Impressions of Falmouth and Cornwall
is at the mouth of the Fal river. Surprise! It's said to be "one
of the finest natural havens in the world, and the third largest
after Sydney and Rio." While it's certainly large and lovely,
it's nowhere near as big and developed as our home port of Hampton
Roads; we guess you have to define "haven" properly to
validate Falmouth's claim! On the other hand, Hampton Roads isn't
guarded by castles on either shore built on orders of King Henry
VIII. They add a certain je ne sais quoi.
rented a car and drove around Cornwall. Off the one or two major
roads, most roads are about a lane and a half wide, and generally
bordered by high, seemingly impenetrable hedges, sometimes hiding
genuinely impenetrable stone walls. Fortunately, there's not much
traffic, and there are frequent turnouts, each carefully marked
as a "Passing Place", so that if you encounter another
car, one of you can move into one of these (sometimes backing up).
All very polite. Very British.
were driving along one of these lanes when a pheasant darted across
the roadway, followed by a half dozen chicks. She had disappeared
into the hedge by the time the last chick was scurrying across the
lane. A crow swooped down toward the straggler, and mother pheasant
immediately reappeared, feathers a-fluff and all a-squawk, to chase
the 19th century, tin mining flourished in Cornwall. Actually, tin
mining here dates from many centuries earlier, but reached its height
in the late 1800's, when there were hundreds of mines, producing
most of the world's tin. But mining stopped here in the mid 1990's,
when the dropping price of tin made it unprofitable to continue,
and the last mine closed,. Today, the most visible remainder and
reminder of these mines are the ruins of tall stone "engine
houses" and chimneys. These engine houses held the machinery
that pumped water from the mines. In fact, the inventor of the high
pressure boiler was a Cornishman named Richard Trevithick (his pressurization
improved on Watts's design). The engine house ruins dot the landscape,
and are especially impressive when they are near the coastline,
as several are. We toured a mine near St. Ives on the west Cornwall
coast. The part we visited was the shallower area dating from the
18th and 19th Centuries - the lower areas flooded in 1988 when the
pumps stopped. It was truly impressive, and horrific to think of
the labor conditions. While safer than coal mines, tin mines were
not pleasant. They didn't have dangerous flammable gasses in them,
so miners wore candles on their hats or helmets to light their way.
Miners were only paid for the minerals they mined, not the rock
they had to dig through to find the veins of ore, and the tin veins
were quite small compared to the volume of rock. So they didn't
waste time and effort with big tunnels. We couldn't stand up straight
in the tunnels we were in, and our shoulders brushed the side walls.
Andi was fascinated enough so that she controlled her claustrophobia,
but our tour guide had a flashlight and there were lights strung
in the tunnels - a situation that didn't exist for the miners. The
mines were worked by families: housing was provided only to miners
and their families, so sons became miners in order to keep housing.
The average life expectancy was under 30 years; boys were considered
adult at 15, and were probably married by then, if not parents.
Children began working above ground breaking big stones into smaller
stones at age 6; boys went below at age 8 and worked at bringing
the rocks out from the working mine faces in wheelbarrows. Women
and girls worked above ground, breaking up the rocks. An unfortunate
side product of tin mines is arsenic, and some short-lived women
tended the plant machinery where it was extracted. All in all, an
appalling existence. The miners took their lunches below with them
in the form of "pasties," a crescent-shaped pie dough
filed with potatoes, meat and vegetables. Cornish pasties are still
a staple today. Our guide said, however, that the miners didn't
eat the pastie dough - it just protected the filling from their
filthy hands, and they left the crusts behind for the "knockers"
- the ghosts of past miners that haunt the mines. We think they
ate every last crumb, and needed all the energy they could get!
English love flowers, and there are flowers everywhere. Houses of
course have gardens. But stores and pubs all also have flower boxes,
hanging baskets or tubs of flowers decorating them. The local Woolworths
has particularly pretty flowerboxes. But even when you drive along
the lanes, the hedges are often sprinkled with lovely wildflowers.
And many of the lanes have sections where the trees have grown together
overhead, making a beautiful verdant tunnel. "lovely,"
we keep saying, "just lovely."
Brits use too many words, and signs are just incredibly polite.
Where a store in the US would have a sign saying "No animals,"
the equivalent here says, "Polite Notice: we regret that no
animals other than guide dogs are permitted inside these premises."
At a train station in the US, a notice would say, "No running
or horseplay." Here, it's "Patrons are kindly requested
not to engage in rough play or running on the overpass as injury
fun to be in the country where the name places are from songs and
nursery rhymes we're familiar with. "As I was going to St.
Ives, I met a man with seven wives..."
"In Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly happen..."
I wonder if the Brits always think of pirates and Gilbert and Sullivan
when they hear "Penzance", as we do. (It's just 20 miles
on our way now to Scotland (stopping first at the Scillies), but
expect to return to Cornwall at least briefly when we go down east
to Lymington in late August.