Rides bikes, paddles sea kayaks, takes pictures. Life on the road & my home in Cornwall.
Still in the West
It’s been a month and I probably have enough material for another spell of idle rambling… and with work understandably quiet, it’s not like I have an excuse for not finding the time. For someone with a history of depression, being able to get out for a ride during an extended spell of fine weather has undoubtedly been key to maintaining my wellbeing during this period. Like a very many people I suspect, I have periods of anxiety about what the future might hold for my self-employment, at times I feel very alone, and other times I just feel utterly hollowed out… and then I go riding for bit and return home whistling cheesy tunes very badly; I was never an accomplished whistler.
It has been interesting to be out riding around over the past few weeks. There are very many more people on bikes, whole families clearly having dragged bikes out of the shed for the first time in years, and people who perhaps have woken up to the fact that a bicycle is not just for children.. it’s a key element of sustainable transport infrastructure with the handy side-effect of improving physical and mental health; both useful things if keen to avoid or mitigate poor health in both the current context and the future. I really hope that awareness sticks once restrictions are eased.
I used to be quite binary when it came to cycling or hiking; I would be out for one or the other, increasingly over the last few years however I find myself mixing the two.
To be on a bike during the first week or two of the lockdown was an invariably pleasant experience. People were open and friendly, there was a real sense of solidarity. It was quite unsettling however to see how quickly that decayed into a more toxic narrative, particularly online, in which some people, who I think just need to hate, began to use the current situation as another tool to attack others. Cornwall is largely still relatively chilled, only once has a driver deliberately targeted me by driving directly at me from the opposite side of the road before swerving away when within a meter, but things have become a little more tense in spots farther north, judging by reports in the cycling press, with wires strung across trails, tacks on roads, and hostile signage. All that despite all the evidence pointing to the fact that the risk of transmission from runners, walkers, and cyclists outside is so low as to be practically nil. It’s distressing to see, especially as I count among my friends front-line NHS staff that reIy on their bikes as both transport and as a means to manage the stress of their work. After seeing some particularly vicious, small-minded attacks on social media I spent the long Easter weekend with phone and internet off. It was much better.
With that in mind my local explorations have taken on much more of a hike-a-bike flavour in which I can link together sections of trail and access spots well away from more popular routes. I used to be quite binary when it came to cycling or hiking; I would be out for one or the other, increasingly over the last few years however I find myself mixing the two. I’m not allergic to spells of carrying my bike, the extra dimension to my rides is highly enjoyable, it allows me to access favourite spots without having to drive to a trailhead, and it’s a good workout. There’s an awful lot of dogshit around on the paths in certain spots now too so this strategy also helps me avoid that; I think it’s probably a consequence of some folk who previously would have used a dog-walking service now having to exercise their own animals.
The current situation is deeply unfortunate and sad on so many levels and will only become more so the longer this goes on. With that in mind I am hesitant to describe the coast of Cornwall without overwhelming crowds of tourists and endless queues of cars as a “delight”… but it is. It is more reminiscent of the Cornwall I grew up with. There was always tourism, and I’m not against tourism, it’s important to Cornwall, but it was a gentler, more inclusive flavour of tourism rather than the increasingly apparent, much more aggressive “f*** you” flavour in which the Cornish are often viewed as little more than a serving underclass, and the county simply as a resource to be exploited. Instead of the dread that many now feel as summer approaches, we used to look forward to the holiday season; seeing familiar faces, and meeting new ones that all brought life to the community, with visitors vs locals cricket matches and watersports events for example. As the lockdown approached there was much debate over whether or not it was a good idea to keep Cornwall open to tourists given the limited healthcare capacity and vulnerable population, and some of the commentary around that on online communities was horrific. Increasingly over the last few years I’ve noticed that outside the county there is a feeling that the Cornish should be grateful that people “bring their money here”.. something that was really brought into stark relief with genuine comments, from tourists and second home owners alike, along the lines of “it’s not my fault you Cornish are too stupid and lazy to earn your own money, you should be grateful I worked hard to earn my money and spend it here so I will do whatever the f*** I want and there is nothing you can do to stop me“. Of course they’re in the minority but a growing minority from where I’m sitting, and as always it’s the shitty minority that drowns out the decent majority.
The thing about tourism here is that while it represents roughly 20% of the Cornish economy (the rest being manufacturing, tech, farming/food, and fishing), and roughly 20% of jobs, the tourism business has a powerful voice so it dominates 100% of the narrative around Cornwall. It has created a dysfunctional environment that stifles the development of a more balanced, healthier economy. It’s an environment in which many of the jobs it creates are seasonal minimum wage ones in a context where house prices are some of the highest in the country, and where many of those who collect the profits are based outside the county. Housing developers use loopholes to get around requirements for affordable housing, and much of what they build ends up as second homes. Great example, a new development at Perranporth.. prices start at £430K, not a single affordable unit. Communities are gutted, there are places where 40% of the houses are second homes, and another 40% are holiday lets. While I don’t want to see that side of Cornish life suddenly come crashing down all at once – it would be hugely damaging – I would like to see a shift back to a gentler, more sustainable model that is less destructive both socially and environmentally. I’m probably dreaming, and I’ve certainly ranted on a little more than I intended so with that in mind… pictures. It has been wonderfully therapeutic to carry a fixed lens camera with me while I poke about on my two-wheeled forays beyond the front door.