It is only after two months of residence across the pond that I can say with some certainty that the euphemism “where the sun don’t shine” refers, in reality, to Exeter, England. Although I’ve been assured on multiple occasions that this winter has been particularly harsh, and that such volumes of rain are atypical even by British standards, this does little to alleviate the pervasive dampness that seems to creep its way into every available nook and cranny, indiscriminate in its sogginess. Each day seems to hover around a not-quite-warm-enough-to-be-enjoyable and yet not-quite-cold-enough-to-wear-a-winter-coat 45 degrees; moss and fungi appear to cover every inch of the prevalent stonework, thriving on the moist sheen draped over the entirety of the city; perpetual puddles grow and shrink endlessly, never having the wherewithal to disappear completely.
But before I’m accused of complaining (I can hear clearly the chorus of “suck it ups” coming from beneath the feet of snow received not too long ago by the American Northeast), quite the opposite is true. For one, were I to have any other experience of the fabled English weather, I would feel mildly cheated. And secondly, by discussing the weather, I further cement my position as honorary British citizen. For those uninitiated readers, England has two national pastimes: queueing, and discussing the weather. The former is an unspoken rule of thumb (if you can line up for it, there’s going to be a line, and if there isn’t, it’s customary to start one); the latter is, instead, so culturally ingrained that I have yet to make it through a full day without the topic arising in conversation at least once. The cure-all for awkward pauses and uneasy introductions, the weather is a common ailment that binds all Brits together, and is therefore a surefire way to strike up an exchange. Be it unseasonably warm, predictably waterlogged, or anywhere in between on the broad spectrum of meteorological possibilities, one can be assured that somewhere the weather is being pored over on a level of detail bordering the excruciating.
So as not to be completely boring, I’ll move to the more exciting topic of tourism. In order to make the most of my stay here in England, I’ve attempted to go on as many adventurous daytrips as my admittedly taxing workload will allow. The first of these excursions was to St. Ives (the seaside village in Cornwall, not the lotion brand based in Los Angeles). Nestled in southernmost reaches of the country, St. Ives boasts a lazy atmosphere, scenic vistas, and an excessive amount of people walking dogs. Sporting a central harbor surrounded by a selection of trendy eateries, a variety of shops and stores, and a number of quaint historical sites, the relatively small village screams “retirement destination.”
Upon our arrival, my group, hungry after our two-hour bus ride, hit the streets in search of some grub. A plethora of pubs, bakeries, and cafés awaited us, each as alluring as the last. We settled on “hub” (lack of capitalization here being intentional), a self-proclaimed “bar and brasserie.” The restaurant was packed, as it was lunchtime, but we luckily found a spot. As is apparently commonplace in St. Ives (due, in all likelihood, to the large volume of canine companions we had seen earlier), many restaurants boasted an open-dog policy, inviting diners to have their furry friends tag along. Because of this, we were surrounded by pups, creating a laid-back atmosphere that was both hip and homey.
Feeling adventurous, I shunned the standard hamburger in lieu of their homemade nachos. I was not disappointed as a large plate of fresh chips, cheese, and toppings was delivered to the table. The food was delicious and reasonably priced, and I found myself with each bite being more and more swayed into fantasies of early retirement in some cottage along the shore. Snapping myself back to reality, we finished our food, payed our bill, and were on our way.
Framing the cool blue water of St. Ives Bay, the rolling hills of the surrounding area were covered in a thick coat of soft green grass. We decided to scramble down toward the shore and climbed onto the natural stone pier that jutted out from the mainland. From here, we could see across the bay to Gwithian, some three or four miles away, as well out onto the far-stretching Atlantic.
After that, we made our way up a nearby hill to investigate a small stone building that was darkly outlined against the grey sky. Upon closer inspection, the structure turned out to be the “ancient chapel of St. Nicholas” which, according to a plaque affixed to the front, had “stood upon this site from time immemorial.”
Related to the denizen of the North Pole or not, the rundown building stood as a reminder of the history inherent in all of England, something lacking from the relatively fledgling America.
All in all, my experience thus far has been one of general awe. There is a certain entrenched wisdom and ancientness that seems to emanate from the very stones themselves. High-steepled churches and cobbled streets leave one with a sense of the thinly-covered grandeur that sleeps just below the surface. I look forward to continuing my exploration of this historically rich country in order to discover more of the hidden treasures it conceals.