Ben Okri on why Cornwall is his favourite creative escape
Then in the early 1990s I had enough money to go on holidays. The place I loved travelling to was Cornwall. I went to St Ives because of the sea and the art and the coastal paths.
The beauty of such a holiday was that it was in the same country. I stopped flying. I didn’t fly for 15 years. I love train journeys. I love the way they move through a landscape. All holidays begin with the choice of books. There were always so many I wanted to read that I would invariably carry a small library. When the books were selected, the choice of clothes was easy.
The journey started at Paddington. I made those trips with my girlfriend. The trains were always crowded, but we got seats early. As I wasn’t flying, I had more money to travel first class, so I could read in relative comfort.
It was about a six-hour journey, six hours of reading heaven. Then the taxi ride from the station to the hotel in St Ives. There weren’t many great hotels in St Ives at that time. But the best ones had secret routes to the sea.
As soon as we were checked in and had settled our bags and ascertained to our satisfaction that we were happy with our room, the first thing we did was go walking through the town, breathing in the sea air. All along the main roads there were art galleries and we would go in to see what new works they had. Looking at paintings prepared me for the new kind of seeing that holidays inspire.
Then I’d visit the bookshop. Some of the best reading I did on holidays was not in the books I brought, but in the ones I discovered.
After a good dinner and a good night’s sleep, I’d be ready for the beach. The first few days were passed staring out to sea and reading and flapping about in the water. Then the real holiday began with the long walks along the coastal path. We would walk for hours. We’d stop at pubs, have a drink and a late lunch. Then we’d sit by a tree and read and stare and empty our minds. And we’d talk. Holidays are, for me, also about good conversations.
In that freedom, in the presence of the sea, ideas rise up in me. I ask questions. I dream. I let a sentence in the book I am reading send me off into uncharted reveries. Invariably the muse moves the pen. Holiday writings are charming things. They are never for publication. They are the celebration of a mood or a flash of inspiration, something the sea breezes brought in, some mild gift of the horizon. It is writing as play, writing that intensifies the quiet joys of freedom.
By the end of the first week I would have walked more than in months back home. Then one morning, we return.
Holiday is a swift dream lived slowly.
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, CN Traveller reports