I lead a curious life, so it will not surprise you that a short while ago I stood on a wind farm in California chatting to the farmer. I had been there for over an hour and, needless to say (wind farming being rather a predictable activity), the conversation was flagging. The female farmer and I looked up at the turbine fans spinning over our heads and I could think of no more bon mots. "Do the machines need much looking after?" I finally managed. The woman nodded, years of cultivating the air evident in her lined face, "They need an annual service," she said, "...about once a year."
I had been travelling across the United States on and off for two years, writing a book about my search for old classmates from my high school days in New York. In that moment I thought perhaps I had had enough of being in that vast land divided from Britain by a common language. One month after publication I was taking a break. I was free to go where I liked, and I chose to go to America. To stay with one of the old chums, to go back again to the homeland of my childhood. The fact is, I can't keep away. As the Americans say, "Go figure".
Fortunately, Anne, the woman I was going to visit, had read my book of "friends reunited" and thought it was "hilarious". I was free to stay with her and her partner Barbara, and not worry about lawyers or hired assassins being present. "Stay at our house on the Cape," she said. How romantic, I thought. Anne e-mailed me directions. "It's in Truro. On Gospel Path. Off Snow Field. It's easy to miss. If you feel dirt under the tires then you're in the field."
This sounded impossible to me. I have been to Cape Cod before and it is a busy place of holidaymakers, artists and retired therapists from Boston. The notion that there are any back roads or dirt left had certainly passed me by on my last trip. I checked for the town of Truro in my guidebook and it didn't even get a mention. Everyone suggested you pass through John F Kennedy country in Hyannis Port at the beginning of the Cape, take Route 6 north and keep going till you hit water just off Provincetown where the eastern seaboard slips away into the ocean. No one talked of Truro, and I am not sure I should now. I am not sure I want others to go there, for the land is the genuine article of gorgeous, wild and unspoilt. A place where the world gets back to the primeval basics of sea, sand and sky.
Henry David Thoreau, in a work on the area called Cape Cod (how did he ever think of the title?), referred to the small, narrow land of Truro as the "wrist" of the cape. Lying south of the crook of the peninsula between the relaxed gay life of Provincetown and the endless art galleries of Wellfleet, Truro is 21 miles long but in some places less than half a mile wide. On the highway, visitors zip by en route to Provincetown for whale-watching or male-watching depending on their personal preferences. Yet in doing so they miss out where modern America began. The first place where the pilgrims sipped fresh water, where they found a cache of Indian corn to sustain them and first stood to view their long-anticipated new land. Only in Truro is it possible to still get some sense of what that must have been like - and for once you have to thank government interference.
About 70 per cent of the land is designated as protected National Seashore. Nobody came and put industry here, so you get the stuff of Mother Nature's best adverts - sprawling woodland, deserted white beaches and undulating hills strewn with wildflowers, berries and the red, yellow and purple of the native beach plums. Sounds good, right? OK, the downside is that you need to be determined.
I phoned Anne and Barbara, who were still in Boston. "I can't find a map with all the streets of Truro on." "No, that would be right," they replied. "Follow the street names or just follow your nose. …