Devon, Cornwall, and the south west

Friday, July 3, 2009

After a few days in Kent, I took a train back up to London, transferred to Paddington Station, and then had 3-hour train trip across the bottom of the island, ending up in Plymouth, with a new batch of family and a new bit of the country to see. It's been a bit strange visiting all this family that I really don't know. In most cases they have been perfect strangers, but in all cases they have been generous, welcoming and lovely. And in every new house I've been in I've had the arresting experience of glancing at a wall and finding an oil painting done by my grandmother, who was a prolific painter in her later years, and whose works are apparently scattered throughout the family. It gave me an oddly comforting sense of connectedness.

Cornwall was a lot of fun, and it was especially nice to be ferried around by my hostess Anne. Driving in Cornwall was a new experience (to clarify: I was not actually driving, I was passengering). There are some wide divided highways (dual carriageways), but we spent a lot of time on smaller roads. And by "smaller roads", I mean, in many cases, "roads barely wide enough for one vehicle, with overgrown stone walls on each side, but maintaining two-way traffic flow". I'm not kidding, those were some skinny cart-tracks; most driveways in Canada are wider. Apparently though, people are just used to it. Driving these roads takes nerves of steel and a lot of skill in backing up to the last wide spot to allow opposing traffic to pass by. It's picturesque though, I'll give it that.

I spent a day in Perranporth, which is a small seaside village with a fairly well-known sandy beach. I even went for a swim in the sea, complete with borrowed wetsuit. Photographic evidence below:

Not exactly "Baywatch"

The next day was a busy one: we drove in to Truro, where we spent a bit of time examining Truro Cathedral, which has some quite nice stained glass. There was also a nice street market where I picked up a genuine Cornish pasty to have for lunch. (I also got a lovely cherry and almond flapjack, which over here have absolutely nothing to do with pancakes, and are more like oat-y granola bars. I may be developing an addiction.)

My pasty just had beef, potato and turnip, or so they claimed...

After Truro, we stopped for lunch in a nice fishing town called Charlestown, where we sat by the harbour and I ate my pasty and my flapjack and we watched some young lads diving into to water for no apparent reason other than to climb back out again, and dive in at a different spot. It was awfully mucky water for such an activity, so I can only hope there were some young women somewhere within sight they were trying to impress.

Chalestown Harbour

After lunch, it was on to the Eden Project which was quite brilliant and completely unexpected in the wilds of the Cornish countryside. In fact, it was so different that I've decided it deserves its own post so, you'll just have to wait a bit to hear about that. Instead, here's a picture of another lovely seaside town, Looe, where we stopped for supper. (Or dinner, or "tea" or whatever you call the sustenance ingested between the hours of 4pm and 9pm).


It was a long day. The next day was shorter, which was a mercy. The main event of the day was a trip up onto Dartmoor, which was quite neat. The moor is a somewhat sparsely vegetated, sort of barren area of high ground that is most famous in my mind for being the setting for "The Hound of the Baskervilles". And indeed, it was a very Sherlock Holmes-y kind of day - all rainy and misty and moor-like. The Cornish seem to be quite proud of the barren and fierce reputation of the moor - there's a famous Victorian-era prison there, so situated because even if a prisoner managed to escape he didn't stand much chance against the elements. In fact, while it was certainly much more sparsely populated and with far fewer trees and things than the surrounding countryside, it was still fairly civilized to my eye. There were loads of sheep all over (all over the road, in fact), and horses and ponies. And there were proper roads, and people and small villages. So while Dartmoor was appropriately evocative and picturesque, I didn't find it particularly threatening. I'm sure if I'd encountered it in a horse-drawn cart in January of 1850 I'd feel differently, but right now I can't help but feel that the average moor-man of today, tough as he may be, would be quite at a loss if he found himself in the middle of a prairie winter.

We did have a really nice lunch at a pub in Princetown, on the Moor. I had the Ploughman's Lunch, which may become another addiction. This is a cold plate that usually comes with bread, pickles, relish, some salad, and a ridiculous amount of cheese. I'm not kidding, the lunch I had yesterday had two enormous wedges of stilton cheese with it, and even I, professed cheese-lover, could not finish it all. (I had a Ploughman's again tonight in York and, impossible though it seemed, it came with MORE CHEESE than the Dartmoor variety. Again, cheese was left uneaten, which is a sad state of affairs.)

We rounded out the day with a quick visit to a National Trust property called Cotehele, which was quite nice, and helped by the fact that we arrived quite late. This meant that we were relieved of the responsibility to linger meaningfully over every tapestry, chamber pot and 15th century butter knife. We did, however, have a nice cup of tea in the restaurant.

And that was my time in the south west (there are more photos over at Flickr). Stay tuned for details on the Eden Project, and for the further adventures of Go See Run Eat Drink in York, Harrogate and on to Edinburgh!


Karen said...

Looking forward to hearing more about the Eden Project. The website is very interesting.

Cheese must be the only thing that is cheap over there. I can;t imagine having leftover cheese that I just couldn't eat!

Robert Hamilton said...

You just spent 10 days visiting 3 parts of your family and barely said a word about them (except Grandma's paintings).

I too have had some difficult but eventually very rewarding times connecting with my cousins in Scotland, whom I have only seen a couple of times in my life.

I would like to hear more about your time with your family and your thoughts on that important part of your trip.


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