Remembrance Day 2001 ushered in our second year of marital bliss!
(In a few shot weeks, we’ll be celebrating 18 years!)
To celebrate this auspicious day, spouse and I made a pact to get as far away from London as humanly possible. Packed up the compactest little Peugeot we set off for the coast of Cornwall and the most westerly point of this little island.
The start did not bode well…
When people say it takes two hours to leave London, they are not joking.
The maze of criss-crossing lanes, traffic roundabouts and one-ways are designed to trap Londoners in the city’s commercial web.
Navigating our way out of the city made me feel like a young Princess Leia, hair in doughnuts, shutting her eyes tight and praying while Hans Solo put the Millennium Falcon through her paces.
Why Cornwall? Spouse is interested in dolmens and standing stones. A preoccupation with life after death on the eve of his 30th?
(This turned out not to be a phase. 16 years later and I’ve finally agreed to erect a dolmen for him when he shakes off this mortal coil!)
We arrived in the South West in the middle of the night and promptly got hopelessly lost.
Each road we turned into got progressively narrower and narrower until our side mirrors were brushing against front doors that opened directly onto the street.
I mused vaguely on how many accidents occur in St Ives when people open their doors and step out into the sunlight only to be mowed down by a passing tourist in a BMW.
After some marital discussion, where I prevailed. We did what my mother taught me and asked a policeman the way.
He told us.
We didn’t understand a single word.
We drove on.
Given that St Ives is a very small town and there is only way in and out, you may wonder, quite rightly, how we got ourselves lost in the first place.
We followed the coastal road (track), to our bed and breakfast, down a steep cliff and collapsed into bed.
Damn good thing we arrived in the dark.
When our landlady said, “Any closer to sea and you’d be in it”, she had not exaggerated our precarious position on top of a sheer cliff face looking down at the Atlantic Ocean.
The view was breathtaking. The sea stretched endlessly across to America and the cliffs hid pirate caves and secret smuggler passageways.
Winter must be extremely bleak, but summer glosses everything over in bright greens and vivid pinks and purples.
Armed with a dicey map showing the very approximate locations of standing stones and druidic memorabilia, we set off in search of ancient Celts.
Our first stop was the Merry Maidens stone circle. The story is very Footloose (minus Kevin Bacon).
A group of merry young maidens snuck out on a Sunday, managed to coerce some studly young pipers to pick up a tune and went dancing. This pissed off the gods who promptly turned the whole lot to stone. The pipers ran for it. The gods caught up with them two fields away and turned them to stone too.
One would think these types of stones would be easy to find, after all they are a national heritage and so obvious looking in the photos you’d think you could spot them a mile away, not so.
We drove down little lanes with Cornish hedgerows rising on either side, blocking out the view completely. The little square fields stretch for miles deceptively flat and eerily empty after the horror of foot and mouth.
We trudged down an increasingly muddy footpath for miles to look at the remains of a chapel built next to a wishing well.
People coming to be healed and make wishes tie little ribbons on the trees surrounding the pool like little prayer flags.
I plunged headfirst into the little copse to make my wish without heed for personal safety. Without warning I found myself rapidly sinking into the side of the holy well.
In the first flush of panic, scenes of sinking sands and peat bogs sucking unsuspecting travelers to their deaths flashed before my eyes.
Then I settled into hysteria, between fits of laughter and tears I tried to get my husband’s attention to my plight: “Marc,” I cried, “I am in a really bad place.”
Silence, then very quietly a reply, “Physically or spiritually?”
“Both!” I cried.
When he appeared through the trees he stood quietly watching me quizzically and then asked what it was exactly I was doing.
“What do you mean, what am I doing?” I howled, “I’m stuck in the mud.”
Stuck in the mud, with all that entails. My shoe had disappeared into the depths of the Cornish landscape, I stood knee deep in brown slushy goop. Every step I took sent me deeper into the squish. I remembered survival techniques of throwing your body across the sinking sand to spread the weight.
I could hear people chatting as they neared the well and terrified of discovery, made my wish. It was granted and they did not see me in such an undignified situation and simply walked on by.
So, the well does work, even if it is in mysterious ways.
Marc did his best not to laugh at me, but was determined not to wade in and rescue me Indiana Jones style either. Extrication was a lengthy and pungent task, I tried to calm myself by thinking about the healing properties of mud. It didn’t really help.
I did fish my shoe out though, so far it has gone through 3 rinse cycles, but I think it is beyond resurrection.
I crept back into our room and ensconced myself in the shower. Once I had wrapped what shreds of self dignity remained we went to the local pub (the only other building for miles and miles) for a folk music evening.
It was surreal. The food was amazing. The folk music was country and western, not Celtic chants. The Americans and us were relegated to the back room as non-regulars and were repeatedly sent to the back of the queue as regulars wandered up and asked for “the usual”.
Our predilection for stone monuments met with more than little bemusement, the locals could not understand why we wanted to trek over hill and down to take a look at rocks that are little more than barriers to effective farming.
However, we embraced the local legend of the stones wherever possible and even crawled through on hands and knees, a hole in the middle of a circular stone, to cure backache.
We also had some less than successful endeavors, walking around for hours in the rain looking for a barrow, only to discover the next day that we had been standing on top of it all the time.
On the way home we stopped to have lunch with friends in Somerset, similarly devastated by the ongoing slaughter of livestock, so we had to bathe our car and shoes in foul smelling disinfectant each time we stopped.
Our host regaled us with horror stories of Cornwall in the late 1970’s when he and a friend spent the night off-season on the floor of a local pub (none of the bed and breakfasts would let them in).
The story goes that their landlady was born in the village and her family moved to Australia when she was eight.
As an adult, she returned to the village and was welcomed home like the prodigal son/daughter.
She then committed the unforgivable and married a Yorkshireman.
The villagers never spoke to her again, they ostracized her and lynched her children’s pets.
So, that was nice.