The wheels on the bus

November 4, 2019

The bus that ate Cornwall: The A17 to St. Ives The A2 to Lands’ End The A1 to Penzance

Carol and I purchased international driver’s licenses in the ill-advised expectation that would be the only way to see the British countryside up close and personal. But after careful observation of driving on the wrong side of roads that were essentially bike paths pressed into service as two-way highways, and roundabouts that were clockwise running circles of death, we decided we’d not be seeing the English countryside quite that up close and personal (as in automobile grille to grille up close and personal).

This little guy had no place to go but back

Then we discovered the surprisingly efficient and reliable Cornwall bus system that would open up the astoundingly beautiful Cornish coastline better than any view we could have gotten from a car upturned in a ditch or wrapped around a Belted Galloway munching in a field. And all for about $30 each for three days on any bus route that interested us. Our reading of Bryson and Theroux had given us the impression that the English bus system was unreliable and slow. That was not the case for us.

The Belted Galloway, a unique breed of beef cattle

We started off with a short three-mile trip to Mousehole (pronounced mow-zill) on our first full day in Penzance. We didn’t want to risk missing our six o’clock reservation at the Turk’s Head for the traditional English Sunday Roast. Carol had described it in a way that had my stomach gnawing at me for attention just at breakfast. At the Ships Inn in Mousehole, we ordered a cheesy chips appetizer just to hold us until dinner. What arrived was a massive rock pile of potatoes mortared with enough cheese to produce an interesting free form sculpture entitled something like “cheddar with tuber.”

The Cornish coast as seen and enjoyed from the comfort and safety of the A2 to Lands’ End.

The only disappointment of the trip so far (other than seeing Big Ben wrapped in scaffolding) was when we showed up 15 minutes early for the start of Sunday Roast to learn they had sold out at lunchtime that afternoon. In Yonkers, we had ordered a mushroom pizza, only to find out the restaurant (a pizza restaurant, no less) had run out of mushrooms. I was nonplussed. A pizza restaurant running out of mushrooms was, to me, like Starbucks running out of lattes or KFC running out of Original Recipe. Here in Britain, though, it is not unthinkable for a Sunday Roast not to make it past lunch.

We soldiered on, and decided Penzance was still worth doubling our stay. That turned out to be a great decision. The next morning we caught a double decker to St. Ives, a tidy little fishing village on the Irish Sea coast of Cornwall. Carol busied herself with all the quaint sites, while I worried myself over where to catch the bus on to Lands’ End.

It was a spit-polished, shiny red double decker that appeared to be our own private transport. The driver suggested we sit up top in order to better see some spectacular scenery. He did not overstate it. But the biggest thrill was the bus ride itself. From our perch high above the narrow roads, passing cars seemed to disappear beneath us, as if bus roadkill. I expected to get off and see the remains of Mini Coopers and Fiats wrapped around our tires. Turns were sometimes so tight around the corners of buildings jutting out to the curbside that they seemed to sweep by us like we would crash directly into them. But when you could take your eyes off the impending doom on the roads, there was indeed some spectacular Cornish coast to take in, to say nothing of quaint little seaside villages.

Yeah. The international driver’s licenses were a waste of money.


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