The Cornish Attraction

Cornwall is traditionally known as the seafaring centre of England, and as the coast is close no matter which location you choose in this point of the country, it is no wonder.  I am on a 4 day trip to the southern most region of the English Coast as it juts down into the ??????? Sea somewhat similar to Italy's boot!  The whole county made up of small villages, ports and towns that are dotted about the hilly green countryside which stretch beyond fresh horizons each time you round a hillside!  The main centres are not even that grand although Plymouth smacks of a real “town centre” with all the built up housing and central malls that are reminiscent of country towns that exist as the axis of a community! 

I am staying in Fowey, which is a tiny little community on the banks of the Tamar River and right next to the coastal inlet!  It is bordered on opposite banks of the river by 2 small communities, one a bridge town that is tiny and quaint; the other a more indulgent area that houses many ‘holiday homes’ of people who come south for a couple of weeks or days at a time and then retreat to their places of abode! 

Fowey has recently been named one of the most desired locations in England and you can see why.  If it weren’t for the bitter cold frosts and river breezes that have hit on my day of arrival, you could believe you were in a French town or possibly even something of a Greek influence.  The boats are moored right next to the main throughfare of the town, which is only wide enough for a car to drive along in one direction, without any footpath or even space for pedestrians to pass by.  If you stroll along then you have to stand against the wall when a car does decide to pass. 

At night the coloured lights swing from one building to another and line the street with it’s shuttered windows and riverside cottages that seem the norm.  These houses are almost ‘built into’ the steep hillside that traps the morning fog and their backyards rise up like terraces and the hanging gardens of Babylon.  These terraces would be ideal in the summer to park yourself with a picnic and bottle of chilled white, whilst watching the lazy activity of the ships docking and the fishing boats ambling along the estuary!  It is so quiet that the sound of a car or someone even leaving their front door is an almost interruption on the peace!  People smile generously as they pass you by and have no issue greeting you with a brief hello.  An unlikely norm that can be lost when you live in London!

We take a trip around the area on a beautifully clear and bright winters day.  Ashburton is the first stop where my lovely friends are off to do a private Tai Chi class.  Meanwhile I get to explore the town known for it’s concentration of antique shops with multitudes of bric-a-brac and old wares!  So much crystal and estate furiture that ‘Pauline’ would have a field day!!!!  And all the shops are tiny, with small doors to duck beneath as you walk in. Some of them are haphazard and manned by one person who is sitting in front of the beloved fire that is in the hearth with a cup of tea in a china cup, balanced precariously between an old suitcase and the rocking chair!   It’s grand! 

But I came to Cornwall in the hope that I get to do some walking and so I find a path that leads out of the town and along the small creek-bed that is flowing well with crystal clear water, icily clean and fresh!  The frost still clings to the blades of grass and the landscape is that lovely white without being snowy!  I walk along a path that has the fabulous iron grates that separate field from field, a normal occurrence between the dry stone walls of English country lands.  I climb the hillside and come across sheep, dogs (nothing beats the site of a big bushy Border Collie bounding down a steep green grassy slope with it’s mouth panting and a flurry of power and exuberance) and paths that lead through woodlands and bring you out towards yet another village collected in a valley! It’s an easy walk but full of so many opportunities to stop and admire the rolling view that drips about you!  The frost on the vegetation makes for some great photos that make it really look like Christmas!

On our drive around we also come to the fabulous Dartmoor National Park!  The eerie moorlands that are the setting for such classics as “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, “Jane Eyre”, Pride and Prejudice” and even the cult “American Werewolf in London”.  It is ruggedly and aggressively beautiful as well as dangerous, where thick dense fog can collect and render you helpless in a moment’s notice.  It closes in on you and turns all the relatively small forests and trees into menacing woodlands with Sleepy Hollow connotations.  With landscape for miles and miles about and barely a farmhouse or manor house to be found dotted in amongst the hills there is a grand sense of distance which is rare in this country.  Perhaps why those from Cornwall and Devon have a bit more sense of perspective.   

Wild Dartmoor Ponies roam free, being of a discerning stature – not quite full size and not quite Shetland pony - they stroll the roads and lands much like a kangaroo does.  The ‘tors’ are the iconic feature of the landscape.  They are small collections of rocks atop the small peaks of the hills, remnants of the volcanic activity that formed the landscape way back when! 

Dartmoor Prison is part of the identity of the area.  It is grey, black, ominous and downright UGLY, supported by a town that exists solely to serve the prison!  A far more imposing building than something like Alcatraz with it’s 7 storey structure designed far from any architectural beauty.  The reason for it’s location; it housed the worst offending criminals and those who were to be separated from society.  And if they did manage to escape there was no point. There was nowhere to run to, surrounded by the wide expanse and endless countryside of the Moors that would  surely render your escape short lived and perhaps downright fatal!

Day 2 is spent at the wonderful Eden Project!  The worlds largest Greenhouse, it was built 8 years ago in an abandoned Tin Mine Site which was the bulk of the industry around these parts for many years.  The before and after comparisons are amazing and inspiring.  I feel quite the VIP as Nix takes us in the rear entrance and we meet up with her delightful friend Emma who is the Production Events Manager there. Passes galore and all the background information on the centre and what it does – including the office politics!!!!! 

There are two main ‘biodomes’ that look like caterpillars or igloos in this deep hole of discovery and reclaimed beauty.  The Project is a charity that serves as a centre of education, an example of sustainable farming and advocate for Recycling and Environmental opportunities.  It has an incredibly healthy Arts and Performance program associated with it and all about the grounds are pieces of sculpture that draw on nature and environmental themes for it’s inspiration.  One, a sculpture made up of all the discarded electrical equipment ONE person will waste in a lifetime is a bit of a wake up call and reminder of living in this techno-age!  With up to 16,000 people flooding through the gates daily (in the summer season) it has an amazing potential to reach people and be more than just a greenhouse.  It was so inspiring.  Sitting in the café and enjoying lunch, you look out at the gardens that supply ALL the food that is made in the café!  Silverbeet and spinach still growing in front of you will end up in the produce they sell!  Brilliant!

The ‘biodomes’ are fantastic and as we enter the Tropical Dome the layers come peeling off. I have the same reaction as my fellow antipodeans in feeling a sense of being “home” in the dense tropical heat of the domes!  Walking around you can be in the climate of Nth Queensland and the Indochina region.  It’s great walking past Banana Palms, Coffee and Cocoa Plants, Heliconias, tree ferns and all things familiar.  The thick heat makes you breathe easy and feel as though you have just cheated the air miles and escaped to a little tropical adventure.

We walk into the Temperate Biodome which is much more mediterranean and has all those wonderful herb gardens and succulents that just make you want to set up the BBQ and fill the esky!  We spend the longest time sitting on a bench and watching a very puffy and tiny Orange Breasted Robin show off as he sits next to us twittering and calling out and establishing his territory.  Apparently they are so territorial they will fight to the death and so there are only a few in this biodome!  They have turned up here as they have fought their way in between the netting of the biodomes during the spring and when the winter season comes, they are too used to the temperate climate of the biodome that to put them out would spell certain death for them.  So they are allowed to reside in the dome and they make a wonderful noise and great addition to the gardens! 

Of course evenings are spent whiling away hours with fabulous cooking and BRILLIANT wine (some of which I discover are actually bottles of mine I have left with friends for “safe keeping” and have forgotten about) all mixed in with hilarious and stimulating conversation.  Jack (fiesty and fantastic 10 year old) has intermittent periods of wanting to be pounced and wrestled, so I get the chance to work out all my unused ‘Tiggerishness’ and have a grand time bouncing around the living room, watching Takeshi’s Castle and learning about all manner of internet based reality games and Virtual Worlds!  Such a brilliantly happy family who blend and play with such love of life, you can’t help but feel the positive energy rub off on to you!  This being the main reason for a trip to the south west of England, is the most treasured experience of the journey and makes the whole thing – just perfect. 

SO now I return to London for Christmas, which will surely not be white as we have had such mild weather up until this week!   It will be a quiet lunch with housemates and no doubt some relaxed frivolity and indulgence.  Hope that you and yours are also involved in wonderfully relaxed times and those of you in Oz, will survive the heat!  Warmest wishes and love to you all and hope to speak to you all soon in the New Year.  Stay safe, well, loved and content!

AuthorPeter Furness