Scribbles from Devon and Cornwall – Part 4

20 05 2007

12-20 May 2007

Part1 | Part2 | Part3 | Part4 | Part5 | Part6 | Part7 | Part8 | Part9

Lizard Point

I arrived at Lizard Point early. The walk from Coverack to Lizard Point proved to be easier than expected. The day was splendid throughout. I checked into the YHA at Lizard Point. Immediately I started towards Kynance Cove. When I returned from the cove, it was well past eight. A cooked dinner of fusilli with onions, tomatoes, kidney beans, eggs and cheese was waiting for me. I had met a guy at YHA Coverack last night. I met him again this morning on my way to Lizard Point. We are in the same room tonight. He is from London. He had come by train, alighted at Truro and cycled to Coverack. Upon request, he had agreed to get me a packet of noodles from the village. I am keeping this packet for tomorrow’s breakfast because has cooked for me this wonderful dinner. How wonderful that someone I barely know should take the trouble to make my dinner!

He had cooked such a large quantity that I was not able to finish it. So I offered some of it to a Canadian who was also with us. He accepted it gladly. His informality appealed to me. There is always some camaraderie amongst travellers. They may be strangers in the world but on the road they relate to each other easily. The road brings them together though their final destinations may be different. The Canadian has come to the UK for a ten day trip. He has rented a car. Destinations on his list are Boscastle, Exmoor and Dartmoor. He does a lot of skiing back home but for walking, Britain is the place. The problem with Canada is that the land is too big. One needs to travel great distances. The landscape takes a long time to change. He prefers Britain because within a distance of few miles you can be in a completely different landscape. Yet another difficulty is that in Canada there are no designated and well-maintained walking paths as they have in Britain.

The hostel is practically empty. I have just finished my dinner in quietness while the sea kept its voice in a distant background. This is my third night in Cornwall. For the third night in a row I am staying in a room with a clear view of the sea. A few nights in this manner, the sea will probably become a part of my consciousness. If the sea invades human consciousness it doesn’t do this in a forceful or intrusive manner. It achieves this by mere presence. With the sea stretching for miles, it is easy to feel that we are small beings in a wide world.

Polishing serpentine stone at Lizard Point

Polishing serpentine stone at Lizard Point

Earlier this evening, I walked around Lizard Point which is the most southerly point on the mainland. This fact is overused by everyone who has a presence here. A little building claims to be the most southerly gift shop. Another next to it prides in being the most southerly cafe. Yet another building claims to be the most southerly workshop where serpentine stone is cut and polished into souvenirs. There is the most southerly youth hostel where I am writing this. The car park next to it must be the most southerly one of its kind. Surely there must a most southerly toilet somewhere and someone who looks for such silly superlatives will be thrilled to relieve himself in it. Taking this to its senseless limit, I could claim that at 1640 hours on this day I was the most southerly Indian on the British mainland.

To be precise, Lizard Point is at latitude 49o57’N and longitude 5o12’W. A board informs that the place gets its name from the Cornish lys (court) and ardh (high). Nearby is a small monument to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) which is run by volunteers and supported by donations. The blue sea stretches to the horizon. Waves crash against cliffs. The foaming sea surrounds rocky islands in the sea. Sea-gulls soar above cliffs. The most southerly cliffs seem inclined to lose themselves to the sea.

I continue writing the next day morning. I had a good and restful sleep. The sound of the sea never left me. I slept to its sound. I awoke to its sound. Unconsciously, the sound remained with me through the night. In the little hours before sunrise, the weather was wet and windy. The wind lashed rain against the window panes. A revolving cone of light from the lighthouse reached across the hostel out to sea. Sometime after six in the morning, the horn in the lighthouse blared once every thirty seconds. There was no need for an alarm to wake me up.

The Lizard Wireless Station

On my way to Lizard Point, I passed two small and unpretentious buildings. They looked so ordinary that I would have almost certainly passed them by without attention had I not taken the trouble to read a notice fixed to the gate. I noted that these buildings had great significance. If our lives have been enhanced by wireless communications, they are to an extent indebted to what happened here about a hundred years ago. These buildings now belong to the National Trust. It closes at 3 pm for visitors. I arrived ten minutes past this hour but I entered it anyway.

A black Labrador sat in a cool shade in preference to the day’s heat. It had no interest in me. I could only conclude that it had become familiar to visits from strangers and walkers on the coastal path. I knocked on the door and soon a young woman opened it. She welcomed me gladly without even considering that it was past three. She was in no great hurry either. I found out that she lives in the adjacent building. She opens this building from time to time for visitors.

The inner room was a small one. At the end, hedged against the full width of the wall, was a long table. On this table was an assemblage of equipment arranged neatly. To the right was the transmitter with an inductor coil. The transmitter was linked to spark-gap and operating key. The woman demonstrated these with a few taps in an attempt to send out a message in Morse Codes. Next to it were condenser jars. These were connected to a box called the “jigger”. This jigger was the early form of what we today call tuned circuits or filters to pick out the right frequency bands. To the left was a set of receivers. They were connected to a printer that printed the messages as the codes were received.

A setup as this came to be in this purpose built building in 1900. The pioneer was Marconi. Receiving little support or funding in Italy, he moved to Britain in 1896. He found customers for his wireless means of exchanging messages. Wireless until then had been only in the theoretical domain in which scientists tried to verify and prove Maxwell’s theories. It was Marconi who first applied them to a commercial domain. Over the years he improved on the range of transmission. In January 1901, he transmitted successfully from this station to another on the Isle of Wight. By this he demonstrated that range was not restricted to the horizon. By December of the same year, he achieved the first transatlantic transmission from a bigger station which is also on the Lizard.

I browsed around the room for a few more minutes as I chatted with the caretaker. Being a specialist in wireless telecommunications myself, I am more familiar with current trends and developments in this area. This visit showed me the early beginnings of a technology that has become a part of our lives. It is something we take for granted. I have never thought much of the first and simple ideas, quite revolutionary for that age, and their lasting impact. It is important to always improve on what we have. While we are at it, history has in its store all the inspiration we need.

The Return of the Cornish Chough

Unfortunately I have been unsuccessful in spotting this bird. A couple of guides from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) returned while I was looking at the sea from Lizard Point. They had gone down the cliffs with some members of the society to catch sight of some choughs who nested on these cliffs. Two families are living on these cliffs today. Some chicks have been born only a few days ago. It is an exciting period for these enthusiastic bird lovers.

The chough is a bird of the crow family. It is jet black all over with bright red beak and legs. In England, Cornwall has been one of the last places where this bird was seen to be nesting. It disappeared from the Cornish coast in the 1970s due to loss of habitat. Because they feed on open ground they are vulnerable to predators. They can be seen probing into the ground for ants, beetles, centipedes or millipedes. Seafood is not part of their diet. Conservationists have attempted to bring it back to Cornwall by converting arables to grazed pastures. About six years ago they first spotted some choughs returning to Cornwall. This return was kept quiet particularly with the threat of illegal egg collectors. Over the years, a couple of families have established their nests along the coast.

The RSPB guide gave me loads of information. Four chicks have been born to two males and two females. Last week they had gone up to the nest using tall ladders alongside the cliffs. They placed identification tags on the chicks. These tags are small plastic rings around the legs. Next they noted the sex of each chick. While they were at it, one female returned. It was circling above the cliffs unable to return to the nest. It was crowing noisily and obviously stressed by the intrusion. When the guides departed, she headed straight into the nest. The chicks stay with parents till autumn. They take their first flight when they are two weeks old. The parents come back for winter but the grown up chicks never return. They grow up to build their own nests somewhere in the wide world.

The Cornwall Chough Project has been established by a number of organizations – English Nature, the National Trust, RSPB and DEFRA. Sometimes I wonder how people can give me so much for so small a cause. It’s not as if the chough is facing extinction because it is found in Wales, Scotland and mountainous parts of Europe. In Cornwall, the chough has a special place. It gives Cornwall a distinct identity. It appears on Cornwall’s coat of arms along with a fisherman and a miner. The chough is not to be described as English or British. It is a Cornish bird. As for the RSPB guide I chatted with, he was Scottish and he hated the English. He said so plainly. He added that the Irish don’t like the English either. Thus, the Irish, the Scottish and the Welsh are bound together by their shared dislike of the English.

Possession of Beauty

I left the Lizard by bus to catch a train from Redruth. Many school children boarded the bus on their way to school. It appears that the Lizard has very few schools if any at all. Students therefore have to travel some distance. The younger ones alighted at Helston. The older ones alighted for Cornwall College at Redruth. The first thing that they did after getting off at Redruth was to light up some cigarettes though they were clearly underaged to do this.

A school uniform is perhaps the worst thing for a student these days. Youths of today want individuality. They want to get noticed. They do not want to conform to a common requirement, least of all in appearance. They invent new ways of wearing school uniforms. Ties are left hanging around collars without a knot. They use it as head bands. Shirts are untucked. Shoe laces are undone. Their hair styles are unique. In some cases they are subtly dyed. More exotic hair colours are probably banned in schools. Sometimes in Luton I have seen white school shirts scribbled all over with drawings and words. Wearing formals in a bad way is a lot worse than wearing casuals.

Then there are the girls. They wear earrings, lipstick and mascara. Consciously or otherwise, they strive to be sexy and attractive. They are not to be blamed. Society has built up certain expectations. Their growth into adulthood, if it is to be successful, depends on living up to these expectations. They have to be noticed. They are under pressure to be popular amongst their peers. Very few of these girls are truly beautiful. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, expectations of the same beholder have destroyed beauty.

There were today two girls on the bus who had no make-up. One of them had a cheerful face and a little smile. It was a smile of self-confidence but not of arrogance. Here I found true beauty, unadorned and simple. She was perhaps not conscious of her own beauty. She was perhaps aware that the more we try to attain beauty the less successful we are in retaining what we have. Perhaps, she didn’t care. Her beauty came from being natural and unassuming. She was not even touched by the thought of beauty though beauty was in her every expression. For those who look and appreciate beauty, let us admire it to heart’s content. There is beauty everywhere. Let us admire them all. The real problem starts when we want to possess beauty, when we want to make it our own.

Part1 | Part2 | Part3 | Part4 | Part5 | Part6 | Part7 | Part8 | Part9

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