Cornwall: Trans-Atlantic cables and a sea-swept sacred site

“Faraway places with their strange-sounding names” have been calling to me since I was a young child, mesmerized by magic carpet stories that flew me regularly in and out of exciting experiences. How fortunate to be able to play out some of these adventures in real life, and with an equally dedicated Travel Companion (TC), my husband who shares the journeying.”— DFK

In Penzance, Cornwall (pronounced “Corn-wull”) — a P.S. on a trip through the United Kingdom to trace my family roots and meet long-lost cousins — we found so much more of the unexpected along with sights that reminded us of home … part of the joys of travel. Just as Kauai holds a wealth of hidden surprises in the modern fabric of our people’s life and interests, history and original culture, as well as the “hidden” Pacific Missile Range Facility, so, too, does Cornwall at the southwestern end of England. A tourist brochure presents nothing more than a cursory glance, the gesso preparation of what will finish as an intricately layered canvas artwork.

From our strolls along the long, blue Atlantic strand past men playing bowls (a la Sir Francis Drake!) on a sweep of manicured green lawn, to our enjoyment of savory Cornish pasties (meat pies), and the piquant creaminess of traditional tea-time tarts of strawberries and clotted cream, to chats with our personable B&B hostess and rides through a lovely countryside, there were delights my Travel Companion (TC) and I found to please all five senses.

Besides the cliff-side theater cut into the rocky face of nearby Porthcurno, Mousehole Harbor with its history of Spanish pirates immortalized in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” described in TGI’s January “FarAway Places,” we found two major surprises that proved unforgettable.

The first — a once top-secret series of caves and tunnels burrowing deep into the rocky cliffs of Porthcurno — harked back to 1870 and laying of the great, undersea cables that allowed for international communication via the telegraph. Now maintained as the Telegraph Museum (, a place maintained as hallowed as that first UCLA classroom that birthed our modern internet. During World War II this telegraph center guarded as a classified secret to prevent any interruption of messages through the hidden cable that joined Britain to America and beyond.

No one seeing the benign sweep of sands under the cliffs in Porthcurno would dream that buried yards below lay the snaking cable lines. Here, at land’s end, pulsed the conduit carrying the tap-tapping of Morse code undersea that might make or break wartime strategies. Seeing the actual telegraph keys of a past era stirred some DNA connection within me, since my great-grandfather Abel, an Indo-European of the British realm who lies buried in Bangkok, was judged one of the fastest telegraphers of his day.

My TC became fascinated, too, by the historic exhibit of The Great Eastern ( the largest ship of its era, within this museum. Renamed the Leviathan for its 1858 launch and fraught with engineering and money troubles, the ship achieved success as it laid the first fully effective underwater Atlantic cable. We enjoyed trying on costumes of proper shipboard attire of that day.

As we exited the lit tunnels, late afternoon light and lushness of Porthcurno’s beach valley welcomed us toward the cliffside Minack Theatre for our evening of entertainment staged by the Cambridge Players.

We dedicated our final Penzance day to visiting St. Michael’s Mount, a stunning original of its namesake, the famous Mont-St-Michel off the French coast — and far less known. ( Arriving easily by connecting bus to the town of Marazion, five miles south of Penzance, we looked toward the castle set out across the glittering sea and began to doubt that anyone could ever just walk out to it, as told.

However, the timing was right: Within about 15 minutes, the tide dramatically turned, exposing a quarter mile path of shining stones leading to the Mount. We gaped at this phenomena as the waters receded the customary number of feet (as much as 14 meters, almost to 46 feet every 18 years) in this northern realm, and then we set off in awe walking across the sea floor with some other travelers (who appeared equally awe-struck) who had come to tread the ancient Pilgrim Path and explore St. Michael’s Mount for the day. Climbing onto the islet by its small anchorage, we noted the boats keeled over, and signs warning of the afternoon’s time of tidal turn and a posted safe exit time “for pilgrims” retracing their steps.

Somehow this created a tension that heightened the experience as we set out to explore the fortress/castle on this islet that is thought to be the ancient Ilis of classical times (400 B.C. to 400 A.D.). The abbey built on its pinnacle was dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel and placed in the keeping of Benedictine monks. We learned that miracles were reported in the church, leading to a flow of pilgrims during the Middle Ages. Also, the first beacon to warn of the Spanish Armada was lit here. The site with its crows-nest views and historic ramparts, maze of stairways, halls and nooks, and crowning chapel were a photographer’s dream. The lovely blue drawing room was the welcoming place on an impromptu 1846 visit for our Queen Emalani’s good friend Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert, “the royals.”

Next morning, as we boarded the Virgin Atlantic train to our next stops, my TC and I agreed that this chosen-on-impulse land’s end journey had truly satisfied our shared sense of discovery and adventure. The next “FarAway Places” in March will cover our exploration of Glastonbury, the home of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, and Queen Guinevere, as well as highlights of Bath, centering (name appropriately) on water-water-water.


Poet and author Dawn Fraser Kawahara, a rooted Kauai transplant has, since her birth in British India, called India, Burma, Australia as well as California, Illinois, Ohio and Colorado “home” at various times. Kawahara for many years led and instructed travel groups to Hawaii and Pacific nations and pens “The Green Flash” column published every other week in TGI. Info: and


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