Saturday, October 15, 2011

Walking the Southwest Coast Trail - Art and Mermaids

St. Michael's Mount near Penzance. Despite seeing it on the horizon for three days we never made it there.
Our holiday this year was a walk with friends along the rugged Cornish coast at the southwestern corner of Britain. Six year ago I'd done a volunteer week with the National Trust in Cornwall and I looked forward to another piece of this dramatic landscape. Our hike started in St. Ives, an important artist colony from the early 20th century, a retreat from the big cities and the world wars. Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse (1927) drew from her youthful memories of summers in St. Ives. Unfortunately my attempt to read the book bogged down in the mental maelstroms that seemed to keep everyone too busy to actually live a life. Regardless there were also visual artists and their legacy is carried on by the Tate St. Ives, a wonderful gallery overlooking the beach. In the gallery I was taken by the constructivist models of Naum Gabo who lived in St. Ives during World War II. Gabo attempted to model conceptions of space and time, creating complex models of shaped nylon thread and molded plexi and bronze sheets. All stunning stuff.
After tea at the gallery we pull on our packs and start off on the first 12 km leg of our trip. The weather was grey and the hillsides shrouded with mist, drizzle and occasionally rain. But there was no wind and the fog isolated us into our little patch of the coast giving us a landscape intimacy which the sunny days to follow didn't offer. It was a demanding hike with several steep hills. While much of the trail was well maintained  there were several boulder scrambles and in a few places wet muddy stretches sloping off cliffs called for some careful route selection.

Joy and Ann leave St. Ives behind. The Tate Gallery is on the left.
Chris ponders the trail and wishes there was another warm Cornish pastie to eat.
A nice stone bridge over a rapidly filling creek. Getting a little damp but staying warm.
Happy campers still, I didn't take any more photos until we were in a dry place though.
 It was a great pleasure when we turned off the trail for the last 500 metres to The Tinner's Arms in Zennor. Thoroughly wet and hungry we fell into the pub and settled around the open fire to begin drying out. We met a trail friend who joined us for dinner and a rousing dice game with pints of the local Zennor Mermaid at hand. After a lovely evening of being toasted by the fire the bar keep phoned his mother-in-law where we spend the night. After a short trudge up the hill we're welcomed into luxuriously warm beds and a good night's sleep.

Chris and Joy still wet but things are looking better.
I've already finished one Mermaid and have a steak pie ready to go.
Ann has the fancy meal. Everything is local produce.