Everything I wrote about my September holiday to West Cornwall can be seen, in chronological order, here.
All the photos can be seen in Cornwall photo album.
Blogposts about other holiday destinations are in the Holidays category
Everything I wrote about my September holiday to West Cornwall can be seen, in chronological order, here.
All the photos can be seen in Cornwall photo album.
Blogposts about other holiday destinations are in the Holidays category
It was the last day of our holiday. How to spend it? I had thoroughly enjoyed my Cornish holiday, with lots of great memories of beautiful places and fabulous food, and hundreds of photos. But I was also looking forward to being back in my own bed, and didn't feel I was in love with West Cornwall like I am with West Dorset.
Once again onto the Lizard Peninsular and to the remote village of St Keverne. Very pretty, it has an impressive church (we didn't visit), two pubs (we didn't visit), a Temperance Hall (you get the picture). Post Office, General Store, and Community Fire Station. But to my surprise, it's not by the sea, so we didn't linger and I didn't take photos.
Onwards to Porthallow, once the centre of the pilchard industry. The pilchard is now called the Cornish Sardine and according to this article from ten years ago was undergoing a renaissance. More here, and I've seen features on TV that suggest that Cornish Sardines are thriving - although I know the Cornish fishing industry was hit hard by the recent winter storms.
When we arrived we pretty much had the beach to ourselves and we sat there for a while, relaxing. By now I was pretty bored of taking pictures of waves crashing against rocks, and in any case, the sea was relatively still. So I spent some time taking shots of the small details of the intertidal zone. The results are a bit mixed but overall quite pleasing.
It was lovely to sit and relax on the beach with no one else around, but we weren't disturbed by the colourful arrival of kayakers - a couple taking a lesson, as far as I could tell. Once landed they didn't stay long.
Later we were joined by a swan
As we left the car park, some people were taking each other's photographs next to a sign. The sign marked the exact halfway point of the South West Coast Path. For a moment, I considered leaping out of the car to take the same photo, but I imagined many people will have done so, such as this one. The South West Coast Path is 630 miles from Minehead in Somerset round the craggy coasts of Devon and Cornwall (North and South) and onto Poole in Dorset.
Our next stop, and the last place we visited on our holiday was Coverack. That was in September; the village appears to have changed significantly since - see Damage to the Sea Wall, April News from Coverack and video of the 14th February storm.
We parked up and went into the gift shop. I bought a book about the legend of Tristan and Iseult. I haven't read it yet. Next stop was the Harbour Lights café and bistro. What a lovely place with a good selection of home-cooked foods. I opted for a crab sandwich. We started by sitting outside, with a view over the bay, but ultimately, being that time of year, we were defeated by wasps and had to retreat indoors. (Also the arrival of a behaviourally disturbed child and his younger-than-me-grandparents).
We walked along the seafront. The map described it as a picturesque village, so I took pictures but didn't really do it justice.
It was low tide when we passed the harbour. I reflected that the flood tide must be impressive to allow the boats in and out across some rocks that appeared to block the harbour.
The lifeboat station is n longer used, but they appear to keep a boat there just in case.
At the top of the hill is a pub called the SS Paris, named after a liner that ran aground on The Manacles rock just round the coast. After a pint, we walked back down the hill, passing more picturesque housing.
We also passed a group of four tourists who were in the middle of expressing outrage. One of them had been walking along, minding her own business, eating a Cornish pasty, when a giant seagull swooped and stole the pasty from right out of her hand. I did laugh, though feeling certain that if I had been such a victim my outrage would have equalled or exceeded hers!
The tide had risen and the harbour was once again working. We watched the Kindly Light, registered in Berwick on Tweed - the furthest point of England from Cornwall - landing her catch. The load was winched up by a crane on the quay.
We returned to the car, and back to the holiday let in Marazion, for an early start and a long drive home the next day.
We were staying in Marazion, almost opposite the causeway to St Michael's Mount.
The next day we walked Eastwards, two days later Westwards. I was then officially bored of photos of St Michael's Mount. But, like Everest, it was there, and on a particularly gloomy day towards the end of the holiday, we walked across, and walked back again. Just to say we had been.
Neither of us has any interest in being charged to see the household artefacts of some non-descript family of the squirearchy class. Yes, your ancestors had money, and generally you're pretty circumspect about how they came about it, so we'll assume, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that you came about it by exploiting or oppressing my ancestors or their local equivalents, or by being on the winning side of a power struggle (probably armed and deadly). So, I see no reason to admire you just because you're descended from such people. Quite the contrary.
We returned to town and lazed the rest of the day away until dinner!
We missed the main turn off and approached on very minor roads. Just outside the village was a sign saying that the slope was a 25% descent. Jimmy has very good clutch control!
We had to drive through the village and up another very steep road to reach the car park. Of course, if you drive up from a village to a car park, your next step is to walk down a steep hill to the village - and not think too much about the return walk!
He went to 'pay and display' and I took photographs of butterflies on flowers (or weeds!).
The footpath to the beach lay between picturesque Thatched Cottages, and past a small church that was, basically, a tin hut.
One man went far too close to the fishing boat in order to get that one photo he thinks will be special. 'Too close' because I think it's quite rude to assume that someone going about their everyday job necessarily wants to be the subject of a tourist close snapshot. It can be quite annoying, too, for someone who's working to have some fool getting in the way.
I was amused by the seagulls, waiting to pick up scraps of fish left by the fisherman. I thought that. being seagulls, they were supposed to catch their own fish ("you had one job", and all that).
I was amused, too, by a woman who was struggling to walk in flip-flops on the shingle beach. She wasn't old - maybe in her 30s - and she had to cling to her partner not only to walk on the shingles but even to get up the steps to her (presumably holiday let) beachside cottage. Do men find that level of patheticness attractive?
We had a wander down to the beach. It is lovely village, although ruined, to some extent, by being geared towards and tourists and full of them, but who am I to complain!
It was a day of glorious sunshine and quite some heat, but we had to depart earlier than I would have liked because we had another 6.30 dinner booking. I had rung up and asked for a 7.30 table but they said they couldn't fit us in. I assumed they would be full but it wasn't full even we left at about half eight, and, frankly, there was a distinct lack of atmosphere pretty much until we were onto the pudding. We were the only customers for the first half hour, nothing quite says 'pariah' like that
The restuarant was the Victoria Inn in Perranuthnoe, which we had visited the first week, too. In my diary I wrote "Can't fault it, except in tiny details". I wrote at length about the lack of atmosphere, and, I'm afraid, that's my abiding memory. The other faults were that they offer you bread before the meal but give the strong impression that you are strictly limited to one piece - and there is no butter knife separate from the starter knife.
I started with salmon gravadlax and smoked mackerel pate.
My main was Roast Plaice with minted peas and 'real' chips
Both were very good, if rather straightforward and not overly-exciting.
The highlight was Ginger cake, with an oomph of a ginger hit, and malt ice-cream. I've never had that flavour before and particularly enjoyed the chips of malted 'starchy stuff' (according to my diary!). Wine was a French Rosé made by a Cornishman in Provence.
When looking on Trip Advisor and other sites, The Mount Haven hotel ranked high among restaurants in Marazion. IIt has two AA rosettes, as does Blake's in Bournemouth, Wild Thyme Chipping Norton and Lythe Hill near Haslemere (not yet blogged), whereas Ben's in Marazion and the Victoria in Perranuthnoe has one rosette. The Trinity in Clapham has three rosettes as do several Michelin star restaurants.
Admittedly, the day we visited the weather was dirty, lashing it down and blowing. But in the middle of September, when the child-free holiday, I would have thought Sunday lunch in a decent hotel would be a popular move. In retrospect, I should have been alerted by the over eager voice when I called after 11 for a 1pm table. I was rather expecting a 'no' or a grudging 'I think I can fit you in'.
When we arrived it was guesswork how to get in - round the back, on the seaview side, but we chose the wrong level. A couple sitting near the French windows directed us with pointing and body language.
We were welcomed, seated in the bar and presented with tatty-looking menus, an A4 cardboard cover divided longways, holding typed pages of the day's menu. Except, the waiter explained, the Scallop and mussel St Jacques had become Moules Mariniere; spinach would be replaced by tenderstem broccoli, and puddings, which included 'Eton Tidy' were actually chocolate torte and coffee creme brulee.
I was pleased to escape the bar, reminscent of a funeral parlour, and be led to the restaurant. However, there were only three parties and we were sat at adjacent tables. One party left as we were served our starters. The other party wanted to talk. There was nothing obnoxious or unpleasant about them, but with no other diners and no background music, their conversation was intrusive. Conversely, this atmosphere made us clam up, not wanting our conversation to be overheard.
My food was fine, noting in my diary it was somewhere between adequate and good enough and Jimmy enjoyed his, appreciating his venison in particular. I'm not sure if it's the same dish that Gregg Wallace described as "a magical mystery tour of flavours" when the chef reached the semis of Masterchef: The Professionals. However, he was disappointed that it was served with just a small amount of heavily reduced jus and no gravy. As were were leaving, one of the staff confided in me that they hadn't made enough sauce the previous day and chef went mad because it takes several hours to make. Staff wise, they were all very polite, but it was an odd combination of the over-enthusiastic, the over-sharing, and the over-nervous.
I left the place bemused. There was nothing wrong with the place but there was no 'wow' factor in the food. It wasn't unpleasant but it wasn't really enjoyable, either, and it was the most disappointing meal of our holiday, failing to live up to 4.5 on Trip Advisor (with glowing praise) and the 2 AA rosettes.
According to their website, The Times says Quite possibly the most perfectly located hotel in the whole of Cornwall. CNN says One of the best 9 secret hotels in the world. Perhaps The Telegraph meant something by saying It's all about the view.
We were very lucky with the weather. Gloomy when we set off, bright for the journey, heavy shower when we stepped out of the car, and bright again by the time we had finished coffee, and increasingly sunny and warm throughout the rest of the day.
It isn't possible to drive to the Point, so the Village Green is given over to parking. A shame for the Village Green but great for small independent businesses and a pleasant stroll down to the sea.
I don't think we walked the right way to the Coastal Path. I followed signs, and it started off okay, along a road lined with houses on one side and a field and views on the other. I was convinced I saw something that appeared to be a reptile, a lizard perhaps, but it ran under a car before I could photograph it. The Lizard peninsular has no connection to lizards or any other type of reptiles. The dominant geology is Serpentinite rocks, which has no connection to snakes, but derives from the metamorphic process that formed them.
At a junction, we had to make a decision and I chose 'Bridlepath'. This got us to the Coastal Path, but I could not imagine taking a horse down there. Narrow, a hedgerow rich with insects - butterflies and dragonflies rather than wasps, thankfully - steep, and uneven underfoot.Worth it for the view, though!
We reached a small bend in the Coastal Path overlooking a rocky cove. At the time I wrote "I have come to the conclusion that you simply can't have too many photos of waves breaking against rocks", but, after I had edited all my holiday photos, I revised this opinion!
We paused at a viewpoint from where the previous occupants had spotted a seal, but Jimmy hates seals. This stems from our 2003 Scotland holiday when we went on not one but two boat trips that included close-ups of seal colonies that stunk to high heaven!
The coastal path took us above the disused and rotting lifeboat station. This closed in 1961 and was relocated to a less rocky part of the coast.
Wikipedia article on the various Lizard Lifeboat Stations.
There is a board commemorating the wreck of the SS Suevic in March 1907. This resulted in the largest rescue in the RNLI's history - over 500 people rescued, with no loss of life. The Independent published an article to mark the anniversary:
the captain of the Suevic who conducted the evacuation while calmly smoking his cigar, not once letting the ash fall to the ground
We stopped off at the Wave Crest café, a little gem, serving Teapigs in a pot and a selection of home-baked cakes: I had a tasty fresh slice of almond and cherry cake.
Around the corner was the actual Lizard Point and suddenly dozens if not hundreds of people. Previously we had met relatively few people, all with sensible shoes, sensible cameras, sensible clothes. But at the epicentre of the tourist spot are people who make you wonder why they're their. Shoes more suitable for trudging round shopping precincts or hanging out in nightclubs. Possibly only stepping out of the car to take an Applephone snap and tick somewhere else off the list.
Of course one shouldn't judge - every individual's circumstances are different and private. For example, I saw a woman in the car park, struggling to walk. She was about my age and I would guess that she suffered from some arthritic or rheumatic disorder. I noticed that she wore fashion court shoes. Albeit flat, but with no cushioning and they appeared to be too tight for her feet. I often have problems walking, and have found that wearing solid supportive cushioned walking boots make a massive difference. I often find a walking pole helps, too. So I find examples such as this woman frustrating and I have to resist the urge to offer advice. My comments from sadness not from anger or judgementalism.
We walked to the Lighthouse but didn't go in. It was such a gloriously hot day it seemed a pity to waste it.
I concluded there are few experiences that beat a clifftop walk in bright sunshine, especially when the sun is warm but not hot. I guess some people are put off by imagining that they have walk 20 miles or more and dress head-to-toe in serious walking attire. But I have fairly limited mobility, and find that as long as I have sturdy shoes and sensible street clothes, I do just fine. I contrast my high spirits, my serotonin and adrenaline hit, with the bored, gloomy or puzzled faces of those that venture only a few yards from the car park. Ruth, who is walking round the entire coast of the UK, has remarked on how few people venture more than a hundred yards from the car park and I would agree; as a GP I'm sure she has a greater insight - and frustration - than I do about the benefits these people are missing out on!
Lizard to Predannack Head - from Ruth's Coastal Walk
Cornwall - Lizard point from Discombob's Blog
Cornwall: walking the Lizard peninsula - from the Telegraph Travel (not overtly stated but appears to be a 'paid-for' trip)
It's changed since we were there.
Most southerly cove in Britain reopens to public at Lizard Point from West Briton
I suspect most of the coast of South and South Western England has changed since I visited (I was in Bournemouth in early February; there was rockfall just two weeks later (watch video)
There isn't really much to do on a miserable dark rainy day on holiday. A late leisurely breakfast in Deli, enlivened by watching the fridge engineers at work - or to be precise the younger man work and the Boss cadge food. The Deli manager came over to us and apologised for the disruption but I admitted I love watching other people work.
A trip into Helston for odds and ends. The weather didn't set Helston off in its best light. It has clearly suffered the fate of many a market town. A sign from the car park still points to Woolworths. It sustains a WH Smith (reportedly a fading brand, but one that still indicates something about the former standing of a town). I wondered what other shops the town had lost over the years, to be replaced by bookies, charity shops and the inevitable tat shops, along with a couple of shops - one for kitchenware and one for Swedish tableware - that hint at some local prosperity.
The highlight of our visit happened as we emerged from Car Park Alley. A ditch or semi-culverted river runs down the main street next to the pavement, where one would normally find a gutter. A driver, trying to park, drove his near front wheel into the ditch. Much comment from passers-by, including us. We were grateful we had gone for the Pay-and-Display - strangers to the town, we would be good candidates for making the same rookie mistake, in a hire car. Judging from the reactions of passers by, it doesn't happen often, which surprises me (you can get a sense by zooming into street view here - perhaps outside the Cancer charity shop - note the abandoned wheel hub).
Another highlight of Helston was the Party Shop. Hanging in its doorway was an automatic bubble-making machine. In blustery conditions, this resulted in dozens if not hundreds of bubbles blowing merrily along Meneage Street, adding to general jollity!
(Note to self: a routine visit to an unexceptional town in dark miserable weather is no excuse not to bring camera - two great photo opportunities missed).
Despite the impromptu entertainment, there was a limit to how long we could stay in Helston. But there was very little else that could be done in such miserable weather conditions. In desperation, I said, look, I've seen brown tourist signs pointing to Poldark Mine, let's go and investigate.
We seemed to be driving for ever along a minor road from Helston to Redruth until we found it. Jimmy wasn't keen on going in. I said there wasn't much else to do on a misty rainy day. He agreed to take a look at what was on offer. The offer included a tour of the mine, and there was a sign that listed all the reasons not to do the tour - medical conditions, being under 4, and wearing the wrong shoes - so I figured it might be worth the £10 admission. We would have to wait nearly an hour and a half for the next tour. In the event, that wasn't enough time to see the Audio-Visual shows, have a cup of tea and look round the museum. The tea was satisfactory - priced appropriately for a pot made with PG Tips teabags. Unusually, the milk jug rather than the teapot leaked.
The tour of the mine lasted an hour and was led by an excellent guide, Kenny, a mining engineering student. The mine officially dates from the 18th century and was closed in the 19th, and was accidentally rediscovered in the 1970s. 'Poldark' is not its historic name, but pays tribute to the TV series and the novels. Wikipedia says there is some evidence that the mine workings predate the introduction of explosives in the mines of Cornwall in 1689. Kenny said that recent findings by an Industrial Archaeologist suggest the mine workings may date back to Roman times.
During the tour we walked along new and old workings, including the mine shaft. Despite the electric lamps and torches, it was dark. It was wet, too. We walked down a metal staircase and walkway with handrails. It was logically very safe even though it felt scary, especially for those with vertigo. The dampness convinced you that you might slip.
Kenny explained that when it was a working mine, there was a straight up-and-down ladder, 110 feet. If a man lost his footing, he would fall. If he grabbed out for a hold, or if a workmate tried to grab him, the workmate would be ripped from the ladder, too. Before the mechanisation of access, the deepest mine shaft in Cornwall was 900 feet.
I'm not sure whether the visit to the mine could truly be called 'enjoyable' but it was memorable, informative and cause for thought. We agreed it is better to study history such as this rather than trail round stately homes admiring pieces of material. It is beyond my imagination to understand the hardships that these workers endured.
Too easy to be dismissive that they were relatively well paid for manual workers of their time - they got to buy their homes. Whoopee doo. Those that got truly rich were the land 'owners' who claimed the rights to the underground workings, irrespective of how ill-gotten 'their' land was. Nice they could build stately homes to show off their numerous pieces of material and jewellery (some of it obtained in mining conditions even worse than in Cornwall). The life expectancy of mineworkers was exceptionally low.
Tin mining is finished in Cornwall but represents a significant chapter in English history. Wikipedia: Mining in Cornwall and Devon gives some background.
Poldark falls within the Cornish Mining World Heritage site and claims to be the the only complete underground mine open to the public in Cornwall and Devon. I got the impression its financial future is uncertain, and it isn't important or unique enough to attract public funding (notwithstanding the numerous stately homes and Anglican churches funded by the taxpayer for no discernable public benefit). Although it sits on Duchy of Cornwall land, the Duchy has no interest in preserving the heritage of Cornwall. I would rate it highly among visitor attractions and would strongly recommend a visit if holidaying in West Cornwall. It would be a shame if it was lost.
There were no restrictions on photography within the mine, but given the dark and dampness, and my desire to keep both hands free, and my uncertainty that I wasn't about to walk into a rock, I decided not to make this a photograph trip.
Do read the brilliant It's all mine! ...... the holiday in Cornwall commences, from The Day After Yesterday - her photos capture the essence.
After a dark and stormy Sunday, the Monday looked...promising. Classic British summer holiday weather - not entirely sure what it was going to do, so I packed all the clothes to cover every possibility. I decided we should explore Lizard peninsular, hopping from cove to cove. We didn't get far, only stopping three times. But it was vastly enjoyable.
We had barely left our holiday let when we saw two vintage Rolls Royces, one with an open top, not ideally suited for a sharp shower. Over the course of the day - and for a couple more days - we saw many Rolls Royces of different ages; even on our Saturday journey home we overtook a 1930s vehicle doing a steady 45 down the motorway. I suppose there must have been a rally but I never found mention of it. It would have been lovely to photograph them, but difficult on the open road!
Just past Helston is RNAS Culdrose. On the road is a sign warning of ow flying aircraft, Immediately, we were buzzed by two jets. I thought there would be no end of them, but despite several trips onto Lizard, we saw no more jets. Helicopters were a different matter, spending several hours hovering, as if they were the Sky News helicopter over Westminster on a day of political intrigue. (I initially wrote this on Sunday; on Monday night I read of the RNAS Culdrose helicopters searching for sailors lost at sea. I am grateful they were able to practice and train during our summer holiday).
Our first stop was Gunwalloe, with two coves - Gunwalloe Church cove and Dollar Cove. At least, I think so. The maps were less than clear and didn't entirely coincide with the guide books. Many shipwrecks happened round here, including a Portuguese ship carrying 2.5 tonnes of silver dollars. Not all of the silver has been recovered yet, and, yes, we did see someone with a metal detector.
We had fun clambering over some rocks and watching the waves crash on others, until a shower threatened and we briefly took shelter in the church.
Lovely little church, although I'm not much into them. St Winwalloe, dating from the 15th Century.
We stopped briefly at Poldhu Point
Our final stop was at Mullion Pont, a working and picturesque harbour. It's a bit of a trek down from the car park -and also a trek uphill again. I didn't find it a problem, but worth bearing in mind if you have limited mobility.
I enjoyed the spectacular waves breaking over the rocks and breakwater. You could edge out over an outcrop to sit and take photos. I found a particularly extreme example of the rubbish phone/rubbish camera phenomenom, two women with plastic sandals and wedge heels, barely able to walk, then sitting on the breakwater posting their photos to Facebook.
Next stop was the Porthmellin Tea Rooms. We ordered the large cream tea but probably would have been satisfied with the smaller version. Beautifully fresh crumbly scones, still slightly warm. An abundance of clotted cream and jam, and the jam contained real fruit pieces. Minus point was the sugar served in paper sachets - but neither of us takes sugar in our tea. Teabags were good quality and the teapot for two contained three bags, but was an 80s style metal teapot with a designed-in drip. Overall, an excellent cream tea.
We made a mistake booking a table for 6.30. We had to get a bus from Marazion before 6, wasting precious daylight hours. We then had time to kill and went into the Humphry Davy pub for a swift half (cider). Nice pub, although that evening we had a raucous group of ex-sailors being over-friendly. The barman said he'd only been on duty ten minutes and knew already it was going to be 'one of those nights'.
The main street in Penzance is called Market Jew Street, which made me double-take but apparently it derives - like Marazion - from the Cornish for 'Tuesday Market'. Mackerel Sky lies in an alley just off, close to a shop where Humphry Davy served his apprenticeship as an apothecary - he later became a notable chemist and is best remembered for his invention of the Davy lamp in mines.
As soon as I entered Mackerel Sky I liked the place. The welcome from the staff was warm and unforced, and I liked the decor and ambience. I didn't take any photos of the interior - I rarely do - but I liked the way it was arranged and decorated. This picture from their own website.
Having started on cider in the pub, cider seemed the way forward. I was on Clodgy from St Ives Cider, and liked it so much I later bought a consignment to take home.
For my starter I had salt and pepper squid with aïoli. I didn't quite see why they described it as such but it was very nice lightly battered squid, with none of the grease or chewiness you often get.
My main course was Cornish crab rarebit. A few months ago I printed a Nathan Outlaw recipe for fish rarebit but didn't get round to cooking it until after I returned from holiday. I can assure you that rarebit really works as a topping for fish, or, in this case, crab.
As you can see from the photo it doesn't really work as a decorative dish, but that's not a complaint. Mackerel Sky uses some tantalising taste combinations and presents them well enough without worrying overmuch about 'elegant' presentation. Wholesome huggy food.
Jimmy wasn't so lucky with his plaice, and raised this with the waitress. Jamie the chef came out to listen to Jimmy's explanation of the problem. Jamie explained that the plaice had come from the boat that day and even named the boat. He was entirely gracious, perhaps recognising that Jimmy wasn't trying anything on but genuinely had a fish with a taint. Jamie offered him a whole new meal, which Jimmy declined, but settled for some crab claws which made him happy. It would be tempting to criticise a restaurant when these things happen, but these things do happen - we've had tainted or off fish at home and you don't always know until you taste it. And the restaurant handled the situation with professional courtesy, which only added to my impression of it being a warm and professional establishment - friendly enough but not intrusive. Attentive without hovering.
My pudding of strawberry crème brûlée was delightful. Light and crispy in the right places.
When we left the restaurant we realised we had make the rookie/Londoners' mistake of not checking the bus timetable. The buses run late into the night but we had only just missed one and would have to wait the best part of an hour. So we got a taxi and spent some of the rest of the evening in Marazion's Godolphin Arms. I was very conscious that the pub was due to shut for a refurb in November, and, to be honest, it looked like it was needed. But the staff were friendly and welcoming, and the cider was good, and any other comments are irrelevant post-refurb. I was quite tiddly when we got back to the holiday let.
After leaving the Tourist Trap that is Land's End, our main priority was refreshment. I knew better than to even try the ghastly First & Last Inn, and decided instead to try Sennen Cove. Turn left off the road from Land's End. There's a quite well-known restaurant there (later featured on Tom Kerridge's TV show), but it was not the time for 'well-known restaurant' when we wanted coffee and a snack. Instead, we accidentally fell upon Little Bo café. A little gem!
It was pretty busy when we arrived and didn't get any quieter. I thought the staff did a sterling job, warning people how long they would have to wait, and scurrying around in surprising heat to fulfill orders inside the café and across the road on the Prom.
Inside the café were various groups of weirdos. Entirely inoffensive but as an exercise in people-watching it was hugely enjoyable. There were two 'normals' sat behind me, but, on reflection, they were so quiet they could have been quite sinister. The staff were reassuringly down-to-earth and the menu was reassuringly modern-verging-on-boho. Entertainment was provided by the Battle of the Door. Staff wanted the door open, both for ventilation and to make it easier for them to serve customers on the seafront. An elderly couple insisted on closing it every time it was left open. It was warm inside with the door closed. We desperately wanted it open. But I was too intimidated to argue with this determined couple.
I had a decent cup of coffee, once again stupidly eschewing the offer of a decent cup of tea well presented. We did have to wait a bit for our lunch/snack but no longer than we had been warned. It was worth waiting for.
It was listed as goat's cheese, walnut and apple salad, but as you can see, the addition of ripe juicy luscious figs turned this into a special salad, a salad that makes you despair at the nonsense that passes for salad in too many other places. It was the second time in a month and in my life I had had figs teamed with goat's cheese. As a taste combination, it's a 'keeper'!
We walked around Sennen Cove in glorious late summer sunshine and regretted not having our swimming costumes handy. Mind you, although there were plenty of people in the sea they all seemed to be body-boarders and were wearing wetsuits.
It's a decent small seaside town.
Bad planning on our part as we had reserved a table for 6.30 that evening. If we had known the weather would be so fine, we would surely have booked later, or taken our chances on being a walk-up. I lost track of time as I suggested we call in at Zennor. "Picturesque village" it said on our Ordnance Survey tourist map. A regret was that we bypassed St Just, and, more importantly, the Levant Mine and Beam Engine, which would surely have appealed to my dormant Industrial Archaeology Geek.
I fell into conversation with an earnest and eager young man who told of how the mine workings reached out two miles under the sea. He talked of how the Cornish mining industry was pivotal in Britain's Industrial Revolution. I vaguely recalled an engineer with a Cornish name - Richard Trevithick, he prompted me - who had more or less invented steam locomotion, and is less well known than George and Robert Stephenson.
Onwards to Zennor which hosts a curious 'Wayside Museum'. I browsed the bookshop whilst Jimmy bought an ice cream. The bookshop stocked an excellent range of Cornwall-related fiction and non-fiction, and eschewed gimmicky tat. The CD playing and available for sale was of George Lloyd's music. I had not heard of George Lloyd until this summer, the centenary of his birth; a work of his featured in the Last Night of the Proms the week before. His Iernin was performed by Surrey Opera in Croydon and Penzance this autumn. He had lived in the house which is now the Wayside Museum. We didn't visit the historic and well-reviewed Tinners Arms, nor did we visit the church with the picture of a mermaid on the bench end.
We tried to walk to the sea but the path was long and going nowhere. My watch was wrong, which meant we missed tea at the Backpacker's hostel and tea-rooms. It also meant that we had to dash back to Marazion to park the car, change, and catch the bus into Penzance for dinner.
Little Bo Café and The Beach, Sennen, West Penwith, Cornwall from Toast Tiffin and Tea
The Best Walks With Food – West Cornwall 2. Little Bo Cafe from The Cornish Way blog
Sennen cafe goes from strength to strength with plans for 2014 - Press Release published by This is Cornwall
We aborted our first attempt to visit Lands End because of fog. On the middle Saturday of our holiday we tried again, in glorious late summer weather. I felt over-dressed in a long-sleeved t-shirt.
It costs £5 to park at Land's End; most people head straight for the visitor's centre. My guide books both warned against this, with words like 'over-priced' and 'tat'. In any case, one's instinct would be to turn left and stroll along the South West Coast Path.
The cliffs and views are spectacular. The path is rugged but perfectly passable in the right footwear. We passed several but not many people: a couple with serious camera gear and sensible shoes - I was disappointed they weren't bird spotters, but they had seen a seal earlier; a group of four twenty-somethings, men in Converse, women in fashion wellies, looking bored and wanting to know where 'the sign' was; and a few other pleasantly forgettable people.
Being out on the cliffs for an hour or so was a surprising highlight of the holiday. Fresh air and sunshine, able to see for miles. Looking at the gorse, bracken and heather. It was amusing to think how many vehicles were in the car park and how few people there were to spoil our tranquility. Although I did invent the psychological condition of 'vicarious vertigo' - being more bothered about your companion venturing close to the edge than you are about yourself.
We walked back towards the car park. He told me that he had been looking at people's footwear. So had I. People with stout shoes headed out purposefully along the cliffs. People in shoes intended for mooching shopping malls looked confused. We saw a coach unload its human cargo. Most were in flip-flops, some in new shiny trainers, bought especially for their trip to the country. They took photos of each other posing in front of the sea. From the edges of the car park, it could have been any sea, nothing would say 'Land's End'.
We walked to the visitor's centre and our spirits fell. Some people seemed not to know why they were there. We went for coffee in the self-service restaurant and asked the assistant if there was a 'proper' coffee machine. They said helpfully, "I wouldn't bother."
We didn't bother. We glanced at the 'fun attractions' - videos, to tell people about the world, when they don't want to look at the world outside. We walked to The Sign, but they didn't have Brixton (or Streatham or Clapham) on their list, just London. Because 'London' is specific enough for 8 million people. We strolled more and looked at the cliffs that stretched away to our right. The café with outside seating was closed, because how could they have known there would be visitors on a warm sunny Saturday in the first half of September.
We looked at the tourist tat shop. The goods were similar to those on sale throughout West Cornwall but with a special Land's End mark-up to reflect the location. I thought the person who walked past me smelt of poo, but Jimmy said they were eating a Cornish pasty.
We returned to the car, having ticked Land's End off the list of 'Essential Tourist Sites to See Before You Die'. I wouldn't really recommend going - the South West Coast Path many open air clifftop wild plant strewn spaces - but it is Land's End.
Cornwall photos gradually being added to Cornwall photo album
When we booked to stay in Marazion we did so in ignorance of the existence of Ben's Cornish Kitchen. But this restaurant is so good it's worth visiting Marazion especially to eat here. And we ate here twice.
Just the other day, Jimmy commented that there were two stand out restaurants this year, Wild Thyme in Chipping Norton, and Ben's Cornish Kitchen. We booked to go on our first Friday and decided almost immediately that we must book again for the second week. In my diary I wrote 'utterly utterly brilliant'.
Ben's is on the main road through Marazion. A fairly small downstairs room has been augmented recently by opening an upstairs, where we didn't venture. They are very clear on their website there is no dress code. The tables are set fairly well apart so it shouldn't be possible to overhear other parties' conversation. Unfortunately, on both visits we were sharing the space with a table of people who included at least one person who was either hearing-impaired or was needy of attention, which tempted me into one of my favourite pastimes - making up background stories about total strangers (see below).
Food wise, I can barely fault the place. Some dishes had a wow factor, others were merely 'very good'. When you savour outstanding food it's sometimes disappointing to taste the merely excellent. But mere nit-picking on my part! Good wine selection - the menu suggested a matched wine for each dish, a nice touch.
The waiting staff were mainly young. We had a nice conversation with a young woman who was going to an open day at Bristol University Medical School. She will have an excellent bedside manner as a doctor and she was lovely as waiting staff; nevertheless, Sixth Formers, however bright and charming, are different from experienced full-time front-of-house staff. My main criticism of Ben's was that the pre-dinner bread seemed to be rationed to one roll each. Minor niggle, I'm sure you'll agree.
On my first visit I started with Seared Falmouth Bay Scallops, new season parsnips (I'm not a parsnip fan but these were surprisingly delicious), roasted chervil root, basil and tamarind garlic. Every mouthful had a different taste.
The next week I started with Mushroom parfait, with cep custard, pine oil, hazelnut crumble, salsify twigs, parsnip bark, micro herbs and cep powder.
A very strongly flavoured sauce, with hazelnut as a strong and surprisingly effective partner to mushroom. I'm not sure I'd have it again, although that's about my individual taste, not a criticism. I wasn't entirely convinced by the vegetable crisps that were neither crisp nor chewy.
First week, my main was Roast dayboat Turbot with a warm salad of roasted squash, Newlyn crab, Lobster and chard herb salad (out of focus shot).
It was perfectly cooked and presented with a perfect flavour combination, and one of the best main courses I've had all year, but, ultimately, it lacked the wow factor I'd experienced with the scallop starter.
In week two, I had roasted hake fillet, Newlyn crab and Cornish Langoustine risotto, lobster and brandy bisque sauce and saffron mayonnaise. My diary records "Absolutely bloody fantastic, especially the risotto which packed a punch with its flavour"
The pièce de résistance was my first week dessert, somewhat of a signature dish, reportedly by Toby, Ben's brother. Curry. Yes, that's right, curry for pudding! Mango curd, spicy rice, coconut puree, spiced caramel, ginger jelly, cardamon ice cream, coriander, poppadom.
I had never previously experienced a sweet curry, but I now demand every good restaurant includes it in its repertoire. Tasted like the most exquisite curry and worked perfectly as a pudding.
I was tempted to try it again in the second week, but decided that variety is important. I opted for a cheeseboard - Helford White, Helford Blue, Comte and Ragstone's goat cheese, with 'homemade' biscuits. It was everything I expect and hope for from a cheeseboard, and just what I wanted at that point. I sort of regretted not ordering the Triple Layered chocolate brownie, pistachio milkshake, and chocolate and pistachio macaroon which was Jimmy's choice but I'm generally disappointed by chocolate brownie.
On the first visit, I decided that one party were two couples who had met prior to 'wife-swapping' - they were explaining their occupations and what had brought them to live in Cornwall (they'd ruled out Hampshire as being too close to her Mum and Dad, to gales of laughter, including on my table) yet they were happy to share a quite-pricey dinner. I was delighted I guessed her occupation correctly - doctor's receptionist.
The next party to arrive was a 70-ish man, and two women of 60ish and 50ish. I decided married couple and her lover, whom he tolerated. I was desperately disappointed when a second man arrived presumably from having parked the car. They were probably long-standing friends or relatives, with no offbeat sexual practices involved.
A middle aged couple arrived with two twenty something men - son and boyfriend, I decided, without any evidence to support or refute this. In the window was sat the token 'normal' couple. I felt I was sure I knew the man from somewhere, and, indeed the next morning he said 'Good morning' in the Town Square. I'm fairly sure we work in the same building, but one can't ever be sure in a building of 3000+ people
Do take a note of Ben Prior as an up-and-coming chef - see these accolades in the Food Magazine South West awards - runner up with Michael Caines and Nathan Outlaw to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall as Local Food Hero; Best Restaurant; and Runner-up as Best Chef. Listed by The Times as one of the Top 30 restaurants by the sea and appearing in the Waitrose Good Food Guide. A foodie blogger's view: Saffron Bunny
I probably won't return to this part of Cornwall soon - it would be nice to see scenery elsewhere - but if there was one reason to return it would be this restaurant. Outstanding.
We tried to make the most of the day. Big full Veggie (for me, at any rate) breakfast in Delicious in Marazion, and quite some shopping. Odds and ends you end up buying on holiday. I spotted some slippers in the window of a shop called The Rigging and ended up buying a hoodie, too. They also stock Weird Fish t-shirts, with some great punny designs eg The Prawn Ultimatum, The Rocky Horror Pilchard Show, Cod's Army (Don't Tell 'em Pike), and The Brill (You're Nicked). They made me chuckle.
Near where were staying was a little 'vintage' shop, which only opened a few hours a day. At first I had been quite sniffy, using words like 'over-priced tat'. But my eyes kept being caught by the china. I suspect that if I had unlimited funds and storage capacity I would buy lots of 'shabby chic' mismatched dainty china. It's hard to resist dust-collecting clutter.
But one piece had truly drawn my eye. So we went in, and had a look round, seeing some nostalgia-evoking items from childhood. I even found a Ladybird Book of birds, to help me learn to identify birds. We got chatting to the owner, who seemed delightful and really quite down-to-earth. and I bought the item I had fixed my sights on.
Exquisitely dainty and too small to be considered 'clutter'.
I thought we should visit Porthleven. Unfortunately, the main road is on elevated ground and was extremely foggy. As we descended into Porthleven, the fog cleared but the rain was wet and miserable. It's a lovely little town, but the weather didn't do it justice and I didn't take any photos. But Jimmy bought a hoodie from the The Vault, and we had a snack in the Corner Deli. Nice but not as nice as Delicious.
On the drive back we called in at Praa Sands, and were lucky enough to catch a break in the rain. I just stood in the car park and took snapshots. Not a great day for photography.
Fortunately, we had a table reservation at the well-reviewed and highly recommended Ben's Cornish Kitchen to look forward to.
See also Porthleven to Praa Sands from Ruth's Coastal Walk
The day started warm, followed by a brief shower. We were in no hurry to get out, needing a rest and a lie-in after several relentless days. It felt that the weather would clear up. So, Land's End it would be, thirteen miles away. No need even for SatNav.
We turned off onto the by-road to take us to Porthcurno. Magical Porthcurno, highly recommended as one of the best beaches on Cornwall. Down narrow twisty lanes, up and down steep slopes in gathering mist. We passed the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum which was closed. It's based near where the Transatlantic submarine cables came ashore.
As soon as we arrived in the car park, the skies opened and torrential rain fell. We waited the obligatory ten minutes in the hope that it would clear. It did, and as we got out of the car and carried out the necessary faffing that all holidaymakers do, we noticed several other car loads emerging.
I had thought we would have the beach to ourselves, but no chance - there was upwards of two dozen others. I found the sloping dry sand quite hard going. But it certainly was a lovely little beach, although I imagine it gets very crowded on hot days in high season. The weather wasn't great for photos but it was good to get the fresh air and leg stretch.
There was an interesting rock formation forming part of scramble up the cliffs to the Coastal Path. There were some walkers on the path and I suppose we could have walked round to see the legendary open air Minack Theatre.
Instead we drove on towards Lands End but the fog was not improving. It seemed a bit much to pay £5 to sit in a car park and gaze out to a foggy sea. By now I fancied some refreshment and we made the mistake of stopping in the First and Last Inn in England. I was so incensed by the mockery of a cup of tea I took to Trip Advisor to moan. I accept that one will pay higher prices in popular tourist locations, and I don't mind that if it's for a decent product. But I hate it when English tourist places can't even get a cup of tea right.
As we descended from the ridge the fog cleared but it still wasn''t a pleasant day. We parked up in Penzance and went to the The Old Lifeboat House Bistro. It was mid-afternoon and they had a sign that they were open for scones, cakes and beverages. Jimmy asked if they could do us a sandwich. Yes, they said. Which was nice of them, I thought. And sensible, business-wise.
It was a lovely example of how to do things well. In a sense perfect. Not exceptional or outstanding but as you would really like to expect places to be - but they rarely are. Clean fresh bright surroundings. Pleasant paintings by local artists on the wall. A crab sandwich with tasty proper bread filled with the sweetest tasting crab imaginable. The tea was made with Clipper teabags in a pottery teapot, served with cups and saucers, with real milk in a pottery jug. If you use good quality teabags, such as Clipper, you don't need to use leaf tea. China pots are great for purists but I'm happy with a decent pottery one. A light late lunch I really savoured. We never went back for dinner but I would have had faith on the basis of the quality and service we received.
In the evening we went for dinner at the Victoria Inn in Perranuthnoe. A highly reviewed restaurant, and one that several locals had recommended to us, it appears in the Waitrose Good Food Guide. The chef/owner trained with Raymond Blanc and Michael Caines. Suffice to say we booked to return the next week, too. People travel a long way to eat here, and it's worth it.
I started with tempura of fish and seafood with a coriander dipping sauce.
It's pretty easy to do, but quite difficult to do well. They did it well. Not a hint of greasiness in the batter, and the fish and seafood were fresh, tasty and beautifully cooked. The salad was good, too - crispy and flavourful.
My main course was roast cod with champ potatoes, and, as I wrote in my diary, 'other stuff, with a creamyish sauce'.
They got it absolutely right for pub food. No compromise on the quality of ingredients, and some good flavour combinations, bringing the art of the kitchen to the plate. A chain pub could have done something broadly analogous but there would be no comparison. They didn't make the food over-fancy: there's a place for that but not in a pub. My main criticism would be that the portions were generous, leaving no room for pudding.
Other people's blogposts include:
118 Lamorna to Porthcurno to Land’s End - she's walking the coast of Britain, and she writes well. I'll have to go back and read some more of this - especially as she's already walked most of the stretches that I know - see also 117 Perranuthnoe, Penzance to Lamorna Cove
The name 'Lost Gardens' attracted me the first time I heard it, several years ago. I watched a documentary on the TV 2 or 3 years ago and was fascinated. It was very much on my list of Must Dos, and, it turned out, other than the journeys to and from home, was our furthest trip from base (from which you can gather, we didn't do The Eden Project).
Before the First World War the garden required the services of 22 gardeners to maintain it, but that war lead to the deaths of...16 of those gardeners, and by 1916 the garden was being looked after by only 8 men. In the 1920s Jack Tremayne's love of Italy led him to set up permanent home there, and lease out Heligan. The house was tenanted for most of the 20th century, used by the US Army during the Second World War, and then converted into flats and sold, without the gardens, in the 1970s. Against this background, the gardens fell into a serious state of neglect, and were lost to sight.
It's quite shocking to think of so much land laying waste. Many landowners talk of their holdings as something held in trust, they are mere custodians. Some are conscientious in fulfilling this duty; for others, it's little more than a slogan because they know their ancestors got hold of the land unfairly. After the Second World War, productive land was in short supply as Britain aimed for greater food self-sufficiency and turned to intensive farming. Perhaps this land was less than ideal for farming, and we holiday-makers are the fortunate present day beneficiaries, but neglecting the land for so long was a crime against the community.
A tip to future visitors: the website says approach the Gardens from St Austell. They are absolutely right. I thought I knew better and allowed Tom Tom to guide us down the narrowest of tiny country lanes. We left via St Austell.
The public gardens are divided into broad areas - the Jungle and the Northern Gardens. In my diary I wrote "I don't see a great deal of benefit in me describing in detail everything of the four hours we spent walking around...I took about a hundred photos". A picture tells a thousand words!
The Jungle is green and dense. When you walk around, you feel the change in the atmosphere - it has its own micro-climate.
The visual glory is in the three dimensions. There are four interlinked ponds, descending down the Valley, with a boardwalk around them. Signs recommend sturdy footwear, but, nevertheless, there were a few people - all young - in fashion footwear, heels and so on. Their choice and their risk, but they didn't seem to be enjoying themselves, and one held everyone else up as she teetered slowly along a footpath, held up by her partner, and blocking the path for people in both directions. I don't understand the thought process that begins with "Let's go to a thousand acre garden set on a hillside" and ends with "...wearing disco shoes". The Jungle also isn't suitable for pushchairs or wheelchairs.
First we walked past the wildflower meadow, a visual delight, and one providing views to the coast at Mevagissey.
As we were leaving The Jungle, a schoolparty was arriving. I support 'Learning by Play' and think that much of the Primary School curriculum should involve activity, outdoors where possible. Letting 30 or so 8 year olds run through a paid visitor attraction screaming at the top of their voices is not educational. There are playgrounds for screaming; in a garden, children should be encouraged to stop and look, take in the atmosphere, and show respect for other people - the world doesn't revolve around them just because they're children.
Our next stop was the tea-room in the Steward's House. There are two catering facilities at Heligan: one near the ticket office and shop, and one conveniently placed in the centre. It was a bit basic - tea served in polystyrene cups - but the tea was decent and it was worth a stop to look at the prints on the wall of traditional rural crafts. The tea room was set in beautiful if unexceptional gardens.
Next stop was the orchard. I have read about orchards in books. I have seen commercial orchards on TV and when driving past. But it's only recently I have realised what a domestic orchard is; I will have one in my hypothetical post-Lottery win rural retreat.Trees laden with fruit, and a variety of waterfowl around the pond, obligingly posing for photographs.
I am still quite useless at identifying flowers (see also: birds and trees) and although I am learning slowly, it's difficult. I certainly won't be insulted if better people than me pop helpful hints into the comments box.
The Productive Gardens were just as beautiful in their own way. I envy people who had so much space to grow their own - although back in the heyday they would have employed a sizeable staff to do the growing, and more again to do the bottling and preserving.
I enjoyed this piece of garden sculpture.
We walked in some of the wilder areas nearer the formal gardens and found tranquility in quiet places, but they didn't photograph so well!
When we were finished we went to the main tearoom, hoping to eat, but they had run out of food by 3.30pm which was a tad disappointing. The quality of the tea wasn't that good, and Jimmy noticed that they hadn't replenished the napkin dispenser since our morning coffee. Signs that, having a captive audience, they were rather complacent. This happens too often at too many 'Visitor Attractions'. I've been to worse, though.
We finished the day off in Mevagissey. We had considered staying here, before plumping for Marazion, and having visited the town, I felt we made the right decision. A pretty town, and we didn't mind the walk to-and-from the Pay and Display on the edge of the village. But I was struck by the large numbers of shops selling downmarket tat and, without being snobby, okay, being snobby, an awful lot of people for whom buying downmarket tourist tat was nirvana.
We found a pub called the Wheelhouse. Their evening specials board looked outstanding, but it wasn't due to start for another hour. Nevertheless, we had decent fish and chips. I was surprised they didn't come with peas, and the couple at the next table complained that theirs didn't, either, and they had specifically ordered mushy peas. A minor niggle and if I were in the town again I'd confidently go back there to eat. I also had my first taste of Rattler cider. It was not to be my last.
Many more Heligan photos in Cornwall photo album.
My other blogposts on Visitor Gardens:
Blogposts by others:
Lost in the Mist by Indifferent Reflections - this is a lovely blog, worth spending the time to browse through her posts.
Lost Gardens of Heligan from Heaven Happens
The Lost Gardens Of Heligan, the One for me! - A Day in the Life
Our idea on holiday is to have a busy day followed by a quiet day, and alternate. This was supposed to be a quiet day, where we took it easy.
The day began by exploring Marazion on foot. The town contains an Anglican church, a Methodist chapel and a Quaker meeting house. I had read that Methodism is traditionally bigger than Anglicanism in Cornwall, but the Anglican church seemed quite lively. I noted from the sign outside that they periodically conduct services in the Celtic tradition. It gets a relatively good write up from the Mystery Worshipper. While we were there we popped inside. There was a shop open, and although there was nothing there that appealed to me, I didn't feel nervous or awkward, and certainly not unwelcome being there. I liked the embroidered kneelers.
Like many small towns/large villages, Marazion has several clues as to being more lively in times past, such as The Old Police House. The village also hosts an old school house, although the local school seems to have outgrown it, rather than simply moved on or disappeared.
Like just about everywhere, there is a town War Memorial, and in every town you look at the names. Many of the names recognisably Cornish. The same surname appears under both World Wars, possibly a father and son, each killed in different conflicts.
I have mentioned before that Marazion overlooks St Michael's Mount; I felt obliged to take a photograph.
Behind the church sits a turret. Its purpose or history remains a mystery to me.
From the beach, the Town Hall clock is visible.
We stopped for coffee in the delightful Delicious deli, our first of three visits during our fortnight. I noted that they served loose leaf tea, £1.60 per pot. The coffee was very good, too, but their offer of tea stuck in my head, and became a benchmark. It's a wonderful place, a bit quirky and boho, but not letting that get in the way of serving up a good range of all-day breakfasts, light lunches, snacks and cakes. Small, but achieving a standard many superficially similar places only aspire to. Well deserving of its Trip Advisor Rating.
Back on the road and I declared we should walk to Penzance; after all, the signs stated that it was just two miles. Long story short, I set my Tracker app just by the Town Square in Marazion. It tells me I walked over 3 miles, and we never reached Plymouth.
It started off as a very pleasant walk, heading westwards out of town. past a memorial stone for HMS Warspite - do read the final section about her decommissioning.
We walked for a while on the beach until we met a stream flowing down to the sea. According to the map this is the Red River, but not the same Red River that flows north and enters the Atlantic near St Ives.
The beach runs next to the railway line, specifically the sidings serving Penzance, the extreme end of First Great Western's InterCity service. There are few crossings, and one former crossing has been closed, clearly not a popular move locally.
On we walked, and it slowly began to dawn that there were no further railway crossings before a bridge that seemed a great distance away. My feet were beginning to hurt, and the more we walked the more they hurt. Initially, the pain didn't stop me taking photos, such as this one of what appeared to be newly built holiday lets.
At first we agreed we would get to Penzance and find a bar or café, then it began to dawn us that Penzance was a long way away. I set my sights on, of all places, Morrison's; my thinking being that a) they have a café and b) it is likely we would be able to get a minicab if not a bus from there.
But even when we reached Morrison's we still weren't there, as it lay on the other side of the railway tracks. We had to walk its entire length, and further, until we reached a footbridge, which brought us back to civilisation - if that's how you can describe a large building site for roadworks for an under-construction Sainsburys on the site of a former heliport.
Finally we got to Morrison's, and their café. At this point I was grateful for anything, but, really, this was a shambles and an insult. It wasn't staffed when we and another twosome arrived. It was 'serve yourself' but it wasn't entirely obvious how - these two women had to explain to us that teabags were already in the pots which had to be carried to the warm water tap. Small, grudging-sized teapots containing a teabag of dubious quality tea.
The tables and chairs were plastic arrangements, screwed to the floor with room for just 4 people around each table. No thought that someone of, say, six foot height like Jimmy may have different seating needs than a small child, no recognition that groups, say family groups, may come in sizes greater than four. The twosome that came in after us included a woman in a wheelchair, who couldn't easily be accommodated at a bolted down table-and-chair arrangement. She had to stick out into the aisle, as would, I assume a highchair, although I don't know whether they had highchairs available.
Still, it was liquid, and the woman at Customer Service directed us to the bus stop for a bus back to Marazion. That was quite an exercise in numptiness! The bus was very full with pupils from the local college (ie secondary school) who, in my view, should have precedence at that time of day over shoppers and tourists. It did of course mean the bus was full, and I was obliged to stand downstairs. Fine. But every time the bus went round a corner an old boy sitting down reached his arm across the aisle to grab a pole, sending my body out of balance (I had nowhere to move ny feet).
As the bus approached the stop before the Town Square, a young couple at the back stood up and walked forward, making everyone move out of their way. but they didn't want that stop, they were just being prepared for the Town Square. Guess what, loads of people got off at the Town Square, and loads were getting on, but that didn't seem to make any impression on some old bloke who nonchalantly walked his rat of a dog right in front of the single door of the bus.
If I hadn't paused, I would have tripped over the almost invisible dog lead, and possibly hit my head on the cobbles, or been crushed by the stampede of people who were pushing to get off the bus behind me. I did call the man an 'Idiot' or somesuch but he was well away with the fairies in a world of his own.
I do wonder if these people ever go anywhere in public when not on holiday; it scares me even more that their habitual mode of transport is private car!
Back in the holiday flat I ministered treatment to my feet: ibuprofen to reduce the swelling, a hot bath to ease the the muscle pain, and a good massage with peppermint foot cream, because it feels nice. I hoped my horrible feet were not going to ruin the holiday.
Under-impressed by St Ives we sought alternative places to enjoy Cornwall's North Coast - Atlantic Coast? Or is it the Celtic Sea? I saw no mention of the Celtic Sea in two weeks in West Cornwall. but I did see references to the Atlantic.
I perused our map and saw long stretches of golden sand and sandcastle icons for miles to the East of St Ives. Tom Tom helpfully took us on a back road, single track with occasional passing places - but unlike in Scotland, such roads aren't labelled as this. The speed limit was 20 mph, a growing trend, and one I approve of, although all the roads I've seen with a 20mph limit, only a fool would drive that fast anyway!
The road down to Carbis Bay seemed exceptionally steep, although I found steeper ones later. I was briefly in conversation with a man in the beach café, saying I didn't envy hm having to cycle back up there - although I did say I was envious he was out on the bike. Didn't want to give the impression of being anti-bike!
The beach café was chaotic and over-priced but the 'Awesome Pizzas' lived up their billing. And the view was excellent, too. We walked along the beach and back again. I had entertained thoughts of swimming in the sea and Jimmy had plans to sit on the beach and chill for a while. But neither was practical, there was a stiff Northerly coming off the sea, so delightful walking weather didn't translate into beach weather. There were some people in the water, but with one exception they were in wetsuits. And the family groups were well protected by windbreaks, the toddlers happily dug in the sand while wearing fleeces. The good old British summer holiday!
Next stop was Hayle, but we couldn't a find a way to the beach, despite following signs along the road. We ended up in a dead end, next to an electricity Transformer Station. This one proclaimed it was powered by waves, but we couldn't see any! Someone I know was in Hayle a couple of weeks later and said that it's difficult to find the beach.
We passed through the village of Phillack, notable for the pub with the name The Bucket of Blood and we again found the sea by driving through a holiday park. Lovely views of the Hayle Estuary but parking was strictly residential so we didn't linger. Very few people were on the beach, other than a solitary kite surfer and a council employee in a sand buggy removing the red flag. Presumably unsafe to swim because of currents from the river.
Our next target was Gwithian but we overshot the turning - cars coming at us from two directions on an otherwise quiet road. We needed somewhere to turn round, and, fortunately I spotted a sign saying "Hell's Mouth Cafe 400 yards". I immediately had visions of there being dozens of motorbikes meeting in a Hell's Angels convention; instead there were just a few cars. Unfortunately, it was past 5 pm and the café was closing, otherwise we would surely have taken a tea.
Instead we had a stroll along the Coastal Path, at this point managed by the National Trust. It was sad to see the tributes left to people who had taken their lives there. The next day we were talking to someone whose friend is involved with the café; one day a young man asked him to hold his dog while he went outside. He never returned. I find such tributes poignant. They use words such as 'Much missed', and you want to turn back the clock to let the troubled soul know how much they would be missed.
The flora was typical of heathland
I Googled Hell's Mouth and found this video of an actual rockfall at this very spot. I find some of the comments rather depressing. These people filmed this, probably (subconsciously) with the likes of me in mind, and some bored, nasty childish people leave mean-spirited comments that add nothing to the user experience and probably reflect that they have never been anywhere like this, yet think they have an interesting life. (Rant over)
Despite the grim reminders of mortality, the stroll on the clifftop was a tranquil end to what had been a somewhat frustrating day. Nothing beats the sensuality of being out in the open, barely troubled by people, even less by cars, enjoying the light of the Golden Hour, and savouring the breeze.
I visualised St Ives as a slightly-bohemian and somewhat intellectual town, where I could browse contemporary art galleries and convivial coffee shops and engage in stimulating conversation with other Guardian Readers in Ethnic Skirts. On holiday in West Cornwall, St Ives was a must visit. I knew that, on a Monday outside the school holidays, it would be quiet, a positive joy to which I looked forward.
We arrived on the outskirts and followed the signs to the car park. Ahead of us were several cars. The road climbed and climbed, up and up, away from the coast, until we found a car park, so far from the Town Centre it could have been described as 'out of town'. Indeed I noticed a shuttle bus service running between the car park and town. The car park was full but we followed the signs to a field, where parking was controlled by a team of stewards. By the time we had Paid-and-Displayed and generally faffed, the field was full, and two more fields were being opened.
It was a steep walk down. We met people on the way up who advised us to get the bus back. One woman complained that she had proposed that but had been 'outvoted'. No one used the prospect of a cream tea to motivate us. However, we knew we would find a divine and undiscovered coffee shop, overlooking the sea front, with a quirky collection of local paintings or artisan pottery.
The roads were narrow and progress down the tiny pavements was difficult. We seemed to be in amongst people who had little idea how to walk-when-out-in-public. We saw a sign for the harbour, my pulse increased. We rounded the corner, and my face fell in horror. All I could see was 'fish and chips here now' 'beer and burgers'. And hordes of people. Thankfully, we found a nice place for coffee, Al Fresco. I looked at the menu and yearned to return there for dinner. Sadly, we didn't but it was an oasis of class and quality amidst a town that wasn't exactly Blackpool but made Southend look distinctly upmarket.
I'm not particularly ashamed to say that St Ives brought out my inner snob. My photos told me how wonderful the light is, and why it has been such a draw for artists. But how can I enjoy a town when I have to watch every step I go, when if I move to avoid bumping into someone I risk tripping over someone else's dog lead? People wandering aimlessly. Not because they were relaxed into a world of their own but because they didn't know why they were there or what to do. It was summed up by seeing a woman sitting against the seawall trying to read her book; another woman had parked herself a couple of yards in front of her and was shouting a conversation with a couple who had stopped on the Prom.
We made the most of what could have been a bad day, walking out along Smeaton's Pier, and also along a jetty. Even on the jetty was the inability to walk-when-out-in-public. I saw a group aproaching, I moved to my left, they moved to their left, and we passed. Except for one woman who stepped back to her right and came up to me with confrontation on her face. It seemed she'd decided to walk on that side and I was in her way. How tedious.
If you notice in that photo, some of the boats registration number begin SS and some PZ, representing their home ports of St Ives and Penzance. I always like to look for boats registered well outside the local area and wonder what brings them so far.
We could have done more in St Ives but neither of us found it a particularly pleasant place. We could have gone to Art Galleries, but it seems odd to waste such a gloriously sunny day peering at pictures of scenery that we could see for ourselves, in fresh air and with walking. We found the queue for the bus back. Flat fare, pensioner's pass not valid. In actual fact a very sensible service, enabling the tourists to pour into town in their thousands and boost the local economy without entirely clogging up the town with stationary traffic. In my ideal world, the shuttle bus would have been free, but no doubt that would have raised the cost of parking for those willing and able to walk.
In fairness to St Ives, not all bloggers see it the same way as me, for example, The Londoner
Once we had settled into our holiday let, including the obligatory dash to the supermarket we agreed we would go out and eat at somewhere local and unfussy. This was the King's Head, said to be the best pub in the village, and only a few strides from where we were staying. We had to wait half an hour for a table but it was worth the wait. I chose a something labelled as a Bouillabaisse which was far from authentic but was so tasty and filling I was not complaining!
The next day we decided to go for a walk. I had seen this walk on the internet measured at 1.9 miles, along the south West Coastal Path. Easy walk, I thought, good way to break ourselves in. We walked through the town and I took a photo of St Michael's Mount. Important landmark, I thought, I must photograph this now in case it disappears. Suffice to say, by the middle of the first week I was bored of editing photos of St Michael's Mount!
The coastal path takes you up hill along the road through town for at least half a mile. We got chatting to another couple who had just arrived, too, and were following the same route.
A slightly obscured sign pointed to the Coastal Path, and we followed the sign. Down down down along a narrow path through the undergrowth, brambles and nettles obstructing the way, an uneven surface treacherous enough when dry but heaven knows what it would have been like six months ago! We turned a corner and found ourselves on a beach. A whole beach entirely to ourselves. Smelly Beach we soon called it because of the pong. Jimmy said it was raw sewage. I said it was rotting seaweed, remember that beach we found in Spain. Lots of rock pools. I said, if only we had waders. Oh, and I hadn't left my childhood beachcombing books at home. And a view of St Michael's Mount.
We were joined briefly by the other couple. I congratulated them on making it down the hill. She had been adamant she was not a serious walker, 'just a potterer', and her husband was spurred on only by the reward of a cream tea at the end. Still, their shoes were sensible and they had a sense of purpose. Furthermore, although they paused to chat they seemed instinctively to know the right length of time to stay chatting. We were passed by a serious walker - beard, khaki shorts and a map - and he served to confirm that the way off the beach was via an iron staircase. They followed at a suitable distance, and we gave them a chance to get away.
At the top of the stairs there was a choice of direction in which to travel. Ahead along what to me was clearly a path, and parallel to the coast, or to the left, away from the coast, on what was little more than a desire-line. Jimmy said the path we followed wasn't a path. There was the odd bramble branch sticking out. We've been together thirteen years and I have little sense of how much countryside he knew before then. I said that given the absence of walkers' corpses with their eyes being picked by vultures, this was the path! At one stage he suggested we headed inland across a farmer's field, then we'd get there. I said there was no there there. "It's a Coastal Path, let's follow the Coast!".
We walked past three coves, Trenow, Treveleyan and Temis. There were people on them, but very few, and we both enjoyed the thought that in this part of Cornwall, you could find a beach and have it largely to yourself. From the clifftop it was possible to take photos of St Michael's Mount.
We seemed a long way from anywhere and there was drizzle in the air. I paused to look at the map and to put on my kagoule. We passed two walkers coming in the opposite direction and asked them how far. Twenty minutes they said, and there's a cream tea waiting for you at the end. We trudged through a field and rounded a corner, where two benches were placed back to back on an outcrop. From one you could take photos of St Michael's Mount, and visible from the other was the expanse of Perran Sands
From now, St Michael's Mount and rocky beaches were firmly behind us. I was looking forward to my cream tea. The drizzle disappeared as quickly and stealthily as it had appeared. We admired the house with a bay window that looked down on a sandy beach.
And before long we had arrived at The Cabin in Perranuthnoe. Finally, we were to get our cream tea. Big fresh scones, and lashings of clotted cream and strawberry jam. Reward for walking what the South West Coast Path describes as a "Challenging" (not Easy or Moderate) walk. It was certainly more than two miles. I cursed myself for not setting my 'My Traks' app on my phone, in fact, over the holiday I only set it once. It was a good hour and a half walking, albeit with several pauses. For some reason I didn't photograph my cream tea, but here's a picture of the table decoration.
Afterwards we went onto the beach, with all of three other parties. Wide wide sandy expanse on a warm enough weekend day, and to all intents and purposes we were alone. A horse had been there earlier
Later, we found that Marazion is a lovely town but it is affected by the smell of rotting seaweed and people hope for it to be washed away in the next storm. That made me happy, far preferable to untreated sewage, and part of the circle of life.
I have spent the last two weeks in Cornwall and had a jolly good time. I had hoped that somehow, we would enjoy an Indian Summer, with plenty of opportunity for sea swimming. It was not to be. On the other hand, most days were warm enough and fine, with plenty enough sunshine. This made walking a pleasure, and to my surprise, I did a great deal more walking than I feared would have been possible.
We stayed in the ancient town of Marazion, just a couple of miles from Penzance, and just opposite St Michael's Mount. We were brilliantly located, with a sea view. The town is big enough to sustain several shops and eating places, and a surprisingly good bus service, but small enough to have some character. There was a Morrison's less than two miles away, and a Sainsbury's being built just next door to that, and we were within easy driving distance of Sainsbury's at Helston and Marks & Spencer at Hayle.
We rented a flat which was spacious and light. When we arrived it was scrupulously spotlessly clean. There was sufficient furniture and the beds were wonderfully comfortable. The sofa less so. Having stayed in several similar rented places in the UK and Spain I did feel there were certain aspects that were less satisfactory. All of them quite petty, but the pettiness added up to an annoyance. Two lightbulbs, including the kitchen one, had gone before our arrival, as we discovered mid-evening Saturday in the dark. There were no spare lightbulbs in the place, something I have always noticed with previous places. The kitchen was poorly stocked lacking some of the most basic utensils, such as wooden spoons. Bear in mind that this was a two-bedroomed place seemingly ideal for a couple with two small children, whose holiday may depend on being able to make simple stews, pasta sauces etc. The saucepans all lacked lids, there were no storage pots eg for teabags or bread. Worst of all, the oven on the cooker didn't work. There was a combination microwave/fan oven instead, although we had to work this out for ourselves, and it was simply not big enough for cooking a casserole for 4 or roasting a joint, as many people might wish to do. There wasn't even a welcome pack. Most places include a list of hints and tips eg the WiFi password, 'the oven doesn't actually work' and maybe even numbers for local doctor, bus timetables etc. It was advertised as having reserved parking, but in practice during the day this was used by the owner's other business. Not a problem in practice, but communication/information would have helped. It was also slightly irritating that the washing machine wasn't a washer/dryer, considering it was a flat without a garden, which wasn't too great an inconvenience for us, but might have been a pain for the family with two small children. Admittedly, all petty moans, and we certainly didn't let them mar the holiday.
The town is lovely, and it was enormous fun people-watching. They came in their hundreds and thousands to cross the causeway, or catch the boat, to St Michael's Mount. It also lies along the South West Coastal Path, a truly wonderful thing, a jewel in England's crown. During our first week our neighbours never took their car out and were usually out early, often coming back late. If you're a keen, fit walker, I think with careful planning and bus timetables, you could cover a great deal of the path, returning each night to comfortable quarters.
Sadly, Cornwall County Council are consulting on withdrawing funding for much of the Rural bus service in West Cornwall. This was covered on the local TV news and it made me angry and sad. They illustrated how the buses, often visiting quite remote and isolated villages, are a lifeline for elderly people to get out to shops and doctors etc, for local workers, often on minimum wage or in seasonal jobs. They had a voxpox with someone on holiday in St Ives who said she chose St Ives because she could go walking and end the day with a bus journey. The local constituency is Liberal Democrat held, and Council is LibDem/Independent coalition. I doubt that many of those Liberal Democrat or Independent voters would have supported axing rural bus services.
I still have nearly 200 photos to edit from the holiday, having already processed over 300 (and that's not including the duds and duplicates!). Over the next few weeks I intend to compose several blog posts on the subject, and these will be varied with posts about days out, and other holidays as well. I just hope I have the time to do them justice!