Saturday morning in St. Ives, and the weather was – English. From our window at Chy Conyn I noted the gray sky over the harbor, (please excuse this insertion of a “marine layer” assertion, but could it possibly be an emersion of the Cornish version of a temperature inversion?)
and observed the quiet Cornish neighborhood. There was a dog, ambling beside its mistress with its leash in its mouth, as the woman herself walked along restraining her toddler, the toddler on a leash. My eyes drifted upwards to the flat rooftops – why, there was another dog, emerging from a door onto the roof. It trotted to the edge of the roof, circled several times and assumed the position. It then returned to its door and disappeared, not before I noticed half a dozen mounds similar to the one just produced all over the roof. Ah, local colour. I hope the roof doesn’t leak.
I also noticed that the roof was perfectly flat, with no railings, half walls or fences – it’s a good thing that dog didn’t chase seagulls.
After pointing out these oddities to Ol’ P, we turned our attention in a more welcome direction. We descended to the cozy breakfast room where we were warmly greeted by owners Richard and Lizzie and treated to a first rate breakfast. After answering what (to me) was an important question – “Chy Conyn” means “House of Rabbits,” Richard addressed the more pertinent one of “How can we see as much of Cornwall as possible in one short day? Without hesitation he recommended the open-top bus which circled the perimeter of the entire Cornish peninsula.
(Folks, what we have here might be labeled a “slight exaggeration.” All of Cornwall forms a peninsula somewhat resembling a boot, and the land we would circle was akin to the big toe. OK, OK, it’s the Penwith Peninsula, part of Cornwall I stand corrected! But you should forgive Elizabeth R for her exuberance. The area we toured was prodigious in vistas, if not in size, and I’m the one with the map!) Like its urban counterparts, passengers could “hop off” at any one of a dozen stops and then “hop on” a later bus to complete the round trip to St. Ives.
As we waited for the bus by the harbor, we ambitiously planned 3 or 4 stops, including Penzance (as in “Pirates of” – a must for any fan of Gilbert and Sullivan, which of course I am) and St. Michael’s Mount, a 12th century castle (yay!) But the first stop for us would be Land’s End, not quite half way through the journey and the westernmost tip of the Cornish (and Penwith) peninsula and all of England.
The first stop the bus made was at Morvah, and there a couple clad in hiking gear left the bus. From all appearances, they had opted to get off in the “middle of nowhere,” and I held my breath lest Elizabeth R speculate as to where they might be going. I would have had to tell her that a six or seven mile hike was available here that would take the walkers by an Iron Age fort, ancient burial mounds and Bosigran Castle. We might not have made it to Land’s End.
The bus trip alone was an experience. Huddled on the top in as many layers as we could manage, we were ready for whatever the Cornish climate could throw at us; I in my ever present hooded raincoat, Ol’ P with his waxed cap and Ben with his baseball cap and hoodie. We climbed and twisted on tiny narrow roads, the sun alternately shining brilliantly or retreating behind ominous clouds, which now and then spat rain. The land was rugged and beautiful, dotted with farms and fields populated by cow breeds I had never seen before.
Hardy cow breeds, I’m willing to bet. Every so often a breathtaking ocean vista would appear, only to vanish as the bus took another hairpin turn in another direction.
Now and then we would pass through a tiny hamlet (the teacher in me wondered where on earth the kids would go to school). The roads were so narrow and the turns so sharp that I was amazed that a bus was physically able to navigate them. We on the upper deck were so close to the second story windows that I could have tapped on them and waved at the occupants as we inched by. I’ll bet the residents know the bus schedule well and arrange to be elsewhere when they rumble by. Aside from the cars and the occasional satellite dish, these villages seemed impossibly old and seemingly unchanged for centuries. In one we passed a tiny church with a sign reading “est. AD 540.” Almost 1,500 years. Who lived here then? Apparently the Dumnonians, a British Celtic tribe who held on to Christianity after the Romans departed.
One of the stops that we (not the bus) passed up was the Geevor Tin Mine and Museum. Tin mining has been a staple in Cornwall for millennia, and the aforementioned Dumnonians practiced it in their time. It would have been a fascinating stop had we had the time; as it was, we “settled” for more gorgeous vistas oceans scenes.
Two views from the same spot at the Geevor Tin Mine stop
The bus took us through Sennen and St. Just, each being the type of village with narrow streets, lined by stone structures, that signaled a peaceful permanence. I wondered what it would be like to spend some time holed up in a cottage in these hamlets, venturing out to explore when an adventurous mood hit, but also being content to sit on the stoop, a mug of coffee in hand, and simply say “hi there” to whomever passed by. Plus, you could always go to the beach.
Signs for Land’s End began appearing – 6 miles, then 2 miles, then 4, then 2 again. Have I mentioned that the roads twisted back and around like an anaconda with profound indigestion? We knew Land’s End was getting close, but how close? We made a long and windy descent to a wide beach area surrounded by craggy highlands, and a lot of people seemed to be getting off. Ben and I rose to make our way to the exit when we were stopped by the master of the map – this was in fact Sennen Cove (nice of them to mark it – not!) one of the most popular body-boarding beaches in all of Europe, and not Land’s End.
We sat back down, and stayed on the bus for another 3, or 2, or 5 miles.
When we reached Land’s End, there were two logistical matters to attend to: determine when the last bus heading for St. Ives would depart, and find a place where I could get that cup of coffee I had been thinking about since St. Just. Neither proved to be very difficult. We had originally planned on having dinner in Penzance, but a look at the bus schedule quashed those plans. The 3:30 bus from Land’s End would get us to Penzance at 4:29, barely in time to catch the 4:30 bus to St. Ives, the last on that run for the day. Though a little disappointed, this also simplified our plan for Land’s End: we would walk as far in one direction as would allow for us to return in time for the 3:30 bus to Penzance. And, after being fortified by coffee and donuts, that’s what we did.
I had been very excited to see Land’s End, and my anticipation was rewarded by the show Mother Nature provided. Starting out under hazy skies, we would experience in order: haze, chill winds, clouds scooting by, bright sunshine, warm temperatures, more clouds scooting by, more sunshine, fog, cool temperatures, and bright sunshine. We were under an atmospheric kaleidoscope. And that doesn’t even begin to describe the wonders on terra firma. Nor will I attempt to do so. For that, you will have to view the slideshow at the end of this post.
I’m sure there are writers that could adequately describe the heartstopping beauty of Land’s End, but I’m not one of them. Let the pictures do their 1,000 words bit.
A few of the many faces of Land’s End – including Greeb Farm. A farm? Here? How?
We took the “South Walk,” alternately racing to keep up with Ben’s long legs and youthful energy and pausing for countless photo ops. There were not many fellow travelers on the paths of the South Walk, but a few stood out. One or two daring young ladies scrambled onto a huge boulder to pose right at the edge of the cliff ending in rocky pounding surf.
I’m glad they could smile – my mother genes were silently shrieking “Get down from there, now!” And as we trudged back to the Land’s End Hotel and Bar, with obvious intentions,
we noticed a bridal party heading the other way. I’m sure the wedding pictures would be spectacular, but the sight of the bride in her long white gown and (yes) high heels navigating that rock-strewn terrain made me cringe.
As Ol’ P previously stated, we caught the last possible bus back to St. Ives. It stopped in Penzance, and we gawped at as many of the sights as we could while perched atop our bus waiting for it to move on to the next stop. We failed to notice that we were the only ones still aboard, and would probably have been there yet had not a kind bus driver literally popped her head up and told us that this bus terminated here and we’d have to get on that bus over there, which was just pulling out. We made it, and made the last leg back, passing St. Michael’s Mount but not stopping.
No time, there’s just no time, even I had to admit it. But a castle, out there in the middle of the bay. It called to me…..maybe next year.
The slide show follows. It’s worth the price of admission, and then some.