Wednesday, March 18, 2015

the coast

Are you of the belief that there is no such thing as a perfect day? I suppose you're right. There's always some small irritant, some blemish, something that you would fix.

But what if so much goes right that you can't recall a single imperfection? What if all day long the sun pokes in and out from behind a hazy mist, and you experience random friendship? What if the food you eat isn't what you expected but is great nonetheless? What if?

Well now. Let's begin with the honorable meal:

Breakfast at the Trevose Harbour House is unbelievably well thought out. There are the pastries, the croissants, all that stuff that I must pass on because of everything else. There are the berries and all varieties of other fruits, the yogurts, the organic granolas and organic thises and thats, the fresh juices. Then there are the cooked options. Britain in general is generous with its approach to breakfast, but these guys offer so many delicious choices that your head spins from indecision. I finally take plain scrambled eggs, with smoked salmon, roasted mushrooms and tomatoes. Sort of a Scottish classic -- one that will usually carry me through the day until evening. (The English couple to my left studies the menu, then does what the English nearly always do -- orders the full English breakfast, which includes eggs, sausage, baked tomato, and beans. The grumpy Alabama couple eats earlier and retires to their room.)


(Breakfast is with a view toward the blue sitting room.)


After eating all this, I have to wonder -- are Angela and Ollie (the guest house owners) in the food preparation business?

What they are is a cool young couple with a cosmopolitan background and a lot of professional experience in what is called the hospitality field (they are graduates of the Lausanne school of inn-keeping, which is as good as it gets). I say 'cosmopolitan' because they aren't actually English. Or at least between the two of them, only 1/4 is English. The rest? Italian (1/4) and Swiss (1/4), and Dutch (1/4), but that neglects her childhood in Majorca and his mother's inn keeping outside of Paris.

Basically, we're European, Angela tells me, but even that reveals only part of the story because when they searched for a place to open their guest house, their first choice initially was... Brazil. I ask -- but do you speak Portuguese? She shrugs her shoulders. We're fluent in Italian, French, Spanish and English. So we took a year of Portuguese. Easy, if you know the other languages. Oh, those Europeans with their language skills! Should I start teaching Snowdrop French? Italian? I must consult with her parents when I get home.

So here they are in St. Ives, with impeccable inn keeping credentials and a boatload of great ideas and a desire for a certain flexible life style (they have two kids -- a four year old and a two year old), with a 2.5  month break in winter. They are among the legions who cannot believe how bad Americans are at giving and taking vacations.

Late in the morning, I leave my cozy blue and white room and walk to town, passing clumps of friends lingering to chat in the dab of emerging sunshine.


And then I veer off to the south.

Probably this will be my most ambitious hike of the trip (I am prone to firing off the challenging ones at the very beginning, after which I get lazier). I want to walk the coastal path toward Land's End. I can't quite get to the trail's end (the tip of England, as it were), but I tell myself I will be happy with doing a 2.5 hour trek out and then a return. There are no villages along the way, no good ways of getting back by bus or otherwise. I'm on my own.

At first, Angela had suggested other hikes: there is one you can do to the north and then stop at a cafe and get a nice lunch... 
But I want to do the coastal walk heading toward Land's End! It seems rugged and beautiful!
It's pretty wild. A lot of climbs and descents... No place to stop...

I like the idea of Cornwall wild. I'm reading the book "Wild" at the moment. It does this to you: it makes you believe you can do more than you think you can do.

Here, you have to understand the positioning of St. Ives a bit: the town is on a peninsula: to the northeast, you have the long expanse of beach and coves and coastal life. To the southwest you have the rugged cliffs and wild heath: heather, gorse and scrub and not much else. This is where I'm heading.


There are a few walkers toward the town end of the path, but pretty quickly, the trail empties out. I am nearly alone. Selfie time! This photo is of a fragment of a stone circle. There are speculations about its ancient origins, but they are only that. One fable has it that they stand for 13 local farmers and a 19 year old virgin from St Ives. The writer informs us that you'd be hard pressed to find more than one 19 year old virgin in St. Ives. (Do note that I have shed my one layer of fleece and am in the purple layer purchased here. By the end of the hike, I will want to be only in my undershirt. Upon my return to town, I will quickly add back all the layers.)


The views toward the sea are grand! I think a bit about death and how easy it would be to slip and tumble on the wet and muddy trail. (Most of the trail does not touch the edge too much, which is a good thing as I really do not like sheer drops.)


But its not only the sea that takes your breath away here. The misty view inland is of pastures and hills, golden gorse and last year's heather.


And of crumbling stone structures, sometimes belonging to old mines that once dotted the landscape here.


I take note, too, of the beautiful spring sightings: of the wild and true English primrose...


Of the wild iris emerging by a cascading brook.


Of the birds! This one has an especially beautiful trill! What is it? A goldfinch? I cannot tell.


And speaking of bird watching, I must take note of the three couples I encountered on my hike  -- one with a pair of dogs -- I caught up to them and passed them each way. They were busy calling to their pooches to stay away from the cliff side. But they did remark how great it is to get out and appreciate the beauty of the land around you. I agreed. The second pair were the two avid bird watchers. They walked with binoculars and paused frequently. The third was already on the retreat when I was still heading out. We paused to exchange notes on the state of the trail (boggy at times; my shoes were caked in mud).

At first, I made nothing of these fleeting encounters. But the truth is, in the five hours that it took me to hike out and back, they stood out and I must have stuck in their memory as well because later, back in town, that third couple hailed me over to chat and told me where I should go to get the best Cornish cream tea in town. So these were my friends for the day. I honor them here.

And let me note the point in my hike where I turned and began my trek back. A large stream creates a delightful waterfall -- you can just catch it at the center left of the photo. I am in a bay of sorts and you can't see them here, but there are two seals having a fine old time bopping in the waves. The color of the sea is absolutely stunning.


And so it was a perfect hike!

And of course, you feel so noble and strong at the end of it. And certainly deserving of that cream tea -- as a reminder, a cream tea will always include scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream which is sinfully rich. I did tell the server to please take off that second scone. You shouldn't undo all the good you brought onto yourself in one sitting!


This is indeed the place you must go to for a cream tea when you are next in St. Ives:


In the remaining daylight hour, I visited a children's clothes shop and stared at lovely little summer frocks and playsuits, all made in Dorset -- not too far from here. You may find this silly, but it took me a full thirty minutes to decide if Snowdrop would be wearing a 3-6 month piece, or a 6-12 month number this July (when she will be exactly six months old). I mean, what would you choose, given that the first may be just right or too small and the second looked awfully large for that wee little girl? Such are the dilemmas of a person who is not in a rush, who can linger, who can reflect.

In the evening, Ollie struggled to find me a place to eat supper (and I surely was hungry for it!). He'd picked spots they like for the remaining evenings, but today stumped him as the one other favorite appeared to be still closed for the season. Finally he blurted out -- would you like to go to a great little burger place?  I balked. I haven't eaten a burger in years. If ever I'm in a place where there may be a credible burger that doesn't offend (meaning the meat is sourced in a way that I do not find reprehensible), there is always something else on the menu that I prefer. But he insisted this wasn't just a regular burger joint. Three women got together and opened something special: a place where food matters, even as the emphasis is on the burger. I was intrigued.

Here it is then, my dinner, with the burger of the day from Blas Burgerworks: Cornish beef with Ragstone unpasturized handmade goat cheese, beetroot, soft herb salsa and baby lettuce laves.


The place has four large communal tables, but it's not crowded tonight and I watch one couple to the side have a romantic evening over a fancy burger, topped off by a liqueur. Oh, young love!


It is my great luck to have had this, yes, perfect day. It is beyond wonderful to have more days of exploration still before me.


  1. As usual, you're great fun to read! And your photos are great to look at! Funny how much the coast looks like my childhood memories of Hawaii's Kona coast.
    And funny that you mention teaching Snowdrop languages... her mom and I were talking about that last night! Our guess is that she'll have a real gift for languages, especially if she starts early. Right now, she's busy learning her first foreign language, Grown-upSpeak.
    On the matter of baby clothes sizes, I'm a believer in bigger is better... she'll grow into it and probably very soon.

    1. Charlotte, I agree. The dark, ragged cliffs in Nina's pictures immediately evoked memories of a trip I took to the Kona coast.

    2. I just bought sundresses with bloomers for our little one, size 9 months, and our girls should be similar in size. But this week they sent me a photo from the arboretum, and she was wearing one of the little dresses NOW! so like Charlotte said, bigger is better,.

    3. I went with larger. Eat up, Snowdrop!

  2. I love living by the sea...the close proximity to the tides and the gulls and the breakers. But be forewarned! Salt water does indeed kills brain cells. I am living proof of that Miki Dora adage. The photographs of your seaside walk could only be improved by the off shore addition of my lovely antique English SeaHawk sailboat in the offing. They were once numerous there, less so now. I have the only extant one in the Americas. Anyways, that for the take along on your walk.

    1. SeaHawk is a cool boat! (Just looked it up) I grew up with Lightnings and Stars... great for racing but not much for cruising.

  3. Well, you may not love burgers but I do... so thank you for the visual of yours! Yum... I could almost taste it... and I love goat cheese, as well! This was surely a perfect day. Just stay safe as you keep traveling Nina... things are happening in the world that are not nice involving innocent tourists in Tunisia, etc... you just never know how the wind blows sometimes... but yes, your walk today was pure perfection!

    1. You sound like my mother! :)
      It's not less safe in Cornwall or Nice than in Boston or Chicago or, frankly, Madison.

  4. I have never been to St Ives, and have always preferred to stay in the large cities when I travel, taking a hike through an urban landscape rather than the wilder open spaces. But your writing makes me rethink that preference. Sounds just wonderful.

    1. I used to do the big cities too. Not anymore.

  5. Cheers to your perfect day, Nina! I hope it's not your only one on this trip.

    I love the picture of the blue room at the beginning of your post. The blues you've shown yesterday and today remind me so much of Greece. Greece loves their blues, too. I remember Patmos: brilliant whites and Aegean blues with fuschia bougainvillea counterpoints. That was a perfect day for me, everything from the goats on the trails to the inns, shops, tiny churches, and the colorful boats bobbing in the harbor.

    What a beautiful coastline! So wild and unpredictable, and beautiful. Yes, please be cautious in your treks. I've read the book Wild, and while it does make you feel that you can do so much more than you imagine there are times too when it finally admits that there is a point where determination but give way to reality of the conditions. But you're obviously a seasoned traveller, and that counts for much. I do hope that your hosts always know where you're going that day, all the same.

    1. When you travel alone, you should always tell your hosts where you'll be hiking. That's a given. It's easier when I stay at B&B's -- more of a challenge next week when I'll be staying in my own flat. Ah well, we live in a world full of risks (see Joy down below!).

  6. How glorious. So much to love here - the different shades of blue (my favorite color, in any shade) and that fantastic hike. I love how you also notice the little details around you that add to the beauty and pleasure of any experience. I've never been to this part of England (I've visited London and the Lake District) - but Cornwall is definitely on my list.

    1. Thank you, HKatz. It should be on your list! The poetry of the place (so to speak) is amazing.

  7. Nina, this is such a glorious post. Your enthusiasm for each discovery from food to birds and the friends you made for the day are inspiring. ox

    1. Enthusiasm during travel is the best companion... Thank you!

  8. You have been making me all homesick. I have many fond childhood memories of shores and cliffs not all that far away from where you are staying.

  9. Beautiful, serene, the water, the colors.

    You're brave to go walking far afield alone. But you're strong.
    I nearly fell in my own back yard yesterday while exploring with the grandpup. I forgot that we have a "river" of rocks along our rain garden, in a depression still filled with leaves. I turned my ankle and felt the laws of physics pull me with such sudden velocity! But I'm strong too, and caught myself. Ankle is fine. And you know what's funny? I'm just as alone in my backyard as you are out adventuring! So go for it!

    Bet you chose the deep purple fleece on purpose. It's a perfect complement to the colors all around you. Bet you planned even that! I'm teasing, but that's a good thing! You're mindful of the harmony of all aspects of your surroundings - I call that art.

    1. There is a story behind the purple: I have with me only three pairs of pants -- one is a rosy pink which I always think looks more dressy for the cities. When I first tried on a fuschia fleece and asked the clerk if it clashed with my rose pants, he said -- frankly, I prefer purple. If you ask for advice, then you should consider following that which is given. Anyway, you are correct -- purple does match the scenery! And yes, I am more prone to accidents at the farmette where I don't always watch my step as much as I do on slippery muddy rocks on the cliffs of Cornwall.

  10. Such a wonderful post with adventure I never had the brawn to take on. Much of my life I lived close to water. I miss it at times - the salt, the sounds, the onshore breezes, views of bubbling sunsets. But I think I'm right where I belong now - midst the quiet beauty of my mountain forest.

    1. Yes, each stage invites a different scenery. I agree with you -- the forest is yours now and you fit well in its embrace.

  11. What a wonderful day and lovely hike! The bird on the post has me intrigued; perhaps it is a Stonechat? Isn't that a quaint and British-sounding name? And it does live year-round in Cornwall. See: I would vote for him/her as the national bird of England. The cream tea is such a beautiful reward for a strenuous hike. And your innkeepers are fluent in 4 languages, plus studied a fifth! That makes me feel so provincial. Well, I know you are fluent in at least 3 languages, but your suggestion of teaching Snowdrop Italian makes me wonder if you are also fluent in Italian? Here's to another beautiful day tomorrow (which is probably already underway as I write this).

    1. Thank you for this! Initially I thought the white band in the photo was wider, but I think you tracked the right one! You are quite the talented ornithologist!


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