Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cornish pastimes

We went to Cornwall at the end of August. For those of you who don't know, Cornwall is the most southwesterly region of Great Britain. It is a popular tourist destination for the British, and surprisingly, for other Europeans as well - more to come on that. I can't say that I had heard of Cornwall before meeting my husband. About the closest I came was having Rock Cornish Game Hen for the occasional meal. Turns out they're not Cornish at all. But I digress once again.

I expect that many Americans have heard of Land's End (the place, not the clothing company - in fact, the clothing company is Lands' End, with the apostrophe at the end due to an ancient typo) I have vague memories of attempting to go there back in '93, and it being a pirate's ransom just to park. That's changed a little, it's down to GBP 3.00, which, relative to the price of anything in England, is value for money. There is a sort of shopping/eating/entertainment area (take a look at the link), and then there is the actual coastline you can take a look at.

There are a couple of old ships in a play area that kids, big and small, can climb on and have a look at.
The Cornish flag is a white cross on a black background. (Incidentally, the English flag is a red cross on a white background. The red, white, and blue Union Jack is a union of the English, Scottish, and Welsh flags, a fact I'm sure does not sit well with the Cornish.)
I noticed that the Cornish language is being resurrected as well, perhaps after seeing the success of the Welsh revival. Cornish, however, has a longer way to go. The last native speaker of Cornish died in 1893 (the media has it at 1777 - suffice it to say, it died a native death). Cornwall itself does not have the level of independence that Wales has, though apparently it is a separate legal entity. And it seems that there is some conflict around the orthography - sound familiar to you English literates out there? Government support for Cornish has only recently been available. Finally, despite their mutual origins, Welsh and Cornish are not mutually intelligible (though they share many words - and incidentally, Cornish and Breton apparently are very similar).

There is a distinct Cornish accent and dialect as well; Americans may know it as the pirate accent, most likely due to Robert Newton's rendition of it as Long John Silver in the movie Treasure Island. While his is not an authentic Cornish accent, he, or someone, probably chose it because of the long history of piracy and smuggling in Cornwall. We spent an afternoon in Penzance, which duly delighted the tourists with pirates everywhere. Lauren took to counting them. I no longer remember how many she got to before we left.

We rented a cottage in the small town of St Just, not far from Land's End.

The last time we came to Cornwall we had stayed in a 17th century pub called the Star Inn (the steps to nowhere in the photo in the link are a horse mounting block). This time we chose to simply have a drink there, on a Monday night. The bar area is small, and there were a few folks there, including a large table of older, slightly rumpled folk. Not long after we arrived, the tablefolk pulled out their musical instruments and began to play wonderful Celtic music. Initially we hadn't planned to stay long, but we decided to hang around to listen to the music. We managed to find a bench against the wall, and Richard left to pick up some fish and chips to take to his mum and Lauren. I was just reveling in the music, happy to have stumbled upon it. More people began to arrive, including two young, well-dressed men, who asked if it would be OK to share the bench. They sat down and we struck up a conversation. It turned out that they were from Poland, but had been living in Manchester for the past 10 months. There are a number of Polish in England, and I wanted to know more about why they would up sticks and come to a completely different country where they'd have to learn another language. They explained to me that though they were well-educated (both had university degrees) they couldn't get a decent job in Poland, and the cost of living was far higher than they could earn there. I asked why they were in St Just, and one said they had come to Cornwall for a holiday, because his mother was visiting and she had always wanted to come to Cornwall.

Let me write that again. An aging Polish woman always wanted to come to Cornwall. Yup, Paris, London, Madrid, Rome, Munich, Lisbon, Cornwall.

So I asked. He replied that there are many books about Cornwall. "In Polish?" "Yes, translated from the English." Oo'd'a thought it?

All in all, a wonderful, memorable evening.

We spent a day visiting St Michael's Mount, a tidal island similar to Mont Saint-Michel and in fact formerly belonging to it. Here is a low-tide photo:
And here is a more distant view just as the tide was coming in (and when it comes in, it comes in fast!):
We had quite a long chat with one of the caretakers while waiting for a squall to pass through. There's about a 9-hour window to repair the walk-/driveway when it gets damaged or washed away. Makes you really appreciate quick-drying cement! The grounds of the mount are run by the National Trust but the St Aubyn family still own the island. There are residents on the Mount, and there is a ferry available when the tide is in. The mainland village is Marazion, a pretty little place with claims of being Britain's oldest town (well-disputed, I'm sure).

It is true that travelogues are not my usual blog style, but I couldn't resist blogging about a place with dry stone walls like this:
And finally, I leave you with an image to ponder:

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At 5:30 PM, Anonymous Evan said...

thanks for sharing! nice recap and photos.

At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Johnny Dee said...

"For those of you who don't know, Cornwall is the most southwesterly region of Great Britain. It is a popular tourist destination for the British, and surprisingly, for other Europeans as well - more to come on that. I can't say that I had heard of Cornwall before meeting my husband."

I don't mean to sound rude, but could it be that Americans' knowledge of European geography is considerably more lacking than that of Europeans, for obvious reasons? What is so surprising about Poles having heard of and wanting to visit Cornwall? It has some of the Europe's most dramatic and beautiful coastline for a start, and it's not hard to overlook as the most south-westerly county of Britain sticking conspicuously out into the Atlantic.

At 2:05 PM, Blogger I18n G.A.L. said...

Check out the land area of, oh, Texas, and you'll see how much geography people in the US have to learn just within the bounds of their home country. One can claim that Americans are ignorant of European geography, but I suspect if you polled a random selection of Brits, there would be a number who wouldn't be able to locate Portugal on a map either. (Portugal is in Europe, just in case it wasn't clear.)
Having said that, there is a good reason why I, despite my Americanity, should have heard more about Cornwall. It has to do with the level of education of my family, where I went to university, and to whom I am married. I would like to point out that despite every ignorant American stereotype you may have heard or indeed experienced, there are well-educated, geographically knowledgeable, worldly Americans living in the USA. Just so you know.
(As an aside, an English friend of mine used to live in Paris and worked as a tour guide for English tour groups. She said she was frequently asked by English people "Where's the beach?")


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