Thursday, March 19, 2015

the other side of the coast

I had seen them out the train window: Cornwall's fields of gold. Daffodils grow here both for export and for Britain's markets and in March, the rows of planted bulbs look stunning. I could not photograph them through the window of the moving train but this morning, as my bus wove its way along the coast from St. Ives to Hayle (north of St Ives), I saw them again and this time I vowed to make time for a closer look. And so on the return bus, I ring the bell to get off and I come closer to this carpet of spring.

I'm starting this post with the daffodils not because walking among them produced the best set of minutes of the day (although they were pretty spectacular), but because looking at a picture of this rhapsody in yellow will surely put you in a good mood and in fine stead for considering the rest of my Cornish ballade. And as in a musical ballade, I will return to the daffodils because predictably, I have more than one photo of them to offer Ocean readers.


A fantastic weather report for the day turns out to be completely accurate: plenty of sunshine and temps touching the fifties F (50F = 10C). Caveat: by the sea, there is a bit of a haze, which you will see especially in the coastal shots pointing due west. Too, the winds are very brisk and so the jacket stays tightly zipped. English people keep telling me it's cold and I of course think -- it actually feels wonderful! I am a sucker for sunshine in March. (And I am very glad to have spontaneously purchased a facial sun screen at the Detroit airport. A coastal sun, even from behind a light haze is potent stuff!)

Red sun in the morning is a traveler's love song.


Breakfast -- a repeat of yesterday.


I listen to my hosts talk to other fellow diners -- one couple has their own guest house on the coast, in Bornemouth (must look it up!), the other pair is somehow connected to the Kempinski hotel group. If you're an innkeeper, do you compare and contrast every night you spend at another inn?

The Bornemouth wife tells me -- we saw you at Blas Burgerworks last night... It is true that the solo diner always stands out: she is a rare thing. And if she uses her camera as much as I do, she will be especially remembered.


Today, I follow the suggestion of my hosts, Ollie and Angela, and I catch the public bus... (here's a view towards St. Ives from the bus stop)


.... to Hayle from where I can make my way to the beaches and coves just east of here. I ask the driver to drop me off as close to the shore as possible.
Where are you going? -- he wants to know.
Godrevy...  I'm a little uncertain if Godrevy is the name of the beach or the light house there, but he perks up at the name.
There's a great cafe just there! It's run by the National Trust. Yes, I have been told of it. I dare not pass it by!
Get off here, he says, dumping me unceremoniously in the middle of nowhere. Just walk up that road -- you'll be okay there.
And the bus back?
Oh, just stand on the opposite side of the road. he'll stop for you. It comes every half hour. Or so.

I walk up the road. It's not a short walk, but there isn't much traffic and the cars are not speeding. It's as if they're in vacation mode: take it easy, we left the hurry back in the office. (You'll recognize this roadside flower by now...)


My hosts were right: the beach here is wide, long and beautiful.


I notice a few brave surfers...


All this takes place against the backdrop of a splendid lighthouse perched on a cliff just off the coast.


I'm to cross this beach and then pick up the coastal path on the other side. I pause, first because a dog insists on playing ball with me (there are a number of dogs here having the best time -- even as there are signs prohibiting dogs on the beach. I suppose in the off season it hardly matters. It's not as if they are disturbing beach goers).


And then, too, I pause at a set of rocks right at the water's edge. They are covered with mussels! (When I tell this story to Ed later, he immediately says -- oh, the rocks must at some point in the day be covered with water! To which I answer -- where were you when I needed that information?)


I take my time with positioning my camera for a time release shot...


That's never easy on uneven surfaces and especially here, where most of the stone is covered with clinging shells. Satisfied that something came of it, I am about to jump down.

Wait, where did the beach go?

Well now, who knew that the tide can come in so rapidly?! I am surrounded and the water is rising not by the minute, but by the second! Quickly I take off my shoes and roll up my pants. I am very glad that I wake up in enough time so that I do not have to swim to shore. Very glad.


Somewhat amused with my own idiocy, I concentrate on making my way along the beach, admiring not only the view east, toward the light house, but, too, of the coast looking west -- toward St Ives and toward Land's End where I walked yesterday. It's shrouded in a fine mist now, keeping that image for me of something wild and mysterious.


On the other side of the Godrevy beach, I find the bridge that crosses over a wider river and leads to the apparently infamous cafe. I don't pause yet. I tell myself that this will be my reward on the return. Right now I'm still following the coastal path to the cliffs, because I've been told that they are a favorite spot for the gray seal.

Two things surprise me: that there should be cliffs running up the coast east of St. Ives. I had thought that the land here was full of coves and long, sandy beaches. That's what you see when you look at it from St. Ives. But I was wrong. Once you get past the Godrevy beach, the coast looks like this:


The second surprise is really more of a puzzle and not an altogether pleasant one. I'd noticed yesterday that a helicopter patrolled the coast, creating a racket as it swooped in one direction, then, a few minutes later, back again. I was not surprised. In France, I'd experienced the same buzz of coastal surveillance. But today, there are two helicopters and one parks itself in the air right above us while the other circles the lighthouse again and again and again. Fellow trekkers begin to comment and question this -- are they chasing someone? I suppose these are routine exercises but I must say, there is an irony to this ten minute loud roar above us. As you approach the cliff where the seals are often spotted,  National Trust sign warns you to talk in whispers and to keep your dog from barking: noise, apparently frightens and disturbs the seals. Well now!

Did the helicopters frighten the seals? I am anxious about that.

No they did not.


What? You can't see them? Those are not rocks on the beach. They're seals. Look closer!


It's a long way down that cliff and I don't use much of a zoom in my photos (too lazy to carry and change lenses), so I'll mainly leave you with that photo of their relaxed moments on the cold, shaded sand of the cove. But I do want to crop for you two photos and thus bring out a pair of seals that I find especially charming. These guys. In love. Because I swear, in the second photo, he has his fins around her and he's planting a kiss on her wet, sandy cheek!



The coastal path continues beyond the seal rocks and I follow it a little more, giving myself a two hour hike before turning back. They say that there are wild ponies on the heath here (and there's plenty of evidence of that!) but I don't spot any. Only the Cornish cows that gave the milk for that wonderful cream yesterday...


And of course, the lighthouse.


I also spot a huge floppy eared rabbit, half hiding in the scrub. As I take out my camera, a fellow trekker comes up and tells me -- that guy probably has Myxomatosis.  I look puzzled. It was introduced here, from Australia, to kill off rabbits. I should hit him over the head now to keep him from suffering, but of course, I wont.

Later, I look up the whole topic of the killing of rabbits in England, having already searched the topic of killing off gray squirrels here. It's a touch more complicated than the hiking person indicated, but I surely am noting that one person's friend is another's foe. As a gardener back at the farmette, I am not surprised farmers here dislike rabbits. To that list I'd like to add chipmunks and deer. Of course, I don't make a living off of the flowers I grow. I hand over a bunch each year to wildlife in the hope that most will remain.

As I walk away from the rabbit with the floppy ears I give him my great hope for a miraculous recovery. And in fact, the rabbits have become more resistant to the disease, so that now, nearly a third survives it.

The world of animals and humans interacting with animals is very complicated.

And so I take you now to humans interacting with humans, because this is the time for all good hikers to make their way to Godrevy Cafe, no?

No. Or rather yes, in that all good hikers do seem to congregate here, so much so that the place is packed, with a line streaming out onto the lawn. No, that's not for me. I prefer my quiet little cafe where I had the scone yesterday.  I tell myself I am neither hungry nor thirsty (both not true) and I hike to the bus.

It's one of those things: if the bus comes every thirty minutes, then I must have just missed it because I am at the roadside for twenty-eight wondering what I should do if nothing comes this way.

But it does come and now here I am passing the daffodil fields again and I just cannot stand it -- I press the "let me out of here!" button and hop off, knowing damn well I'll have to wait for another bus equally long if not longer.

I walk down to the daffodils. And I am enthralled.


Just enthralled.


And then, another bus, a brief walk into the town's center... (I notice the roofers are finishing the task of laying new slates on the roof across the street from my guest house...)


...past the occasional cat of St. Ives (not seven, just one)...


... all the way to my simple but oh so beautiful cafe -- the Digey and this time I order gingerbread and tea ...


And I sit back and reflect on how good this day has been. (A mirrored selfie, framed by lots of window frames.)


So there should be a glitch somewhere. Something should not have worked perfectly, right?

Right. I have a spot booked at the Porthminster Cafe for dinner and as always, I'm starving and thrilled when 7:30 rolls around. It's up the coast a bit: maybe a ten minute walk (it virtually sits on the beach and in the summer it's one of the few places that offers outdoor dining). Tonight, the walk along the water's edge feels cold and I break into a run to warm up.  As I enter the well heated dining room I exhale. But what's this?  I find out that they mis-wrote the booking time. We waited for you at six, then crossed you off! Effectively, they have no space for me. But, I promise to east quickly and without dessert and eventually they relent and so here I am eating a very good and very original Indonesian seafood curry. The chef hails from Australia and is obviously influenced by the Indonesian flavors.


As I look around me, I try to pinpoint who is local and who is a visitor.


It's hard to tell because even those without a hint of Cornish brogue may simply be recent transplants. There is a very vibrant artists' community here and I note that at the table next to mine two older women and a man are talking about their paintings (the two women have long gray hair loosely pinned in back and the man, too, boasts long hair and a beard leading me to think that the trend here is not to fuss with hair trimming if you're a painter).

Would it take a while to adjust to life here? (Idle speculation -- I'm not planning a move.) Angela and Ollie did it, but his mom will be coming up for part of each year and, too, they have children which gives them a natural bridge to the community. Is it easy to come to St. Ives without seven wives?

And what's a Cornish person like? Open and welcoming like a Scot, or more remote, like a Dane (by reputation; I don't know any Danes)? I would guess the former: people initiate conversations with me, the intruder. That's always a good sign.

Are there downsides? I am told that the good, local foods here are harder to procure. And in fact, I haven't seen any open air markets here (as you would see year round in France's Brittany, which has a similar climate). My hosts say they have to establish separate relations with the right farmer for eggs, for produce, etc. I boast that Madison has superb farmers markets and I detect a bit of envy. For a few minutes, Angela reminisces about the beauty of Rome, where she lived for a while.

But the climate here is actually a delight (for the energetic!). It's brisk but mild in the winters. And the walks are superb. I see very many strollers with toddlers and infants,  some Snowdrop's age (I ask about them and brag about my own granddaughter back home), often accompanied by both mom and grandma. The inter-generational links here are strong. (By comparison, it's rare to see that threesome out for a walk back home and I consider myself lucky that my daughter so often invites me for a walk with her and Snowdrop.)


As I prepare to leave the restaurant,  I note that the Bournemouth innkeepers are eating here as well. I had looked up their property (the Beach Lodge Guest House) and I come over to tell them that I love their presentation and I congratulate them on their five star Tripadvisor rating. They smile and note that the reason they are in St Ives is because of the Trevose Harbour House, which, too received a five star rating on Tripadvisor. For those of us who (unlike Ed, for example) care about where we stay, travel has surely changed (and improved) in recent years. For an inn keeper, it's a hellish game: when you're up, you're up and when you're down, it;s hard to get back up. I remember Andrew, the innkeeper on the Isle of Islay telling me he was waiting for that grumpy visitor to give him a one star. There is much discussion as to whether you should respond or not when that happens.

I walk home more slowly. The food has warmed me. I see stars and the wind doesn't sound so furious now. The lights throw beams of color onto the bay waters.

Such a beautiful place to live in! Or, like me, to just pass through.


  1. Leaving soon for a day trip to see my Mom - she's excited to see me but much more excited to see our son Mike and his dog Rocky! Oh yeah, I'm not in first place anymore ;)

    Quick scroll through marvelous photos, delicious anticipation of returning home late this evening and reading every word and lingering within the photos.

    I wish you another lovely day!

    1. Thank you, JoyD -- see you later! :)

  2. Nina, you've outdone yourself here! Great breakfast reading, almost feel as if I'm there too. Brings back memories of travel and bed and breakfast stays in England and Scotland 30+ years ago. Those daffodil fields are fascinating... and now I'm wondering about Wordsworth and his daffodils. Are daffodils native to the British Isles? Are there wild daffodils in the hills?

    1. Thank you Charlotte! As for daffodils -- they're native to all of Western Europe (and have been imported to North America so they grow now in the wild here too), but they used to be especially abundant in England in the woods -- until the forests disappeared and agriculture took hold. They still do grow in the wild, but that's a rarer find.

  3. I loved the web site for the Bournemouth (or is it really Southport?) B&B... love that they call their guest rooms by tree names... everything about this entry is fabulous Nina. My favourite photo, aside from the obvious spectacular daffodil views, is the from-above-shot of the mussels on the beach, with the striations of colours in the rocks they sit on. My mother always told the story of growing up in Marblehead, a seaside fishing town where I grew up, and spending her afternoons down at the beach collecting mussels and eating them! I don't know if you can do that today, they are probably contaminated with something-or-other... and believe it or not, I have never eaten a mussel!

    1. I did think that I could have a wonderful dinner out of the whole lot of them! :)
      Ah, England. I feel like I'm walking on your favorite turf, Bex.

  4. Well, you have captivated me with another gorgeous day in Cornwall, with the fields of daffs, your lovely selfies, and the incredible scenery. What a lovely read early this morning. ox

    1. You're my selfie inspiration! Hope you go back to it soon...

  5. From your first photo of the beaches, I found myself thinking the tide was very far out and that it must be quite a flat area. Thank goodness you noticed it coming in when you did!

    Britain seems to like the color yellow. When I flew into it on a May day some years ago it was again awash with yellow. I was told that it was mustard growing, so daffodils in March and mustard in May.

    I'm often surprised by the number of pictures you take of people, Nina. Do you ever find that people object to having their pictures taken?

    1. The yellow fields in May are actually rapeseed (or canola). Abundant both in England and France. The daffodils are limited to parts of Cornwall and Lincolnshire further north.
      As for photos -- I rarely ask. If I did, they probably would object. You can't document things or events only by permission. Ocean, too, is pretty tame, as you know. I don't think I've ever posted something objectionable. I could, but I haven't.

    2. It's abundant up here too in May.

    3. Yes, we have some canola fields in Ontario, though not nearly as many as corn and soybeans.

      I figured you weren't asking the people's permission. I was just wondering if anyone had ever said anything to you. I'm more of a landscape and architectural photographer, myself.

  6. What a beautiful day. Thank you for sharing with us Oceanites! If I may ask...? How do you choose locations to travel too? I have what I call a bucket list but they are mundane attractions compared to yours.
    Ruth in Oxnard CA.

    1. Oh, that is a very good and opportune question, because during my hike today, I was just thinking about where to go next winter! (I've got things in place for the nicer months of spring and summer.) For me, it's not a question of what I want to see on this planet -- it's where I can do the things I like to do (walk, observe, photograph and then retire to a comfortable room) readily, easily, with not a small amount of joy and by myself. That cuts a vast amount of territory right from under me! Add to it a good chance of at least some good weather and we're down to an even smaller number!

      In the past, when I traveled with my daughter or with Ed, my palate was far larger. Now, for solo trips, I almost always go to Europe and I try to introduce myself to a new location, at least for part of the trip. I spend some, but not a lot of time in large cities and I prefer to know at least a little of the language, so if English, French, Italian or Polish are spoken -- that helps. But of course, most Europeans speak at least passable English so that's not necessarily at issue.

      Finally, I'll take friendly over unfriendly anytime. Scottish people are friendly. That'll trump their unpredictable weather! French people in the countryside are terrifically nice and Italians are just completely lovable, except in the big cities where they are just like everywhere else -- rushed and distracted.

      Oh and I have to admit -- being able to find a nice accommodation (which usually means a nice guest house) is really important. I'll pass on an entire place if I can't find an affordable, pretty room to come back to at the end of the day.

    2. Thanks Nina! Great advice
      Ruth in Oxnard CA

  7. So glad you got off the bus again to spend time on the magic carpet of daffodils.

    Glad you got your toes in the cold water, however briefly, now you have a cautionary tale for fellow travelers.

    Glad you chose the peaceful cafe with oh, that gingerbread!

    Glad you talked your way back into that reservation. A curry is so perfect when you're chilly.

    Our day with Mom was wonderful. She was in the brightest of high spirits, and she is just starry-eyed in love with her first grandson. And he, for his part, will change his schedule, lose money, spend six hours in the car, just to spend time with her.
    See what we have to look forward to with our grand-daughters? Pure unconditional love that grows ever deeper.

    1. Your Mom-grandson story gives me hope! :)

  8. Here is a another poem for you:
    Red sky at night, sailors' delight.
    Red sky at morning, sailors take warning!
    Luckily, that did not prove true today for you. I am greatly enjoying your (our) trip. Some questions: Does the infection given to English rabbits cause the floppy ears? Somehow I picture floppy years from illustrations of Peter Rabbit from long before this current plan to wipe out rabbits. And are you north enough to have seen the spectacular northern lights that were cause by a solar storm around Tuesday night?

    1. The plan to wipe out rabbits was first introduced just after World War II. So the damage was done then, or in the 50s. The rabbit population declined then by astonishing numbers, but the rabbits grew resilient (or some of them did) so they are back! (The disease continues to plague a good number of them, as in, according to the trekker, for this rather lethargic and possibly blind rabbit.) Right now, farmers have the right to shoot rabbits - floppy eared or otherwise.
      And yes, my sentence was a take off on that familiar rhyme! :)
      Did not see the northern lights, but we are told that tonight there will be a near total solar eclipse at 9:30 a.m. There is a morning fog, but that might lift. All sorts of rumors circulate about safety and eyes and cameras etc, possibly none of them true, but I haven't the time to do a thorough read on it as I have a train to catch right about then!


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