If you believe that places can be muses than you would love Cornwall. An Englishman we met during our trip to England used a phrase to describe what we were looking at one day which has stuck with me. He described the scene as "achingly beautiful." I agreed. When you combine glorious weather, the English countryside and picture postcard scenery, you have a winner. The beauty is simply off the charts. Somehow your heart gets involved and you fall in love with a place. This happened to me in Cornwall.
Checking into the hotel in the early evening
I couldn't wait to get to Cornwall. I knew that it was a muse for Virginia Woolf. She had spent childhood summers in St. Ives and "To The Lighthouse" was based on her happy memories of those vacations. The lighthouse of the novel is based on the Godrevy lighthouse in St. Ives.
Other writers had been inspired by its beauty. Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca" had been set there. There were also the swashbuckling "Poldark" books. I remembered a dashing hero, devious smugglers, battles over the land, betrayal and romance. They were made into a popular television series which I watched many years ago. And more recently there was "Doc Martin," a television series I loved. But still, I was unprepared for the beauty I would discover.
After six days in London, we drove to Cornwall arriving late in the day. Our drive had been on narrow, winding roads bordered by hedgerows and the countryside was storybook. We checked into our hotel and unpacked. It was a short walk to dinner as we were eating in the hotel that night. The next day we awoke to foggy skies and the sound of seagulls and a fog horn. A walk outside revealed the view (see photo above), though admittedly it was much grayer and more overcast than this. This is what it looked like in the afternoon. The experience reminded me of the scene in "The Enchanted April" when the English women, who arrive in Italy at night, throw open the shutters the next morning to discover the stunning view. This is the road leading into the little village of St. Mawes where we would be spending the next three days.
The first day was spent exploring the village. The main road is lined with quaint cottages, art galleries, and little shops. We walked into town passing little cottages along the way. It looked very much like the setting of "Doc Martin."
Miss Muffet looked enticing
We stumbled upon The Idle Rocks, a beautiful hotel right on the water. Lunch was on the terrace and while we ate our meal the sun came out. This was a place to linger. As the afternoon progressed, more and more boats appeared, the water began to sparkle, and it became a scene to inspire a painter.
St. Mawes Castle is known as Henry VIII's most picturesque fortress. Built in the sixteenth-century, it was one of the king's defenses against European invaders.
It's hard to beat a castle on the water; the views were incredible!
We walked through the gun rooms, governor's quarters, barracks and kitchen.
So far Cornwall was proving to be deeply atmospheric. Between the castle, the ancient stone walls, diminutive cottages, seagulls, foghorns, blue skies, puffy clouds, sparkling water and sailboats, this was a magical place. It was easy to imagine a writer or an artist coming here for inspiration.
The next day we went to St. Ives which is about an hour away. We were headed to the Tate St. Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum to see the art. I was also hoping to get a glimpse of Virginia Woolf's lighthouse. The drive was lovely through narrow and winding roads bordered by hedgerows. We passed miles of untouched green countryside that looked as if it were out of a Thomas Hardy novel.
We took a ferry across the River Fall which we were told is very deep. This is the view from the car. We continued driving on the famously narrow Cornish roads, finally arriving at beautiful St. Ives.
St. Ives is a port and resort area that was the center of the fishing industry in the 19th-century. It was also a gathering spot for artists who were inspired by the beautiful light. Today it continues to be a community for artists and art lovers.
The Tate Gallery in London opened a small branch here. This beautiful little museum is a beacon of modern art with a breathtaking setting right across from Porthminster beach. If you go, be sure to take a leisurely stroll through the museum and then visit the cafe on the top floor to enjoy the panoramic ocean views.
Our next stop was The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. It is located in her home in St. Ives. She was a sculptor at the center of the mid-20th-century arts scene in this Cornish town. Her art is beautiful and fits so perfectly in this space. We walked through several rooms containing her abstract works.
The town of St. Ives is a warren of little streets lined with tall and narrow buildings, a very pretty church, candy stores, an excellent book store, a war memorial, and little gardens. Everywhere you look you can catch a glimpse of the stunning seaside.
Is there a place that has cast its spell on you? And can you imagine it inspiring writers and artists?
Please send me your recommendations for books that are set in Cornwall. I can't wait to read more!