When we arrived in Tintagel, we were greeted with a cliff face, not the Wile E. Coyote kind – straight down, one floor for all – but one that takes its time getting to the ground, with outcrops and plateaus and thus is, in some ways, crueller to those who fall down it. We were staying in a squat, white hostel sat gingerly on this cliff edge, and gale force winds were grabbing at our clothes and hairs, desperate to engage us in a dance and whip us off the cliff. Before the end of the week, the cliff would claim one of us.
We arrive at our new home
The days in Cornwall passed in an odd sort of domesticity, the kind born from the interactions of nine people, none of them with any ties to each other familiar or romantic, all with radically different dietary requirements and notions of what constitutes ‘clean.’ The hostel was big enough so you didn’t have to see people if you didn’t want to, but small enough that you couldn’t reliably talk about someone behind their back. And hence, the dimensions of the building forced us to be nice to each other, which was best for everyone involved.
Dinner at the hostal
In the evening, games were played, of almost every stripe. We quipped in Cards Against Humanity, we sought truth in Paranoia, we murdered each other in Werewolf and we proved idiots in Trivial Pursuit. Drinking was almost always involved, except for those of us who didn’t drink. One would expect these students to perhaps behave more sensibly than the rest. One would be wrong.
We took trips almost every day: to visit the Witchcraft Museum in Boscastle with an automatic tarot machine; to wade up to the waterfall in St. Nectan’s Glen with foot-numbing water that’s meant to bless you in some nondescript way; to meet a famous author and wonder if we will ever own a house that’s half as nice; to see Merlin’s Cave, which was shut and not just by Morgana’s invisible barrier.
At the home of the novelist, D. M. Thomas, author of The White Hotel
But I don’t want to write about any of those trips. For me, and no one else, the most memorable trip was to the beach.
We’d walked a long way that morning, but it was worth it. The beach was wide from side to side and much too full of sand. As I always do when presented with a body of water deeper than an inch, I took off my shoes, rolled my trousers up to the knee and splashed in. I desperately wanted to swim, but I’d forgotten to bring my togs. There were several large dogs crashing about with me in the spray, their owners watching from the side-lines. The tide was out and the freezing water didn’t even reach my ankle, but it felt nice regardless. I’ve always loved the feel of sea water on my foot. It’s good for the sole.
And then suddenly the water was up to my shin. And then it was to my calf. Then it was past my calf. The dogs, as one began to scamper back to their masters. People were calling from the sand. I realised I needed to get out quick. But already I was pushing against water higher than I could step. I’d rolled my trousers up to my knees, but that wasn’t enough.
I saw my shoes – my poor, innocent shoes, bystanders in all of this – on the sand where I had discarded them. The tide was coursing towards them with a single-minded determination. I pictured a very soggy march back, or that maybe they’d be washed out to the sea entirely, like that tiger in The Life of Pi, or that boy in the Life of Pi. Luckily, one of my compatriots grabbed my shoes just before the water could hit. His own shoes suffered as a result.
I should take this moment to describe what my classmates did when the flood came. Most of them leapt to safety atop the various boulders strewn about the place. Others sought shelter on the steps leading to the pub. One was marooned on an outcrop for several stultifying minutes with a very boring man from Nuneaton.
I was still in the drink. The water was now up to my waist. I later thanked providence that I’d put my phone in the breast pocket of my shirt. I managed to reach one of the boulders and hauled myself, sodden, onto its rocky perch.
The tide immediately receded, leaving the beach as it had been before. The dogs merrily crashed back into the foam, but my appetite was sated. We still had a lunch planned in the pub, which I would have to sit through squelching like a toy trumpet. We walked up, mud trickling down my legs, my pockets full of wet sand.
At least I didn’t need to go swimming anymore.
That’s me, emerging (Poseidon-like) from the ocean
Anyway, we passed the rest of the trip peacefully and it turns out that the ‘one of us’ that the cliff claimed was our innocence or something. I’m sorry, that was a dirty trick. I didn’t think you’d read about a student trip to Cornwall otherwise.