we got a bus to the Menarch theatre, an outdoor venue hacked into the side of a cliff. There were no shows on for our visit, and whilst the effort that went into building the adventurous scheme must surely be applauded, it wasn't particularly breathtaking. Any man made structure that tries to compete with the rugged cliffs and crashing coastlines is more likely than not going to find itself paleing in comparison.

Our first serious walk was from the venue to Sennen Cove, a fishing village turned coastal resort which was pretty in a cutesy kind of way, but not worthy of the two nights we gave it. After an exhausting eight mile walk in thirty degree heat, we turned up at our expensive AA rated hotel to be treated by a bunch of gruff Cornish men in a very offhand manner. This was partly our fault for turning up just as the England World Cup game kicked off (we didn't get in on time thanks to taking a wrong turn on the way) but then again, for the money we forked out for the accommodation World Cup games shouldn't be an issue. There's also of course the issue that if people are being paid to work while the World Cup is on, they should do it without complaining to the guests. While I stood there dripping in sweat, our man behind the counter at first tried to suggest that he couldn't get me the key to my room, and asked me if I wouldn't prefer to watch the match in the crowded bar instead (where there was no conceivable view of the television) then got visibly disgruntled when I said I wanted to watch it in my room. He returned to hand me the key a few seconds later, proving that it was a fairly effortless piece of work. This kind of sighing, groaning gruffness continued throughout our entire visit, and at one stage they actually asked Amanda to "fetch her own key" from behind reception. Well done AA, you rated a class joint there.

Onwards and upwards (quite literally) we went, into St Just, a small town so Cornish it beggars belief. On the way we scramble over rocks, bramble infested hills and odd, eerie abandoned coastal trails near Cape Cornwall with strange graffiti etched into the crumbling remains of grey buildings. A thoughtful anarcho-hippy has at some point in history (many years ago by the looks of it) spray painted a cartoon of a howling woman smashing up a TV set on to one of them, with the angry slogan "THERE IS SOMETHING ELSE GOING ON!" above her. It's not especially well drawn, and slightly condescending. I'm in the middle of nowhere in Cornwall, after all. Now would not be the best time to tell me to stop watching television when that's clearly not what I'm doing. I don't know whether to be amused or frustrated by the fact that dumb Hoxtonite graffiti has made it out this far to the very tip of the UK. Generally, I just feel a little bit depressed by it. You can never escape the jabbing, patronising finger of Uncle London telling you what you already know.

St Just is refreshingly down to earth, though, with some truly wonderful pubs serving frothing ales (though not in tankards, I was disappointed to note). The food is also cheap and simple and the portions are plentiful. Men with Border Collies sit at the bar talking about the Shipping Forecast whilst leafing through pages of the Cornishman. The only bizarre thing that belies the traditional air of the place is a piece of graffiti (again) in the town centre, a sketch of Salad Fingers with a speech bubble coming out of his mouth saying "I Love Rusty Spoons". We stay the night in a bunk barn in Kelynack, essentially a place consisting of a meadow with some cows and a couple of houses.

Zennor is our next stop, and by far the most absurd place on our entire journey. One of the more isolated villages in Cornwall until recently, it's one of those areas that has stubbornly clung on to a Pagan past. Farmers in the area still keep corn fertility dolls to encourage crop growth ("because it's local tradition"), it's one of the few places in Britain that is warm enough to grow bamboo (which they allegedly sell on to the Panda enclosure at London Zoo) and the local folk museum is one of the best of its kind I've ever encountered. A basic back garden idea spilling into every conceivable crevice of the small area, local tales of witches, talking hares and madmen abound. In lieu of my notebook, I took two camera shots of stories about some infamous locals which I reproduce for your benefit here:

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Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

I'll be honest, Zennor scares me a little bit. My mobile phone goes dead as soon as I enter the village, and when night falls a mist rolls in off the coast to envelope our small Bed and Breakfast and the surrounding land. As we walk in slightly reduced light towards the pub in the village, we can see a shining red lantern outside its front door, glowing through the mist. There are no traffic noises or bird calls to distract from the sight. I mutter to Amanda quietly and uncertainly: "Let's move quickly before we get sacrificed in a particularly nasty buggering ritual".

Still, in the daylight it looks rather busy and innocent, as you can see below. There were no scantily clad girls dancing in the fields and leaping over bonfires. And the museum remains the most fascinating thing I managed to see all trip.

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The walk from Zennor towards St Ives is especially impressive, largely because we're heading across some rough, jagged land overhanging rich wildlife spots. Seals fish in the water below (try though we did, we couldn't manage to get a decent photo of them) and even giant basking sharks are visible nearer the horizon. The walk is exhausting, however, and even two full bottles of water don't fully cater for our collective thirst.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

By the time we pull into St Ives we're parched and kanckered. The sight of the town cheekily peaking behind a cliff right at the very end is one of the biggest reliefs in recent memory. It's almost as if somebody has slyly hacked out chunks of the rock to build a seaside town there. We walk much faster as soon as we see it.

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Rather unfortunately, the image St Ives projects and what it actually is are two entirely different things. St Ives so desperately wants to be a posh, pretentious seaside town these days, yet fails to offer the facilities or the service. Restaurants refuse to serve us for hours on the basis that "the chef can't cope" (an actual quote in one classic instance - it brought to my mind the image of a cook screaming and gibbering to himself helplessly in the kitchen whilst throwing sauce up the walls) or "the town is very busy now you know" (So? Hire more staff then, because the restaurant is half empty as it stands). You can play "middle class bistro bingo" in the town too, spotting all the trite cliches on each menu. I score a full house with one cafe that serves "Grilled Sea Bass" with "sprigs of parsley" in a "wild mushroom jus". Sic, sic, sic as a parrot. They're unable to serve us their over-priced fare for hours, incidentally, and we end up going into a local Indian restaurant for food, where we find a table and are served immediately. Whilst I realise curries are considerably quicker to cook, there's still little excuse for the abrupt and offhand behaviour of most of the restaurant staff in the rest of the area. As a Londoner I'm used to rudeness, but a lot of the St Ives locals are clearly going into serious competition, and doing so in a smug way that would see them barred from Islington.

The Tate in St Ives is disappointing, small and full of largely unimaginative and uninspiring abstract art, and the art shops in the area are equally trite in a different way. The tourist hype of the area boasts that the town "has more artists per head of the population than any other place in the UK!" but it neglects to highlight the quality of what they produce. Seascapes are the order of the day. I find two pieces of art that are among the worst I have seen in years - one, "Three Stones", is literally a grey oil painting of three large pebbles. There's nothing abstract, imaginative or challenging about it. It's just some pebbles. There's also a marginally offensive piece of modern art in one gallery about the July 7th London bombs, which consists of a scrambled tube map painted over pictures of injured people cut out from tabloid press coverage. A dumb idea executed badly by a person who isn't even a Londoner. Even the crass photoshopped images that found their way online this time last year showed more taste and decorum, and at least came labelled as the work of amateurs.

Still... St Ives may have been the Joker in the pack, but this journey has otherwise been worthy. However, given the new state of my bank balance and the fact that the service we got in a lot of places in Cornwall did not in any way reflect the prices charged, this may be our last English holiday for awhile. I'd love to explore my home country in more depth, but it's strangely expensive to do so, and I always find myself feeling more welcome elsewhere. Even France.

html hit counter
8th-Jul-2006 10:28 pm (UTC)
(allez les bleus)
9th-Jul-2006 09:20 am (UTC)
Mmmm... possibly, yes.
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