On the heels of my first successful pet sit in Bristol, I felt emboldened traveling south to the quaint village of Calstock England, located in proud Cornwall country. I was excited to spend 22 days caring for a feisty feline named Bailey and dive into the English country lifestyle. Crossing over the River Tamar viaduct in a small 2-car train, you know, the kind that whistle an airy "Toot-Toot" as they rattle down the tracks (they actually exist), I arrived at the station which consisted of a crisp red/white 2-sided shelter, trash can, and Apple trees showing signs of a bumper harvest.
I would soon learn that Cornwall is apple country, so of course, I had to sample all the local hard ciders. When in Rome... My gracious host collected me from the station. She was one of those mind-blowing women that truly "lives" each day and her adventure stories left me wide-eyed and inspired. So, for 3 weeks, I embraced life in "Calstuck" as the locals say. Of course, this was in between snuggling with Bailey, removing or recapturing his plethora of furry and feathered "gifts" and spoiling him...as Auntie Sandi does. I would later crown Bailey as Village Mayor with Spot the Cat as Village Council and the Geese as Village Hooligans. You can meet them in the video below.
Living in an English village, I learned the day to day life of no local grocery store (it's a 30 minute bus ride), hearing, "WHY?" when I would tell locals I chose to come here, the unpredictable weather, and what people do for fun. With that, I offer up 5 things you'll find in just about every small English village. Although my 3 months in south England took me to many small communities, I share this through the lens of Calstock; a new happy place for me. "I'll be back." So, pull out your map and go explore these tiny jewels; there's more to gain than lose.
So, what do mice, the Honesty Box Coffee Shop, and yours truly have in common?
1) Parish Church/Cemetery-When an old church comes into view, I'm like a moth to the flame with my curiosity taking angelic flight, seeking out hidden passages, stroking stonewalls, and general snooping. These buildings have survived wars, mother nature, political upheavals, and the ravages of time. They deserve more than a passing glance from your rental car. So, take the country road, step inside, read the history and stories; pray. Don't be a cheap tourist; leave a donation, sign the guest book, chat with whomever may be present.
Saint Andrew's church in Calstock (consecrated in 1290 respectfully) required a committed walk up a narrow lane while remaining alert to jump into the hedgerows to avoid oncoming vehicles...I have the scrapes and scares to prove it! Walking around the old, dare I say ancient, cemetery, I was reminded how brief our lives on earth are. Many of the headstones had been relocated into tidy rows along the perimeter; leaving their original occupants to dissolve into time. Lichen encroached over the etched stone inscription of a person's lifespan. I teared up when I saw graves marking the loss of 2 sons on the Titanic, children snatched away by disease, and men and women cut down in war(s). It's quiet here, with stunning views and Roman ruins nearby that beckon you to contemplate and breathe in the rare stillness only found in a cemetery.
2) Community Boards-In Calstock, there were 2 boards approximately 1 block away from each other. Go figure that commute. They keep the village pulse humming along with notices of events, school plays, what's for sale, a lost dog...gossip. Who knows, you may find an intimate pub performance, an ancient local pagan festival, art classes, or day walks (hiking to us westerners).
During my stay in Calstuck...I mean Calstock, I attended 2 concerts, a pub "shout," a festival, a children's play, and a fund-raising comedy show. This social butterflies calendar was a flight with activities. Check out The Countrymen; a fabulous band. Another remarkable thing happened; twice, while walking, I heard someone call my name which was odd considering I'm a foreigner. Locals would offer a "hiya" and "so-and-so-told-me-about-you." One morning, there was a note slipped under the front door inviting me to the "shout." When you stay in a small village, people get to know you quickly and there is a rich sense of belonging; especially since you stick out like a sore foreign thumb.
3) Village Hall & War Memorials-Where did I tap my feet and chug cider to Cornish merriment; the Village Hall of course. Located smack in the middle of town, it incorporated the post office (open Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings), a preschool, and included a playground with a big ship to climb on...ohhh, how I resisted the temptation to swing on the ropes in plain view of local residents and thus smear my positive reputation.
Expect to find at least 1 war memorial in these small hamlets. It may be a simple cross or obelisk with a plaque listing the names of locals lost in combat. In one small village, I saw 4 men who perished with the same last name and gasped at the grief this family must have endured in the pursuit of freedom. Some memorials had an obvious addition of World War II; tapping the replay button for the "war to end all wars." Offer a pray and "thank-you" to these markers.
4) Local Pub/Tea Shop-Curious about local cuisine, regional draft beer/cider (YUM), Cornish Karaoke, or just hanker to brush up on your dart throwing prowess? Village pubs offer a variety of life-with-the-locals. I highly recommend savoring a "Sunday Roast" which I wholeheartedly did in Calstock. The Boot Inn offers a robust menu of options. I launched into a traditional Beef with Yorkshire pudding, steamed veggies, creamed Cauliflower/Broccoli, potatoes; washing it down with a pint of hard cider.
Never to be one intimidated by a menu, I saved room for dark chocolate cake with a scoop of ice cream and a Magnum ice cream on top. OK...there was a small doggy bag. This is also where I saw the "shout"...are you seeing a pattern here? Another place worth strolling into is the local tea shop or café. In the case of Calstock, it was Lishe. This petite slice of culinary happiness offered up locally baked wonders of joy including sausage rolls, cakes, pies, and British crumbles. I spent many a rainy afternoon meeting locals over sips of tea, people watching-more gossip. Here, you may also find a copy of the local newsletter. In the case of Calstock, it was jam-packed with gardening tips (gotta love the English and their gardens), local events, recipes-more gossip.
5) Public Footpaths-When exploring small hamlets in England and the entire UK, you'll never feel isolated if you take advantage of the plethora of access pathways; called amongst other names, Public Footpaths, Bridleways, or Permissive Paths. Just look for signs, lace up your boots, and away you go.
This is a foreign idea to many Americans; for crossing over private property in the land of the free and home of the brave, you may be greeted by a guard dog, angry homeowner or police. That being said, I hear people killed by runaway cows on public footpaths is still on the rise. Just about everyday, pending weather, you could spot my vertically challenged American legs out traversing the hills of Calstock; seeing abandoned mines, country estates and back wooded regions not accessible by car. Here, you really "see" the countryside with livestock, dry stone walls, those cursed-demonic hedgerows, and views reserved for those willing to get out of the rental car.
Although I was excited for the next pet sit, I felt a little sad leaving Calstock on River Tamar. I gained an understanding of the simpler, slower pace of parish life and longed for more time with delightful new friends. I will miss Bailey and my gracious host.
Having mastered the Cream Tea, Hard Cider, and Sunday Roast, I also left Calstock with 2 well-earned kilos on my hips. So, next time you're planning that whirlwind trip to England, include time to slow down and explore one of it's many villages. Chat with locals over tea and afternoon cakes, lace up your boots, traipse along a foot path, and wash it all down at the local pub. But be careful, you may just extend your stay and get "Calstuck."