Sunday, December 20, 2015

Commonplace Book: Cornwall

Cornwall seems to have been custom built for secrecy. The county is filled with tiny lanes enclosed by high hedgerows so thick with age and overgrowth they seem as much part of the natural landscape as the cliff tops, steep village streets down which nothing wider than a bicycle can pass with comfort, unexpected coves appearing and disappearing behind another few miles of switchback road, twisting river mouths and thickly wooded hillsides, glimpses of water vanishing behind ambiguous headlands, similar-sounding place names, and always that dreamlike sense of having passed this way a little time before. It is that confusion, the sense of having stumbled across a half-discovered land, which forms so much of Cornwall's attraction. You could stay in the same place every summer for twenty years and still get lost every time. The fishing village at the bottom of a near-vertical hillside with its bath-sized cove, its perfect pub and its peeling red phone box might be there one weekend but have vanished by the next; the patch of beach on which you built a fire and cooked an impromptu meal might seem vivid in memory but no longer exists in fact. Walk along the same stretch of headland and somehow the path leads you off to a different place on each revisitation. Sail up one of the inlets and stare round you as the sun goes down; whatever you see will be gone by the time you return. Landmarks get nearer or further, headlands appear or repeat; expected signs refuse to materialize. Cornwall is England's mirage, parts of it always vanishing before your eyes. From land and sea, it is a cartographer's nightmare and a wrecker's dream - a place that could not possibly have been better designed for concealment. - Bella Bathurst, The Wreckers 

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