The house pooch of the Star Inn, Penzance, doesn’t necessarily take his guard dog duties all that seriously, at least not where the breakfast buffet is concerned. Then again I was the only guest, so presumably he’d decided I was legitimate.
My last full day in Cornwall. Less clement weather as you can see, but all the same, I’d rather have had this than the heavy snow which has hit further north: I’m quite happy to be away from that, thank you very much. A definite ‘sea/beach’ theme has developed, with this being the fifth in a row to feature one or both, but down here, where the island ends, it’s hard to be unaware of the ocean.
Those of you not from Britain might not be immediately aware of the cultural significance of Land’s End, although the very name gives a clue. This is not the southernmost point on the island of Great Britain (that being the Lizard), nor is it the westernmost (Ardnamurchan, in Scotland), but it is the furthest extremity of the long toe that the island sends out into the Atlantic, and the distance of, about, 875 miles in a straight line to John o’Groats in Scotland is the longest distance between any two points on this lump of land off the north-west coast of Europe.
The building you see here, officially known as the “First and Last House”, is a café — with, behind, the Longships lighthouse — and somewhere just to the left is a rather tacky complex of buildings targeted firmly at the very large number of tourists who flock here during the summer months. I consider myself fortunate to have seen it in the off-season. But while at one level it seems very arbitrary to value this point over many others nearby which are far more attractive and interesting (like Porthcurno, yesterday, which is about four miles away [and further south]), there is a sense here that one has come to the end of something, in a quite physical but also a spiritual sense. Which is why people want to come here, I guess. I can’t knock it — I made a point of making it to this spot, and now document it here on the blog. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t mean anything, but in a small and personal way, perhaps it does.
I said yesterday that Penzance, or more generally this part of the world, has not always been peripheral. On this beach at the tip of Britain, the main trans-Atlantic and international telegraph and, later, telephone cables came on shore, from 1870 onwards. That fact explains why I am here — thanks to the Cable & Wireless training centre (for telegraph operators) being built around this vital connection in the country’s communications network, buildings that nowadays house the archive that I have come down to Cornwall to consult.
Either way, Porthcurno has a damn fine beach, one that you would never know was such a strategically important spot. This is the southernmost shot I’ve yet taken in England, and as there is only a tiny portion of the country further south than here (just the Lizard peninsula), this sets a record that I may never beat.
And here’s what more-or-less the same part of the world looks like in the morning — pointing the camera in the opposite direction. Seems an OK place, Penzance — attractive, plenty of pubs — but it’s a long way out, and typical incomes in Cornwall are among the lowest in the whole UK. Being peripheral is not an economic asset these days: but the thing is, in some ways this is the centre of things. More on that tomorrow (if I remember).
This photo is garish and could certainly be sharper but with my camera in the state it is presently in (following the still-painful St Helena Tarmac Incident) it is as good as we’re going to get at the moment, after dark. I like the picture anyway: first, it represents that moment that I finally got to have some fresh air after nearly 11 hours on three separate trains today (none of which had on-board catering) and second, that I arrived in what is both the most southerly and most westerly decent-sized town in Britain, namely Penzance, Cornwall. Where you get to see palm trees outside the bus station. We’re not in Yorkshire any more, Toto.