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Cornwall: The Sea

"Well sir... I want to see the world"
"Ye want to go in order to see the world? Was not that what ye said? I thought so. Well then, just step forward there, and take a peep over the weather-bow, and then back to me and tell me what ye see there"
Going forward and glancing over the weather bow, I perceived that the ship swinging to her anchor with the flood-tide, was now obliquely pointing towards the open ocean. The prospect was unlimited, but exceedingly monotonous and forbidding; not the slightest variety that I could see.
"Well, What's the report... what did ye see?"
Herman Mellville, Moby Dick, Ch. 16.
  A sailor went to sea, sea, sea,
To see what he could see, see, see,
But all that he could see, see, see,
Was the bottom of the deep blue
sea, sea, sea.

Children's Skipping Rhyme, quoted in every playground.

The problem with the sea is that it just goes on forever, looking much the same. Unless, of course, you've been unlucky enough to be caught at sea in a ferocious storm. Then it seems to go on forever, but in every direction all at once, with the sky and sea seemingly confused together. On this page I offer a few images of the sea around Cornwall in contrast with the land, and no contrast is more dramatic than at Lands End:

Land's End has been rather spoiled in recent years. Once there was a time when all it had to offer to visitors was a pint at The First and Last, a pub which was almost a local to many locals, and the opportunity to have your picture taken next to the signpost. For a few quid you could have a picture of yourself underneath a sign saying; 'Wolverhampton: 375', Brisbane: 12003', or 'Camborne: 26'. Now there is an entire world of adventures, a theme park of Terra Firma Terminus. My main gripe is the actors dressed in smocks, with Eddy Grundy accents (a.k.a. Mummerzet). The smocks they are asked to wear are authentic Somerset, although Somerset is closer to London than it is to Land's End. But it makes money and provides jobs, and jobs are hard to come by in Sennen and St. Just, the nearby towns. Better to visit the Lizard, the actual most-southerly-point of the British mainland, a road less travelled. This is what the area looks like:

But the sea doesn't just meet desolate moorland in Cornwall. It also bumps into towns, the places where people made, and some still make, a living from it. Many of the familiar fish species are dying out, and it looks likely that fishermen will have to adapt to supplying a luxury trade. This has happened before. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Cornwall made merry on the proceeds of pilchards. But whether through over-fishing -- or because they knew what was good for them -- the pilchards took off in another direction. The harbour at St. Ives was once alive to the pilchard fishery, now it does better business with a few shark boats for tourists. Sometimes the harbour looks cold and dead, as here in the snow with a storm moving in:

But St. Ives itself goes on, adapting to a new purpose: that of entertaining and selling to visitors in the summertime, and looking after itself in the winter. Locals may feel swamped by visitors for three months of the year. They make up for it the other nine. And though few people in St. Ives, Penzance, or Falmouth now make a direct living from the sea, no-one who lives there can forget how important it once was. On stormy evenings in January, when the sea rises up and breaks over the harbour wall, and even over the houses at the front, even the most land-lubberly Cornish unite in their respect for the ocean.

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* This page last updated 29 August 2003 *