It’s wonderful how books can lead you to other books.
Earlier in this year I fell utterly in love with Wilkie Collins’ Rambles Beyond Railways. A beloved author on top form writing of his travels in my homeland. Heaven!
And when I wrote about that book I was recommended another travelogue by a Victorian novelist: Mrs Craik’s An Unsentimental Journey Through Cornwall.
I placed an order at the library. I have to admit thought that at first I was a little disappointed with what arrived. A plain blue book that looked just like a school atlas. But then I opened it up and saw the title page. I had in my hands a rebound copy of the 1884 edition. Hooray for librarians with the wisdom to tuck away copies of special books!
I loved Mrs Craik from the very first paragraph:
“I believe in holidays. Not in a frantic rushing about from place to place, glancing at everything and observing nothing; flying from town to town, from hotel to hotel, eager to “do” and see a country, in order that when they get home they may say that they have done it, and seen it. Only to say;- as for any real vision of eye, heart, and brain, they might as well go through the world blindfold. It is not the things we see, but the mind we see them with, which makes the real interest of travelling.”
From the moment she and her two young companions cross the bridge over the Tamar into Cornwall she clearly sees everything, with eye, heart and brain.
The party travels down the south coast and up the north on a sixteen day tour.
They see so many sights: Mullion, Falmouth, Marazion, Tintagel, Boscastle …..
They run on beaches and swim in the sea. They love the sea and see not only it’s beauty, but also its power and its impact.
But this isn’t just a book about places. It’s a book about people: Mrs Craik is most definitely what my mother would call a people person, and she writes wonderfully about the people she meets on her journey.
Cornish places are illuminated by Cornish lives.
There is much talk of myths and legends. Clearly this is a group of travellers who have read widely and are delighted to see the places they have read about.
Fortunately their reading has left them well prepared. They were ready for the Cornish rain, and a downpour is accepted as a natural part of the Cornish experience. And they had knitting and reading to hand!
All of the details that you might recall of a wonderful holiday are present.
Mrs Craik writes about everything beautifully, reacting with exactly the right mixture of love, delight and good sense.
Imagine being captivated by tales of the trip of a lifetime from a good friend: that is just how An Unsentimental Journey Through Cornwall casts its spell.
It’s a book that I know that I will pick up again before too long.
Illustrations by C Napier Hemy