Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rambles Beyond Railways - Wilkie Collins

Rambles Beyond Railways is Wilkie Collins’s account of a walking tour through Cornwall in 1850. He just made it before the railways though because a note written for the second edition refuses to apologise for his title, now out of date. This is a very good humoured book. Wilkie & his artist companion, Henry Brandling, want to see everything of note in the county. They are objects of pity & amusement to the locals who can’t understand why gentlemen who can afford to travel by coach or horseback, choose to walk. Nevertheless, they are cheered by the kindness & hospitality of the people they meet on their travels. They visit all the well-known towns & villages, St Ives, Liskeard, the pilchard fisheries along the coast, Loo Pool & the Lizard Head.

One of their most fascinating expeditions is their visit to Botallack Mine, a copper mine on the coast where most of the workings & shafts are hundreds of feet  beneath the sea. The excursion begins amusingly with Wilkie being fitted out by a gigantic miner in the appropriate clothing for a trip down a hot, dirty mine. When the miner has obligingly hoisted Wilkie’s trousers up under his armpits & folded over his sleeves several times, he’s ready at last to descend into the mine. They descend ladders until they reach a depth of 420 feet but this isn’t the bottom of the mine. The shafts descend for hundreds more feet & spread out beneath the ocean for hundreds more. They decide that they’ve gone far enough, trying to imagine the miners working for 8 hour shifts in such hot, moist, dirty conditions, and thankfully ascend to the surface.

They are amazed by famous natural phenomena like the Cheese Wring (photo above from, a pile of stones that seems to defy gravity as it balances precariously with the smallest stones at the bottom of the pile & huge stones on top. I could sympathise with Wilkie as he gingerly stood under the overhanging stones fearing they might topple over & crush him at any minute. Kynance Cove is famous for the water spout known as the Devil’s Bellows & the Devil’s Throat emits an eerie groan as the water rushes into it. The history of St Michael’s Mount (photo below from  is told through a series of “dissolving pictures” that take the reader from the earliest Stone Age people of the area through medieval times when the monastery was built to modern times.

I read this book on my e-reader & I can see I’m going to have to take a lot more notes to review an e-book than a printed book where I can flick back & forth & leave post-it notes on pages I want to quote or remember. It’s been quite tedious trying to remember placenames & find details again. Still, I couldn’t have easily read this book without the e-reader. Finding pictures to illustrate the post will also be more challenging without the cover of the book to photograph. Still, as a first test of the e-reader, it was very successful. I think I’ve been converted!

* Thank you to everyone who told me that the picture of St Michael's Mount in the original post was actually Mont St Michel in France! I've replaced it with the Cornish Mount by Turner.


  1. I've got this on my tbr pile and, coming from that area, am looking forward to reading it. Sounds wonderful. Thanks for the review.

    Is that St. Michael's Mount? It looks a bit more like Mont St. Michael in France, but perhaps it's the angle it's been taken from.

  2. I read this when I was in Cornwall this year and we had just been to see the Cheesewrings. I have a print on demand cop of it.

  3. Lyn, Cath is right I'm afraid that isn't St. Michael's Mount. I can say that with authority because we can see it from our house and because my fiance grew up on the Mount!

    It is indeed a lovely book, and I hope you can track down a copy one way and can see the wonderful prints.

  4. Wonderful Lyn, and how amazing that you have 'visited', via a book, somewhere on my doorstep and far more thoroughly than we have done. We did walk across to St Michael's Mount when the children were small but I seem to recall we were nervous wrecks about the tide coming in and getting stranded.It's my one issue with the e reader, I can bookmark pages but being a marginalia person I have to keep a notebook to hand.

  5. Cath & Fleur, of course you're right! I've replaced it with another picture of the right Mount this time. Fleur, my e-book did have the original prints in it which was lovely. I wish there had been more of them. Verity, it was your review that made me want to read it. Lynne, I'd be afraid of the tide as well. I feel my review was a little thinner than usual because I didn't have a notebook with me. My memory isn't as good as I think it is.

  6. There really is no need to fear the tide if you visit the Mount - there are regular boats for islanders and visitors!

  7. Have there always been boats for visitors Fleur? I'm sure back in the 1980's we were definitely under the impression we'd be stuck there!