Thursday, 4 August 2011

Flashback: The Lizard

Before I left Cornwall for the US a couple weeks ago, my husband and I took a field trip to the Lizard, a peninsula near Lizard Town, which contains the most southerly point in England:

To quote Wikipedia, the actual southernmost point is at grid reference SW 701 115, but since that is meaningless to most people (including me), I think it's fair to say that we did, in fact, go as far south in England as one can go without hopping into the water, which we all know is not advisable without a wetsuit.

This was particularly the case on the day of our outing, which was, in proper Cornish fashion, incredibly blustery, and not very warm. After a while, I became very uncomfortable because of all the wind blowing around in my ears and I had to pull my hood up in order to minimize the headache. All the same, touring the British coastline in howling winds and spitting rain is somehow very authentic, and I'm not sure the scenery would have seemed quite as genuine without the foul weather to add the jewel in the crown.

The peninsula is surrounded by many jutting rocks and snags which, unsurprisingly, gained it the nickname "The Graveyard of Ships" back in the day when these waters were an important part of transport routes.

To combat the danger, a lighthouse was built here in 1752 and the Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) opened a local lifeboat station that was, until recently, one of the busiest and most important in the region.

(The lighthouse is up on the hill in the center, and if you look closely you will see that there is a tiny flash of light--the revolving bulb was just rotating my direction as I snapped the photo. Down at the base of the hill to the right is the RNLI station.)

The peninsula is predominantly composed of a type of rock called serpentinite, the geological origins of which you can read about in great detail if you are so inclined. Suffice it to say that the presence of serpentinite is a sign of activity at tectonic plate boundaries, since it is formed of products from the earth's mantle and is only exposed as the plates shift and allow lower levels of rock to emerge onto the earth's surface. Or, at least, I believe that is how one can interpret all the cryptic geological information I just read on Wikipedia. What really matters to me is that serpentinite is used by local sculptors and jewelers to make lovely carvings and ornaments, one of which I (predictably) bought while we were visiting.

The area abounds with other interesting natural history items, as well. Most prominent is the presence of (red-billed) choughs, a species of bird that has declined in mainland England to the point that it can now only be found on the Lizard (luckily the bird's population is quite healthy elsewhere in Europe). Choughs are known to nest in the cliffs and feed in the adjacent fields. However, because there are so few of them, one is not always guaranteed a viewing. Thanks to my husband's perseverance and keen eyesight, we got lucky:

(If you zoom in and use a magnifying glass, you may see two black spots near the tip of this jutting cliff. Those black spots are the elusive Cornish chough, which, in British parlance, we were "chuffed" to see.)

There were also many colorful wildflowers in bloom despite the fact that the British summer appears to already be fading. For instance, there were several foxgloves scattered along the paths we were walking. I believe their prime flowering time had already passed by a couple weeks, but even when waning in vibrancy, these rank among my favorites:

Down nearer to the water, which was at low tide when we arrived, we could see all sorts of wildlife exposed in rock pools. We came across something that appeared to be an algae (or possibly some moss?) and both looked and felt for all the world like coarse human hair, growing right out of the cliff face:

After having a quick cup of tea in a cafe near the point, we headed back out into the wind for the cross-town trek to our car. Along the way we encountered another bird species that I'd never seen before in the UK:

(A male stonechat. This one, as you might guess from the species of plant on which it is perched, is not in Cornwall but in Africa, which is where I first encountered this species. Thanks to for the image.)

A bit further on, I spied one of the stonechat's sworn enemies watching us surreptitiously from on high:

This guy was quite the performer and indulged in a long series of very photogenic stretches before languorously strolling over to join us. I was a bit afraid that he was going to follow us all the way back to our car, but luckily after a block or so he turned into a garden and was gone just as suddenly as he had appeared.

Shortly thereafter, we were gone, too--back to Falmouth, where we were due to have dinner with friends. Appropriately enough, our meal was to be fresh-caught mackerel, proving that the British seas are good for much more than just a lovely (if turbulent) view.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    Looking forward to reading more.
    Thanks Again. Will read on…

    Lock lizard