Oof, I’ve fallen quite behind in the old travelogue. Mostly this is because of a barrage of quite busy days combined with questionable or non-existent internet. Overall we’ve been having a blast and have ended up seeing a lot more of the country than I’d really expected to. Continuing on from the previous post…
On Friday we decided to head a bit further afield in Cornwall by heading west. We didn’t quite get to Land’s End (and we’d heard it’s gotten super commercial and tacky anyway) but made it to Penzance before indulging in some proper Cornish Cream Tea. I have to say that the Cornish clotted cream is fantastic, at that point we had in on scones, but we’ve since also had it on various cakes and puddings as well. Before now I’ve actually only had it on a British Airways flight over a decade ago, the real thing is so much better.
On the way to Penzance we stopped at Pendennis castle in Falmouth. Originally a coastal keep for Henry VIII, it was various enlarged and modified right up until World War 2 where it was more of an AA battery than a coastal fortress. It has a fantastic view over the mouth of the harbour, displays of the various bits of weaponry as well as different buildings created during the various eras of the fort. The vast numbers of sailboats, fishing trawlers and oil tankers made looking through the gunsights on the shore guns a little more true to life. Sadly you weren’t able to traverse the big guns with the cranks.
After tea in Penzance we were actually pretty wiped so we started heading back planning to stop at St. Michael’s Mount but were foiled again by England’s terrible signage. We’d seen a few different signs for the turnoff on the way into town, on the way out there were either zero or only the tiniest of signs at the actual turnoff because we missed it. By the time we were sure it seemed best to head back home as Dad was getting quite tired and we didn’t need him drifting off and putting us off a cliff on the drive back. Back in Looe we ended up in another incredibly old pub, this time sharing space with various costumed weirdos who had just participated in a three-legged race for adults. Given that it was 18 plus and more than a few of them were tanked we got the feeling that pre and post game drinking was encouraged. Of particular note were a pair of Smurfettes, two bunches of grapes and some quite cute lego men.
The next day we ended up heading to Tintagel a beautiful castle site vaguely associated with the Arthur myth (but not really other than in a tourist sense of things.) There’s the remains of a much later castle that’s quite visible but the earlier castle site is a near empty plateau out on a tiny isthmus high above the sea. It’s quite a walk as you nearly walk down to the sea, then up narrow cliff inset steps to the top. An incredibly beautiful site but somewhat rampant with loud French school children on holiday. Down below by the seashore there is a cave running deep into the rocks, it’s actually the lower divide of the isthmus and is now known as Merlin’s Cave for reasons entirely random. Despite the shaky association I couldn’t resist buying a couple quite nerdy gifts for myself in the little giftshops before I navigated us down a different road in hopes of avoiding some of the traffic on the way out.
This turned out to be a stroke of luck as we ended up in the absolutely gorgeous little village of Boscastle. Nestled at the end of a very protected inlet it’s a tiny village with large chunks recently refurbished due to a devastating flash flood. In the visitor center we watched a video of the flood, it’s truly amazing no one was killed in it. I think the video is on youtube, really quite wild. If I end up back in Cornwall anytime soon I’ll likely end up staying there in one of the gorgeous B&B’s. We walked out to the coast along the inlet enjoying the gardens. If I could draw at all I probably could spend days out there. On the way back to Looe we headed across Bodwin moor and stopped for a pint at Jamaica Inn of Daphne DuMaurier novel fame. It’s not quite the isolated place it once was apparently and (though nice enough) was far from the most isolated old place we visited. Coming back into Looe it was the night of the Lions carnival ending the week of strange events but we managed to just miss it (but thankfully late enough that the roads were no longer blocked)
Thankfully we’d managed to again get an extra night in our current digs as the family friends were having a big lunch that we were invited to, it was nice to not have to take off afterwards to find new lodgings. Before lunch I got to visit with their donkeys, once they apparently had quite a few and were a sanctuary. Even now they have five donkeys and a mule, all adorable and attention seeking when you go in to pat them. The lunch itself was at one of the few small towns near Looe that we hadn’t yet visited. It was a great lunch at a sea side beach, gorgeous despite a grey day. After saying our goodbyes we went to a somewhat famous old fishing village called Polperro, ultra narrow streets (no one non-resident allowed to drive in) and lots of gift-shops/restaurants. There were a ton of very neat looking holiday rentals (many of which looked empty) that would make a fantastic place to spend a couple weeks. Still, there were so many rentals there that I wasn’t surprised to hear from our host back in Looe that the town is basically closed in winter.
Our plan for the rest of the night was to pack for the next day when we’d be leaving, apparently unsuccessfully. We later found out we left some of our laundry behind. Oddly enough (especially given the number of yachts and ships) there didn’t seem to be a laundromat in town. When they found out we needed to do some, one of the B&B owners went ahead and did our laundry for us. Ridiculous service, if anyone’s planning to head to Cornwall anytime soon I really recommend you check them out.
Once we finally hit the road we decided to explore northward by first heading up to the coast near Tintagel again and heading east across the Cornwall coast into Devon. Our main goal was to visit Clovelly, another narrow street seafront town. The difference with this one is that they use donkeys and sledges to import and export goods and refuse. Unfortunately my parent’s recollections of the place will have to do because the place rather ridiculously charges a fee roughly equivalent to $10cdn a head to enter the village. Apparently this is possible because the feudal lord’s family still owns more or less the entire village. I’m sure it’s pretty, but I’m also sure it’s not THAT different from the other places and $30 for the three of us even before buying lunch etc is Crazy McNuts.
Still, we visited a number of other gorgeous towns and villages before having to call it a night due to driver fatigue at a lonely inn at the top of a hill. This turned out to be the Blue Ball Inn, formerly known as the something or other sandpiper. The current incarnation opened in about 1800 as a coach inn and was called The Blue Ball for 180 years before some genius bought the place and decided to rename it (first to the blue bear inn) Perhaps this was due to the other meanings of blue ball, but seriously… 180 years of history trumps that. Despite the location it wasn’t cheap, but included a fantastic breakfast with their own raised pork sausages and bacon.
We actually had dinner there as well since Dad didn’t really feel up to driving back down the massive 25% hill to the village. This place really had the feeling that Jamaica Inn should have had. We even had a number of sheep wandering past the door bleating incredibly loudly. Given the fog rolling in I was actually pretty glad that we’d stopped after seeing the fuzzy little thing since there was no way we’d see them coming around corners. No idea how the dogs handle it though. That’s actually one of the weirdest things about Cornwall and Devon, pretty much any pub is happy for you to bring your (well behaved) dog into the pub with you or onto a patio. The innkeepers themselves had a couple dogs, once of which followed dad back up to the room after he went to the front desk the next morning. I heard a tail slapping the door as I had a shower and had flashbacks to home. Definitely miss the dogs, but having the occasional furball to give a pat helps.
The next morning we gunned fairly hard with only one big stop. This time it was at a castle though it was heavily remodelled so it should really be called a manor. We enjoyed the displays, most of the rooms have been kept as they were last used as a family home into the 50s. Before long we pressed on, hoping to get to Wales and have a couple days to look around. This was somewhat “interesting” though as my navigation basically consisted of some educated guessing of what might be a pretty region of Wales with somewhere to stay. It turns out I managed to stumble upon one of the prettiest sections of the south end of the country and we stayed a night near Brecon just outside the Brecon Beacons national park. We actually ended up driving a gorgeous road at sunset through the heart of the park common, basically a giant grazing area for thousands of sheep and more horses/ponies. Definitely kept dad on his toes driving since apparently the sheep feel the tastiest grass is the stuff right next to the road, but the views were very worth it. It’s the place in the UK most like New Zealand for me honestly. Rugged (if not massively tall) mountains and vast open plateaus. We ended up driving this road a few times and we loved it every time.
The next day was more of the same randomness. Starting from the Brecon place we took a spin down the wild road then stopped for a roughly two hour hike up to see some very pretty waterfalls on the edge of the park. It was quite a nice walk, until I slipped on some moss and went ass over tea kettle, managing to protect the expensive camera but hurting my thumb quite badly. I’ve since woken up with a sore back and hip as well, but of course this is the first time in a while that I haven’t had access to a bathtub to soak away my aches. Clumsy me L
We ended the day nearly all the way to the west coast of Wales in a small walled town on the coast called Tenby. It turned out to be a very neat little place, but it was the day of a Fireman’s carnival so again we just missed a parade and had some issues finding some place to spend the night. The seaside aspect pleased dad though as we had what was probably in the top two orders of Fish and chips for the trip (so far he says.) On my side I had to keep myself from laughing again at the girls coming into these pubs where all ages are eating and drinking who are all tarted up in short dresses and ridiculously over the top makeupfor a night on the town. It’s just not something you see as much in small towns back home, even in places where there’s no actual dance club type place.
Much as we would have enjoyed spending more time in Wales we have one more personal visit to make as well as a need to bring the rental car back in time, so we decided to head back into England the next morning. Thankfully we felt we had time for another castle stop, this time at Caerphilli. This place is a serious fortress and is even surrounded by restored water defences (and, somewhat incongruously to us, Canada Geese.) It’s very much a strategic fortress, built with multiple rings of defences and battle sight lines. It fell into ruin in the 16th century before being somewhat restored in the Victorian era, oddly enough by someone who made a point of using different stone so it was clear what was original and what wasn’t. These days the heritage folks have simply made the great hall livable for state events and preserved what’s left for safe viewing. The towers command imposing views of the surrounding town and you definitely get a taste of just how much command of the area archers lining the battlements would have had.
Once back in England we ended up in the Cotswolds area as planned to give ourselves some flexibility in our last few days. Oddly enough we’re very close to Swindon again and had we known might have been able to play with some earlier plans a bit. We had a fantastic meal at a little pub called the Mousetrap hereabouts tonight and we’re planning on spending tomorrow exploring somewhat randomly round the area. After which I really need to get off my butt and plan my post-parental departure meanderings.
That’s the lightning round version of the past week, more info to follow with pics about stuff that’s particularly interesting.