The first day of our holiday in Cornwall started with what else but the road trip. After about eight hours in the car I wanted to grab and axe and make the front page, even though I stopped often to get fresh air and stretch the legs. We were all like a bunch of coiled springs when we finally got there, bursting out of the car and bouncing around in the driveway, trying to work out all the kinks. Timmy was exactly like a coiled spring; I think he even went "boing," but then he's always like that.
The town we stayed in, Marazian, is a quiet seaside resort, all cottages. Used to be a fishing village, a smuggler's port, a stronghold, all the things Cornish villages are known for. It sits on the eastern rim of Mounts Bay, which youíll find on the southern tip of the Cornish peninsula. Just off shore is a small island, St. Michael's Mount, where, naturally enough, a castle squats on its highest point. Our cottage had a wonderfully clear view of it - most of the cottages in town do. Penzance was visible just across the bay.
We ate our first meal we ate at the Cutty Sark, a pub in the town. Delicious food; I had the fish, and Barb had the crab cakes. You canít get better sea food than when youíre on the coast of England. Cornwall has some great beer, too, and the Cutty Sark served some of the stuff we liked best.
The day began misty and wet, with most of the bay enveloped in fog, but at about noon the skies cleared, the sun came out, and a slight breeze came off the sea to cool the day a bit, but not unpleasantly. After Barb came back from grocery shopping in Penzance, we all wandered down into the town. The tide was out, and when that happens the causeway to St. Michael's Mount lies above water so you can walk there. We paid the entrance fee - itís a National Trust holding - and spent the afternoon exploring the island. If we had spent more than two hours there, weíd have to take a ferry back, but as it turned out two hours is more than enough time to see the castle and gardens, as well as the hundreds of British tourists shedding their clothes and lying in the sunshine, soaking up the warmth. Theyíre a little giddy when the weather gets as good as it was that day. We had a beautiful view of all the villages around Mount Bay from the parapets of the castle.
We were feeling hungry by the time we were through, so we headed straight back to the cottage for a mac and cheese dinner, and spent the evening in the cottage reading. I donít know how long itís been since I've crammed this much reading into my leisure time. I read four books while we were there, which is about three and a half more than I usually read in a week. Right before we left, Barb and I trolled the local used book store to pick up some good buys on the cheap. I picked up a copy of Big Trouble, a not-bad novel by Dave Barry; itís the kind of yarn you can read it in an afternoon, so even if you donít like it much, you still donít feel that youíve wasted your time. Because I saw the movie once, I finally read On The Beach by Nevil Shute; itís way more depressing than the movie, so Iíd have to say avoid it at all costs. I liked Cannery Row, so I also picked up Steinbeckís Sweet Thursday, more stories about the characters from Monterey. And itís been on my bookshelf for months, so I finally plowed into Cry, The Beloved Country, by Alan Paton, after Sean read it and recommended it. A sober but good novel.
Cool, misty and wet all day, a day for an indoor activity - we pared our choices down to a trip to a cider mill or an afternoon at the Cutty Sark listening to some local talent playing his guitar. We went with the singer, who turned out to be a disappointment. Should have gone for the cider. We listen to two or three of his songs while we finished our beer (canít leave the beer!), then left the pub to wander along the beach. There were bumper cars! It was parents in one car versus the boys, each in their own. Hard to say who won. We did two sets of that, then rambled through the village back to the cottage, where we tried to play one of the board games in the closet. Turned out to be a stupid game; we all lost interest almost right away.
A long, slow, easy-going morning - we each got out of bed on our own schedule, and were ready to leave the cottage by about ten. The plan was to start off at a cider farm about ten miles away and work back to Marazian from there, but like so many of our vacation plans, it didn't turn out that way. Halfway to the cider farm, the muffler on the car came unglued. We figured that we'd have the best chance of getting it fixed in the nearest large town, Newquay, just past the cider farm, so on we went.
Entering town, we were met by a bulldog charging down our lane of the road, right at the grille of our car. He was apparently chasing the car in the oncoming lane and didnít see us. Luckily, that car stopped, scooped up the dog, and went on, so we didnít squash the poor little guy. It was a sort of bizarre episode, though. We went on into town, turning corners more or less randomly, hoping to find the retail district, but instead plowing right through the tourist center. While we were stopped at one corner, three kids sprayed the side of the car with their Super Soaker 2000 squirt guns. The windows on that side were open, so Barb and Tim got a face full each. Their mother didn't seem too bothered by her children's choice of target and didn't offer an apology, just sort of fussed over them. Our diversion was turning from bizarre to weird.
Eventually I pulled into a filling station to ask where we could find a garage. The girl at the counter pointed the way to a Kwik Fit, where they fixed the problem in just an hour; not much time lost. Newquay was a busy seaside town. The day was sunny and beautiful, and the town had lots of visitors. Unfortunately for us, Kwik Fit was nowhere near any of the activity. If it hadnít been for a neighborhood tea garden, we might have had to wait on the curb or, worse, in the lobby of Kwik Fit. Once the muffler was fixed, I was in such a hurry to get the heck outta Dodge that I left my sweatshirt behind. (Got it on the way back, though.)
The cider farm made for a nice visit, but thereís not much to tell about it. We didnít take the tour because they wanted us to dig deep into our pockets, and we felt that the money could be put to better use, namely in filling our basket with bottles of their wine, which we thought was lots better than their cider. After the cider farm, we drove to Land's End, the westernmost point in England; itís that little dingle that hangs off the bottom left. There's a bona fide tourist trap there, same kid of thing as the one we found at The Needles on the Isle of Wight. It was a sort of theme park with about a dozen gaudy ways to separate money from tourists. Business was good but the place wasn't disturbingly crowded. We wandered around a bit, stopped at the pub for a half-pint, took some pictures, climbed on the lifeboat, then packed up and moved on.
After supper, we watched Bogey and Bacall in To Have and Have Not. Tried to watch Key Largo, but both movies had been on in the wee hours of the morning, and Barb hadn't learned all the ins and outs of setting the timer, so all we had was the first ten minutes of Key Largo.
Bright and clear from the break of day - none of the early morning fog we'd been having, and warm right away. We'd reserved weather like this for a day at the beach, so we packed all the things we needed and were on the sand by ten-ish. The beach round that part of the bay was mostly stones - all the sand was covered by the tide. Barb and I settled into our books while the boys splashed in the surf. The fine weather went on through the morning and into the afternoon - not just fine, but beautiful, exquisite. Bright sunshine, cool breeze, clear skies; we couldn't have asked for better. We stayed until three and I never felt too hot or cold, although when I went for a walk in the surf, the waters were liquid ice. The boys splashed in it but didn't swim much; I saw Sean go under just once, and Tim never went in deeper than his chest. They mostly just stood in the water with their arms up like chicken wings and winced every time a wave came in.
I sat under an umbrella all day, but Barb stretched fout in the sun, slapping on plenty of sunscreen and rolling over and over, like a cat in a sunbeam crossing the living room floor. She got burned only on the backs of her knees; Tim was lobster-red on his upper shoulders, where he skimped on the screen, and we had to rub aloe into him at night. Sean was just pleased as punch to be well-burned in the spots where he neglected the sun block, which was pretty much everywhere. "I kinda like the feel of sunburn," he said with the kind of enthusiasm you usually hear from rugby players who enjoy getting run over by twelve big guys in cleats.
After pesto on spaghetti for dinner, we drove down the coast to take in a show at an open-air theater. They were putting on Little Shop of Horrors, and although I don't care for the show, I was looking forward to seeing it in the unusual location. The theater was built into a rocky cliff beside the sea, the seating climbing high above the central stage. Visually, the place was stunning, but practically it was a sort of harebrained idea. We were seated somewhere in a neighboring county, in cheap seats that the lady in the box office assured us were good, but weren't. We didn't see a whole lot of the show; I think only the people in the first ten rows saw anything so it made sense. We didn't hear much of it, either. The actors were miked but the sound system wasn't very good. The seating was so crowded that I had to sit with my feet cranked sideways, and I had to spend the whole of each act sitting as immobile as I possibly could. Finally, the actors were a mixed bag; the guy playing Seymour couldn't carry a tune in a sack, kind of important in a musical comedy.
Tim loved the show, especially the plant, so I suppose I'd have to admit the evening wasnít a complete waste of time.
Another bright, clear morning when I woke up at about half six; my body told me I was done sleeping, so I got out of bed to do some reading and have breakfast. The sun shone on Mount Bay as the tide lay the sandy beaches bare. The sky slowly clouded over as the tide came in and the morning went on, but it never got too cold. We decided to spend the day on a bike ride. A small shop by the beach rented bikes for a fair price; we saddled up and rode down the coast to Mousehole - do you love that name? - via Penzance and Newlyn, a distance of about five or seven miles, depending on who you listen to. In any case, it wasnít a difficult distance to travel by bicycle, and the ride was very enjoyable, with plenty to see. We had lunch at a cafe in Penzance; at the time it seemed like a great idea, but turned out to be just okay. The waiter got Tim's order wrong, then didn't offer to correct it or offer a discount. At the end of the trail in Mousehole we stopped so Barb and the boys should have some ice cream, and we walked out to the end of one of the piers around the harbor, which must have kept the water in the harbor fairly warm for the dozen or so kids swimming in it.
Barb and I dawdled on the trail back to Marazian, while the boys raced back as fast as they could. "I'll bet Sean was going too fast to notice those topless sunbathing girls back there," Barb remarked, and of course she was right. He kicked himself all the way back to the cottage, which was quite a ways as we didn't go directly back - Barb and I stopped for a pint at a beachside pub while Tim pestered Sean as they ran up and down the beach. In the cottage again, we watched The Maltese Falcon before a dinner of tacos and a relaxing night in.
Once again, the day broke clear and bright - can this be just luck? But we had no idea what to do with such a beautiful day. I wanted to take it easy, Sean wanted to get out of the cottage, Barb seemed to want to look around. In the end we decided to stay in Marazian to enjoy the weather and relax. In the morning we went for a short ramble along the shore and through the countryside. BBC2 finished their Bogart week with Casablanca in the afternoon, and after we watched that we strolled down to the village. While Sean and Tim went to the beach, Barb and I took tea in a street side cafť; she'd been wanting clotted cream on scones all week, and it was now or never. Clotted cream sounds just awful, doesn't it? She says it was quite tasty, though; I couldn't risk the possible lactose reaction to try it. Last time I tried that in a public cafť I almost suffered the ultimate embarrassment. After tea, we met Sean and Tim at the seaside, played in the sand, drank a pint. The sun was bright but the wind off the water made the shore a bit colder than we liked, so we headed back to the cottage a little sooner than we'd planned for a dinner of eggs and toast. After the movie - Titanic - we spent the rest of the night packing to go the next day.
Sadly, we have to leave the cottage and head back to Digby camp. The day was cool and overcast, good driving weather, and it held all day. We went a bit out of the way to see the chalk giant at Cerne Abbas, then headed as directly home as we could, which still took about twelve hours all together - way too long. I just don't enjoy driving that much any more.