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Journey to Madagascar 2009 

September 30, 2009

Cornwall: Land of Clay, Scallops, and Shipwrecks

Cornwall coast at sunset


On Wednesday we set off from Paddington Station by train to Cornwall, specifically St. Austell Station which is a mile or two from Charleston Harbor. Our destination that day was the Pier House Hotel. It’s right on the harbor and it had been recommended to us by the head of the Eden Foundation, an arm of the Eden Project nearby and our actual destination for a visit on Thursday. The trip took 4 1/2 hours and involved one change. Otherwise it was a model of smooth rail service – starting on time and ending on time. The British may complain about their rail service, but compared to the US they live in railroad paradise.

Cornwall these days is an economically depressed area. Its industries, which centered on tin and clay mining, have largely closed and moved elsewhere in the world where the seams are richer and the labor cheaper. Cornwall produced china clay which was shipped out of Charleston Harbor to be used to make shiny white paper. Clay is still used for that purpose, though other formulations have been introduced, just not clay from Cornwall.

Teen-aged would-be surfers jumping into the cold Cornish water from a great spot for diving right next to the “No Jumping or Diving” sign. Problem: no surf, but on good days Cornwall is a center for surfing in the UK.


Cornwall in history, of course, is the land of shipwrecks, master mariners, fishermen, and romantic fiction filled with heroes like Poldark. Jean had hoped to meet Poldark but he seemed to be away for the day. It also is the land of Manderlay, the fictional home of Maxim de Winter, Rebecca de Winter, and the troubled (!) Mrs. Danvers. They figure in the great tale, Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, that Alfred Hitchcock turned into a dark mystery film of the same name. I have a particular fondness for this film and for so many of Hitchcock’s. What a master he was! To go to the land of Rebecca was a treat even if the people we met were far less sinister than those in the movie. It also was great to see that Cornwall really is in “living” color. The film wasn’t – nor was the mood of its story – so you couldn’t be sure.

Over the years Cornwall has also been a major holiday destination for the British. Jutting southwest into the Atlantic and ending appropriately at Land’s End, its coastline is long and lovely. Its weather typically is warmer than the rest of Britain, so Cornwall is also the home of hundreds – of gardens, many of which can be visited. It would be a great area to spend several weeks going slowly from garden to garden, and country hotel to country hotel.

Pier House Hotel at Charleston Harbor, Cornwall


The Pier House Hotel is a very friendly place – with comfortable accommodations and really good food as well. Located by the seaside, it is not surprising that it excels in seafood. Dinner was a relaxing treat, starting with local scallops and continuing to an excellent Dover sole, which is in plentiful supply and therefore not priced over the top as it would be in New York. The smoked fish of various sorts also was excellent. I have a weakness for smoked fish.

The manager, who doubled as bartender, launched into a peans of praise for the delights of San Francisco when he noted where we were from. San Francisco seems to have that effect on people, much more than Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, did when we lived there. Curious. After all, Bethlehem has a bridge too, and the Bethlehem Steel Corporation did build the Golden Gate. It’s fun to hear about all the ways that people love the city we have come to love as well.

Crab pots


Breakfast the next day was a modest affair that included smoked fish, eggs of all varieties, grilled tomatoes, sausages, bacon, and fried bread. I didn’t eat everything – or even make an attempt – since I could hear the voice of my cardiologist in the back of my head. Cardiologists and guilt come close together in the workings of the mind. The fried bread is a particular affront to healthy living; though, truth be told, the sausages were not exactly of the low-fat turkey variety. Breakfast is a wonderful meal. I have felt for many years that I would have no trouble being a vegetarian so long as I could make a few exemptions for breakfast treats like sausage and bacon. Then there is the matter of lunch and dinner, where lamb chops, veal scaloppini, and similar vegetable products would have to be exemptions. Then there are the great hams of the world. Oops, I forgot good hamburgers. Fish are veggie too I think. You get the idea.

All of this is context and prelude for our visit to the Eden Project which will be the subject of Thursday’s posting. We will arrive well fed.

Filed under: Uncategorized — greg @ 12:00 pm

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The Chief Penguin


Greg Farrington

Greg Farrington, Executive Director of the California Academy of Sciences, is visiting the island of Madagascar. He is joined by his wife, and Academy researchers, who are surveying and assessing this biodiversity hotspot.

Visit the Farringtons' personal blog, Madagascar Adventure, for in-depth details of this Academy expedition.

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