On the South East coast of Cornwall, where the River Fowey meets the sea, lies the tiny and unspoilt village of Polruan. Artfully spilling over the steep hills that stand sentinel over the river, Polruan faces its more famous cousin Fowey over the sparkling silver estuary.
Cornwall is a long way from London, both geographically and in spirit. Crossing the bridge at Plymouth you enter another world - the mysterious, piratical land of Kernow. I love coming into Cornwall this way, over the river Tamar that forms a natural barrier between Devon to the East and Cornwall to the West, the bobbing boats and tiny houses so far beneath they look like a toy town. Cornwall is the jutting foot of Britain, poking out precariously into the wide blue Atlantic, with only the Isles of Scilly between it and America. They say you can’t escape your troubles and you can’t outrun your feelings, but a change of scene and a break from routine is just the tonic that the soul needs every now and then. I had been craving the wide open spaces and bracing air, the wild and rambunctious sea. I needed to let all the juggling balls drop and roll away and just be me for one weekend, not the many women I am and have to be. And thus it was that I found myself on the five hour drive to the land of Kernow, accompanied by my fellow adventuress and lover of nature.
Our place of refuge was a converted loft, a beautiful, minimal space that was the very embodiment of the simplicity we were seeking. Stargazer, as it was called, quite rightly let the views do the talking. To one side only a single house stood between us and the open sea, to the other the panorama of Polruan tumbling down to the river with the lights of Fowey sparkling on the other side. We arrived in darkness and rain, tired from the drive and a busy week. We awoke to a brilliant morning with the clear Cornish light streaming through our windows. The vista was breathtaking in the morning sun; the river as blue as the arching sky above, boats already hard at work on the water and in the distance the car ferry making its repeat journey back and forth. Our mission that day was a long walk along the South West coastal path, our destination the beautiful Lantic Bay. After a hearty cooked breakfast we headed out, armed with doorstop sandwiches and the fervent desire to see absolutely no people for a few hours. The rugged coastline provided the perfect backdrop to our solitude, and we stopped every now and then to let the vigorous wind buffet us.
We reached Lantic Bay in record time and decided to continue onwards, making our way down to a tiny rocky beach to eat lunch and watch an intrepid boy of about ten risk his life on some rocks while his parents looked on, seemingly unconcerned by his impending death. He was armed with a long stick which he used to beat the waves from his vantage point on a rocky outcrop, and as we watched he was soaked by the crashing surf. ‘Hiyaaaa’ he screamed lustily as he battered an oncoming wave and suddenly I was seized by a fit of uncontrollable laughter. His mother finally made her way over to her errant son. ‘Now he’s for it!’ we exclaimed but not a bit of it. After scrambling over the jagged and slippery rocks to where her small son sat prone, still locked in his fierce and futile battle with the ocean, she took a seat beside him. I was seized by a fresh wave of laughter as I watched them doused with briny spray, and as they huddled in together felt the tenderness and understanding between them. ‘That will be Felix in a few years time’ I remarked, wiping the tears from my cheeks ‘Jumping around trying to kill himself’. ‘Yeah’ said my companion, ‘and you’ll be right there with him risking life and limb’. My heart soared with the vision of my baby grown into a strong ruddy cheeked boy, limbs covered with the bumps and bruises of adventure, and I knew that the magic of Cornwall had seeped into my tired soul and revived what had been flagging, restoring colour where it had faded.
‘Fancy a cream tea?’ my mate enquired as we neared Polruan, legs quivering with tiredness. ‘God yes!’ I replied with the hearty hunger of the walker. We had concocted a plan to hop over to Fowey and find ourselves a tea shop over on the other side of the estuary, but as we boarded the small boat that served as ferry the ferryman had other ideas. ‘You wont get a cream tea over there at this time’ he intoned mournfully ‘Everything be closed down now’. We glanced at each other in dismay. ‘But it’s only four thirty’ we protested. He shrugged his shoulders in a gesture of defeat, then added ‘Best you can hope for is a pint of Rattler in the pub’. We exchanged glances, ‘We’ll take the chance anyway’. ‘Your lookout’ he muttered curtly and set off for Fowey.
Twilight was gathering and the brightness of the day was ebbing, dark clouds roiled and gathered in the sky above, promising rain and maybe a storm later. He glanced up at the sky and over at us. ‘Might be the last one today at this rate’. ‘What do you mean?’ we exclaimed in horror. ‘Storm coming in’ he said briefly as if that were all the explanation required. ‘But we’re staying the night in Polruan, we have to get back!’ I said, anxiety starting to wind its net around my heart, ‘The ferry is supposed to run till seven’ ‘Times it do, times it don’t’ was his only answer and we finished the crossing in silence. Suffice to say his pronouncements of doom were unfounded and we found ourselves a very charming tea shop where we devoured a delicious homemade cream tea washed down with a gallon of fine Cornish tea. Racing back to the harbour we feared the worst; peering out into the dark water it seemed certain the ferry would never come and we would be stranded, but after a mercifully brief time its lights came into view. It was a crossing I will never forget, the small boat cutting through the silky black water like an eel, the ferryman guiding it amongst the moored boats with the casual precision of experience. As the twinkling fairy lights of Polruan harbour came into view I sighed with contentment, and as we struggled up the steep hill home, legs aching with exertion, the first drops of rain struck our wind-burned faces. ‘Storm coming in’ I muttered and we collapsed with laughter.
Is there anything more relaxing that soaking in a hot bath while a storm rages all around you? That evening as the weather turned and the promised storm arrived we found ourselves cosy and tucked up in our loft, the wind screaming past the windows and rain lashing at the toughened glass. We drank wine and ate roast chicken and baked potatoes with the gusto that only a day spent outside in the elements can provide, luxuriating in the simple pleasures of being clean and dry and safe indoors. Later, as we lay in our beds listening to the tempest I was reminded of being on a boat, rocked to sleep by the rhythmic rise and fall of the waves. ‘Stargazer would make a great name for a boat’ I thought sleepily, the satisfying tiredness of hard exercise making the bed seem the most comfortable I had ever slept in. The prospect of a drive over to the other side of the Cornish peninsula in the morning for a surf in
Watergate Bay seemed almost too good to be true, and I smiled to myself in the darkness. There were no stars that evening; the storm completely occluded the majesty of the heavens, but when I awoke during the night and looked out I saw a cornucopia of stars piercing the velvet blackness of the sky. Stargazer had live up to its name, delivering everything we needed and more, and as I gazed at the distant planets I gave thanks for all the good in my life. Sometimes all that is needed is the perspective to see that in fact all is well, that life is wonderful and that there is so much to look forward to. The spirit needs to be restored, the batteries recharged, the heart gladdened. There are no short cuts to healing, but at that moment I felt certain that eventually time, and at some point down the line another child, would wipe the pain from my memory. All in good time.