`IT'S those Americans who are holding up the line. They don't know how to pour tea,'' said the man in front of us. My brother-in-law chuckled inwardly as he looked toward the beginning of the line where his wife and daughter were pouring their after-dinner tea. ``I can understand that,'' he replied. ``I'm an American myself.''
Our party of five was spending two nights at Droskyn Castle in Perranporth, a small resort town on the Cornish coast of England. My husband and I were drawn to the Cornish coast by an interest in walking the coastal paths that follow many miles of the English shoreline.
The previous summer we had taken a teasingly short evening walk on the chalky cliffs of the Dorset coast, near Lulworth Cove and the Durdle Door, a large arch carved in the rock by the sea. That's Thomas Hardy country, and the Durdle Door is mentioned in his ``Far From the Madding Crowd.'' Remembering that walk and Cornish coast scenes from the movie ``Rebecca'' and TV's ``Poldark,'' we reserved rooms at Droskyn Castle, with members of the Countrywide Holiday Association as hosts.
The association was founded in 1893 to provide hikers with inexpensive centers where they might stay as a base for exploring the countryside. There are now 14 centers run by the association. In addition to hiking holidays, the association has pioneered the special-interest holiday for pursuing a hobby such as painting, bird watching, photography, dancing, and bridge. Vintage holidays are offered to those over 50.
At each center there are hikes geared to several grades of walking ability. Guests are taken by bus on excursions from the centers, and hiking holidays on the continent are available as well. Although we found most of the guests at Droskyn Castle middle-aged and beyond, there was one family with young children. Special programs for youth are offered at other centers.
Droskyn Castle, situated impressively at cliff's edge, is hardly a true castle, despite its crenelated roofline. We weren't greeted at the door by a Judith Anderson look-alike, nor was the sea storm-tossed that evening. But we did find modest accommodations at modest prices and no locks on the bedroom doors. The fee included two well-cooked meals served family style, plus a generously packed lunch for each day's outing.
Mealtime presented an opportunity for us to become acquainted with the British guests. Our party usually separated, sitting where spaces were available, an arrangement we found agreeable.
The majority of the guests were spending a week or two in this one location, taking advantage of the various activities and excursions offered throughout the week. Some had come to paint with the resident art teacher. Americans were something of a curiosity here. In looking over the guest book we discovered that only one American, a New Yorker, had stayed at the hotel the previous year.
It so happened that our one full day at Droskyn Castle was a Wednesday, a day off when no hikes or bus excursions were scheduled. No matter. My husband and I had come to walk the coastal path, and that's what we did. The rest of our party drove toward Falmouth to look for Pendennis Castle, a real castle.
We headed north on the wide, three-mile-long beach that was backed by high, rocky cliffs bearing evidence of the former tin mining operations where men, women, and children labored in dark, damp man-made caves. At the northern end of the beach we were directed by two sunbathers to a place where we could easily climb the rocks up to the headlands where the coastal path continued.
Although the coastline resembled that of Dorset with its walk- ways high above the sea, it lacked Dorset's pristine quality. The Cornish cliffs are dotted with fenced-off danger areas near old fortifications or where the ground had collapsed into mines below. Somewhere in the area is a sand-covered 7th-century church, the location marked by a plaque. St. Piran's Church was buried in the 11th century by shifting sand, rediscovered in the 19th century, and reburied as a means of protecting it from vandals.
It was a clear day in June, England's sunniest month. The sea sparkled, and wildflowers abounded in the grassy headlands. We enjoyed our hearty lunch perched high above the rolling waves that crashed on the rocks below.
Our goal was to reach Hollywell, the next village. There we found that the local pub was open and enjoyed congenial conversation with the publican and several patrons before heading back to Perranporth.
An early evening dinner was served so that guests could attend the floral dance in the village. Floral dances are traditional in many English villages, but this was to be the first in Perranporth. Since we left the castle a little late, we only saw a row of young girls in white dresses dancing to ``One, two, three, hop!'' from the hillside trail. Then it was over.
So much for evening entertainment in Perranporth!
The rest of the evening we spent people-watching, discussing the English educational system with a local police officer, and browsing in the shops.
Then we climbed the steep hill to our seaside castle, ready to call it a day. If you go
Membership in the Countrywide Holidays Association is open to all, though it's not a requirement for staying at the centers, dotted throughout rural England and Scotland. Write to the association at Birch Heys, Cromwell Range, Manchester M14 6HU, England. A similar organization, HF Holidays Ltd., has more than 30 centers in England, Scotland, and Wales. Write HF Holidays, 142/144 Great North Way, London NW4 1EG, England.
Ramblers Holidays Ltd. offers walking holidays on five continents, many of which are geared to special interests and include programs for seniors. The address is Box 43, Welwyn Garden City, Herts AL8 6PQ, England.
One can also call the British Tourist Authority in major United States cities, for more information.