Ahhh, Cornwall. The mere mention of the word and folks get a little misty eyed. “Oh, Gilian, you’ve never been to Cornwall? Oh, it’s so lovely, you simply must go.” Why? Why is it lovely? Why must I go? “Oh, you simply must see it. It’s just lovely. It’s Cornish, you know.”
The more I hear about the place, the less I understand. It is a quintessential British beach experience, but you know, not like most British beaches, because it’s so much more lovely. There’s a random Tate museum there, why? Because it’s also very artsy, you know. And lovely. And painters paint it.
This week Sal has some work up in a show in St Ives, so we finally make plans to go. (Because like good Americans, we can’t just go on a holiday to relax – it must have a Purpose or Reason.) So we arrive, on the other side of a five hour train ride, ready for misty loveliness, ready for anything.
It’s drizzling, of course, and 16 degrees (like 60F), but you know what? St Ives could be frozen over and lovely. It’s just gorgeous. The rocky, craggly spine gives way smooth, sandy curves of beach, some smooth ripply waves and some with proper surfing waves. And the water – deep bluey-purple melding into azure and seafoamy turquoise. Sal and I just stand there at the train station and gawk at it all for some minutes. Then, through the drizzle, he points to the beach –
“Are those…people out there? In the water?”
“Nah, must be sharks. It’s freezing.”
But they aren’t sharks. The U.K. has nothing that can kill you, not even in the water. They are people. British people. Swimming. Like they are in a balmy tropical paradise. Sal and I share a horrified shiver.A British colleague of mine prepped me with all the Cornish things I must try there or bring home – and to be honest I’ve forgotten all of them except something about clotted cream.
The best place I found to experience Cornish clotted cream is at the Tate St Ives café – three floors up and a breathtaking view of the beach. Get a seat by the window and gorge yourself on the creamy goodness that is the Cornish cream tea. OMG I don’t know what they put in the butter and clotted cream here, maybe crack, but it is freaking amazing.
Next stop is the beach. The sun came out, but it’s still cold. I have on three layers, and am still a bit chilly. These crazy people are SWIMMING in BATHING SUITS in 16 degree weather in water just on the liquid side of freezing.
What is it with these mad British people? Are they genetically immune to hypothermia? Why am I so happy, and yet so very, very cold? And why is my Mexican husband running for the waves? Does he have a death wish?
What is it about Cornwall?? WHAT IS IN THIS CLOTTED CREAM?