The last weekend of August was one of those super warm ones. Hottest in a decade or in a hundred years or since the temperature recordings began in the UK. And that’s when I spent my 3 days in Cornwall.
It was a strange weekend. The land itself was ripped out of time and space. The rocky ground was very different from the luscious Newquay region I had visitied some years ago. The turquise of the ocean was a surprise to me once again. The vertigo-inducing holes in the coastal cliffs were magnificent and scary. Here was summer that lasted when the rest of the world was going to hell.
There was a Guinness World Records book attempt for most pirates in one area. There was a white caravan from the 1970s where the bed was surprsingly soft. There were cows on the hills, and cows standing against the flaming evening horizon, their black silhouettes giving them the feel of artistic cardboard cut-outs.
I saw a friend whom I had not seen in two years. The cancer she has is so rare that nothing can be done to hinder its growth. But there are some things that matter. The conversations, the I-can-still-hide-the-pain-almost smiles, and the sweet dreams for next visits. Actually, it is the taking each day as it comes approach that seems to work best. Even if you have to rip those days out of their surroundings, to make them less horrible.
The next day I walked on the South West Coast Path. The National Coastwatch’s “Eyes along the coast” magazine reported a local incident. They had copied the article to the wall of their bunker on the cliffs:
“A passer-by reported to our watchkeeper that a couple were having a very serious domestic close by, near the cliff edge. Naturally, the edge of any cliff is not the place to have animated discussions since heat-of-the-moment actions can have much more serious consequences than if they occur – for example – in your local High Street! Our watchkeeper kept a close eye on the situation in case help needed to be summoned but, thankfully […], after 20 minutes or so, it degenerated into a “Your Dinner is in the Cat”-type scenario, with one party storming off to the car park, followed, after a few minutes, by their partner.”
After a late afternoon surfing session, I decided to walk to Holywell. Sneakily, I was planning on walking to Newquay, but having checked the map and knowing the distance to be around 20 K (on the coastal path, so all the ups and downs added), I was not certain whether I’d make it there before the sunset.
It was strangely sad to leave Perranporth. Today, my body already knew more things than yesterday and getting up on the board did not register as a ridiculous concept any more. Everyone was still in the water when I started walking up the hills and just… Yes.
Next time I leave the city for surfing it will be for a longer period.
But the hilly walking next to the ocean leaves one no space for sadness. After all, after every corner, a new beach. A long, stretchy, not your typical English pebble. Every day, a new beach. This how this week has been.
Somehow, I managed to make it to Holywell without even noticing. Amongst houses, I lost the path. That is typical, it seems. I can spot it or take imaginary short-cuts on the natural terrain but as soon as there’s a house around, I become confused. It should be the other way around, really.
A bit of hilly heathland later, I was soon back on the South West Coast Path. And quite soon also reached the Crantock Beach. Somehow, I had managed to walk roughly 9 miles in around 2 hours (and a bit more). I don’t remember running it. I definitely do not remember any running. What I do remember is seeing a completely new natural phenomenon – a coastal meadow (very very close to the ocean) with low-growing greenery that all looked like Mediterranean ferns. God as a child, practising different terrains, this is what it looked like. I also saw a rabbit on the sand. In my northern country, the only place for rabbits is… everywhere away from the coast. But yes, technically, I saw a beach bunny.
And then someone turned the switch. Another time started ticking, another mindset settled in. I’m not kidding. Something funny happened in that neighbourhood. First of all, I doubted myself for the first time. Walked a bit up the hill, walked down to the beach soon afterwards, looked around for a possible ferry – there was a river there, separating me from my access to Newquay -, learning the ferry had finished for the day, tied my sneakers to my backpack and waded around the river a little, but seeing it becoming deeper, came back to the beach. Talked to some people.
One of the people I ended up talking with was not probably a real man. He was working together with another human, so I did not imagine him – not a real man in that sense. Just in a sense that he was not a man all together. Some other species, but I don’t know what. He was about my height, slightly shorter, and had hair of yellow-grey-greenish. But even better – he had the most otherworldly eyes I had ever seen. Mostly bright turquoise and just around the iris – a rainbow of darker blues, greens and greys. A water spirit? Definitely too big for a water spirit. A mermaid turned surfer? He did look awkwardly out of place on the land, though. Hmm. But, yes. Upon hearing my wish on wanting to reach Newquay he told me to wait an hour for the tide to go out, so the river would move away and reveal a bridge that I could cross if I were lucky enough. I would have to wait at least an hour for the tide, though. The other option was to walk through the Crantock village, turn left and just walk to Newquay, basically around the river. He also offered me a ride if I waited 20 minutes.
I could not wait. Not 20 minutes and definitely not an hour. I thanked him and started walking on the bigger road. Soon, I became surrounded by lush trees quite uncommon to the beach areas. And that’s when another switch was pulled. Church bells started ringing out of nowhere. Happy bells, bells for people waking up from the dead or angels brought to earth. I then saw the church tower and a white, wolf-looking animal galloping around the tomb stones in the church garden. I would just like to say that I’m not making this up. This all happened only a minute after I had found a small gate, barely up to my knees and covered with ivy, with a lady’s face carved into its wooden surface.
I walked out of the church garden, nearly seeing a trapped woman walking around this same place, but once again, not trapped in a bad, helpless way. It’s as if everyone had chosen to fall under a spell in here. And the village itself! The pub – definitely made-up. The fences and the garden gates – more than definitely made-up! Public pathways leading into arched passage ways of the unknown – khm!
I finally walked up to a mountain (managed to ignore my instincts twice and do a bit of to-and-froing), until I jumped over a low fence and started walking straight across a hilly field, down towards the river where it was supposed to reach its ending.
I still can’t tell how, but suddenly, I was back on the path again. And Newquay was just 2 miles away. (People on the road had told me it was an hour’s walk!) I now knew I had made it before the dark. And I walked towards the bottom of the valley – only to see that I was actually very far from the river’s end. However, where the river should have been, was just sand. The tide had gone out. And for the second time within one hour, I untied my sneakers and started walking barefoot. Straight towards the other shore, across the river bed. And there it was, the bridge that stayed under water, surrounded by sleeping boats and the golden hour. A lonely surfer carried his board across the bridge and I tried hard not to slip on the algae when our paths crossed. There was still a bit of water under the bridge, the deepest part of the river.
The magic realm came to a sudden yet unnoticed end on the opposite shore. Everything was done now, everything was safe. It was just the walk back to my abode for the night. Quite nostalgic, for some reason. I think Cornwall had started crawling under my skin a bit.
PS. On my way back to the hostel, I visited another cemetery. Once again I saw proof of health and safety regulations just really keeping the population levels artificially high. There was a sign on the cemetery gate advising to pay attention whilst walking – due to the ground being uneven. I….just…well… nothing.
I was not 3 hours early at the needed place today, as I had first thought.
I was actually 45 minutes late and at a very wrong place.
That meant no surfing for me on this Tuesday but at least I know where (not) to go on the following days.
I almost don’t have any explanation for this, except that I think my brain shuts down when surrounded by a high intensity of horror. Which, in itself, can be considered as some sort of a defence reflex and a very bad survival one. Luckily, it kicks in ever so seldom and my levels for extreme can probably be stretched every now and then. Well, at least the bus ticket for a half an hour ride is £2.- in here, so all sorts of exploring is encouraged.
Anything to say in my defence?
I got off at the right stop and that’s when it happened, really: I found myself in a trailer house town. A trailer house town. And not one that has been born out of difficult social situations. A town that had been quite newly built. It is hard to explain how the place felt and how it looked: ET on a bad acid trip having put together a suburb he kind of remembered, but not having houses at hand, so having used caravans with legs instead.
It was a town of sour hope and dejected dreams. Full of hetero families with 3+ children walking from Spar (yes, a selection of high street shops had been transported to the middle of this town) to the Pit of Forlornness, disguised as a pub. The Pit of Forlornness had a large blackboard behind the counter explaining how many pennies one would save buying a bottle of Merlot instead of 3 large glasses of the same wine. It explained away every wine they sold. From another building across the street, one of Elvis’s songs in major key could be heard.
The flip-flopping fathers of this place were wearing T-shirts by surfing brands yet looked like people who had touched the water around the same time they had last had sex. Which was not very recently at all. There were screaming children at an eerie mini golf ground, a small plane flying a beer banner across everyone dipping their fries into suspicious mayo and McDonald’s being called a restaurant on the road sign. The town also had a suburb. The suburb, however, was not made of trailer houses but only trailers. At least the sun was shining above the suburb and the weather was getting less hazy and more focused on its sunny ways.
The Labyrinth of a town had signs up for a surfing school. Not everywhere, but every now and then, so you could follow them and finally find the beach. (Something I’ve never had trouble doing before.) I was following all the signs very carefully (you really don’t want to get lost on the avenues of Doom Illustrated) and finally found my way down to the beach, only to be told there was no booking on my name. It was almost cruel. The waves where all there. The drizzling was stopping. The families with eight screaming toddlers were leaving.
They sent me back up, to their office in the Labyrinth of Despair. Having spent 20 minutes finding it, they directed me to the town’s Reception. Waiting 15 minutes in the reception, a young boy pointed out that my booking was with another surf school all together. So, hey, this was all my doing, then. But I hadn’t even thought about blaming anyone, I was too focused on not touching anything in case it might suck me in. But yes, the mistake was purely mine. Even if the school had a logo in the same shape and colour, and a name 88% similar to the other only school that had all the advertising up. There were no flags up for my school, so I could not go and find it. Even my mobile reception was lost amongst the Horizons (a popular house name) of these streets. The kind but slightly alarmed people at the Reception finally showed me a map of their town. I thanked them and I thanked the wind my school did not fit on their map nor was part of this Establishment of Endings.
I called my school, so I’m going tomorrow. All is good, the weather is getting better and warmer. The real feel is above 15C now. I have returned from the Nether Side of Nightmares, and am now back in Newquay where half of the population walks the streets carrying their big surfing boards. You know what they say: big surfing boards…. But the other half looks like aggressive sea hippies, so they make up for that. Aggressive sea hippie is just another word for a pirate, just making that clear.
I checked into charity shops for possible reading material. The options available were Your Talking Cat, In the Minds of Murderers, Pocket Guide to Australia and How to develop Your Sixth Sense. I can’t say I need any of those very specifically right now. Except for one, maybe.
Newquay is actually not that bad. It is probably even one of the most pleasant-feeling seaside towns in England I’ve ever been to. The corny fudge packaging is still everywhere as is the traditional piňa colada flavoured sugar candy, but there’s also a lot of actual happiness that is nearly tangible. It could be because Newquay is not trying to be something. That’s where its charm might spring from – the place is not exerting itself too much. Everyone already knows that the surf is good in here and that the pasties fill you up real nice. There is no need to prove anything to anyone and that makes the locals relaxed. Maybe all the flip-flop people are on to something, after all.
I do have my own reading with me. I’ll walk around this tiny ocean town and find a place to read it. Things can only go up.
IDEAS, ITINERARIES & TIPS FOR WALKING IN & OUT OF LONDON, IN SCOTLAND, IN EUROPE AND THE WORLD. ALSO A COLLECTION OF MEMORIES.