Stargazing in Cornwall

Sitting by the sea at night is a different experience. I couldn’t see the waves behind me, thrashing in the abyss. I could only hear the noise emanating from the unknown; the shoreline like some interdimensional portal.

I closed my eyes as the background hiss allowed me to drift into a meditative state.

“I don’t want to alarm you.” Brad said. “But there’s a thousand foot wave behind you.”

I opened my eyes and shot him a dirty look. The human mind can conjure almost any horror up in the dark, and especially with the roaring ocean in the vicinity.

“Could happen.” I said. “Not long ago they were saying that one of the Canary Islands was about to fall into the sea and cause a huge tsunami that would reach England.”

Si nodded and took a swig of his beer. “Do you reckon anyone has ever surfed a tsunami?”

I grinned. “See, these are the important questions.”

It turns out they have. Garrett McNamara and Kealii Mamala surfed a tsunami wave caused by falling chunks of a glacier in Alaska in 2007. Both also surf the monster waves at NazarΓ© in Portugal which routinely rise to over seventy feet high. But so what? Seventy feet is one thing, but what superman can take on a thousand-foot wave?

We headed back to the campsite through the village of Perranporth. The final stretch of our journey involved a trek through a series of pitch black fields.

My only anchor to reality was the glow of Si’s headtorch which seemed to be forging ahead at an excessive pace. I felt like I was treading water in the void.

We made it back to our tents just as the rain, which continued to fall all night, began. The regular droplets penetrating the roof of my tent gave me an increased appreciation of the horrors of water torture, until I eventually drifted off.

St Michael’s Mount

Then next morning I unzipped my tent to discover I was now inside a cloud.

Nevertheless we headed out to the village of Marazion to see St Michael’s Mount. The famous tidal island has a path from the mainland which becomes useable at low tide, although the mount was closed to visitors on our arrival, so we took a look around Marazion before heading onward.

The Eden Project

You could say it was my own fault for venturing out to a tourist attraction during a pandemic, but as Reverend Lovejoy on The Simpsons once said; “Once something has been approved by the government, it’s no longer immoral.”

I was astonished at the preternatural ability of passing tourists to time their coughs, so as to leave the minimum possible distance between their respiratory tract and mine.

Undeterred and masked up, we headed into the huge domes which are the most well-known feature of the Eden Project.

The first of the domes was called the ‘Tropical Biome’, where towering palm trees shared the stage with giant bamboo and banana plants. The path snaked up towards the roof of the dome. The network of pulleys and ladders visible above looked like a movie set and gave a glimpse of the engineering and ongoing work involved in maintaining the rainforest we were walking through.

The next area was called the ‘Mediterranean Biome’, showcasing the flora of arid and temperate areas such as South Africa, Australia and Europe’s Mediterranean region.

The sculptures of ‘The Rites of Dionysus’ were particularly striking, set amongst the grapevines. The Greek god of wine-drinking and fertility is depicted as bull, surrounded by his female followers, the maenads which translates as ‘raving ones’.

That night we took a venture into the divine intoxication of Dionysus, frequenting the bars of Newquay with some friends of Brad and Si that happened to be in the area, before collapsing back at the campsite in the early hours of the morning.

The Sword in the Stone

We drove up the coast to Tintagel Castle at the start of our final day in Cornwall. Legends link the castle to Arthurian legend, although historical accounts of the ruins appear to show it was part of the old Celtic kingdom of Dumnonia.

Set on a cliffside, above turquoise waters, Tintagel is idyllic. Various signs point out locations from the historical settlement, as well as the mythology of Camelot. Looking at the statue of King Arthur, which sits atop a cliff with panaromic views, it made me wonder – how much of our history is actually mythology?

Perhaps some people would diminish mythology as silly stories, but I look these tales as doors into our collective imagination. The story of King Arthur, for one, can be seen as a metaphor for a person discovering the power inside themselves and reclaiming the sword which only they can pull, from the stone to be the hero they can really be.

It is possible Arthur may have really existed, I thought. But so what? Does it really matter? Like any of our heroes and icons, what reality existed has likely to been altered over the years to fit with our ideals. There was no time for this kind of wild speculation, however. We had surfboards booked in Newquay in half an hour and the hire shop was closing soon.

I screeched out of the car park and barrelled down the single-track country lanes, braking suddenly when cars emerged.

Nearing our destination, I skid around a sharp corner and heard Brad gulp in the back seat.

“Everything ok?” I said.

“Yeah. It was just I was hoping to get to Newquay in one piece.”

On arrival, Si sprinted to the kiosk and managed to secure our boards just before it shut. We spent the next few hours riding the waves on the packed Fistral Beach, while Brad took his own walk on the wild side with a pot of tea in a beach-side cafe.

Constellations

The sky was clear as we shook open our camping chairs for the final night on the site.

“There’s Jupiter.” Si said, pointing at the brighest object in the Eastern sky.

I looked over incredulously. “I never knew you could see Jupiter with the naked eye.”

He grinned. “Of course. That one next to it is Saturn.”

He began unpacking his telescope, before angling it about and fiddling with the dials.

“Here.” He said. “You can just about make out the spots on Jupiter.”

My mind was altered slightly that night, squinting at what looked like a microscopic image of the gas giant, in reality millions of miles away.

I ‘know’ that Jupiter is up there, the fifth planet from the Sun, the largest planet in the solar system. But to actually see it and personally verify its existence is another thing entirely. I could describe the taste of chocolate to you, or the smell of a rose, but there is a feeling of appreciation that can only really come from direct experience.

Perhaps this is the secret behind the seemingly ridiculous ontologies of flat-earthers and their ilk – a need to personally verify the existence of the realities we are presented with? Or maybe not. But I, for one, had gained a new appreciation of the celestial bodies beyond our pale blue dot.

We reclined and pointed out shooting stars. Si showed us the rings of Saturn in his telescope. Satellites whizzed by, blinking against the purple sky.

“What’s that one?” I said, pointing to a red and blue flashing dot moving faster than anything else in the sky. “Venus?”

“Er. I think its a plane.” Si said, chuckling.

“Bullshit.” I said. “That there is Party Venus.”

I grinned. “Give it ten years. It already looks like Futurama up there. I will be the first customer on Party Venus. Make it happen Elon Musk.”

I felt a strange sense of connection to the universe that night. To see the planets line up in an arc before the Milky Way and a million stars, took my breath away. The sporadic satellites reminded me that we have gained so much as our civilization begins its colonization of space, but we should also remember to get away from the light pollution of our towns and cities from time to time and take a real look at the infinity we are a part of.

4 Replies to “Stargazing in Cornwall”

  1. Nick, this is my first time reading your content and I’ve really enjoyed the writing style, and the stories themselves. Love the King Arthur metaphor (so casually deep!)
    And yep, that first-time Jupiter effect is definitely profound πŸ™‚

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Nick, I throughly enjoyed your post. I felt like I was right there with you. I appreciate your tip about getting away from the light pollution and taking in the darkness. Thank you for sharing your travels and following my blog. Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

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