Posted by: Robin | August 23, 2010

Cornwall, the Wild and Woolly

The first thing one notices (when one can look around amidst the terror of riding as a passenger with an American driving for the first time in the U.K.) about Cornwall is natural beauty of the rolling moor variety and lots of sheep. That was well and lovely, but I was impatient. I am not sure how young I was the first time I saw a picture of Land’s End and the Cornish coast, but it has haunted me ever since. Until we reached the sea I could not feel I’d reached Cornwall at all. For me the two were synonymous.

Ten years ago on my maiden visit to the U.K. I rented a car and dragged my daughters across the Midlands and into the West Country, them fearing for their lives every mile (because of my driving, can you imagine?), all with the intention of standing at Land’s End and reveling in the wild wonder of the land, sky and sea of its craggy coast. Early November darkness, torrential rain and tiny narrow roads defeated me by the time we’d made it to Dartmoor in Devon (not to mention my daughters’ white knuckles and screeching exclamations). I didn’t make it to Land’s End this time either but it was never the plan.  Tintagel was the goal, and it was enough.

Tintagel is famous for being the legendary place where King Arthur was conceived and born, and hence the little village that shares the name caters shamelessly to all us Arthur buffs, and why not? But the peninsula itself has been lived on since well before the 6th-century, with Iron Age, Dark Age and Medieval castle ruins piled in layers to the delight of the archeologically-inclined. That spoke to some bit of collective memory that in standing in that place I was part of a chain of life that had stubbornly persisted in this less-than-hospitable spot for over two millenia at least. It was humbling. I was also preoccupied by concerns of fictional events set on Tintagel I intended to write about. But after laboring up too many stairs to count to finally reach the tippy-tippy top, of this mound of rock and turf that so aggressively juts out into the sea, all other preoccupations melted away. I sank to the damp ground and fell out of time. Through wind, sun and drizzle I looked and breathed, never getting close to enough.

Two creatures shared my silent joy–my husband Don and a kestrel, a small falcon, which soared and swooped around the high crag where we sat, catching updrafts and then floating absolutely unmoving for thirty or more seconds at a time, and then doing it again . . . and again. Recently I read a novel in which a character quoted Seneca to the effect that small woes are loquacious, but the huge and terrible ones are mute. I think the same truth can be applied to beauty. There are no words for the greater glories, the deepest graces. This was a gift and all I could do was receive and be glad.

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