Chapter 31: A Wee Dram On The Beach

“I know people sometimes have this fantasy about Cornwall. But the Cornish are so grounded.”
Tori Amos

I am a Cornishman. Of this there is no doubt. I was born in Cornwall, my parents were both born in Cornwall and tracing my paternal family tree back through time it does not stray from the cherished Duchy as far back as I can go in the seventeenth century. The mere thought of hailing from another county seems utterly intolerable. The thought of being, say a Yorkshireman, seems such an utterly cruel and intolerable accident of birth, fortunately however I have spoken to many of my Yorkshire friends on this very topic, and  happily (for them at least), they seem to see it from a slightly different point of view and hence seem strangely content with their lot.

We never had many holidays when I was growing up. “Why would you want to go on holiday?”, my Dad used to say, “we live in Cornwall!”. I did however have one regular holiday every summer when I was growing up. It was always with my Grandfather, or Papa as I used to call him. Papa and I would by a Cornish Rover ticket, which used to let you get any train and travel wherever you wanted (for one week only), within Cornwall, and also up a far as Plymouth. The day we went to Plymouth was always the most exciting day. We would go to Plymouth Hoe and I would find uncle Stanley on the World War II memorial. Then we would go to the lighthouse and then we’d have a look around the aquarium. The main thing however was the anticipation. All morning Papa used to stoke my excitement by saying “We’re going all the way up to England today boy, going up to England”. Going up to Plymouth really did feel like I was leaving my home country and heading up to England.

Today however, I am leaving England and going back down to Cornwall for the weekend to see my friend John. It’s Helston Floral Day today too, but I doubt we’ll make it in time to see it. I was meant to be visiting John a couple of weeks ago just after my lung drain, but thanks to a couple of complications, I never quite made it. In the two weeks since my lung drain, everything seems to be going fine. My lungs don’t seem to have refilled with fluid, and since I have gone back on the chemotherapy, it feels like I have at least got the cancer back under control again. After a pleasant weekend of walking along the beach, and a trip on John’s ridiculously fast, but fun, boat past Falmouth docks, Pendennis Castle Maenporth beach and up the Helford to moor up for a spot of lunch, I decide that life isn’t so bad after all and that it’s perhaps time to revisit my bucket list of things to do.

If, God forbid, I was not a Cornishman, there is one other option that I always thought might be a reasonable fit. If, I were not a Cornishman, I think, I could have had a go at being a Scotsman. The one place in the UK that I have always wanted to visit is the Outer Hebrides islands of Harris and Lewis, the birth place of all of my original Harris Tweed jackets. I have found a very exclusive trip to Harris and Lewis that looks so good, that my Mother and her husband are coming with us too.

We board our premier dinning carriage at Salisbury station. Our lengthy train is pulled by two Class 45’s (Not Deltics alas), and we’re awash with full English breakfast by the time we reach Oxford. We stretch our legs at York before re-alighting. As we pass Durham Cathedral and Castle it feels like we should be almost there, but we still have a very long way to go. The light begins to fade somewhere in the Cairngorms, but not before I’d had a damn good look at them. By the time we finally arrive in Inverness it’s merely a matter of a short walk to our hotel and straight to bed.

Saturday morning involves less posh trains, but plenty of travel nonetheless. Our coach takes us to Ullapool to meet the ferry that takes us out to to Stornoway. We spend much of Saturday circumnavigating the bleak windswept northern part of Lewis. We visit several black houses that have been restored for the benefit of tourists like us. The highlight of the day for me however was stopping off to visit Norman McKenzie. Norman has a shed in his garden, and in that shed is a loom. Our small coach party assembled tightly around Norman’s loom while he patiently explained the process of weaving genuine Harris tweed. I had a cheeky go on Norman’s loom as the shed emptied and I bought myself a scarf as he didn’t actually sell ay suits or jackets. (unless you bought the tweed and the had the suit tailored yourself).

Crispian having a cheeky go on Norman's loom
Sunday morning is an early start as we all pile back into the mini coach to begin our tour of Harris, the southern half of the main island. Harris is truly stunning. I’m Cornish, don’ forget, and I therefore know what beautiful scenery and coastlines look like. Harris truly has top drawer scenery, all the blues and greens you could possibly want in any landscape.

It’s actually Easter Sunday today and our coach takes us to a remote, sandy beach with crystal clear blue/green sea, unspoilt sand, endless blue sky (although it does have a tendency to change back to grey suddenly). We are given a glass of a single malt recommended by our tour guide and spend a most agreeable hour or two on enjoying our wee dram on the beach.

Tori enjoying a wee dram on the beach

The journey back via Skye is all well and good and our guide spins us an endless stream of yarns, facts and bullshit all conveniently mixed up to ensure it’s virtually impossible to discern which is which. My mind is however sill on Harris, it was Harris that I came to see and it was Harris that did not disappoint.

My cancer may have grown excessively when I took what with hindsight seems like an ill-advised treatment break, and I may still be suffering numerous unpleasant side effects from my chemotherapy but my life clearly has a lot of quality still left in it and judging by this weekend, plenty more to look forward to. With this in mind, it’s time to book even more trips while things seem to be going well. I’ve booked a rather nice cottage on the North Yorkshire moors (Near Whitby) for my family and my friend Colin’s. We plan to reminisce and relive some of our teenage holidays in the area. I’ve also booked a cottage on Lindisfarne to coincide with when Indie will be there on an archaeological dig, so she can benefit for my useful advice. Lots to look forward to…with a bit of medical luck.

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