On Living the Fantasy Life in North Cornwall
I spent this Memorial Day weekend with my wonderful friend Becky and her husband John, relaxing at Meadow Brook Farm in Boothbay Harbor.
That was the most delicious thing about the weekend. When, on Friday night, John asked what I’d like to do, I had to protest: they were letting me veg out in their beautiful home, and I had absolutely no need to be entertained. If they wanted to go out to the garden center to buy plants, and maybe later to tuck them into the garden, I’d be perfectly willing to do that. If they wanted to watch Tim Wakefield pitch for the Red Sox against the Tigers, on TV, I was good with that. If they wanted to throw an anniversary dinner for their neighbors Sarah and Alan, that was fine, too, and I’d do what I could to help. Mostly what I didn‘t want to do was be in charge of anything, or to have to make any decisions. The most beautiful thing about my friends, is that they allowed that at the farm. They always allow that at the farm.
So if I wanted to partake of one of my favorite fantasy pastimes, which is to investigate rental properties in England–especially in the West Country–Becky and John were agreeable. In fact, they were perfectly willing to play along. Where are we going? This time I concentrated my search around Tintagel, which is a village I adore. I loved it before I saw it, as the legendary birthplace of King Arthur: talk about fantasy. When I finally reached it, on a brilliantly sunny afternoon in July ten years ago, I knew I’d found the place of my dreams. I only spent a couple of days there then–and I’ve been going back and staying longer in my fantasy life ever since.
I had one of the most awesome adventures of my life that July Sunday afternoon in North Cornwall. It started at Bodmin Parkway, the railway station in the middle of nowhere, where the station was closed, the bus wasn’t running, and the public telephone was broken. For the first and only time in my life, I hitchhiked, along with a couple who found themselves in the same predicament I was in: trapped in a train station on a dirt road on a moor. We caught a ride into Wadebridge with a family in a tan Volvo–I rode in the back with the luggage. After a series of machinations at the TIC and a (working) public call box, I got hold of a taxi driver named Frank, who told me he’d be there for me in an hour, after he’d done a scheduled fare, and I was to go into the pub across the street, have a drink, and wait for him. So I did.
When Frank showed up, we zipped off into the countryside. Are you in a hurry, or would you like the scenic route? Same price! I sat up front while Frank drove around North Cornwall, pointing out things I ought to look at. The wind farm at Delabole. Slate operations. Abandoned tin mines. The Eden project. The cliff path, ever off to our left. The beach. The Celtic Sea. The hills, always to the right. And we talked: where I was from. Where he was from. How we both ended up here. My house. His house (where someone used to keep pigs out back, he told me–you can always tell because of the thistles). How terrible it was that I lived in a place where there were no pubs: what happens when someone gets married or dies? Where does everyone gather? We filled several hours on the scenic route, with a good laughing conversation; and even though Tintagel had been the goal of my afternoon–in truth, of my entire journey–I was almost sorry when we at last reached the village, and found the tiny B & B in which I’d reserved a room. Even as I checked in, and Frank joked his way into the front hall with my bag, the B & B manager asked, “Wherever did you find him?” To which I had to reply that I hadn’t found him, he’d found me.
Thus began two days of exploring. The rest of the time I was on foot, exploring the castle ruins on the peninsula and the island; visiting the Church of St. Materiana on Glebe Cliff and reading the gravestones; walking the cliff path and running my hands over the zig-zag courses of the slate walls lining the roads. I had dinner one night with some locals at a chippy–you look all alone! Come sit with us! I got a monumental sunburn. I drank pints and pints of Cornish Cream, from St. Austell’s brewery. It was the culmination of one of the best adventures ever.
So–John and Becky and I were exploring holiday rentals. Mostly because I want to go back, just to be there. Also because I want to show this place to my friends, as my goal in life is to have everyone love the things I love. Of course, the idea of having a week-long writing retreat somewhere near Tintagel would be awesome, too: Simply Not Done could come.
There are many many online holiday rental websites; I spent the weekend at Becky’s looking them over, and discussing the possibilities. We compared pictures: one cottage we liked had to be discarded, as the kitchen was too small; because we always cook awesome things when we get together, a large kitchen where we can move about comfortably without stepping on one another is a must. One cottage advertised sleeping for six, but when we looked at the photos, the dining room only had a small table and four chairs. You’ll have to eat in shifts. Well, that one wouldn’t work for us,
obviously. A cottage with an attractive traditional stone exterior had been decorated in a frightful modern glass and metal style. Nope. But there were plenty that would do: a lovely fisherman’s cottage in Port Isaac, for example. Or the one we finally decided on: a place called Trevillick Cottage,
just outside of Tintagel. The kitchen was just right. The sitting room is perfect for workshopping. Becky loved the patio area to the back. John thought walking ten minutes to the pub was a great idea. All in all, we were more than pleased with our selection.
Notice, however, that we never discussed price. The gorgeous thing about living a fantasy life like this is that money is no object. Of course, it would be lovely if we could make such an adventure a reality, but for now, this is good enough.
Of course, it is no coincidence that my first chapbook is entitled The Church of St Materiana. The cover photo is one I took when hiking from the castle ruins along the footpath to Glebe Cliff.