Image credits: Annabel Elston
It's fair to say that I spent a good part of my year's sojourn in Cornwall seated on public transportation of one kind or another. Whether bus, train, or ferry – having no car of my own left me at the mercy of disgruntled bus drivers, timetables that might as well have been written in Cornish and windows that I could never get opened in the summertime, or closed in the winter.
You might think this was a great trial to my car-dependent American spirit. What is America, after all, but a democracy of drivers? Drive-thrus, freeways, interstates, toll roads – America is the place that was built not just around the automobile, but for the automobile. In the mid-west for instance, where I grew up, you wouldn't be able to get anywhere with public transportation for the simple reason that it just doesn't exist. Cities are one thing, but for most of the American public, a car is as necessary to the pursuit of happiness as is, say, the ability to read.
Perhaps it was this very dependence that leant my year of riding buses a feeling of liberation and adventure. Sure, there were lots of places I just couldn't get to unless I wanted to walk unspeakable distances. My day was often dictated by arrival and departure times. But I also was able to spend vast amounts of time just sitting and staring out the window as I traversed down roads and passed through villages that I never would have dreamed existed, let alone of finding on my own.
There was the giddy sense of astonishment that always came when two buses passed within inches of one another on a narrow country road, or the dizzying perspective granted from the top floor of a double decker. There was the unexpected glimpse of coastline or the brief view into someone's life as you passed by their cottage window in the twilight, their television flickering somewhere in the background.
Additionally, I met the most fascinating people. I overheard conversations that I will never forget to my dying day – like the boy who mixed up the location for his rugby team's annual fancy dress (costume) party and showed up to the weekly meeting of the Women's Institute instead, clad in ladies high heels, a daringly low cut dress and a blond wig. (I never heard who was more surprised – him or them.)
I read a good deal more books in a year than I previously thought possible. I did a lot of walking. I learned how to slow down and wait. I learned the hard way that buses in rural places don't stop unless you hail them. But more than anything else, I felt a part of things. Something I never could have experienced from the comfortable solitude of my own vehicle. And so, while you could rent a car – if you really want to experience Cornwall as if it were your own, you'd be much better off on a bus. You just never know where one might take you.
About the author:
Danielle Charles-Davies is an American writer and self-professed anglophile. In 2012, she upped her entire family – cats and all – to the other side of the Atlantic for a year-long working vacation in Cornwall.
All images by photographer Annabel Elston