I didn’t know very much about Cornwall before we visited – only what I had seen represented on TV and the very loose history of Cornish miners in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (mostly about pasties, if I’m being honest). I’d read something about cream teas and heard of The Pirates of Penzance, but other than that, just vague holiday notions of a seaside region of Britain.
We set out for Cornwall from London, taking a train from Paddington to Bristol where we hired a car and drove three hours down through Devon and then, to Cornwall. We passed through towns that only took two blinks of an eye to pass through, and with names that seemed to have far too many consonants to be able to pronounce.
We finally – and I do mean finally, with a fussing baby in the back and two stressed adults on the wrong side of the car on the wrong side of the road – arrived in Gwenapp at our hotel. I’d be hard-pressed to explain how I chose it. However I had found it, The Old Vicarage was just about the most marvelous country house I could have chosen, and what a lucky vicar to have had the run of such a beauty. Stone walls and large windows with flowers and tropical plants greeted us into a world of color. Next to the grey and rainy London we’d just left, it was something like paradise, indeed.
Inside was like a movie set for a period piece, with a delightful hodgepodge of tasteful antiques. A warm welcome for weary travelers, and an eyeful for a grumpy baby!
Cornwall. We’d bitten off more than we could chew. It isn’t simply a place – it’s an entire region – many small towns with little pubs of varying quality, but all so novel to an American tourist. Restaurants on the beach like the Ferryboat Inn, posh hotels in which to take an afternoon tea. Tea rooms, antique stores, castles and always the sea. I never realized how much the sea plays a role in Cornish life. I’d read about smugglers and excisemen, but it’s hard to fully grapple with unless one is there.
A day without visiting the seaside became a wasted day. Every National Trust site we visited seemed to have a view of a large, blue expanse. Gardens overflowed with flowers I couldn’t believe were blooming so profusely that far north when it wasn’t fully spring. Bold yellows, pinks, purples and everything green, green, green. The beaches were hardly to be believed as English, more akin to the Caribbean or Hawaii in some places with sugary sand, bountiful sun – and very strong winds.
I couldn’t write about Cornwall, however, without mentioning the cream teas. Clotted cream so thick, you should choke as you swallow it, and jam so sweet, you get a toothache. And yes, of course, pasties – the pasty every Michigander knows, but larger, in more varieties and dare I say … better than those I grew up on.
We spent our days – too few – exploring St. Ives, Falmouth, Marazion, Penryn, Mylor, Devoran and dozens of other tiny places we drove through too quickly to notice. We stopped at every antique store and shop that captured our curiosity. We ate too many scones with far too much clotted cream (our baby fairly turned into a pot of clotted cream, himself, by the end).
There may not have been enough days to explore Cornwall, but that only means we’ll have to visit again. But this time, a bit more in the know, better prepared for its splendor.