Views from my wednesday walk, including “The Needles” at one end of the island.
October 16, 2008
October 10, 2008
Good things come to those who stray. On my walk the other day, which was originally planned to be an out-and-back, I got to a junction and thought, “well, my feet are tired, but I’d like to walk alongside this woods instead of over that meadow again, so I’m turning here,” even though I didn’t really know where the turn was going to end up or how much it might add to my mileage. I’ve spent a fair amount of time nominally lost, in part because the island uses about four waymarking languages garbled into one, with lots of unmarked stuff in between, but there are so many trails that it works out in the end.
A few minutes later, I saw a little dog up sniffing around up ahead, like hundreds of other terriers and so forth that I’ve seen here in two weeks. Usually it’s just a matter of a few moments for the owner to appear behind.
Then I got closer and thought, “Hmm, interesting tail – hey! That’s not a dog! That’s a red fox!”
And I actually got to within about a dozen feet before he glanced up and went, “Ulp! Human!” and darted into the bushes. I’ve never seen a fox “in real life” before, so I was pretty excited. They’re a little bigger than I imagined, and pretty. And fuzzy-looking. Too bad he didn’t let me pet him. I’ve also seen a cute little mouse – a dormouse, I think – and some interesting birds I haven’t got a clue what they are, including a BIG yellow one, and approximately forty million rabbits. Cormorants and pheasants and grouse, moor ponies and fuzzy highland cattle and too many spiders.
Zillions of famous writers have spent time writing here, including Keats, Tennyson, and Dickens. Not to mention painters and other artists. Easy to see why. Had a great hike under cloudless skies yesterday (well, almost) along the island’s most remote coast, and boy, did I want to climb down the “Danger! Cliff erosion! Trail closed! DO NOT ENTER!” trail so I could walk on about two straight miles of uninhabited orange smuggler’s beach, which I could see from the clifftop had gained one lonely set of footprints while the tide was out. I was good, but it was really hard to resist. My fear of high tide is more than my fear of eroded trails, though, and it was pretty apparent that I’d be swimming if I walked too slow along parts of that beach, so alas. Couldn’t figure out any other way down there, but maybe that’s a project for next week. Somebody around here has to know if it’s possible or just life-threatening.
And I’m actually kinda ready to come home, so I’ll save the life-threatening parts for another trip.
October 3, 2008
Had a terrific walk today through a very atmospheric chine (on our planet, we’d call it a narrow erosion ravine, though one filled with great gnarled trees, vines, and unusual plants – the sort of place where you expect a toucan to land on a branch and start talking to you – and then along the beach and esplanade for a few miles through typical British beach holiday-land: rainbow beach huts, pinball machines, fake fun, and a universe of ice cream (much of which I tried to ignore, focusing on the beach and the waves). And then up a big chalk down (up the down? gotta wonder why they’re called downs, since they definitely go up). The views were spectacular, the weather briskly great, and the sea hypnotic, reassuring, eternal. It’s paler green here than the Pacific, and clean, and the seafoam at high water, gleaming and backlit by the sun, looked just like silk. I wanted to pet it.
Among the things I was reminded of, passing a lifeboat station, were the RNLI stations I saw in Cornwall. From my American perspective, I think of lifeboats as something the Coast Guard (read: government) provides. Here, they have the Royal National Lifeboat Institute, a fully volunteer, 100% donation funded organization with a zillion operations around UK coastlines. They do amazing work out of the goodness of their hearts and, I suspect, a very firm connection to people making their living from and thus risking their lives regularly on the sea. One of the newer lifeboat stations I saw near the Lizard had the boat station, oh, 200 feet up a very steep cove, with a long, long ramp out to the water. You could go down about 150 steps (with a sign at the top warning you that you’ll have to come back up, don’t forget) to a midpoint and tour a mini-museum in their radio office, and they had lots of historical photos. Amazing. When they’re scrambled, it’s of course mostly during bad weather, as in gale force winds, and it’s very hard to get a small boat past the 20-foot breakers crashing in. Used to be, it took 10 or 20 men in the shallows with long poles, practically drowning in the surf, to push the lifeboat out past the breakers before it could get underway to the rescue.(And in the days where they used oars instead of motors, for which there were a few photos or artists’ renditions, I don’t know how they did it at all. We’re talking manly men, here, obviously.) In this modern station, when they deploy the boat (which I’m guessing was probably a 20- or 24-foot vessel or so, spiffy and modern, this one, with an 8-man crew), it shoots down the ramp – maybe a 40 degree angle? –like a one-way rollercoaster and crashes into the water beyond the worst of the breakers. It must be thrilling and scary to make that ride, not knowing if you’re coming back. Not too many years ago, a lifeboat on a rescue was thrown by the 30-foot swells into the boat they were trying to save and all hands went down, not only on the sinking boat but also the 8 people (unpaid volunteers, remember) on the lifeboat.
I know very little about boating, but even if I did, I don’t think I’d make a good volunteer for the RNLI, because reading some of their rescue reports, I’d be hitting the rescued parties with a bat and then drowning them myself. It sounds like a statistically significant percentage have been idiots out beyond their depth in weather they had no business boating in. The RNLI guys are saints for rescuing them.
Had a couple of nights of windy weather here, with the accompanying surf pounding boom, boom, boom against the sea wall all night long – my little rental is not very far from the wall – and it made me wonder what really bad weather here is like. I’d kinda like to find out, but I’m kinda afraid to!
September 2, 2008
A few more, including friendly but pointy wildlife. (have also seen a couple of seals, a couple of snakes, a couple of bunnies, and lots and lots of butterflies of many colors.)
It’s been mostly cloudy and the light has been flat and not good for pics, so I haven’t taken many, and the little harbor towns are hard to shoot because of how they’re crammed into the coves… but here are a couple. The sign is a trailsign near the start of my section in mevagissey (the whole cornish coastal path is 600 miles) — a relatively sizeable town in the harbor shot.
September 1, 2008
All over the clifftops. White ones, yellow ones, orange and brown ones, black and orange ones, orange with spots, brown with spots, copper with spots, spotted with spots, spotted with dots. And tiny lavender blue ones that are hard to catch still, but so pretty. I got a pic in the Dales, too, of one called a peacock butterfly (a nice passing lady told me after asking why I was on my knees in the verge) and it’s gorgeous – rainbow colors. They all look nice on the many purple and blue and hot orange wildflowers — way more than I would have expected this time of year. Devil’s buttons are my favorite; kind of like mini bachelor buttons.
I’m off to breakfast. I like full English breakfast, especially the fried mushrooms, and what they call bacon but we’d call fried ham is pretty good, too. And I’ve been eating my grilled tomatoes whether I want to or not because I’m craving vegetables, which are an endangered species here. But if I don’t see a full English breakfast for a while, I’m good, because I’ve had, oh, about 25 in a row. Bring on the pain au chocolat!
I will add, though, that as I was moving south-west toward England’s south-est point, known as The Lizard, I was thinking, “hmm, I’ll have to ask someone there why it’s called that, ’cause it’s sure not apparent from the map.” And then I turned a headland and there it was, plain as day. The headland and some of the rocks around it look as much like a lizard as any landmass I’ve ever known to look like what it’s supposed to look like. I took a photo but don’t think it’ll do justice, but The Lizard has a snout, a head, a very prominent eye, a curling body, all the legs it needs, a tail, even a flicking tongue. Kinda cool. Glad it wasn’t foggy the day I got there, as it was the next day, or I never would have known.
My favorite stretch here is The Lizard to Porthleven — the rockiest, barren-est stretch, with westerlies and hairy cows that I’m pretty sure are Highland cattle grazing what are almost moors — and Porthleven even has a cute little town band that plays weekly on the pier. How good are they, this combo of brass from grandpas on tubas to 8 year old boys who aren’t remotely on the beat but are playing percussion anyway? That’s not the point. I haven’t been eating dinners, usually, but I had fish & chips (duh) and fudge cake with cornish clotted cream last night, and could barely move after, but boy, it was good.
The drystone walls have been replaced by hedges, the heather by gorse (think scotch broom with 1″ spikes) and the sheep by… fish? New hay rolls amass on the hillsides as if to attack, or perhaps to make a lemming-like roll and tumble into the sea.
And the sea speaks, though in a different language from the rivers in the dales, or at least the River Kent. While the river spoke mostly of itself, the sea speaks mostly of elsewhere, other shores, other places its been. It can be a bit disdainful: These are no rocks. This wall is no barrier to me. I’ve seen whiter beaches, and blacker ones, broader strands than this that clink under my stroking. This cliff is all right, though, I like it. It presents me a worthy challenge. I will batter it down with a patience unknown even to stone. While I work, let me tell you of islands and storms out to sea, of basking sharks and cormorant fleets and rainbows.
I have less to say about Cornwall; I’ve stopped counting miles, though it must be around 250 now based on the official trail segments, and fallen into a sort of zen. Brainwashing is a good thing when it’s the wind and sea doing the washing. Hope to see St. Michael’s Mount tomorrow, weather cooperating, and then I’m off to Paris. Bon chance!
From the Lakes, 8/24:
I’ve noticed that there are lots of teen girls out walking here, with their dads, with their moms, in groups, and hardly any teen boys. There are a few under-12 boys, but even they’re outnumbered by girls their age by at least 2 to 1. Where are they boys? Home playing football? Video games?
Today (after writing to the end of a chapter) I hiked up to Walla Crags (a rocky overlook to Keswick and Derwentwater — and a draw not only because my fabulous B&B man, Andy, recommended it, but also because of the Walla Walla connection) and could not resist the additional climb to a high point called High Seat. There was a bog in the middle that even Andy’s guidebook gave warnings about. And…
There’s a fine line between “my feet are already so wet and muddy, I might as well keep going” and “completely ridiculous.” I crossed it. Near the far side of the bog I was staring into a patch of that devious cottongrass mud (see previous post) and I made the wrong choice. Bloop! In right up to my knee, and for all I knew there was no solid ground below that, either, but my left leg was then horzontal out behind me like a pontoon, keeping me afloat, and my hands had flown forward to, I guess, swim. (I didn’t learn a martial arts fall for this particular situation.) If there hadn’t been solid ground nearby to crawl out on, I’d probably be up there swimming still. Fortunately, the mud was surprised, too, so even though I was wet and covered with peat to the knee, the mud did not recover from its shock quickly enough to seep into the top of my boot (just everywhere else). I’m sure everyone who saw me thereafter wondered what my problem was, even if I was grinning like an idiot — I’ve also noticed that I seem to be the only one to get very dirty. These Brits are dainty about it, somehow. I hope I get to tell someone that I believe in the philosophy that if you aren’t getting dirty, you aren’t having enough fun.
Sidenote: I’ve also noticed that I can NOT keep my tongue in my mouth whenever my boot sinks into mud to the ankle. It has to poke out, although I CAN keep myself from saying “bleh” or the like if I try. I’m not sure what this reflex is for, or what it signifies. Do you?
Signing off for perhaps as long as a week, unless I get internet lucky down south. More later from Cornwall!