So let me tell you a story about a weekend in Cornwall in 2000. I had just moved to the UK about 4 months before, and one of my dear friends was having a party in Cornwall. He rented out a farmhouse, and was going to have a massive end-of-summer party with a DJ, tee-pee’s all over the farm for sleeping (and sleeping with people), and lots of alcohol. I drove down with some people I knew on the Friday night, and on Saturday there was a scavenger hunt with people finding clues for things all over the place, and it ended on the beach where there was a camp fire and lots of guitar playing and other hippie activities. A very cool way to spend a weekend, I thought.
Somewhere through the evening drugs came out, and being the naive girl from Amish Country, I had no idea what was going on. I suddenly noticed that I was the only person in the room with the DJ, and started to go on a wander around the house and finally found everyone in a room with a bathroom mirror and baby powder. The whole thing was very confusing, and I decided to take my sleeping bag and go sleep outside under the stars, because hey, I was in Cornwall.
And sleep under the stars in the grass I did. Very enjoyably. People going into teepees to go to bed at 6am finally woke me, and I got up and I decided to get up and go survey the damage around the house. It was fantastically messy, and if there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s a mess, especially when I didn’t create it (ask my husband). I figured that since everyone had just gone to sleep, it would be hours before they woke up, and I didn’t want to be stuck alone in an empty farmhouse with no food, littered with wine bottles and other sorts of messes. Seeing as how practically everywhere in England has a train station, I figured it couldn’t be that far to a station, and decided to go out wandering to find a station and get a train back to London.
I left a note for everyone saying I had decided to walk to the station, and thanks for a fun party, and I’d see them back in London, etc. Packed up my backpack, and off I went.
I set out happily enough, whistling with the birds as the sun shone over the fields. And then, at the top of the hill, I heard growling. There were dogs, baring their teeth at me. I jumped up into a field, and away from the dogs. But I was now in a field, away from the road, with no cell phone signal, and no idea exactly what I was going to do. I started imagining scenes from Children of the Corn and got totally freaked out.
But I decided to just walk forward, and if anybody got mad at me for walking through their fields, I could get mad back at them for having dogs that scared me. After about 45 minutes I reached a spot where I could see a road with no dogs in sight. Problem was, I had been wandering along next to a Cornish hedge, one of over 30,000 miles of hedges that are in Cornwall, some of which date from the Bronze Age, and are covered over in vines, leaves, branches and flowering plants. They’re a fascinating part of British history and give the scenery in Cornwall a very unique look; in much of the rest of England hedges were taken down in the Renaissance to make way for open fields, but in Cornwall over 3/4 of the hedges date from before modern agriculture.
So I’m in the field looking through the crazy twining branches and roots and such, down at a road that’s about 6 feet below me. I decide to throw my backpack down through the branches because then I’ll be forced to figure a way through (sort of like throwing your hat over the fence) and eventually I figured out a way to crawl through, and emerged down on the road in a puddle of mud, with branches and leaves in my hair, splashed with dirty water, sweaty and with twigs stuck in my sweater. Also, I really could have used some Neosporin for the cuts and scratches on my face. I sat there for a few minutes figuring out what my next move would be. I knew I wasn’t going to go back past those dogs, but I’d lost an hour rambling through the field, and the signs of a station weren’t looking promising. It was a lovely morning though, and if one has to be stuck somewhere, being stuck in Cornwall is a brilliant place.
And then, over the hill comes an old man. Like, 75 kind of old. He says in a Cornish accent, “well hellooo there my luvvie, are you an angel fallen from above?” Erm… I wasn’t sure whether to scream or run or kick him or what. Turns out he was out for a morning hike because he was going to be leaving the following Thursday for a trek up Kilimanjaro. I asked him where a station was, he responded that I was “miles” from one, and he’d walk me part of the way where I could get a taxi to Newquay and catch a train there.
So I spent a companionable two hours or so wandering out in the country with this older man, him telling me about his planned mountain climbing expedition, me telling him how I’d moved from LA, all the while leaving a trail of twigs and leaves behind me.
Sometime around noon I managed to actually arrive at a train station where there were trains that were headed to London. Two a day, and I had missed the morning one, and had about an hour to wait for the second one. I had a Cornish Pasty and read a magazine, and eventually a train came, and I got on it. I realized sometime around Bath that no one was sitting next to me, even though the train was fairly crowded, and then I took a look at myself in the reflection of the window. My face was covered in dried mud and scratches, I still had twigs in my hair and my sweater, and even better, I was fairly certain that I smelled. But whatever, I got to have an empty seat next to me the whole way back to London, so that was fine with me.
I finally made it back to London a full 12 hours after first departing from the farmhouse, and most of the people who had driven beat me back by hours. And when I next talked to my friend he informed me that some of the people at the party were convinced I was kind of a “nutter” for having set out like that on my own. So I suppose that in addition to having a memorable experience and a good story, I got a reputation as a sort of badass, which I sort of like.
Some fun facts about Cornwall. It has always had a closer relationship with Ireland and Wales than much of the rest of England because of its location. Some of the beaches actually have a type of palm tree known as the Cornish Palm, and could almost pass for Southern California (almost). There were several rebellions in Cornwall throughout the Reformation with much of the area wanting to stay close to Rome, and not be forced to use the new Book of Common Prayer. Doc Martin is filmed in a town called Port Isaac. There are fabulous country walks you can take; guided ones that most likely won’t have you run into wild dogs. Also, in 1755 there was an earthquake in Lisbon that caused a tsunami in Cornwall.
And because everything always winds up circling back to Monty Python, we can pause for a moment to think about Joseph of Aramathea and Scene 32 in the Holy Grail where they discover the writing on the wall ending in aaarrrgggghhhh. And Launcelot says, “isn’t there a st. aaarrrrggghhh” in cornwall?” to which Arthur responds, “no, that’s St. Ives.”