Starting mileage: 16193 km
Day started: 09:00
Day ended: 21:00
Where is the famous weather of Cornwall? As far as we’re concerned, this is the land of eternal wind and rain.
The only real day of rain on our journey so far started early, with a trip to a garage for 2000-mile check on the car; curiously, the garage stood on the edge of HMS Seahawk, one of the busiest navy airfields in Europe. While waiting a bit over half an hour to hear everything’s fine with the van, we saw a couple of helicopters and jets landing and starting in some of the foulest flying weather imaginable.
While it may not have been a good weather for flying or sunbathing, it was the best weather to see the place we were headed for next: the Lizard Point.
The Lizard is the southernmost point of England, and as such it’s obviously full of “southernmost” things: the southernmost village, pub, cafe, lighthouse, gift shop, etc. It also has some of the most dramatic and unique rocks in England – the black-and-green ophiolite cliffs and reefs, upon which hundreds of ships met their gruesome fate.
A small pack of birdwatchers braved the wind and rain to watch the single nesting chough, a Celtic crow; as their leader explained to us, the bird, nicknamed George Washington, slaughtered the previous pair and took over the nest, with a youngling inside, of which it was now taking care of.
Our friend the gannet was here as well, and a few kestrels struggling against the gale.
North of the Lizard village the road parted to the west, to what NT website assured us was “one of the most beautiful beaches in the world” – the Kynance Cove. In high tide and this weather, it was certainly one of the most stunning views. Not as much a cove as a deep fjord, the Kynance is carved into the vast granite heathland. The gale blew drizzle across the flatland, bringing thick mist over the gorse; we climbed the high tide path down to the cove, passed by a van carrying supplies for the cafe below. A couple of choughs danced in the wind.
In the gloom, the mist and the rain we drove back to the lands of the North; we made two brief stops before Helston: one at the Trewarren Estate – another of those vast garden estates – where we climbed down into the Halligye Fogou, the best preserved of Cornwall’s fogous. The fogou is what the archeologists call a “souterrain” – which means an underground construction for which they have no obvious explanation. It may have been a refuge, a storehouse, or a shrine – or all of these at various points in time. Right now it’s a narrow and low tunnel, branching into several pathways, with walls and ceilings lined with stone slabs; it was warm and dry inside, and I was ready to assume its main purpose was to hide from the Cornish weather.
The other stop was a bit more modern one: the Origin Coffee roastery, the oldest and finest roastery in the West, where we bought a bag of Nicaraguan beans; the espresso machine in the reception was unfortunately broken, but otherwise you can come here for a cuppa served straight in the roastery’s office.
With the day being what it was, we decided to skip the highly recommended Praa Sands beach, and head straight for the town of Marazion, which lies in the shadow of may be the best known sights of Cornwall: St Michael’s Mount.
You may be familiar with the view, and think we went into a different country altogether: a tidal island with a monastery on top. St Michael’s Mount is France’s Mont St Michel in miniature; with the monastery established by the abbot of the latter, but a lot smaller in size and stature.
The monastery did not survive long, positioned in too strategic of a location (at the head of Penzance harbour) it was soon taken over by the kings of England, turned into a castle, and then a manorial house; another estate still owned by the same family for centuries, it’s now turned into a Downton Abbey-style museum showcasing the lives of upstairs aristocrats and downstairs servants and is in care of National Trust. When the tide’s in you can get there by small motor-boat (£4 return) and during low tide a stone causeway is revealed.
The remnants of the monastery can still be seen, in form of the medieval refectory changed into a banquet hall, and a 14th century church, beautifully restored; the rest of the buildings are either newer or transformed into living quarters for the lord of the manor, richly decorated with items brought in from several colonial campaigns, mainly in the Sudan. The views from the ramparts are astounding: several hundred feet down to the sea raging against the granite cliffs, topped by semi-tropical gardens. Even the group of Chinese tourists we were following could not hold back gasps of wonder.
At the lowest level, in the garrison room and armoury, there’s a collection of weapons used or gifted to the lords of the house, including a full Tokugawa-period Japanese armour and katana, a few Sudanese and Arab swords and guns, and a red beret from Arnhem.
At night, the mount and the castle (which played part of Dracula’s castle in some movies) are lit up, which in the dense fog of the evening gives it a most eerie appearance.
We’ve wasted an hour trying out several campsites around Penzance (of which there is a surprising dearth) before deciding to go back to Marazion, to the Dove Meadows – which was where we should have gone to in the first place. The facilities were basic, but the camp was cheap and spacious, and you can see the Mount easily from the site.