Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Magic and mystery in the Cornish mists

On the morning of Sunday October 6th, I took a train from Paddington to St Austell, Cornwall for another literary pilgrimage.  On the first page of Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper, the three Drew children arrive in St Austell and are taken by the mysterious Merriman Lyon south to the fishing village of Trewissick, which is a thin veil for the real village of Mevagissey (below).
For a while I frolicked in this fantasy world of The Dark is Rising sequence, walking the fog-draped coastline and picturing scenes from the book.  A perpetual Cornish mist rolled in from the sea which was to plague me further, despite my foolishly optimistic hopes.

At the nearby Lost Gardens of Heligan I discovered a wonderful New Zealand garden and even experienced an encounter with the Grey Lady (above).  She is said to haunt the place and it would appear to be true.  Nearby rested her companion the Mud Maid, though I think she does not like this name and wishes that she were called instead the Green Maid.
For my third day I planned a complex series of buses and trains which I started off promisingly by missing the first bus.  An old man drove me directly through another route to drop me off at at place where I caught that very same bus, and I then continued my convoluted route to a place of great magic: Tintagel Castle.  Beleaguered by the sodden mist I climbed down onto the beach and christened my visit by entering Merlin's cave.

Again with all my luggage on my back, I climbed the 123 tall stone steps to the top of the medieval castle where I saw very little beyond the inside of a cloud, though on a lower level there were some views of the ruggedly beautiful coast.
It was plain to see how stories of wild magic grew in such a place.  Eventually the clouds kissed the earth and my reasons to linger melted away into the obscuring fog.

I hitch-hiked east, detouring south at the last minute when I learned that all the hostels on Dartmoor were full (due to a trashy event in Tavistock called the Goose Fair, a tradition allegedly 500 years old, but in reality long since dead as today's Goose Fair contains no geese and is just a vulgar frenzy of noise, lights and second-rate junk, with each lumbering local walking slower than the last).  A pair of fabulous French women picked me up and drove me into Plymouth where they kindly offered me a pitstop at their flat before I continued on to my hostel.


The following day I walked into the middle of nowhere in Dartmoor for the wildest secondhand bookshop I have ever seen.  At the end of a winding stone road sat a decrepit old farmhouse that was filled to the rafters with secondhand books.  The building was hundreds of years old and as dank as you can imagine, so many of the books were mouldering and musty.  Nonetheless, I left with a pile of minor treasures and made my way to St Michael de Rupe's chapel at Brentor (below).
The blue sky belies the freezing winds that shrieked around the stone eaves or the grey vanguard of stormclouds that approached steadily over the moors.  I took shelter inside its walls, watching the rain pelt the angel in the stained glass window and then resumed my trek toward civilisation.

The weather was crisp and clear the following day, so by bus, thumb and foot I journeyed into the very heart of Dartmoor for a perfect afternoon at Wistman's Wood.  This ancient tract of twisted oaks is perhaps my most sacred place on earth.  I grazed on wild blackberries as I traversed the jagged rocks and mossy outcrops like a mountain goat, though the sight of it would have made my physiotherapist give birth to a bountiful litter of kittens.
After blissing out with a couple of venerable oaks, I returned to Plymouth and thus ended the charm of South-West England.  I suffered a horrendous night's sleep and was forced to abort my plans for the next day with a budget bus ride early in the afternoon from Exeter.  This attempt to remedy my ailing finances was false economy, for despite allowing plenty of time to hitch-hike, I over-estimated the kindness of the pinch-faced wretches who drove past me in a stream of empty, expensive cars.  An unfortunate end to what would normally be the climax of my adventure; best-laid plans give birth to expectation, which is a fickle and treacherous travel companion.
But trees are neither fickle nor treacherous, so to remedy my disappointment I took off for Estonia and was reunited with one of my old friends (below).  This might be my final post, as the 'chapters' of this particular story have subsided into a gentle epilogue, marked by a lower gear of activity and plenty of rest for both my feet and my anorexic bank accounts.  Whether or not there are more tales to tell remains to be seen, and will be another story for another day...


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