Rambles Beyond Railways is Wilkie Collins’s account of a walking tour through Cornwall in 1850. He just made it before the railways though because a note written for the second edition refuses to apologise for his title, now out of date. This is a very good humoured book. Wilkie & his artist companion, Henry Brandling, want to see everything of note in the county. They are objects of pity & amusement to the locals who can’t understand why gentlemen who can afford to travel by coach or horseback, choose to walk. Nevertheless, they are cheered by the kindness & hospitality of the people they meet on their travels. They visit all the well-known towns & villages, St Ives, Liskeard, the pilchard fisheries along the coast, Loo Pool & the Lizard Head.
One of their most fascinating expeditions is their visit to Botallack Mine, a copper mine on the coast where most of the workings & shafts are hundreds of feet beneath the sea. The excursion begins amusingly with Wilkie being fitted out by a gigantic miner in the appropriate clothing for a trip down a hot, dirty mine. When the miner has obligingly hoisted Wilkie’s trousers up under his armpits & folded over his sleeves several times, he’s ready at last to descend into the mine. They descend ladders until they reach a depth of 420 feet but this isn’t the bottom of the mine. The shafts descend for hundreds more feet & spread out beneath the ocean for hundreds more. They decide that they’ve gone far enough, trying to imagine the miners working for 8 hour shifts in such hot, moist, dirty conditions, and thankfully ascend to the surface.
They are amazed by famous natural phenomena like the Cheese Wring (photo above from http://ontheroad.buy.co.uk), a pile of stones that seems to defy gravity as it balances precariously with the smallest stones at the bottom of the pile & huge stones on top. I could sympathise with Wilkie as he gingerly stood under the overhanging stones fearing they might topple over & crush him at any minute. Kynance Cove is famous for the water spout known as the Devil’s Bellows & the Devil’s Throat emits an eerie groan as the water rushes into it. The history of St Michael’s Mount (photo below from j-m-w-turner.co.uk) is told through a series of “dissolving pictures” that take the reader from the earliest Stone Age people of the area through medieval times when the monastery was built to modern times.
I read this book on my e-reader & I can see I’m going to have to take a lot more notes to review an e-book than a printed book where I can flick back & forth & leave post-it notes on pages I want to quote or remember. It’s been quite tedious trying to remember placenames & find details again. Still, I couldn’t have easily read this book without the e-reader. Finding pictures to illustrate the post will also be more challenging without the cover of the book to photograph. Still, as a first test of the e-reader, it was very successful. I think I’ve been converted!
* Thank you to everyone who told me that the picture of St Michael’s Mount in the original post was actually Mont St Michel in France! I’ve replaced it with the Cornish Mount by Turner.