Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Search for Where the Wild Things Are – Part 1

Following a long held love and fascination for travel and books, I have finally found a way to combine the two with ease and discover parts of the world that I never even knew existed: Maurice Sendak’s famous book, Where the Wild Things Are. It recently became a film, but I declined to see it as I really enjoy the originals, and my imagination is probably better – so there!
But from reading this book, I wondered if any of these characters could be translated into real life – could I be Max(ine), an intrepid explorer in search  of where some of  those Wild Things may be? I bloody well could! So I started thinking of those “peripheral zones” in different countries, where the land and people don’t always conform to how things are done in the “big smoke”. So for me, naturally the first drop off is Cornwall, home of the pirates and other wild n’ hairy types.

We’re Not in London Anymore!

While this dainty peninsula may appear to be part of England, the locals have long proclaimed it to be a separate entity; for once you cross the Tamar River, you are in Kernow (which is believed to be the tribal name derived from ‘people of the horn’, which became the Breton French “Corn Wel” and we all know where it went from there). City and town become more village-like, people smile at you walking down the street and actually appear to mean it. This place really has something special going for it – and it ain’t just the pasties.
East Tregeseal stone circle
East Tregeseal stone circle, Cornwall, England
The first of these Wild Things coming from Cornwall would have been the post-Ice Age Man, who had many dwellings and villages all through the region that can still be seen today. There is a definite vibe that accompanies these leftovers of a long gone history. Take a walk through some eerie stone circles that are found by trailing through back roads, and a saunter in a farmer’s field to find formations such as Kenidjack and the East Tregeseal stone circle at the back of St Just. Even if you are a sceptic of these types of forces, there is an underlying  feeling of ancient stoney powers that lie within the perimeter – they even have the same number of stones as Stonehenge….oh spooooky. Most of these sites are in West Penwith, in the south west of the region (Lanyon Quoit near Madron, and the remains of an old village in Chysauster near St. Ives) but there is beautiful landscape in between the top and bottom that it is a real pleasure to experience just getting there.

Wild and Ancient Scenery: Exploring the Coast and Islands

The next thing any visitor will find within these parts is the pure push and force coming from the actual landscape itself. I find this is the real essence of Cornwall – the land and ocean combine to make this one of the most exhilarating and wildest places on earth.  From St. Austell to the Lizard, there are any number of points along the coast that inspire, excite and reinvigorate any soul in need of sustenance, and reassure those of us who know the world is an amazing place. There are many lovely towns that demonstrate the beauties of Cornwall: St. Agnes is a quite beachy village on the west coast; Falmouth a pumping University town that has a gorgeous harbour and access to the island of St. Mawes; St. Ives has a long history of artistic endeavours; and Penzance even inspired a musical!
But one of the best things I love about Cornwall is the way one can travel without cars, by using the tracks that basically ring the region via the coast line. These tracks have been used for centuries – the more obvious ones have become roads, but these coastal tracks allow anyone to get closer to the natural beauty that lies at the heart of Cornwall.  Take a trip to Land’s End, then follow the coastal path south to the lovely ex-fishing village of Sennen, where you can really see the strength of the ocean and there are some very tasty fish and chips to be had after your lovely big walk.
Cornwall Coast
Inlet on the Wild and Beautiful Coast of Cornwall, England
Land’s End itself is interesting, as it is the most southerly tip of Cornwall, and hence the United Kingdom.  From there, it is a short boat ride to South America. So get yourself into a kayak and start a-rowing, and while you are at it, brush up on your Spanish! Land’s End has become a kind of tourist attraction, with various souvenir shops and photo opportunities at every turn. However, there is the Land’s End Hotel for a more relaxed view of the ocean, as well as a gorgeous Cornwallian specialty of scones with clotted cream. Delic-ious!! Plus walking around this area really makes you feel part of the scenery. You feel the push and pull of the ocean as it rages against the rocks, you know it has been doing this for thousands of years, and now you are privileged to be there with it.

Local Flavor – Both Wild and Sweet

Friendly "bearded" local
Friendly "bearded" local in rural Cornwall
Last but not least, it is the people who make another strong and lasting impression of Wildness down in Kernow. They are friendly, but not overly so, always willing to be helpful, yet not pushy about it. And if you do meet a local who was born and bred here, just try and understand what they are saying without subtitles. At that point, you will know that a boundary has been crossed and you are currently in another dimension. Usually the further south you go, the broader the accent. I learned to nod and smile at appropriate moments when talking to the local Beard Patrol. The hairier the better I think, and these boys were doing the wild thang au naturel. But they were very sweet, and just like the monsters in the book – gentle whenyou got past all the gruff.
So I think my search, while not quite finished, has found at least one part of the world that is still wild and woolly; where things should not be judged by appearance. The landscape is reflected in the people, sometimes a bit rough, but bracing and well worth the effort to engage with. Cornwall, through its unique landscape and people, remains (and quite happily so) one of the great, and somewhat hidden, Places Where Wild Things are.