We headed toward Penzance this morning and once we got there we wondered why. The fact that we had no tourist brochures for this town should have been a hint. When we travel we are naturally most interested in places we've heard about before. But really we only know about Penzance since it is in the title of the highly regarded Gilbert & Sullivan operetta written in 1879. As our guidebook says, "It could have been the 'Robbers of Redruth' (also a Cornwall town) for all the difference it makes." There is nothing wrong with Penzance. It's a seaside town with a serious looking fishing fleet, but it didn't have the "Wow! It factor" that we are on the prowl for here.
Luckily, Mousehole was just a few miles up the road. Just the name was intriguing enough for me. The locals pronounce it "Mouzal." Dylan Thomas had his honeymoon here and proclaimed it the loveliest village in England. The tiny harbor was full of picturesque boats with a lone swimmer slaloming around them, a brave soul in the cold water. Locals and tourists shared the benches enjoying the sunshine and a coffee. The bright kayaks propped up on the walls along the harbor added a wonderful dash of color on the perimeter of the water. It would have been easy to sit there all day.
But we moved on to Merzion to overlook Mount Saint Michael,
a special spot we visited from a cruise ship. We thought about visiting the castle at the top of the island again, but the tide was in which involved hiring a rowboat to make the crossing. Last time we were here the tide was low and we could wander across on the beach.
Friends warned us not to bother visiting Land's End, because it is tacky, but there's something special about being on that last bit of southwesternmost English land on this side of the Atlantic and looking across the waves, thinking of home. Signs indicate the distance to the Falkland Islands (6,658 miles) and Moscow (1,586 miles.) Ambitious coastal hikers start or finish the "End to Ender" walk to John o'Groats 875 miles to the north. There were tacky gift shops, a 3-D theater and rides, but also a nice little farm full of animals ready for an encounter with a child or a child at heart.
To add a touch of education to the day's travels, we went to the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum nearby. During the days when the sun never set on the British Empire, telegraph lines began here and connected the Motherland to all her colonies. It's hard to believe that the first cable to Bombay was laid in 1870. It took nine minutes for a message to make the journey and it cost an average two month's wage to send it. During World War II the strategic importance of this area was so important that the buildings which housed all the vital electronic equipment were moved from the buildings above ground to an underground tunnel, a huge undertaking finished in just nine months. The ships that laid the cable were amazing, but even more mind boggling was how they found breaks in the lines under the water, fished up the damaged parts and repaired them. In these days of instant communication we forget to appreciate how difficult life was when the news would take months to travel over land and sea. The museum had a huge collection of old equipment and videos that made the developments of the pioneers of communication come alive.