I was not born to walk. I was born to be carried in a sedan chair by two smartly liveried men, or better yet in a litter carried on the shoulders of 4 muscular men stripped to the waist, or even in a carriage glistening with gold pulled by 6 white horses. Sadly I was born too late for two of those and too poor for the third.
The English walk a lot. They walk into town, they walk out of town. They carry their shopping for miles. They drag their kids along, push their strollers, pull their granny, and have the little dog too. Driving is impossible because the roads are so crowded. The entire day is one extended rush hour. Instead they leave their cars in a car park well outside of town and walk.
Walking has become part of the way of life in England and the English seem to have embraced it, and even seem to enjoy it. They are however taking it to ridiculous levels. When you get together with friends, they suggest going for a walk, as if that would be a pleasurable thing to do. What’s wrong with a comfortable chair, bubbles and caviar! They even go on walking holidays. If God had meant us to walk he wouldn’t have given us Uber.
I resist using my feet for as long as possible. But in Cornwall I have to succumb to this strenuous exercise. The little fishing villages nestled into the rocky coastline were never built with cars in mind let alone the thousands of tourists who come with them.
Polperro dates back to the early thirteen hundreds when the settlement was created at the mouth of the river where there was just enough room to squeeze in a tiny port. For a few centuries it existed on fishing but it was hard life and the villagers wanted something easier. It took a century or two for them to work it out, but finally they realised that smuggling was the answer. The village thrived. They lived in their own little world, miles from anywhere, oblivious to the fact that their basic little cottages would one day grace millions of postcards and attract thousands of gawking tourists.
Today its livelihood depends on tourism. The appealing harbor, the narrow cobbled lanes climbing up the steep slopes of the valley lined with fishermen’s cottages, some dating back to the 13th century, make this one of Cornwall’s major attractions
It also makes walking an absolute necessity. Polperro is totally unsuitable for cars let alone the thousands of tourists who flock here. There is a huge car park a mile or so back up the valley. We have come to see Polperro. There is only one road into the village, and it is sealed off to non-permit cars. I desperately look for another route, but there is nothing else for it. We have to leave our car and walk. I am commendably cheerful the entire way down the hill. Coming back up at the end of the day my smile might slip occasionally.
The bucket and spade brigade arrive early to get the best parking spots. The car doors open and out tumble three kids, a dog or two, a grandparent or two, and the parents. Shoulder bags full of everything that they need hang from parental shoulders, and they set off down the hill without complaint. This comes as a bit of a surprise as the English have long made an art form out of grumbling. Their favourite phrase is “mustn’t grumble” which is used to signify they are doing the exact opposite.
The street down the hill is lined with tacky tourist shops which seem to appeal to the bucket and spade brigade. The tackier the merchandise, the happier the tourist, and no one does tacky like the English. The big hit seems to be little pink fishing nets that no self respecting fish would ever go near, but the tourists can’t get enough of. Then there are the cafes, the fish and chip shops and the cream tea shops, every one of them packed with seemingly starving visitors prepared to eat everything no matter how unhealthy, as long as they can have an ice cream after. The shopkeepers are smiling. Their ancestors thought they had struck gold with smuggling, but this is where the real money lies, and it is legal.
And then there are the “galleries”, their walls lined with paintings done by local artists who go where others fear to tread and hang their art for all to see. Perhaps they shouldn’t. And they certainly shouldn’t price them with anything that involves more than two numbers. But they do.
But, dear readers, all is not lost. There is culture in Cornwall, but to get to it you have to drive to the lovely and totally packed town of St Ives, drive round the town for an hour looking for parking, and then retreat to a railway station 5 miles away, park the car there and catch a train into St Ives. We along with many many others follow that routine.
Those in the know skipped the hour of driving round St Ives and went straight to the train station, which explains why we join the long queue which winds from the station ticket office back into the car park. The train drops us in St Ives, a mere 20 minute walk up hill and down, from one of only two outposts of the Tate Gallery.
Opened in 1993 by Prince Charles, its gallery space was expanded twenty four years later and reopened to critical acclaim just last year. It has become a major destination in Cornwall. Although the day we are there the Tate is quiet while the beach is packed.
Perhaps just as important is the home, workshop and gallery of sculptor, the late Barbara Hepworth. She went to art school with Henry Moore and it is often hard to tell their work apart.
It is a fascinating place. Her workshop is just how it was left
and her lovely garden is full of her sculptures. It is a beautiful spot.
Gordon talks art to the docent while I sit in the garden and take it all in .
Unbelievably we have the place almost to ourselves. They do not sell ice creams and it is desperately lacking in pink fishing nets.
The bucket and spade brigade stay away in their droves.