During that wonderful period of my young adulthood when I had the pleasure of spending an extended sojourn in the United Kingdom, I traveled extensively across the island. While I encountered many striking vistas, the upper western coast of Cornwall will always hold a special place in my heart.
While on an Easter holiday from university, I determined to visit Tintagel Castle. On a crisp and clear morning, I made my way to Temple Meads train station, bleary-eyed at the early hour and boarded a train to Truro. From there, I was to embark on the next stage of my journey, catching a regularly scheduled bus line up to the western coast, passing through Tintagel to arrive at my ultimate destination, a small town a bit off the beaten path called Boscastle, where I had found lodging. I planned my itinerary to the tee. Each subsequent stage of travel depended upon the preceding one. If one stage were to lag the rest would follow in an unfortunate cascade of scheduling unpleasantness.
After a relaxing and sleepy train ride, I arrived in Truro, cracked open my Lonely Planet guide, and found my way to the town’s travel center. It was the middle of the week, and yet, much to my shock and dismay, it was closed. The office behind the tantalizingly, and aggravatingly, clear, glass doors was dark. Tucked back into a shadowy corner I caught a glimpse of movement: a person! With moderate trepidation, but motivated by necessity, I rapped my knuckles on the glass. The hollow ring penetrated the room. The person came to the door. He kindly informed me that it was a bank holiday. Foolishly, I had scheduled my grand adventure for Easter weekend, and none of the typical modes of transit were running. This news caused some consternation. I had a reservation at a hostel in Boscastle, still many miles journey from Truro, that I was not keen on rebooking.
Before too long I found myself staring forlornly up at a bus stop sign, trying to make sense of its cryptic markings. It was a beautiful day, sunny and crisp. There were many people about, taking advantage of their holiday. An older man came to stand at the bus stop a few feet away from me. He was dressed smartly in denim trousers and a woolen sport coat: casual but composed. He glanced over at me, and I offered a friendly, but curt smile—stranger danger, remember? Two young boys ran over to the man attacking his legs with energetic hugs. A woman trailed after them, smiling at the scene. They were a family, seemingly reunited after a long period. But the man appeared to be off on a journey again, and the group was to serve as his send-off party. After their final parting words were said, the final hugs given, and the final tears shed, the mother and her sons left, leaving the man and me standing alone at the stop.
“You look a bit lost,” he hazarded.
I explained the situation to him: “Good sir, I find that I am an unwitting bank holiday traveler, and wholly without the recourse to ameliorate the situation!”
(How one discourses in one’s memory!)
“Ah, Boscastle. You know, I’m heading that direction. I’d be happy to help you find your way there.”
How considerate of this stranger.
He did seem like a fellow on the up and up. He had a family after all, so the likelihood that he would lead me to a secluded cabin and to my ultimate doom seemed very slight. I accepted his offer of gentlemanly chivalry, and we continued to wait for the bus in companionable silence. After what seemed like a brief eternity, a bus trundled up to the stop. The doors opened, and my knight gallant entered, explaining to the bus driver that I was to arrive in Boscastle, no matter what! The bus conductor nodded his head, gesturing for me to enter. The gentleman had taken a seat, and since he was my guide, I took a seat next to him. The bus began to roll; my adventure had begun.
The man introduced himself as Dominic. He was a self-described “white Jamaican” whose family was simultaneously heavily invested in the hospitality business as well as responsible for the introduction of the production of bamboo furniture onto the island. He was a wonderful and articulate storyteller, regaling me with tales from the past and present. When he learned of my desire to enter a career in the film industry, he informed me that his sister worked as a costume designer on Cool Runnings. As the bus weaved and wended its way up zig-zagging, stone-bordered roads, we talked. The sun shon’ brightly, and the ocean sparkled like the most precious sapphire in the world. Dominic informed me that he was on his way to Bude to work on his latest project: a treatise on modern economics.
Sometime amidst story time, the bus stopped: we were going to have to transfer. I grabbed my backpack and stepped off; Dominic followed. We found ourselves at the most unassuming bus stop imaginable in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Neither of us knew how long we would have to wait. I hadn’t eaten anything since the sky was still dark. Dominic unwrapped a sandwich from his bag. He held out a half to me. I shook my head, politely deferring. He was still a stranger after all. Who knows what nefarious components that sandwich might contain? He held it out to me again, more emphatically.
“Please,” he said, “it’s a cheese sandwich. My wife would never forgive me if I did not share it.”
I took the sandwich and bit in. Salty and creamy, the flavors washed over my taste buds. It was delicious! I devoured my half, never more conscious in that moment that I was alone eating the food of an unknown. Yet, Dominic had shown me nothing but kindness, and I was far more content to revel in the beauty of the day, and the company of a decent fellow human being than dwell on the possibility of horror. Fortunately, there was no need. For no sooner had I licked the last bit of butter from my fingers, did a second bus pull up to the stop. Once again, Dominic, my knight gallant, embarked before me, explaining my situation to the bus driver. Success! This was indeed our bus!
We took a new pair of seats, continuing our companionable conversation. The bus pulled out of the residential area soon leaving behind signs of habitation—houses gave way to craggy herringbone stone walls, and dramatic cliff faces. Neighborhoods melted into rolling fields dotted with wooly sheep. I grew quiet as I sat on my bench contemplating my surroundings. The deeper into the unknown we traveled, the more affected I became by the environment. The scattered structures seemed to take on an aura of mysticism. Images appeared shimmering on the horizon, mirages that could very well have been conjured by Merlin himself. The bus drew parallel to a cemetery with crumbling stone crosses and an ancient church keeping watch over the dead, the austere facade still standing on duty, even after centuries. Dominic respected my silence, recognizing the enchanting effect of the place, and our conversation subsided.
After a little while, I perceived a downward grade in the road. To my left was the ocean, hidden from view by a shallow rocky outcropping, and to my right was a valley with a dense collection of ancient stony residences: Boscastle. The bus driver stopped at the base of the descent. There was no official bus stop, and I was the only one to disembark. With considerable sadness at the loss of a worthy traveling companion, I waved goodbye to Dominic and watched the bus travel up the narrow street on its journey to Bude.
As I surveyed the quaint and picturesque main road, breathing in deeply the satisfying salty sea air, my mind turned to the question of trust and the inherent kindness of one’s fellow man. If not for the generosity of Dominic, this stranger, I know not how I would have arrived there. Traveling alone in a foreign country can be simultaneously exhilarating and frightening. Sometimes it is necessary to abandon or alter your plan when circumstances change. These moments have high potential for discovery and exploration. I will always remember my bus ride with Dominic fondly, and I hope that he remembers it well too.
Below is a sound composition inspired by my time spent in Boscastle.
Let it transport you back to a special place from your travels.