Old family snapshot – Three Generations – ‘Paddling’
It’s September. This is the time of year when, according to a ritual of our own making, we take an autumn trip to the ‘Far West’. I often long for the sea. And I know I am not alone.
The August edition of Toast’s online magazine featured a piece entitled ‘The Long Slow Road to The Sea’ by author Sarah Hall. It resonated with me on so many levels. In it, she writes of much anticipated childhood journeys to the coast which took many hours – the sea being the ultimate reward.
I too remember those long hours in the car, with frequent stops for tea and leg stretching – in a borrowed Morris Minor and later a Ford Anglia – from the London Suburbs to Devon and Cornwall via the Hogs Back. These journeys seemed interminable to me – and probably my parents too – as I continually asked “are we nearly there?”.
Hall poses the question in her article “Why do we go to the sea? For salve or salvation of the self? Because it feels like an ancestral home?”. In my case it is for all those reasons. But I don’t just want to go to the sea. I want to go to the sea in Cornwall.
“We are repeaters of our childhood experiences aren’t we?” Hall writes. My answers is “Yes, I believe we are”. I now repeat this childhood journey – six hours in the car (seven on a bad run) at least twice a year. We take the same roads, pass the same landmarks, even sometimes make the same comments to each other on these journeys. We have discussed flying or taking the train but never do because the journey is part of the experience. It is a mini ‘Grail Quest’ – the ultimate ‘prize’ being the Cornish coast, the glistening Atlantic and that intangible ‘Holy Grail’ – which artist Paul Nash referred to as the ‘genius loci’ or ‘spirit of place’.
It is more than a romantic notion and a sense of nostalgia – although I accept there are probably elements of both wrapped up in my attachment to this part of the world. It is a physical need to return. Every time I visit I meet my younger self on familiar footpaths. I hear echoed conversations and laughter as I encounter spectral friends and much-loved family members in quiet coves, on rocky outcrops and in favourite picnicking spots. All those people I have shared happy times with are still here – in my memory at least. Maybe this reinforces a sense of ‘belonging’, together with the fact that my forebears came from Devon and Cornwall. So perhaps this part of the world really is ‘in my blood’.
Soon we will be making the journey there again; for “salve” and “salvation” to my “ancestral home” and the sparkling ‘primordial soup’. In the words of D H Lawrence: “We go to Cornwall on Thursday. That is the beginning”.
Sarah Hall’s beautifully written article is available at: