Bits and Bobs from the Far West

A round-up of pictures and accompanying "micro-stories" of no particular significance....

The summer holiday season was hard work, and it was with a sigh of relief that the August bank holiday came and went. There may however be sufficient “micro-stories” to justify giving a home to a few pictures that would otherwise never see the light of day.

while a fast road bike is still a seductive thing, I no longer own one. Bikes as tools for adventures, no matter how small, put a bigger smile on my face these days.

I’ve never been much of a spectator of sports, even during my dedicated ‘roadie’ days, riding/racing bikes always appealed far more than watching others do it, and for various reasons I largely lost interest in professional cycling during the Lance Armstrong years so it had been many years since I actually watched a race. With the grand depart of this year’s Tour of Britain being just down the road in Penzance however it seemed like I should perhaps make the effort to go and have a look. Preferring not to join to the crowds in Penzance, and not to dedicate half the day to catching 5 minutes of action, despite ongoing niggling injuries from being stuck by a car in July (I had to scrounge a lift home…) it seemed a good idea to ride across the moors on fat tyres, punctuated with a drop down off the moor briefly near Carn Galver to catch the passing peloton, before continuing on west to Pendeen Watch to meet a mate and drop a line in on the incoming tide for a few hours, in the hope of some fresh fish for tea. Watching the tour, and seeing a few old roadie mates pass by ahead of the race did stir something deep within; it’s 5 years since I last raced and while a fast road bike is still a seductive thing, I no longer own one. Bikes as tools for adventures, no matter how small, put a bigger smile on my face these days… and preferably off-road, since being hit by that car  I’m finding time on the road “stressful” to say the least…

The weather was misty and damp, and I timed my drop down off the moors to perfection, popping out of the trailhead, appropriately splattered with mud, with about 15 minutes to spare. In the background is the ruin of the Carn Galver mine engine house.
Those familiar with the Grand Tours, particularly the Tour de France, will be familiar with the red lycra clad form of El Diablo, aka Didi Senft, at the roadside. It would seem that west Cornwall has something similar, albeit in somewhat more svelte form. The reality is that this pair, Beelzebub and the Archangel Michael, feature in the Ordinalia trilogy of medieval Cornish plays, currently being performed at the Plen an Gwari in St Just, one of two original medieval amphitheatres that survive to this day.
In silhouette, a quintessentially Cornish profile in the mist while climbing the difficult  trail back up onto the moor to continue west to Pendeen. I could have just taken the road I suppose…
Deep in the Penwith Jungle….
The moors were dripping wet in the thick mist.. “ticky” too as the overgrown state makes it very easy to pick up a few unwanted hitch-hikers; Lyme disease is a growing problem, it’s always worth a tick-check after a ride.
Conditions were rather brighter on the trail from Pendeen Watch down to Boat Cove.
Pendeen Watch Lighthouse, the last shore station on this coast before Lands End, has been a beacon for shipping on this particularly treacherous stretch of coast since 1900.
Beans for tea then… the ocean so often feels like a desert these days.
I’m always happy to miss the King Harry Ferry when when the hour is early, it’s a real pleasure to have an excuse to just sit and watch the passing river traffic for 20 minutes or so while waiting for the ferry to return. With the odd exception I mostly spent August trying to find some sort of escape from the sheer awfulness of peak holiday season in the west, either by just staying in, or by pedalling east, for which the trip across the Fal is an essential part. Early in the morning is best, before the  queues of luxury tanks form on each side of the river; why people think driving around in a polished block of flats is a good idea is beyond me. I stopped sea kayaking for the summer for the same reasons.. roads and car parks being a battleground in which I wanted no part. It’s always more fun in the winter anyway.

August in the far west was particularly grim this year. Not just the overwhelming numbers of visitors, but the flavour of visitors too; a particularly nasty lot, with many instances of assault – physical and verbal – on local folk just trying to go about their business, and an attitude towards the Cornish and Cornwall that is perhaps best described as “abusive”.

I took to getting up before dawn to be able to enjoy a trail ride and a swim before “people o’clock” but even at that early hour it was impossible to avoid the upsetting evidence of the behaviour of visitors. The toilet waste left on the cliff paths near spots popular with camper vans, the scorched areas where people had lit fires, the abandoned BBQs, often still with food on, not to mention the usual general garbage. Accessible areas of clifftop and popular beaches have generally been abused to an appalling degree.
Early o’clock at Godrevy for a pre-breakfast swim. It’s a round trip of about 30km. A couple of weeks ago on the trail heading this way and passing by an area where camper vans like to ignore the no overnight stay signs, I surprised a guy having a crap, right by the path. No doubt from one of the illegally parked vans. Precisely the same problem as plagues routes such as Scotland’s NC500; a subset of people not fit to have access to the outdoors and the perfect allegory for modern day tourism in Cornwall.. they come, they shit on it, they leave. A general respect and sensitivity for the Cornish, and Cornwall seems sadly lacking these days. It’s quite distressing.

Outside of Cornwall there are many misconceptions about tourism and Cornwall, and while it is somewhat off-topic for this blog I beg your indulgence for a moment while I take the opportunity to clarify a few things. “You Cornish should be grateful for tourists money” is a commonly heard refrain, and yet one that is quite misguided. Visitors have always been welcomed to Cornwall but the current reality is that tourism represents just 11-12% of the Cornish economy, and not even the Eden Project, Cornwall’s largest tourist attraction, makes it into the top 10 of Cornish businesses by revenue.

I hold out some faint hope that, at the very least, we can in future see fewer of the kind of people in evidence this year, and perhaps with some political will some sort of return to a flavour of tourism that, rather than being a destructive force, is a complement to Cornish life. I’m probably being naive.

Tourism is important however the bulk of the Cornish economy is formed, in no particular order, by manufacturing, technology, aerospace, food, agritech, with a strong representation too from creative industries; there is, as there always has been, some really interesting stuff going on in Cornwall yet all we ever hear about from loud tourism voices and the media is ‘picture-postcard villages’ and a fictional lifestyle. It’s true that tourism represents 20% of the jobs in Cornwall, but those are largely low quality jobs – the kind of seasonal, minimum wage work, such as cleaning holiday homes, that tends to trap people. The sad truth is that much of the meaningful revenue generated by tourism here leaves the county immediately; some 65% of covid business relief grants made here went to addresses outside of Cornwall – a good indicator of the degree to which the holiday business in Cornwall is no longer Cornish. Indeed, Cornwall these days is largely treated as a wealth-mine by those from outside the county with the means and economy of morals necessary to scoop up properties and flip them to AirBnB.

Another early… off down for a swim. The north coast was flat for an extended period, not so great for the surfers but handy for this sort of thing.

AirBnB in particular has been a disaster for Cornwall; a growing housing and homelessness crisis directly caused by both the inflation in house prices thanks to the demand for second homes, and by the fact that in August for example, when surveyed by a local charity, the ratio of AirBnB rentals to available long-terms lets was roughly 500 to 1, with just 21 long term lets available in the entire county. As such while people are happy to talk about the value of tourism to Cornwall, and how we should all be grateful for it, no-one in a position of influence seems willing to talk about the cost of tourism to Cornwall. The mental health burden, the burden to Council services, the overwhelming burden on local health services (the hospital and ambulance service has been in a permanent state of emergency for the duration of the summer holiday season), the cost of infrastructure and cleanup, and the cumulative environmental damage, not to mention the damage that a badly distorted housing market and an over-emphasis on tourism does to the prospects of young people especially.

Apologists for the second homes  business frequently like to point out that their owners do contribute to the local economy too, when in residence, as if a weekly delivery from Waitrose and the occasional pint and packet of crisps in the local somehow makes up for the devastating effect second homes have on communities.

Personally I would like to see some degree of devolved autonomy for the Cornish, with the freedom to levy a tourist tax, as is done in many parts of the world, that can be used to fund infrastructure, support for creating opportunities for young folk for example; better regulation around holidays lets and associated tax loopholes, and better planning laws that can be used to stop developers concreting over the place with large luxury housing developments designed to appeal solely to the wealthy second, or third, home buyer or investor looking to grow their AirBnB/holiday let portfolio. Apologists for the second homes (as opposed to holiday lets) business frequently like to point out that their owners do contribute to the local economy too, when in residence, as if a weekly delivery from Waitrose and the occasional pint and packet of crisps in the local, assuming the community can still support one, somehow makes up for the devastating effect an abundance of second homes have on communities.

Some restraint from the mainstream media too would be helpful, rather than the relentless fetishisation of Cornwall on the TV and print/online travel articles; Cornwall is not a theme park; it’s a culturally distinct and historically rich area with a living, breathing, working population recognised as a national minority.

I hold out some faint hope that, at the very least, we can in future see fewer of the kind of people in evidence this year, and perhaps with some political will a return to a flavour of tourism that, rather than being a destructive force, is a complement to Cornish life. I’m probably being naive.

Anyway, enough of that.

August is also when the heather blooms on the moors and clifftops. It’s rather lovely; here amongst the standing stones of the Boskednan Nine Maidens.
Many of the trails are invisible at this time of year… it can be a scratchy time for the legs, and and itchy one for people like me that react to such things. Still, have to make the most of it, from October to March many of these trails are impossibly boggy.
Trails like these. Cornwall doesn’t have a super extensive trail network so it’s always necessary to join the dots with sections of road, and find creative ways of joining them all up. It’s alright really ;-)
Historically August is always a wet month. Many memories from school summer holidays spent messing about in boats and on bicycles feature abundant drizzle. 2021 was no exception.
I don’t mind, it keeps the trails largely free of people ;-)
The sun did shine, on occasion…
I’ll pick the bags up again soon, I was quite bogged down with work over the summer with little desire to spend free time at a sewing machine; wet winter weekends and dark evenings are more appropriate. Everyone who had one still seems really happy which is encouraging news.

8 thoughts on “Bits and Bobs from the Far West

  • Fantastic post – with beautiful juxtaposition of the modern domestic tourist against the backdrop of your stunning photography!
    I’m not sure that kingship works via a democratic process … but I’d vote for you as King of Cornwall … although, living in Cheshire I’m not sure I’d be eligible!

    Safe travels my friend😎

  • A good article. Worst summer for ages, over-tourism taking the pleasure out of living here. Hopefully overseas tourism can resume and maybe take the pressure off.
    I too groan when I see another TV show featuring some bland celebrity pushing their corny version of Cornwall out to the gullible.
    Luckily there is an inland core of Cornishness, away from the main roads and the coastal areas, and we don’t all need bikes to find it…..just don’t tell the tourists!

    • Hi Graham, good to hear from you, thanks for writing, it’s heartening to hear from you with respect to the current issues being experienced. I don’t know a single person around here happy about the current state of things. Very true about inland, heaven forbid the media find out about it…!

  • I love that picture of the ruin in the mist. It is beautiful. Would it be possible for me to make a print of it? For a fee of course! It should be on a postcard as well, I think. :-)

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