The myths of King Arthur, Merlin, and the Lady of the Lake have always fascinated me. In fact, I was once in a summer theater production of the musical Camelot and could imagine being in that magical place during each performance. Although there is no proof positive that Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table actually lived, the entrepreneurial folks in Cornwall, England, are happy to provide visitors with possibilities at the Arthurian Centre in Tintagel.
Cornwall, the county in the most southwesterly part of England, has a population of roughly half a million residents and hosts between 4 and 5 million visitors each year. Besides its temperate climate, picturesque villages, historic sites, and wealth of beaches, people come to see the land of the BBC series “Poldark” and “Doc Martin” and revel in the romance of pirate adventures and King Arthur legends.
The coastline has spectacular views. Land’s End has been a tourist destination for over 300 years and now there’s even a theme park on that lonely spit of land. If you would like to part with your money, you can pay about $13 to have your picture taken with the iconic sign. Aside from the crass commercialism of the concession stands, views of the sea and coastline are stunning and your mind can run riot imagining sailing ships of old, pirates, and adventurers beginning or ending their journey in one of the nearby coves. It is said that pirates would flash lights to lure hapless ships onto the rocks then row out and plunder the booty and store it in the many sea caves.
Land’s End was just one of the many places in Cornwall that I visited on my last trip. Road Scholar provided a lively group leader, an excellent guide, and a companionable group of people. From London our bus took us to Falmouth. This was our home base and is the city where Charles Darwin landed in 1836 after a 5 year expedition during which he collected specimens and developed his theories of evolution. Falmouth also has the distinction of having the third deepest natural harbor in the world and is guarded by 2 castles from the time of Henry VIII.
Did you know that your Apple ipad contains about 3 grams of tin? It’s a valuable metal and has been important to the Cornish economy for over 4,000 years. Dotting the landscape are the abandoned towers of tin mines build during the 19th century. The last mine closed 1998 when it was no longer profitable. Arsenic is a by-product of tin mining and thus the work was dangerous and most miners did not live past middle-age. Cornwall miners also worked in china clay mines. Discovered in 1746, the clay was used in fine porcelain dishes and also in paper, paint, and cosmetics. By 1910, Cornwall had a virtual monopoly on this fine clay. The clay pits form deep canyons in the landscape and the unused earth forms hills, now covered with vegetation.
In the background of the china clay pit picture, you can see a wind turbine. These turbines are scattered all over the countryside. Cornwall has invested heavily in wind, solar, and tide power and expects to be energy self-sustaining in 7 or 8 years. In fact, many farmers have even “planted” solar panels in their fields instead of crops.
I’m sure you have heard of Cornish pasties, those hand pies that formed the staple meal for miners. Traditionally, they are filled with rutabaga or turnip (personal UGG here), onion, potato, and meat. Often the miner’s initials were carved in the crust as vent holes. Well, I wanted to sample one as they now have many more interesting fillings. I was happily munching on my lunch pasty near the harbor when a seagull swooped out of nowhere and stole it! In a matter of seconds, he and his thieving friends had gobbled it all up. No one had warned me that gulls keep an eye out for careless eaters.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan were in full bloom when we visited. For hundreds of years, the gardens thrived but became “lost” after World War I. You see, 13 of the outdoor staff served during the war and nine gave their lives. The sorrowful owner moved away, renting out the estate as he could no longer “live with the ghosts”. The gardens gradually fell into disrepair. In the 1990’s a descendent of the original owners and a friend became interested in restoring the gardens and have dedicated it as a tribute to WWI volunteers. The gardens are now filled with heritage plantings and it’s a peaceful place, inviting appreciation and reflection. And, as you can see, there are bits of humor also.