In 2018, Jen took her first ever trip outside the United States. She was lazy and never posted the rest of the trip, but it kind of worked out because she hit the mental wall recently and needed an escape, and figured that you do too. Please enjoy Part Three of this multi-part series chronicling her tale abroad, along with the requisite musings. Part One can be found here. Part Two can be found here.
Note: The internet is full of posts by smart, photogenic people taking meticulously staged selfies at famous landmarks, so this travelogue is restricted to actual personal thoughts, including things I found fascinating and/or hilarious and VERY OCCASIONAL selfies. This entry contains terrifying staircases, clotted cream on scones, a tiny castle on an island, and the End of the World!
How to Get Lost, Found, and Fed
The next leg of my trip took me from Oxford aaaaaalllll the way down Cornwall to Penzance. But first, I had to get lost in Puxton.
Leaving Oxford was hard – not just because I loved my Airbnb either. No, the reason it was so difficult was because I was undergoing HORRIFIC MENSTRUAL CRAMPING. Naturally, this made driving even more of a chore than the whole ‘left side with roundabouts’ thing.
So between the Friday morning commuter traffic, and the previously mentioned medical conditions, I did not make the best time driving from Oxford to Cornwall. I believe it took me about 6 hours, between the roundabouts and restroom breaks.
During one such diversion, I got lost looking for a restroom in the town of Puxton. Like, REALLY lost. Like, the paved road disappeared and I was rolling along an honest-to-god mud and grass cart track, with the high grass on either side hanging over. There were tiny stone cottages and lots of fields, and my GPS was like ‘Ha ha SORRY MATE NO IDEA.’ So I turned around, drove over a wooden bridge barely as wide as a parking space (HELLO ANXIETY), and headed back the way I’d come. Which is where I found the Secret Haven of Puxton Park.
Part agricultural learning center, part tourist attraction, Puxton Park’s entrance was a sort of upscale grocery store full of locally made cheese, sausages, and produce. Further inside was a jungle gym and cafeteria. It reminded me of those indoor water parks in Wisconsin where people wait out the winter.
I got some lunch from the cafeteria, charged my phone, and relaxed a bit. It was nice being in the warm, with the sound of other people about.
[Author’s Note: Once back in the states, I was bored at work and decided to see what kind of fascinating history Puxton might have. While reading through the Wikipedia entry, I found this gem:
I didn’t see any signs and nobody hassled me for being there alone, so I guess I don’t look like a kiddie-fiddler. The little victories really do make life worth living.]
A Fine Staircase To Die On
Four thousand years passed and I arrived in Penzance about 4PM. I was exhausted, cold, crampy, and desperate, desperate for a hot shower and a quiet night in. It was at this point I discovered I had an email and a voice mail from the Landmark Trust, who owned the Egyptian House where I was going to stay. Amidst incredible politeness and a charming English accent, I heard the words problem with the shower.
In one of those marvelously personal twists I have come to accept in life, the shower was out of order. It wasn’t that there was no hot water! Heavens no! The problem was that the water came out of the showerhead hot enough to cook human flesh on the bone. This phenomenon was limited to the shower, and only the shower. All the other water taps, kitchen included, worked perfectly fine. Only the shower was a steaming closet of death.
I parked and stretched. Since parking was limited and expensive in Penzance when I found a spot, I tried to leave the car there as long as legally possible and just ambulate on foot. Since I wasn’t sure what was going on with the lodging I left my stuff in the car until it was sorted.
The caretaker apologized profusely, insisted upon a full refund, and suggested I find somewhere else to stay. Given that I was near the limits of my abilities to move and think, I decided to tough it out and take a Pots and Pans Shower. The apartment had a full kitchen and was well-appointed for cooking, so once the caretaker and plumber left I filled up some pots and pans with hot water, got into the shower, and washed. It was glorious.
I stayed in what’s called The Egyptian House. The water situation was highly unusual, according to the caretaker, and I’m sure if you go there now you will enjoy the shower I never did. The apartment was on the third floor (4th, in American) and reached via break-neck spiral staircase of terrifying proportions and beautifully mellow wood. I’m sorry this video goes upside down and all over – I can barely walk down stairs with my hands empty, and was carrying my phone, bag, and raincoat. Stairs are a novelty in Florida, which is flat and sprawling, so I am usually uncomfortable going down them, as evinced by the funny little ‘Hmmmmm’ sound I make when starting descent. These stairs represented every nightmare I ever had about falling down a staircase to my death and I had to traverse them multiple times every day.
On the ground floor of Egyptian House is a nifty little natural soap store, where I bought gifts for the folks back home. I ate a nice meal at The Bakehouse before going for a short wander, and then retired early.
After the End of the World Comes Clotted Cream
There are skylights on the top floor of Egyptian House, and it is something special to be woken by crying gulls to a dawn sky spattered with multicolored clouds. That was the morning of a lifetime. Soon I was up and on my way to the End of the World. Or, more accurately, Land’s End. Yes, the clothing company is named for it.
I got to Land’s End stupidly early so nothing was open, but I paid my parking fee and just wandered around outside, taking pictures of the beautiful scenery and trying not to fall down. Along with stairs, I am also not great with ice and BLASTING WINDS, and had under dressed for the weather. Once the gift shop opened I bought a bunch of shit to both warm myself up and take home as souvenirs for my folks. By now I was ravenous.
The cafe opened and while I ate my crumpet and clotted cream (delicious!), I learned from the staff that it was literally the LAST DAY of the season for Land’s End to be open. Or something. The website doesn’t say anything about closing so maybe I misunderstood. It was way too easy to imagine some fool (me) getting blown off a cliff into the sea so it made sense they might close for the winter. Maybe they just meant the cafe.
Adjacent to the cliffs is a tiny village, unchanged over the centuries, housing some museums and shops. I bought a silver thumb ring for about 20 euros and have worn it every day on my right thumb. It reminds me of one of my happiest days of 2018 and I hope I never lose it.
Having exhausted the entertainments available at Land’s End, I headed back to Penzance. Saturday ended with a meal of some fancy cheese, fruit, and snacks from Sainsbury’s, all during an incredibly ferocious thunderstorm. The whole apartment shook, the windows lit up black and white, and wind howled under the eaves. It was the full Cornish experience and another memory of a lifetime.
The Jen Dream House
Sunday dawned cold and wet but bright, and St. Michael’s Mount awaited. Seriously, visit that link and watch how the tide covers up the causeway. SO COOL. A great design for a fortress, providing it’s well stocked for siege and the waters aren’t deep enough to permit vessels with deep drafts. If it looks familiar, it’s because France has a similar castle called Mont St. Michel, although St. Michael’s Mount is smaller.
The castle is small, but just the right size for a small American woman to fantasize about winning the lottery and buying it as a retirement home – not to prevent people from visiting it, but just to have it, and amble through the stone corridors with a silk robe, smudged kohl eyeliner, and a half-empty bottle of cabernet sauvignon, “accidentally” encountering tourists.
“Oh! I had forgotten we had guests! No no, please, welcome to my home. The gardens are especially lovely today. Well, I must get back to supervising the cataloguing of illuminated manuscripts in the library. Remember the tide!” And the tourists would thrillingly describe this run-in with the Mistress of the Castle to the folks back home.
Being 5’2, I am well-suited to the medieval furniture and buildings that other people consider claustrophobic. Being an introvert, a house inaccessible to visitors for most of the day is very appealing. Being American (from Florida, no less), anything over the age of a hundred impresses me. I was Home.
Finally, it was time to return to reality. Back in Penzance, parked and hungry, I headed into a pub in search of food. You could hear the record scratch when I asked for something to eat. The bar dude said ‘Oh, kitchen’s not open yet, love’ by way of explanation. Another dude with neck tattoos and a waxed mustache ran outside after to say, in an accent I barely understood despite decades of watching obscure BBC shows, that The Dolphin was serving food. And boy howdy, was it.
But first, I had a wander through the church graveyard.
Naturally you read the stones and wonder who these people were who died decades or even a century before. You could spend a day wandering just the graveyard, maybe Googling the names in case anyone had reached immortality through the digital route. But food awaited.
The Dolphin was reasonably priced and open by the time I made it to the quay.
Here’s a pic of what I ate and drank, but blowed if I can remember what it was. And looking at the menu on the website just now didn’t jog my memory. I remember enjoying all of it except whatever that pink creamy stuff on the plate was. I think the item on the right is some kind of open faced sandwich and the pink wobbly thing is bacon.
I found a trail and walked it, pausing to watch some kind of community sporting event, then ate in my room and read, my last night. For the first time in my current memory, I was sorry to be leaving a place in the morning.
It’s not hard to see what happened – it was my first time out of my home country and I visited a place that’s captured my imagination from a very young age. Of course I would romanticize it harder than Danielle Steel on meth. And given all the traumas of the preceding years, finding a place so picturesque where I spent such a happy time, it’s no wonder I cried while I drove away.
But once again, London was calling. And it was time to start the journey back to Florida.
Thank you for reading this travelogue! I appreciate you making it to the end very much, and I hope you’ll tune in again when I post the fourth and final leg of the journey, whenever that may be.
Has there ever been a place you’ve visited that you didn’t want to leave? Where was it? Why didn’t you want to leave?
One thought on “Jen in England 2018 – Part 3: Clotted Cream, Tiny Castles, and The End of the World.”
That spiral staircase… I’ve been in quite a few hotels and similar places in Europe with tiny, crazy, how-did-this-happen staircases. It’s kind of amazing.
(And I never want to leave London. I’ve been there three times and it’s never ever ever enough to see all that I want to see. )