Saturday, 21 April 2007

Week 11 : Cayucos To Hearst Castle, San Simeon

Leaving the pier at Cayucos behind, Amy and I followed the Cabrillo Highway heading North-West. At times the sea was our companion, at times it melted away behind low hills and rocky outcrops. For a couple of days we enjoyed the comparative solitude of this part of Central California. There was always plenty of traffic on the highway, but if you left that behind and followed one of the many paths which ran parallel to the main road you were alone with your dog and your thoughts and a hundred screeching sea birds. One felt at harmony with nature and therefore it was quite appropriate that after two days we entered the “town” of Harmony.

Harmony, California has a population of just 18 and consists of no more than one short street and a few tin-roofed houses. But with at least four websites, it must have one of the highest ratios of websites to population of anywhere in the world. Founded in the mid-nineteenth century as a creamery, during its early years Harmony was anything but harmonious. Rivalries and feuding amongst dairy farmers led to at least one shooting after which a truce was called and a co-operative dairy was established in the town. During its heyday it was a thriving community with a store, livery stable, post office and schoolhouse. After the dairy was moved to San Luis Obispo in the 1950s the town went into decline and was largely abandoned for many years. Restoration began in the 1970s and today Harmony is a small artist and artisan community. According to one of its
websites, the activities available in Harmony are “viewing art, drinking wine and shopping”. Recently, the glass artist, Carl Radke, closed his Pheonix Studio in the town so that just leaves drinking wine and shopping. As Amy and I are both reticent shoppers at the best of times, we headed for Harmony Cellars Winery. We settled down under the Gazebo, soaking up the warm Californian sun with a glass of their 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon (OK in Amy’s case it was a small saucer). She is developing a good nose for wine and confidently told me that there were intense cherry aromas with hints of mild spices, and a soft toastiness of a finish which came from French oak aging. You have to give her credit, she is quite some dog.

Leaving Harmony behind we continued on towards the town of Cambria which, although still being a relatively small place, is still some 35 times bigger than Harmony. The town is divided into three quarters (if you will excuse the contradiction) : the East Village which is composed of “beautiful old Victorian houses” (they fight a war of independence only to name their styles after our bloody monarchs); the West Village which is composed of “charming old Victorian houses”; and Moonstone Beach and Drive which one assumes is neither beautiful nor charming. Actually, that is unfair as it seems a lovely place. Rather than the more common white sandy beaches of southern California, Moonstone Beach is made up of small pebbles, polished smooth by the sea. It takes its name from the moonstone, a form of orthoclase feldspar, which is usually polished as a cabochon (whatever that is), and is often carved with a moon face. If you are lucky these can be found on the beach, washed up and polished by the Pacific waves.

According to the splendidly-named
Wyrdology website, the Romans believed that moonstones were formed from drops of moonlight. As such they are attributed with those properties traditionally associated with the moon: romance, femininity, intuition, dreams, the emotions, etc. Many cultures believe the moonstone to be a calming, healing stone and it has sometimes been said to allow a glimpse of the future. Amy was keen to get in touch with her feminine side and I was keen to know what the weather would be like next week (we had a long walk planned) so we spent some time searching the beach for moonstones. We didn’t find any so we went and had a burger and fries instead.

One of the best features of this bit of the coast is the Moonstone Beach Boardwalk. Boardwalks are very much an American thing and I was keen to experience one. I can do no better than to quote from Monica Tarzier of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club who
describes her walk along the Boardwalk.

“The morning is quiet, cool, damp. We cross Moonstone Beach Drive to access the boardwalk, which skirts the beach for a civilized walk of approximately three quarters of a mile one way. Dogs are allowed on leash. Our walk is lined with baccharis, mustard in flower, sage, oxalis, and cultivars such as dusty miller and rock rose. Monterey cypress creates a lush canopy over the boardwalk in several places”.

Thank you Monica, I couldn’t have described it better myself!

By the end of the week we arrive in San Simeon. Whilst much of this walk is something of an aimless wander, I have to admit I had been purposely heading for San Simeon for a good few weeks. For one thing, it marks the exact midway point between Los Angeles and San Francisco. For another it marks the location of what must be one of the strangest places in the United States. In the early evening, Amy and I rest by the main coastal road watching the zebras grazing in the field (yes, zebras) and looking up towards the wonders of Hearst Castle. But our exploration of this incredible building must wait until Week 12.

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