Travel Journal May 4, 1999


Tintagel castle is the legendary birthplace of King Arthur. Merlin is said to have supervised the event, although I think that if Merlin was trying to bring about the "absent father motif" found in many hero legends, he could have come up with a less convoluted way to go about it. While there is a wealth of evidence available at Tintagel, none of it supports the Arthur/Merlin legend.

The rock in Cornwall is mostly serpentine; close up it looks almost exactly like oak.


Corwall is also "blessed" with many small coves, suitable for pirates to hide out in.

Here's the castle itself, which is only a few hundred years old, although this site has been fortified much longer. Part of it has fallen into the sea. Much of the castle is currently covered with scaffolding, there being some restoration work in progress.


The construction workers were hauling up materials using a motorized rope sling.

The castle itself is oddly placed...part of it is on the mainland, and part is on a near-island (near because there's a tiny ridge connecting the two). Here's the view from atop that island-like peak.

The landscape in Cornwall is different from other parts of the country; Occasionally you see modern-style windmills, of a style similar to those seen in Livermore valley.


St. Ives

Here's a scene overlooking St. Ives. Corwall is particularly known for it's cream, which is as thick as margerine. I had a creme tea in one of the shops, it was delicious. I also had some creamy fudge, but it was simply too sweet for me.

St. Ives also has a lot of interesting clothing shops, of the sort that you might find in Malibu or San Luis Obisbo.



Next, was the Museum of Submarine Telegraphy, at Porthcurno, near Land's End. For those of you who read Wired magazine, Porthcurno was one of the places that Neal Stephenson visited in his massive "Wiring the Planet" article about the laying of transatlantic cables. Since Stephenson's "hacker tourism" was one of the inspirations for my own journey, I knew that this was one of the places I had to visit. Also, I was thoroughly in need of grounding (pun intended) at this point.

Here's the beach. As you can see, it's a narrow stretch of sand wedged inbetween two rocky cliffs. The rock stairs lead up to the Mintack theatre, a modern and very artsy amphitheatre which is the primary non-geek attraction of Porthcurno. However, I was interested in more technical pursuits.


Here's the famous "telephone cable" sign mentioned in the article.

This white building isn't the museum proper, but it is where you pay admission. The museum itself is in a set of tunnels.


Inside, it's a Victorian wizard's lab. Multitudinous displays of ancient telegrapy equipment, some of it quite complex and much of it in working order.


I had a long talk with the gentleman who was demonstrating the equipment. We had a long discussion about mirror galvenometers, which was invented by William Thompson, a.k.a. Lord Kelvin, to detect sensitive currents running through submarine cables. A tiny current can deflect the position of the mirror, causing movement of the light beam. He was surprised to learn from me that mirror galvenometers are still in use today - in laser light shows such as Lasarium.


Many of these devices can record a telegraphed message on a paper tape.

This device allowed you to send a signal by dialing the letters you wanted. Personally, I think that the user interface needs some work.

A marconi-style radio transmitter.

Another strange device in a display case, probably an early generator of static electricity.

Various cable sections.

Some of the devices can even be "programmed", that is they can send a prerecorded message stored on punched paper tape. It's fascinating to watch all of the gears and spindles inside - remember, the engineers who built these things had neither vaccuum tubes or transistors, the only electrical amplification they had was relays. In many cases, they used mechanical amplification, such as a tiny electrical solenoid causing a clutch to quickly engage and disengage. What you have then is a machine which appears to "stutter" in time with the incoming telegraph signal.

The syncronized clocks. The ticking of each pendulum closes a contact, which sends a signal to another clock (perhaps somewhere else in the world). The signal is amplified via relay, and then used to magnetically deflect the movement of the pendulum, so that it is in sync with the first clock.

As you take the tour, the machines get more and more sophisticated. Some of them are almost small computers, but they are all electro-mechanical.


For example, this machine is tracing an electrical signal onto a paper tape. There a whisker-thin glass tube which is animated by a magnet, and this tube is filled with ink.


Land's End

Land's End is mostly gift shops and "Star Tours" style rides.


However, the scenery is worth seeing.


Mount St. Michael, a monastary which is connected to the mainland by a thin land bridge that is only traversable at low tide. (It's interesting that there is a similar monastary in France, also called Mon San Michel, which is also connected by a land bridge traversable at low tide...)


Here's a section of road that I thought was rather pretty.

I stayed at a rather nice B&B near Goonhilly, but I can't find the card where I wrote down the name. Sorry, Rick...