Back to Britain, Part 13
Rainy day of rest in St. Ives
June 10-25, 2003 (Updated Dec. 5, 2003)
By Lewis Nolan
Sunday, June 22, 2003 – In St. Ives
Glynis O’Shea, our charming hostess and co-owner of the Trewinnard Private Hotel in St. Ives, was her usual, sunny self as she served breakfast. The Trewinnard prides itself on its food and the breakfast is smashingly good. Guests have a wide range of choices, ranging from the traditional English breakfast foods to the lighter selections preferred by many Americans.
The food was excellent in every way. It was beautifully served on pretty plates placed on starched, white tablecloths. The breakfast room was snug and cheerful. Midway through the meal, hotel co-owner and cook Ken Maidmint would pop out of the kitchen to ask if everything was all right. To a chorus of affirmations, he unfailingly grinned and exclaimed, “Jolly good” before ducking back into the kitchen to work his magic on the stove and oven.
|View of St. Ives harbor from Trewinnard Hotel|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
I stayed with three slices of ham, two freshly baked, hard rolls and a Diet Coke. Betty tried several dishes during our five-night stay, including Ken’s wonderful croissants, bacon, toast and either coffee or genuine English tea. The bacon served at the Trewinnard is like Irish bacon, a cut we don’t see back home. It looks like a small piece of the pork loin with a tail of American bacon on it. It tastes saltier than either American or Irish bacon.
Betty and I noted that several hotel guests opted for what Glynis called “a proper breakfast.” That is the full, English morning meal that includes bacon, a plump sausage, fried eggs, hash browns, baked beans, lots of buttered toast with jam and a pot of hot tea. Several varieties of English tea are available. Several big eaters had all that plus dry cereal, fruit and juice from a buffet table.
I envied their ability to eat that way. I could – and did – for too many years. I paid the price. I now eat fairly light meals and much smaller portions than I would like due to concerns about blood pressure, cholesterol and excess weight. I’ve been fighting the battle of the bulge since I stopped swimming competitively after my freshman year of college. I’m not alone. Recent obesity statistics showed that 65 percent of Americans are overweight.
In desperation, I went on the Atkins low carbohydrate diet beginning last August. I lost more than 50 pounds. More importantly, my blood pressure, triglyceride and other blood chemistry readings are back in the normal zone for the first time in years. Staying on Atkins was a real challenge in England. The British don’t seem to have the endemic obesity problem that many Americans face. Their diet is heavy with fats and carbs. I saw no low carb food shops or selections of Atkins products in any of the stores we visited.
In the absence of the soybean-based bread products sold in the U.S., I did allow myself a modest amount of real bread plus a few potatoes here and there. Other than a tiny taste or two of Betty’s desserts, I steered clear of sugar products. I did splurge with a daily pint of lager or ale; none of the low-carb beers like Miller Lite are sold in Britain.
Sugar and white flour are all but forbidden to serious Atkins dieters. Fortunately, the considerable amount of walking we did during two weeks in England kept my weight gain to less than five pounds. The damage could have been much worse. The Atkins promoters warn that astounding amounts of weight gain are likely ahead for dieters who go back to their former eating patterns.
|Betty on harbor promenade at low tide|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
The English seem to do a lot more walking than do Americans. The ancient cities and ancient towns are not made for car commuting. People walk as part of their everyday lives - to the bus stop, tube station, shops and pubs. Walking vacations are quite popular. Property owners are required by law to permit walkers to pass through on the many trails and routes that crisscross England. It is possible to walk clear across the country on one popular path that has attracts hikers from around the world. Accommodations are never more than a day apart.
Most visitors seem to come to St. Ives from England. It’s out of the way from the major population centers of Great Britain and has no airport. St. Ives is a six-hour drive from the heart of London. It is an all-day train ride from Paddington Station there. London is an overnight flight from anywhere in America – 6 to 9 hours from Eastern and Midwestern cities and more from the West Coast. So an American who wants to vacation in St. Ives will probably want to overnight in London, Paris or other international city before going on to southwest Cornwall. I think one has to count on two days of travel each way, a daunting obstacle to visiting St. Ives unless they are already in Britain anyway.
We were only the second visitors from America to stay at the Trewinnard so far this year. We didn’t meet nor recognize any other Americans during our six days in Cornwall. Because of our manner, our clothing or our accents, people instantly sized us up as “yanks.” Everybody seemed to be glad to talk to us and proved to be friendly and helpful. Evidently the famous British “reserve” goes on holiday at vacation spots.
With so much bad feeling in Europe about the American-led invasion of Iraq, I had been apprehensive of confrontations during our stay in England. Many Brits are vehemently opposed to their Prime Minister Tony Blair’s deployment of troops to Iraq in support of the U.S. But we saw nothing but welcomes and good cheery. Betty and I are both outgoing and don’t hesitate to strike up conversations with strangers. We were probably something of a curiosity in this out-of-the-way village.
Like in America, many Brits have their favorite vacation spots and return to the same place year after year. We met one older couple that had been coming to the Trewinnard for a week’s vacation for nine straight years.
The Trewinnard’s breakfast room is small enough to encourage cross-table chatting. We soon learned that this couple’s daily routine started with a proper English breakfast. Another regular was an 85-year-old widower named Bob, in residence for three weeks and a hit with Glynis. He stayed out late every night playing pool. Other hotel guests we became acquainted with included:
· A couple and his sister from the tiny country of Luxemburg. They had brought his Mercedes Benz over on the train through the Chunnel, which he said cost more than a rental car would have. Multilingual and well-traveled throughout Europe and part of the U.S., the threesome were obviously educated and prosperous. Their English was heavy with a German accent, but we had no problem communicating and we enjoyed swapping travel tips with them.
|Lewis by St. Ives harbor at high tide|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
· An English couple whose thick, Cornish accents made them harder to understand than the Luxemburgers. They gave us good advice about the sights along the coast south of St. Ives.
We are a few weeks ahead of the peak tourist season in St. Ives. In July and August, vehicular traffic is routed around the town center’s narrow, cobblestone lanes that pass for streets. Nonetheless, the hot spots of trendy shops and fabulous views of the harbor drew crowds of people to the old section of town. Even in the shoulder season of June, established restaurants require advance reservations, or “bookings” as they are called here, for prime time dining.
After all the walking up and down the hills and steps at the Eden Project yesterday, my left knee was swollen and painful when I arose today. So I took some anti-inflammatory medication and decided to rest and catch up on my travel journal this morning. Betty – ever the dynamo – was determined to do our laundry. She loaded our dirty clothes into a large suitcase equipped with rollers, then pulled it a few hundred yards to a coin-operated laundry down the hill from the Trewinnard. There, she visited with several local women and learned a lot about St. Ives that isn’t in the guidebooks.
Once she returned, we walked a different route to the harbor that offered an easier grade and no steep stairs. We had a tasty lunch of takeout food, eaten on a comfortable bench at harbor side. Betty went for a traditional Cornish pasty and I had a crabmeat sandwich, served on a crusty Italian roll. The crab pickers of St. Ives must know something the crab pickers of South Alabama don’t know. The fresh crab was delicious and did not have a single scrap of cartilage or shell.
This day had started out cloudy. As the day progressed, mist turned to rain. We postponed our plans to take a driving loop along the coast in favor of spending a relaxing afternoon in the Trewinnard’s comfy, guest lounge. From time to time we looked up from our books to look at the harbor through the large bay windows. Hanging over the harbor and coastline were low clouds, dark with rain. We also enjoyed watching the townsfolk and vacationers trudge by in their rain gear. I’ve never seen so many young women with tattoos and multi-colored hair as I did in St. Ives.
We walked into the town center for dinner in the pub-restaurant at the Queen’s Hotel. I had some freshly caught mackerel. Betty went for the cod and chips served with “mushy peas,” a strange dish that is bright green and looks like a slow-moving portion of split pea soup. The food was good but the service was excruciatingly slow. Clearly the focus is on the liquid side of the business. It took 35 minutes to get a slice of apple pie with Cornish clotted butter.
My knee felt better because of anti-inflammatory medication and a day of rest. So we walked around the harbor to the pier that serves commercial fishing boats. A chilly wind blew in from the dark sea as dusk fell. To landward, the lights from the town marched up the hillsides. We watched a late-arriving fisherman carry box after box of mackerel from his boat to the back of his SUV. I did not envy him the duty of scampering up the wet, slimy steps of the pier with heavy, wooden boxes of fish.
That night, we watched the James Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies” on the telly in our room. Actress Judy Dench – named a Dame of the British Empire by the Queen in honor of her work – played the spymaster role of M. Unlike Sir Sean Connery, the actor who played 007 in this movie – Pierce Brosnan – has yet to be knighted.
Knight or not, it was a great movie and a relaxing night in St. Ives.