I had been told not to bother visiting Land’s End, that I would just be disappointed, but it was on my list of things to see in Cornwall and I was determined to go. Something about the name drew me in, the end of the land sounded like the sort of place a writer should go to.
It was a foggy day as I drove to Land’s End. The signs directing me there seemed to point me to a place beyond the fog, as though the roads and buildings would suddenly stop appearing from the mist and I would drive right off into the sea. But the roads kept coming and eventually I passed the last pub in England – it was closed. After the pub there were a couple more houses and then the manned entrance to Land’s End. I paid the £3 entry fee and parked up. The fee gets you a spot in the car park and entry to the last shopping-centre-cum-amusement-park in England. There were shops selling souvenirs, gifts and jewellery, a clothes shop, and cafés serving ice cream and pasties. They were all shut too. I had come out of season and the shops’ shuttered eyelids were closed. I sat on a bench and wrote out the postcards I had bought with me to post from the last post box in England.
You’re lucky, a voice behind me said.
I turned around to see a man wearing a uniform.
You’re lucky the weather’s turned. It looked like rain this morning, but it’s cleared up now.
Yes, it was raining in Penryn.
Are you from round here then?
Yes, I live in Penryn.
Do you have a locals pass? You should get one if you don’t, then you can come and have tea here any time you like.
Tea at the end of the land. I headed out of the shopping complex and found the last post box in England. Unfortunately it had been painted black and a brass sign above it stated: This is the first and last post box in England but it is currently out of use. I stuffed the postcards back in my bag and walked down to the viewing platform. There was a wire fence around it and a large, red sign – DANGEROUS CLIFFS. I ignored the sign and stooped under the fence to scramble down the cliffs.
I sat down on a rock and managed to put my hand in bird shit, which I wiped off on my trousers without thinking. Having found a cleaner spot to sit I spent a while watching the seagulls standing in a line on the rocks, like soldiers watching out for sea invasions, or perhaps protecting to sea from us. The dangerous cliffs weren’t a sheer drop of a cliff, they weren’t the kind of abrupt ending to the land I’d expected. Instead the land petered out, crumbling down into the sea in a marble of rock, grass, wild flowers and birds. The rock felt solid beneath me but the huge chunks of rock all around me, paused in the process of tumbling to their sand-death in the water below, suggested otherwise. The view extended as far as Longship Lighthouse but beyond that it was all mist. Sat out there in its rock, the lighthouse looked more like a beacon for the land-dwellers than for the sailors. The booming of waves on the rocks sounded like death knells, but the lighthouse flashed its warning – do not come any further.
I climbed back up to the path and asked a fellow tourist to take my picture in front of the first and last house in England. I tried to imagine the house in its surroundings before the arcade and car park and National Trust managed footpaths. I imagined a face at a rain lashed window, staring out and seeing nothing but sea. It seems like the sort of thing that could drive a person crazy. Nothing to see but the sea. I had wanted to get my photo taken with the famous sign, but it is not fenced off and you have to pay a photographer to take your picture. Opposite the signpost was a wall covered in plaques inscribed with promises for the new millennium. Recycling, doing more got charity and loving ones family were popular choices, but there were some slightly more interesting ones. Dale Prish promises to swim in the sea every day of the year. Richard Curtis promises to give 100 pints of blood (he’s already given 41). Giles Ford promises to put the footwork in. The most bizarre plaque was Marjorie Brown, who promises to pray daily for the castaways on Taransay Island.
Having seen Land’s End I decided to have some lunch before heading up the coast to Sennen Cove. The only place open was a white-walled, minimalist restaurant, with an expensive menu to match. Having sat down I felt too embarrassed to leave again and ordered a side portion of chips and a pot of tea. I felt out of place with my bird shit smeared trousers – a mark of authenticity. From my seat by the window I watched the sea and watched the families and couples also watching the sea. A tourist attraction has been created out of nothing, the attraction is the very lack of anything or anywhere else to go from there.
I left Land’s End and drive away, passing the first pub in England. I decided to forgo a visit to the first and last Costcutter in England. A short drive up the coast took me to Sennen Cove. From the car park I could see Land’s End off to the left and the rind of a beach to the right. Again I decided to leave the neat coastal path for more rock scrambling and made my way along the coast and up to an old observation point, where a lone couple sat eating sandwiches. I headed back towards the town and walked along the water front to the beach. The sea was rough and ploughed into the sand, churning it up. The waves foamy edges reached out to me then fanned back, fading like breath on a window pane. The quartet of wind, water, sand and seagulls played out their song, a soundtrack for solitude. I shouted out hello, but could barely hear my voice. The sea, with its large waves, was higher than the flat sand, making it feel as though the world had been tipped slightly and the whole ocean was about to submerge me.
I sat for a while on the beach. The sea breathed in and built up its waves, then exhaled again, a sigh of relief after the long journey east. Whole mountain ranges formed before me and fell apart, geological time being played out in a matter of seconds. The sea mirrored Land’s End, which is crumbling into the water, as the sea crumbles into the rocks. In this way they seemed to greet one another. I picked out three colours in the sea; the white foamy edge, the murky blue of its mass and the lighter blue, like frosted glass, where the two meet. The sea is not beautiful today, I scribbled in my notebook, it wants to consume everything. I looked across the cove to World’s End. The stone along its ridge stuck up like a neolithic settlement and the motion of birds suggested a life still being played out there.