The edge of England

I am in Cornwall right now. Cornwall is the western-most county in England, and was the first destination on what promises to be more than a few trips away from the busyness of London.

On Friday I took the train from London’s Paddington station all the way to Penzance, Cornwall, a town on the Celtic Sea that is considered to be the gateway to western Cornwall. I’m ecstatic with my choice so far. I hadn’t even planned on going further west than Plymouth, at the edge of Devon county. That was, until I had a chat with a local now living in London – she went to school in Falmouth and insisted Cornwall was worth exploring. And, since I determined long ago that locals recommendations are better than those of the tour books, I took her advice and boarded the five-hour train to Penzance. More to come on my love of train travel.

It is now Saturday, day two in Cornwall. Shortly after arriving I decided I wanted to go to Land’s End, the most westerly point of England and the infamous edge of the country. It’s all Atlantic Ocean from there, baby.

So this morning I hopped aboard the 300 bus (a fantastic purple and cream coloured double decker with deeply hued magenta seats), Land’s End-bound. I initially planned on walking the 10-or-so mile journey, but decided against it when warned of how narrow and windy the roads are.

But there was no shortage of walking today.

After getting to Land’s End (I just want to call it King’s Landing SO badly, damnit, Game of Thrones!), I took the obligatory “Land’s End marker” photo and headed on my way. Land’s End itself was a little too “look at all these kids amusement things we’ve erected in hopes of taking all your money!” for me, and I was eager to hit the trails.

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I headed out along the Coast Path, the morning wind blowing roughly through my hair. The sights were spectacular. Really just inexplicably beautiful. Jagged granite cliffs reach up from the crashing shores of the Atlantic. The violent winds, salt spray and high acidity of the soil mean limited vegetation grows along the cliffs. Bushes clumped along the surface, and bright yellow flowers made patches of gold.

Western Gorse
Western Gorse

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Rounding a corner, I saw the first stop along the Coast Walk: Sennen Cove, a small village built up onto the rock. It was like the Cornish equivalent of a Greek island town, only with less steep of a climb to the top.

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I adored Sennen Cove. I explored fishing boats that had been dragged to the shore.

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I wandered onto the wide swath of beach, my hiking boots sinking into the sand with every step. I looked back to see my footsteps, but the surf had almost immediately reclaimed the spot, the natural culprit refilling my path as though I was never even there.

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I spent the next while on the beach until the incoming tides chased me back to shore. I knelt over and scoured for pieces of beach stone as though I were seashell picking on the shores of Skerries, Ireland, just as I did so many summers as a kid.

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After a lunch of Cornish pastries and tea, I headed back to Land’s End. One of the attractions of the town is a place called Greeb Farm, where there’s a small livestock petting zoo (goats!!!!!) and roosters running free round the lot. There’s also a workshop area where traditional Cornish artisans have set up shop.

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That’s where I met glass engraver Bill Davenport.

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And, like any good journalist on vacation, I spent far too much time chatting with him, our conversation peppered with one-sided questions and a wide-eyed curiosity for his art.

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Bill started as a glass engraver more than three decades ago, after he bought a set of tumblers to engrave as a gift for his mother. For those first pieces he used a silver engraving tool, but quickly discovered the tip to be too crude for such delicate handiwork. After displaying at one show and inadvertently selling three pieces (he had deliberately priced them “too high” as to not tempt buyers), Bill got serious about the craft and relocated to this workshop at Land’s End.

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Now Bill uses a stipple tool for commissioned works, chipping away at the glass until it creates the image of an animal, household, etc. The pieces he sells in this workshop space are created using a hand router tool, which buzzes like a piece of dentistry equipment as we speak.

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Bill primarily creates his designs freehand, though he says he will sketch in advance if it’s something with firm customer specifications. I wasn’t permitted to take photos of the finished glass, but just imagine the meticulous work Bill puts into pieces. And, as he told me, the most important lesson he ever learned was to not overdo the design, but rather to let the negative space that is not chipped balance that which is.

My day in Land’s End finished with a walk to Sennen, a cappuccino at the Apple Tree Cafe and another double decker bus ride back to Penzance. The sun had come out so I sat in the open-air top, my hair once again a tangle worthy of Medusa, my eyes fixed on the Cornish countryside below.

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12 thoughts on “The edge of England

  1. Beautiful! Lovely post. I love Land’s End (the countryside of it – not the tacky amusements they’ve stuck up). This post made me a little homesick.

  2. In February, 2003 I went to London with three women I worked with. It was the coldest place I have ever been. But having tea and meeting the friendly English people was well worth it, seeing London and Oxford were memorable. Being somewhat of an Anglophile, I hope to go back and revisit. You took some good pictures – enjoyed your post. MIND THE GAP.

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