Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 7, 2017

Cornish surprise

My Freelands always made a big deal about events such as birthdays. But husband Art’s immediate family was the opposite. He’s often mentioned about the year that everyone completely forgot his birthday ... including him!

So it seems strange to me he gets such a kick out of surprising others. Daughter Katie’s birthday present last fall is a typical example. It included a riddle to locate the actual present. Once completed, she discovered the present was in a box secured with a chain and combination lock. Its combination involved a second riddle.

Occasionally, Art will tell me he has an “adventure” planned. Those used to be hard for me. I like to know what is happening. But curiosity always won out. Now I readily agree as we always have a good time.

I knew our vacation this year would include time in Metz, France. But Art said a “little surprise” would be included as well. Two days before we were to leave, he revealed to Katie and me that we would actually be flying to Britain. France would come later.

But that was just the start. Our place, rather than being located in or near a city, was instead near a river deep in a Wales cwm - a valley open at only one end.

Then two days after our arrival, we attended a jazz concert featuring musicians we like.

The very next day, we headed south to Cornwall for a two-day vacation-within-a-vacation. It was something we had occasionally talked about as a “someday” thing. Britain is roughly triangular in shape and we had visited the white cliffs of Dover in the far southeast and John o' Groats on Scotland’s northern extreme. So it seemed like it would be fun to visit the other extreme at Land’s End in the far southwest.

Our first evening in Cornwall involved having fish and chips followed by visiting a tiny southern-coast fishing village called Charlestown. With so many of its 19th-century buildings still in use, it is frequently used as a setting for television shows and movies set in that time period.

The next morning we were off to Land’s End. We were blessed with a day of beautiful blue skies and an ocean with mixtures of blues and greens highlighted with white-crested waves striking the rocky shore.

That evening included a visit to Polperro, a fishing village so cramped into a cove that no vehicles are allowed to enter. We had to walk from the car park on its northern edge. Just as humans adapt, the sea gulls have become used to their human companions. At the outdoor restaurant, Art looked away briefly after the waitress set his plate of food in front of him and a gull swooped in and took the piece of bread from his plate. Our winged friend was gone before any of us realized what had happened.

But the next day proved to be the big surprise for me and also one for Art. For some time, we have been big fans of the British television comedy, “Doc Martin.” It is set in the fictional Cornwall fishing village of Port Wenn, with the outdoor scenes shot in the actual village of Port Isaac. The show has been so popular, it is beginning its eighth season. So while Port Isaac is out of the way, its streets were filled with tourists. Judging by the accents, most were English, but there were many Americans as well.

It was amusing to see how the real village compared to the one portrayed in the show. In the TV version, the various buildings all seem just a few steps apart. In reality, the school is some distance from the chemist - pharmacy - and from the often-featured restaurant. The latter isn’t even a restaurant, but a private home with a large balcony facing the harbor. In the show, the balcony is the area where people are served.

But as we were passing the home that serves as the doctor’s residence in the show, we noticed camera equipment near the front door. We heard someone mention they would be shooting a scene that day. I wondered how they could do that with all us tourists milling about.

I had barely had those thoughts when Caroline Catz, who plays Martin’s wife Louisa, appeared. They shot two scenes - one of her entering and one of her leaving the home. Despite each taking just a few seconds and probably inconsequential in the show, each was redone at least three times while we gawkers stood out of view behind the camera. Before each shot, two crew members threw chunks of what appeared to be bread over the nearby hedge to distract the ever-present gulls searching for a handout.

A bit later, another scene was shot in the street. We assume the two people were new characters as we did not recognize them. The “take” involved their chatting while walking along the street. We’ll have to wait for the new season to find out how they fit in.

After one shot, Art heard a woman nearby remark, “I’ve lived in California all my life and I’ve seen more movie-making here than I ever have at home!”

Later that day, we visited the small Cornish village of Tintagel. We wandered through the castle some believe is part of a real-life King Arthur's story. Myth or reality, the views looking out toward the ocean were stunningly beautiful.

But I think the visit to the fictional Port Wenn was the best part. The serendipity of being present when a snippet of the show was unexpectedly being shot was neat. And the fact that the surprise was also on Art, well, it just added to the fun.

Left: Cornwall coast at Tintagel Castle. The yellow-orange are lichens and gorse flowers; right: Actress Caroline Catz leaves "Doc Martin's" home in fictional Port Wenn. At the right is one of the crew who threw food to distract the gulls.

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