Saturday, 12 April 2008

From East to West and Back Again

We had a great time in Cornwall. It’s one of those places that I always think I have visited quite regularly, although we both realised with a shock that it’s been 9 years since we last went, almost to the day. The last time I was a very new mother, and we’d gone to a tiny cottage on the north coast for a few days to take stock of how much our lives had changed since the arrival, four months previously, of our tiny, squalling son. I remember carrying him in a sling on windswept headlands, his cries competing with the roaring surf. That tiny baby is now a strapping nine year old, obviously with no memories of his earlier trip.

I have no family connections with Cornwall at all, and only holidayed there a couple of times in my childhood, yet I felt as though I were accompanied by my ten year old self throughout the week. We’d spent the long hot summer of ’76 on the north coast, and my memories are vivid. This time we went further west than I’d ever been before, right down by Penzance, and we spent our time hopping from coast to coast across the narrow county. I think I sill love the north coast best, but we loved exploring the Lizard – Kynance won the family vote for beauty – and I loved the rugged, misty, history soaked atmosphere of the far west. We visited stone circle after stone circle, and I loved the sense you get of the land slipping away into the Atlantic; at times I felt like I could have been in the west or Ireland or even Portugal. I got quite carried away with tales of mermaids in Zennor, and I think both me and my daughter half expected to see a few mer-people swimming by the cliffs. And the sea is such a stunning colour; I spent my childhood mainly on north sea beaches and love the east coast, yet to see such a blue-green sea, even in early spring, raises the spirits in a way that the gun-metal chill of the north sea doesn’t normally do.

I love places that have a strong regional identity and culture, even if they are alien to my own experience and roots, and Cornwall, out of season at least, still gives you that. (I guess it must be different in peak season, and in places like Rock I expect the braying must drown the sound of the waves). R always complains that it’s pointless going anywhere in Britain with me, however much I like a place I always make endless comparisons with Northumberland ( to the detriment of the new place, naturally). But apparently I did it less in Cornwall than usual. Of course, Cornwall is all about the sea, and it feels like there’s a sea to suit your every mood. Inland I’m not quite so smitten; apart from the famous high-banked lanes with their colourful hedgerows, there’s nothing that pulls on my heart the way the hills and moors of the north do. But those coasts take some beating. Interestingly we both commented on how much busier it was than we remembered, even in late March, and how much more built up the towns seemed. Then we realised that we hadn’t been since we’d moved to Suffolk, and I think that has a lot to do with it. Our sleepy corner of Suffolk is so quiet, so undisturbed, that I can’t cope with busy traffic and crowds any more.

We arrived in winter and left in spring. The weather got better and better, until by the last day the children were splashing about in the sea on the beach at Porthcurno (spectacularly beautiful) and we were all sweltering. The last day was special for another reason too – we spent the morning with Pipany and two of her daughters, and simply had the best time. She took us to a fabulous garden at Trengwainton, and, much as I love gardens, I felt like I hardly took in a thing, I was so busy talking. Yet now the images of the garden are very clear in my mind, so I must have taken in more than I thought, even while I was leaping around like a puppy who has made a new friend, it was so great to meet her. My children were smitten by her children, too, which added to the perfection of the morning.

The only problem with the whole week was my appetite. It seemed to take on a life of its own and became a beast that I couldn’t control. Most days started with a cooked breakfast, followed by a ‘small snack’ (i.e. a plate-sized pasty or pub lunch), a cream tea and then something light and nutritious such as fish and chips, eaten sitting on a harbour wall. I’d taken banana bread down with us, and R had come up with the brilliant and novel (to us) idea of toasting it and spreading it thickly with butter. We realised things had got a bit out of hand when we found ourselves seriously discussing what it might be like spread with clotted cream. So I waddled back across the country to Suffolk, newly possessed of a few extra rolls and thickened arteries. I blame the sea air.