Posts Tagged ‘vacation’


Geographic Tuesday: Cornwall – Much more than England’s Pointy End

April 24, 2012

Cornwall, England (c 1900)

Great Britain is a geographically diverse island.  About the only major landforms missing are glaciers and deserts.  Think of it as a land where the extremes have been removed, leaving only the good parts.  In the Southwest of the country lies Cornwall.  It is one of England’s unitary authorities, think of it like a county in a US state.   The land in Cornwall is upland, exposed granite surrounded rolling hills but the whole of it juts out of the ocean with craggy cliffs and a rugged shore, interspersed with stretches of course sand beaches.  It is impressive to say the least.

Way back, when I was a kid and we visited England for the first time.  This was around the time the currency changed from the old system of pounds, shillings, pennies, and farthings, to today’s decimalized system. Back then, I could not tell if I paid about 50 cents or 5 bucks for a cup of tea.  Back then, getting to the Southwest and Cornwall was not as easy as hitting today’s M5 then jumping on A38.  For us, it was many missteps down hedgerow lined lanes, until at last, there it was – Cornwall, more specifically, Penzance.  We had arrived at England’s pointy end.

Cornwall sticks out, thumb-like into the Celtic Sea.  Lashed with winds and storms coming in from the Atlantic, the weather in Cornwall is always subject to change at a moment’s notice but the gulfstream provides Cornwall with England’s most moderate temperatures.  Walking along a cliff’s edge when a squall blows in is awesome.  It well illustrates the power of nature and humbles even the most confident of souls.

Still, there is much more to Cornwall than geography alone.  It is what the Cornish have done with their geography that makes the place special.    Everything from the ruins of Tintagel Castle (with its connection to the legend of King Arthur) to St. Michael’s Mount (where legend says a giant named Cormoran lived) and even further back to in time to the Merry Maidens Circle.  The circle is the mythical place were nineteen young maidens were turned to stone for the high-crime of dancing on Sunday.  The Stonehenge-like circle predates Christianity so

Tintagle Castle

we can reasonably question the veracity of the tale, much to the relief of young maidens everywhere.

No visit to Cornwall is complete without learning something of the Cornish people.  While there is debate about a precise history, the Cornish trace their roots back to the original Britons and Celts.  Much of the culture of Cornwall is influenced by this heritage.  They even have their own language, a derivative of the Celtic language, which thrived until the late 19th century.  Today Cornish is recognized in the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages[i].

When I visited Cornwall, I feel in love with tea-treat buns and the national dish of Cornwall, the D-shaped Cornish Pasty.  A tea-treat bun is a large, aromatic saffron bun flavored with nutmeg, cinnamon, and currants.  Sometimes they are even dusted with powdered sugar!!  The pasty is made with meat, swede turnips, and onions.  They are similar to the empanadas made throughout Central and South America.

My favorite place in Cornwall is the Bedruthan Steps.  In another legend about giants, it seems Cornwall has many, many giant legends, the step were created by a race of giants to use as stepping-stones from the cliff top to the sea.  Another version has them playing a form of quoits and tossing the stones about.  The stones, by the way, are measured in feet and weighed in tons.  Regardless of how the stones came to be, I would tell you the geologic reason but it is sort of boring and takes the mystery out of

Bedruthan Steps

it all, the cliffs and beaches around the Bedruthan Steps are breathtakingly beautiful and provide and great spot for a picnic, if you don’t mind the breeze that whips up with little notice.

Simply put, Cornwall is a place you will want to see.  It has charm and warmth, as well as buckets of historic sites to explore.  If you are planning a trip to Europe, put Cornwall on the “must see” list.  Just as on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is Irish, all that visit Cornwall become Cornish and own the lore of the Celts, at least for as long as the visit to England’s pointy end lasts.

[i] BBC News. BBC, 11 June 2002. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.


Geographic Tuesday: Where the Adventure Started

April 17, 2012

Portion of JA Blanton Map

You may have notices I’ve been naming certain days, Poetry Sunday for example.  I am trying to give my blog a bit of focus.  Well, I am trying to give me focus.  Tuesdays are now for posts centered on geography.  Don’t worry, I promise not to make it like you are back in 10thgrade.   None of us need to relive that awkwardness. No, Tuesdays are for adventure and intrigue.  It is a big planet and we all need to know and enjoy it more.

To that end, a good place to start is where it all started for me – St. Simons Island, Georgia.  If you have been reading my blog for a while, you have read references to it and it makes a most wonderful subject as it is full of adventure and intrigue. It was a blessing to grow up in such a place.

For the particulars, St. Simons Island is one of Georgia’s four Golden Isles and parts of the Sea Island chain that runs between the mouths of the Santee and St. Johns Rivers.  The chain is made up with over 100 barrier islands and stretches for 250 miles along the United States’ southeastern coast.

St. Simons’ name when Europeans arrived in the 1600s was Guadalquini.  Try saying that three times real fast!  The name was taken for the village of the Mocama Native-Americans living there.  Just how it was names St. Simons is the subject of debate but most likely was taken from a short-lived encampment of the Yamassee tribe called San Simon that inhabited the north-end of the island in the 1660s.  Their campsite became the future home of the English settlement of Fort Frederica.  The English Anglicized the name to St. Simons.  And yes, it is spelled with an “s” on the end, deal with it!

British General, James Oglethorpe founded the colony of Georgia and the city of Savannah in 1733.  Two years later, he had Fort Federica and Fort St. Simons constructed on the island as advanced positions to protect Savannah from the Spanish located in Florida.  Both the English and Spanish claimed the territory as their own.  In fact, the whole of the area between British South Carolina and Spanish Florida became known as the “disputed land.”  As it is with nations, disputes lead to war, in this case, the War of Jenkins’ Ear.  In that war General Oglethorpe’s troops, accompanied by their Native-American allies, fought the Spanish twice on July 18, 1742 winning both engagements, and ending the attempts by the Spanish troops to take control of Georgia.  Of course, when the war ended, so did the need of forts.

USS Constitution vs HMS Guerriere

St. Simons Island also contributed to the success of the navy of the newly independent United States of America in the Quasi-War with France, the Barbary pirates in the First Barbary War, and the British in the war of 1812, though not through combat on the island.  No, it was one of the islands raw materials that provided the support – wood.  Not just any wood but a very special wood that aided a US Navy ship earn its nickname, “Old Ironsides.”  The oak planking on the sides of the USS Constitution, and her sister-ships, was made of Southern Live Oak cut from trees surrounding Gascoigne Bluff.  It was in the War of 1812, during a battle with HMS Guerriere that Constitution earned her nickname.  It is said the Guerriere’s 32 pound cannon shots “bounced off Constitution’s hull as if she was made of iron.”

There are many other notable little points in history St. Simons has a claim to, far too many to be inclusive here, everything from things like the Battle of Bloody Marsh mentioned before, to German submarine sailors sneaking ashore during World War II.  St Simons has had its share of famous residents too.  Currently, golfer Davis Love III and writer Tina McElroy Ansa call it home.  Other residents past and present include writer Eugenia Price, football player Jim Brown, former US Senator Sam Nunn, Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz, former US Attorney General Griffin Bell, and many others.  Whether born there or called to it, each one found reason to call it home and hold it special.

Oak at Ft Frederica Ruins

As wonderful as all that history is, it does not tell you of the charm of the little island I call home.  It has wonderful beaches, beautiful marshes and moss-draped oaks with limbs that reach out so far they touch the ground before again reaching to the sky.  It is a place where your daydreams hold as much magic as if they were real.  It is a peaceful place that gives people the ability to find out who they really are and children the ability to discover who they wish to become.

It is a place with a slow pace.  Time does not have such a tight hold on things on St. Simons as it does in Manhattan.  They are both about the same size but that is where their points in common end.  It’s not that locals are lazy and lay around, far from it.  It is the place itself that makes time pass slowly.  It is as if God allows us to better savor the moments spent there by stretching them out.  For each moment on the island is special, somehow it is just easier to give yourself time to enjoy the sunsets with their light-orange shades than suddenly change to a deep red, that then give way to the dark, dark hues of nighttime’s veil.  On St. Simons you have time for most everything.

Of course, the island’s history and moss-covered trees do make nighttime just about perfect for a scary ghost story.  The island has plenty of them to offer.  Everything from a school teacher’s lonely grave, it is said she was a witch, to Mary the Wanderer who walks the marshes and beaches waiting for her lover’s return from the sea, make for wonderful stories that make your children grab your hand and your mate to hold you just a bit tighter.

My favorite thing though is to head out into the marsh and find a secluded spot and fish.  Not many walk into the marsh as it is a muddy endeavor.  More times than not, my mom would stop me in the yard with “you are not coming in this house all covered in mud, go wash off with the hose.”  I guess that is what makes St. Simons special, you ask ten people and you will get ten answers on why they are endeared to it.  Just what pulls them to St. Simons is not important.  What is important – they are pulled to it.  It is a wonderful place to call home.

So there it is; my home.  Regardless of where I am, St. Simons will always be home.  In many ways, it made me who I am.  From my daydreams about fighting with Gen. Oglethorpe to getting writing advice from Eugenia Price, the place shaped who I am.  If it is possible to love a place, St. Simons is that place for me.  It is just a sleepy little island separated from the mainland buy a bit of marsh but when you cross that marsh, you enter a magical world, a world that hold life’s pressures at bay.

Oak at Sunset, St. Simons Island

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