Things I Almost Didn’t Do in Cornwall

From Sarah’s Travel Journal:

Okay, this is turning into the trip of Things I Almost Didn’t Do, But Am Glad I Did.

Woke up to gray, rainy cornish day and thanked the God of Travellers I did decide to do the castle yesterday. those stairs in the rain? NO, thank you. But could I hike the moor as planned?

Had breakfast, chatted with a couple from Oz who’d been travelling round the states and Great Britain for a few months. V. nice. Another couple joined the conversation. The man had actually been born in the cottage where we were now staying. Side note: /we wound up talking about rising crime rates in the country and contrary to stereotype, the Brits were firmly in favor of the death penalty, and the Yank was agin it. Just goes to show I suppose.

Anyway. After waffling a bit, I decided to go out to the tor (I was planning on climbing Rough (pronounced Row) Tor, the highest point on Bodmin Moor), and at least have a look. Packed foul weather gear and hiking boots and went.

Today’s drive went much smoother. Note: Did the English thing yesterday and almost hit a sheep. A lamb was crossing the road and not at a lamb crossing. Silly bugger.

Made it to Camelford w/o hitch. Narrow, old town sort of spilling down a ravine towards the Camel River. Stopped for banannas and directions and got good ones. Drove a long way down another of these green, tunnel-like roads and went lots farther than I expected, but the road did ended at a forestry car park, and there was the moor, and the tor, the top of which was completely lost in a grey cloud.

Well, what the hey, I figured. I’d go until a) I got too cold and wet or b) I was in danger of losing sight of the car park. Put on foul weather pants and boots and set off.

Went through two gates and across a stone bridge so old there were gaps between the field stone and out onto the moor.

First — the ground is springy with moss growing between the grass. The stones are grey and covered with lichen so that even the rocks seems softer here. there was a faint footpath, which I mostly followed. There were the stones and holes left from a bronze age settlement which I wandered among. There was, in the distance, a pale blue lake that might have been an old quarry. There was acre after acre of empty green hills, grey stones, rain, mist and Yours Truly climbing up, pausing frequently, and every time I stopped, I was alone in the silence that felt to have been unbroken since Guinevere’s day.

One thing about doing this in less than optimal weather, you start getting a feel for _why_ this country was so dangerous it kept whole armies out.

First, you could get badly lost in the fog. Second, the ground is soft, but it’s hummocky and hilly and you could break a horse’s leg really easily. Third, you know that moss? Soaks up water so that when it’s full, the ground all but bleeds water. It puddles and pools and squealches and runs, and even when you’re not in one of the bogs, you’re in the mud.

No, as it turns out, my hiking boots are not still waterproof. Why do you ask?

Fortunately, what it was not was cold, at least not very, so I kept climbing.

Saw dark shapes to the left and wondered if they were the wild sheep I’d heard about and strayed form path to investigate. Nope. It was a small, dark, herd of very wet wilde ponies. Not knowing the temprament of said ponies, I stayed well back, but still, I hadn’t expected to see them at all and it was v. cool.

Kept climbing. Thin layer of mist behind me by now and clearing up ahead. Could almost see the logan stone up top and could now realize that the noise of sheep coming from above was not an auditory hallucination. Up there were some black-faced, highly annoyed, weirdly alert sheep.

Logan stone and summit soon became clearly visible, but the footpath at that point ended in a series of streams, pools and hummocks, and the way back…

I looked back and could _just_ see the car park through the fog. Then, the wind picked up a bit, and the car park…went away. The following flashed through my mind: “Tonight on the BBC — Stupid American Tourist found wandering on moor after three day search.”

Did I mention there are NO landmarks? Those rocks really all do look alike. And when the car park was gone, so was the lake, and the stream, and most of the sheep.

So, with a sigh and a few more photos, I gave the sheep back their tor and started back down.

Turns out to have been just as well. The rain was picking up and somewhere I’d hit the limit on what the seams of my weatherproof coat could handle. I was getting wet in earnest and wasn’t keeping quite so warm. My boots were well and truly squealching.

There were some more annoyed sheep on the way down, giving me rude
looks.

We held the following exchange:

Sheep: Baaaaaaaaah! (Translation: Hey! It’s raining! This place is ours when it’s raining!)

Me: I’m bigger than you and I’m a carnivore.

Sheep: Baaaaaaaaaah! (Translation: Oh, I’m _so_ impressed.)

There was a heard of cows out there too, but they looked too well trimmed to have been really wild. I think. Does beg the question what _were_ they doing out there then?

Anyway. Got back to the car, peeled off outdoor gear and soaking boots and socks, looked in disbelief at people just starting out on the trip I’d just finished and drove back to Camelford. Went to Mason’s Arms, nice old pub. There, met a woman who’d just moved to the area who invited me to share her table. She was buying a house in Penzance, but was originally from Norfolk, and she’d worked until recently at the National Archives.

Me: How far did the records you handled go back?
Her: Oh, to Domesday. We had a copy of the book.
Me: !!!!

Had Ploughman’s lunch. v.nice. Drove home through mists without incident and only one wrong turn. Borrowed hair drier, to try to dry off the inside of my coat, and went out in search of cream tea. Unfortunately, the really good tea rooms in Tintagel are closed on Sunday, but did eventually score scones, jam and clotted cream.

Very soggy but very satisfying day.

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