We ended up staying an extra day in the New Forest since the B&B had an opening for the next day and it was so nice. The next morning we took a trip down to Bournemouth to first stock up on some goodies for the room and the car before heading to the seaside. Summer holidays had just started for Brit kids though so it was quite busy. It was actually quite a nice beach though the water was fairly cold. Very British beach experience though, the shore being lined by miles of long beach sheds. Some of these are very involved with paintings and whatnot and some are little more than a place to change into your suit. In between these sheds (some of which are for rent and some which have apparently been in the family forever) there are ice cream shops or amusement arcades full of the terrible sort of coin gobbling “games” you only see in the worst midways over here. That said, we did through a few 10 and 20 pence coins into one of them but had no luck.
After walking back to the car via the surf (brrrr…) we traipsed back up the hill and into the car to hop along the coast to Highcliff Castle. This place is actually a manor house of sorts, built in the 1830s in the style of a much older home to encompass ancient stonework bought by the owner from medieval French buildings. It actually burned multiple times after being abandoned but over the past couple decades has been slowly restored. It’s now quite pretty again and actually one of Britain’s busier wedding sites. They had a good number of exhibits on the history of the castle and the various people who had owned and visited the place. It turned out to be quite a good random stop.
The next morning we got quite an early start and began somewhat of a marathon day by heading first to Swindon where my Great-Grandparents are buried and my mother spent 6 months during her childhood. We spent a few hours visiting an old friend of my grandmother’s before finding the gravesite and visiting a few landmarks with my mother. It was interesting to get to see a few of these places and get a bit of a window into the family’s past. Lots of things had changed since she was last there though, but she was able to find most of the locations she could remember.
Once we’d finished up there we headed on to Cornwall, again giving us a bit of scale we managed to cross a big chunk of southern England in all of 3 hours going from Swindon to Looe. This was also Tristan’s introduction to REALLY narrow English roads. We’d done a few narrow semi scary ones in the New Forest etc, but the final approach to Looe was a whole lot of the single lanes with massive hedges creating a canyon effect. We inadvertently took a B road approach which was a number of these narrow sections then a sudden dive down into a river canyon along narrow switchbacks before suddenly popping out onto a busy street filled with pedestrians and tourist traffic. Scary to get used to.
Looe itself is an ancient fishing port and center for the smuggling trade. It’s actually two little towns linked by a medieval bridge. In modern times it’s of course now relying as much on tourism as fishing (including fishing trips for tourists.) Our B&B turned out to be a beautiful old Georgian three story directly overlooking the tidal river that flows between the two halves. The joy of things being that this is of course an ancient town which in our modern world can easily be summed up by: lack of parking. We quickly unloaded the cases and had to transfer over to a car park about a 5-10 minute walk (dependent on busyness) from the place. Even a large number of the residents on this side of the river have to use the big lot but I expect they get a substantial discount. The B&B itself was quite nice and before long we were ensconced on the veranda with a drink poured enjoying the view, or as the host put it: “Watching nothing happen.”
Eventually we roused ourselves and went for a long walk round the town following the host’s advice and heading well down the restaurant row before we stopped at what turned out to be a quite good Thai place. Not spicey enough for my tastes (unsurprising in tame taste bud Britain) but lovely flavours. The couple that own it are an English man and his Thai wife, they run the restaurant most of the year then take off for Thailand in the winter. Can’t say I disagree with that choice of life. After a nice dinner we headed down to the shore of the channel again and walked along the waterfront and took some great photos. I particularly enjoyed a family of tourists playing around with a basketball at the beachfront hoop who were absolutely the most terrible players I’ve ever seen outside of a first grade class back home. I’m guessing their hotel had a ball and they went down for some fun but I’ve never seen so many creatively wrong ways to throw at the hoop.
We ended up finishing the night back on our side of the river at a pub called the Jolly Sailor which has apparently in been in operation since sometime around 1516. It’s one of the local’s pubs and in fact on the night in question it was local music night. A bunch of locals had brought down a wide variety of instruments and were playing their hearts out in turn. When we first arrived a quite talented man was playing irish flute with accompaniment. Despite the rather varying skill level of the rest of the musicians we would have liked to listen, sadly the only table available was near a table of germans who felt the need to talk incredibly loudly so you couldn’t hear a damned thing over them. We ended up giving up and moving to the farthest end of the bar. It was a pretty neat place, though of course my father smacked his head more than once on the low hanging beams that looked like ship lumber.
A bit later we returned to the B&B to find out the Cornish family friends had called the place to ask if we wanted to head out on a beach day with them the following morning. After a quick phone call we agreed to get an early start and join up with them to head out early. Thankfully our host was able to get our breakfast going early (this turned to be kind of unnecessary in the end as they weren’t really ready to go until long after we got there.) We ended up caravanning with them down to a gorgeous beach on the north coast that was absolutely swarmed with people. The Cornish coast is so rugged that the beaches tend to be smaller but deeper, apparently this one called Penzeath is often completely covered at high spring tide. After a ridiculously elaborate and tasty lunch round the back of the car we basked in an incredibly un-England sun for a while then dove into the cold waves. Between the swimming, sunning and everything else we ended up staying until long after most other people had left. We even grabbed a wood-fired pizza before a walk along the coast to finish the day. I absolutely understand why smuggling was (and maybe is) big business along the coast here. I keep saying rugged but it really is the best descriptor for it, notches and caves everywhere, long narrow inlets with high cliffs to keep out prying eyes.
We’ve thus far avoided driving much at night but we got an… interesting introduction to it. One of the A-roads we needed to take back was closed for works. We took the detour to start, but soon our friend took a winding garden road to bypass the bypass. Probably one of the scarier trips I’ve ever taken. Quite black everywhere, 7 foot wide road with other locals having the same idea in either direction. One particularly fun moment was a bridge labelled “weak bridge” that was apparently only 6 feet wide and had steel bars to keep you away from the weaker sides. My father isn’t really fantastic yet at the gear changes heading uphill so once or twice we fell behind and we became worried we’d lose our guide. I can’t imagine what we would have done since none of the turn offs were marked and it would have been a matter of wandering round single lane roads until we stumbled out onto a marked A road probably. Thankfully we eventually popped out onto a proper road and we waved goodbye to them at a place I knew and I navigated dad home in one piece. A quick drink and it was bedtime
It was time for a bit of a lie in the next morning so we slept in until *gasp* 8:45 before eventually heading out on a wandering trip to the ancestral home of my grandfather’s family in Fowey (pronounced Foye.) Along the way we stopped at the ruins of a 13th century castle with fantastic views. It’s apparently a favourite picnic spot and you can see why. It’s fantastically sited on a spire hill with a near 360 view that would only have better in the days when the trees would have been cleared for field of fire. After enjoying the view and exploring the castle we headed on to Fowey. Fowey was another interesting reminder of how non-hilly Winnipeg is as we had to go down at at least a 30 degree slope for a 15 minute walk or so. It’s a beautiful little town (I definitely prefer Looe though) with a number of touristy shops and restaurants and a bay full of sailboats. We checked out the shops and had a lunch Cornish pasty (amazing) sitting by the sea. It another lovely relaxing day but we’re hoping to perhaps go a bit farther tomorrow.
Tonight ended up being quite the experience as we went back to the Jolly Sailor for Sea Shanty night and spent 2 hours and a few ciders/beers singing along with the “Miner Quay” group. These guys knew their stuff and took us through any number of old tyme type chanties while explaining a lot of the history behind many of them. The ancient pub combined with the singing made for a quite special evening, especially with the help of the mega-powerful local cider.