Land's End

Cornwall Journal

Friday, April 2nd, 1999 - Plymouth

I have been living in England for more than a year now but had never been able to get to Cornwall – which is a significant distance away from where I live near London in Surrey. Many people have told me about Cornwall and the beautiful scenery so I decided to take a trip down to see it on one weekend where I would have time to be able to travel.

Every weekend and especially Easter everyone leaves the big cities (London, Manchester, etc) for the seaside and, for the ambitious ones, Cornwall and Devon. The roads are deadlocked with traffic and tensions seem to rise.

Oh well, I started as soon as I got up (sorry to say, around about 11:00) and joined to queue to the coast. Actually, the drive was fairly reasonable with the occasional queue but no where near what I feared. Strangely (as with most queues I have noticed here) there seem to be no obvious cause for many delays. Though there was construction it did not seem to slow traffic in any way.

The weather has been very good with only a few minor showers during the drive. I enjoyed the views but did not really have a lot of time to admire the view, I had to be in Plymouth for my Bed and Breakfast by 6:30. Following the directions I was given over the phone I did get a bit lost and had to call the hotel back to get a bit better instructions. But during the driving around the city (it has to be a city – it has a cathedral) I got a good idea of how it is organised.

The hotel is located right beside The Hoe (beside the ocean with the Royal Citadel to one side) in the middle of Plymouth. 50 feet further up the street and my 1st floor room would look out over the ocean, down the cliff.

Plymouth Harbour

After arriving and parking the car (a serious problem in any city) at the B & B I went for a walk, glad to be out of the car after about 5 hours of driving. Looking for somewhere good to eat, I walked around the Royal Citadel and through a place called The Barbican (not quite the theatre district as it is in London) which is a harbour area. Grabbed a crab roll from a local burger bar which I thought rather misplaced in a fishing area (though I did see someone eating a burger with prawns on it!). The Barbican is a rather nice, quaint area with a few small, winding cobble roads and small cafés. Really, from what I have seen so far of Plymouth, this has to be my favourite area with other areas primarily commercial in nature (it is a city, after all).

Walked back to the center of the city, that being the Armada Way (and, getting closer to the ocean, the Hoe), past the Guildhall (city hall). Most stores were closed by this time though I found a restaurant that I had just by chance seen briefly mentioned in a tourist guide left in my room at the B & B. An Italian restaurant, Positano which was extremely good. I arrived before many arrived for their reservations later in the evening so I was able to grab a seat though eating, for the most part, all by myself. The people were very nice and the food exceptional. I tried a sample of the antipasta that they make fresh every day in addition to a veal dish (rolled with Parma ham and mozzarella cheese) with a wonderful Fetichini with Pesto (where I could actually taste the Pesto dressing - a first for me). I was full to bursting point but the maitre'd talked me into trying an assortment of Gelati (ice cream). It was an exceptional meal and not too expensive (by English standards).

I took a long time to get back to the B & B, passing by the marketplace and Guildhall, finally stopping briefly at the Hoe to look at the ocean at dusk. Quite beautiful.

Saturday, April 3rd, 1999 - Plymouth

A late night tonight, 10:00. Boy, have I been busy. Started bright and early after a not-so-good night of sleep (very hot in my room, also noisy with the traffic outside). Breakfast was quite good and very relaxing, a good way to start.

I started the drive ahead of me by crossing the Tamar bridge just outside of Plymouth, impressive and a great view. Had to pay on the trip back but not into Cornwall. Made my way over ever smaller roads to eventually stop at Land's End, the Westernmost point in England with crashing surf against craggy cliffs. Approaching the area is pretty bland though, with relatively flat, nondescript landscape with no trees whatsoever and very little habitation. I parted right at Land's End itself which was a mistake (should have stopped at a free car park just a small distance down the road) – they charged a few pounds just to stop the car there for a few hours. At the point itself there is a newer tourist development which I by and large stayed away from (I can do without the fudge shops and fake exhibits thank-you) – I did send a few postcards back to Canada because I thought that they might get a kick out of something sent from there. I proceeded directly to the cliffs themselves and spent quite some time there, climbing over the rocks and sitting and staring at the surf. I have always been attracted to the sea, don't really know why, perhaps it is the size and majesty of it. I walked along the cliffs a bit to see a few more of the further outcrops. Lots of pictures too.

Me, at Land's End

After Land's End I headed over to a place that my mother and sister visited a few years ago – Mousehole. Mousehole is a small Cornish (funny that, in Cornwall!) fishing village just outside of Penzance that has been largely untouched and has remained small and quaint. According to the guidebooks '…despite being beset by tourist hordes every year'. It was quite a nice time, I parked a good way down the road and walked along the side of the road looking down into the sea (the weather had improved from fog early in the morning to sunshine in the afternoon) and into some people's gardens. I walked down the rather narrow roads (ostensibly for cars though they were VERY narrow and winding down the side of the cliffs) and down to the harbour area to grab a Cornish ice cream cone. I walked around a bit more and was quite impressed that there was not much sign of the vast numbers of tourists that are there all the time (even today). Quite nice, a lot of small shops to look through but not much else.

Mousehole Harbour

I had been noticing information on the roads and through more reading about a theatre that had been built into the side of a cliff – The Minack Theatre. I found my way to the theatre by following a rather winding road (attempting to get lost one might argue) and eventually along a single track road that was rather busy (a nice day by this time). I found the theatre, paying the fee to get in (a bit expensive if you ask me), wondering through the small exhibit about how a young lady early in the century had been looking for a place to stage a summer play put on by a local theatre troop. Eventually they built the theatre on their land on the side of a cliff and over the years the facilities have been improved though people still sit on grass seats (tiers of rock covered with sod) and walk up and down the carved steps. The place was just crawling with people, the sun was out and wind was not too fierce. Wonderful views of the ocean from here. If I am ever back in this area during the summer season, I should see about catching a play here (I picked up a list of what is playing this summer…just in case).

The Minack Theatre, Pothcurno

I figured by this point that I had a bit of time left before the sun went down so I started to take the back way back to the hotel – the back way. I decided it might be a bit more interesting to stop at another place I had been thinking about visiting…Lizard's Point. This is the southernmost point in England and has spectacular…but not as spectacular as Land's End…views. It was beginning to get dark but I parked in 'The Lizard' (small town quite near the National Trust Lizard's Point property) and walked down to the point (though it turn out to be a bit mroe than 1/2 mile). It was nice to sit and watch the sea again for a bit of time. I walked the round-about route back to the village, walking for a way along the top of the cliffs and then returning by walking along a farmer's road watching the cows who were watching me.

The Lizard

Dinner was in a local pub in The Lizard which was quite nice. I was not in much a hurry to get back. Food? Oh, mixed grill which contained some nice Cornish cuts of meat and fresh potatoes, not too bad at all. Not exceptional though. Realized after reading a local tourist paper that there was a shop across the road that supposedly sells the best Cornish pasties in Cornwall (evidently they are supposed to have cubes of meat NOT ground beef/mince along with turnip and veggies – found it interesting to hear that some were created with jam in one side so that fisherman could have their meal and desert in one dish!), it was closed after I finished dinner. Oh well. I was running low in fuel (a big problem in the middle of nowhere after 6 PM) but made it to a bigger town before finally continuing back to Plymouth (about a two hour drive – only 70 miles or so, but the roads are VERY windy).

The driving has been long but very enjoyable (and challenging) with many extremely narrow roads with high walls on either side that look like hedges/hedgerows but are actually stone walls overgrown with vines and other plants. The countryside of Cornwall consists (from what I have seen) of all sorts of farming fields separated by these walls. Rolling hills with the occasional settlement or farmer's house. Most roads are extremely narrow, at many points not much than single track lanes. Even the main roads are not always really large enough for two cars at a time. Not many trees around either. Very quiet.

Sunday, April 4th, 1999 - Plymouth

I really get fed up with some restaurants and tonight was no exception, having arrived back at the hotel very early today I was looking for somewhere to eat – preferably simple and substantial (these days are taking something out of me). I picked up a brochure at the hotel and called this place that offered a “Carvery” special (#4.75 is VERY cheap). I called them up and headed down to the Barbican area and eventually found the restaurant (handy that we are only about 4 blocks away from that area). I was one of only two customers in the restaurant when I arrived but that did not put me off. The “Carvery” was (typically) only available until four (it was seven) so I made due with the menu. Not really wanting to be too adventurous I ordered “The Terminator” special (a large steak, 1/4 chicken, sausages, eggs, etc., etc), truly a scary meal. After waiting for some time my meal came “Your turbot sir”! How someone can mistake “Turbot in Lemon Butter” for “The Terminator” I will NEVER know! Staring in disbelief at the rather large, flat fish on my plate I decided that I would give it a go, why not, always looking for something different to try, never tried it before…I was a bit annoyed but I could not stand to see the dish thrown away if I asked for what I ordered. Anyway, I gave it a go and I was very pleasantly surprised – not too bad at all, not really much flavour (a lot like cod in that respect except a bit more bones). Anyway, topped the meal off with deep fried banana (not bad also). Paid more for this meal than the Italian meal the other night (no comparison to that heavenly establishment). Anyway, did NOT leave a tip, they basically ignored me as well which I find difficult to take when I am by myself. I don't think that it was because my accent was obviously North American…

Started the day very well, proceeding down to Cornwall again, determined to get a few things in that I had noticed for the past few days. The day was extremely foggy but yesterday it had started the same way so I was hoping for the best as my first stop was St. Michael's Mount just outside of Penzance. The Mount is a magnificent looking castle on the top of a hill that is an island…most of the time. To get there I took a launch but when I left it was low tide so I could walk back on the causeway. It is a truly magnificent sight – though pretty much hidden by the mist today. The Mount was used originally as a Benedictine monastery then as a fort for a number of years though recently it was inhabited by a family who handed it over to the National Trust only a few years ago (they still live in the lower five floors of the building). Quite a beautiful site and wonderful gardens in terraces all around the base of the building. Many of the National Trust houses and buildings I have visited always seem to be a bit on the used side inside but I have been thinking that must be exactly the case - - they were used. Many of the places I have been in Canada and the US look much nicer inside (even at the same age) but this is much more artificial – here it seems to be a bit more honest. Until recently many of the rooms I saw today were in use and, yes, disrepair was evident, but, what can you do when the things are more than 300 years old? I made my way back to the mainland, walking over the cobbles which were only just recently covered by a few feet of water. They were even using the causeway for island vehicle traffic, I believe I even saw the family living there making their way back…

Well, hoping for the best in terms of the fog lifting, I headed off to the Goonhilly Earth Station which was located a bit to the south of Penzance (in between that and the Lizard, generally speaking – I am beginning to get a sense of where things are in relation to one another). This station is operated by British Telecom and serves as a satellite relay station for many of the telecommunications not only in England but in other east Indian countries as well (surprisingly). In addition to a large number of satellite dishes it also serves as the end point for the transatlantic cables that connect England to North America. Too bad it was so foggy, could not really see a lot. The visitor's centre was very much like an american display, very clean, sanitized and not much of any sort of concrete information (aiming a satellite dish using a joystick to pick up satellite television stations is not my idea of high-tech especially considering that all the information about what to do was written down for you). The exhibits (such as they were) were very small – the shop was far bigger though I found that the commercial nature of the site relatively modest (though the coach tour ended right in front of a trailer selling BT products). The coach tour brought us through the main security perimeter of the site (though this was EXTREMELY corny on the coach – “Alert, alert you are now entering a secure zone!” – As an aside I really hate it when they lie in conjunction to being corny “Infrared detection equipment in use. If you leave the yellow hatched markings on the pavement a security alert will be started” Give me a break!) and to a lookout building that we could see nothing out of (only vague outlines in the mist). The best part of the whole experience was when they took us in the coach around the base of some of the bigger dishes. At least we could see them then, though I got no pictures…

I tried from there to get to a mine but that had closed for the day so I made my way back to Plymouth for an early day…only 6 this time. You know the rest…

Much of the driving today was quite difficult with extremely heavy fog in the upper, hilly areas that are really the main parts of Cornwall. Sometimes I could barely see 30 feet in front of the car. Made driving quite slow.

Monday, April 5th, 1999 - Plymouth

The longest day so far for driving. Began the day bright and early, checking out from the B & B before 9:00. I was on my way to Tintagel on the West coast of northern Cornwall. The only way to this area is by back road so it did take me quite some time but I eventually managed to find it, off on a B road in the middle of nowhere. Tintagel is a very little village so I was able to park my car at one end (paying for it, if you can believe it!) and walk to the other for the entrance to the castle.

Tintagel Castle

Tintagel castle is the supposed castle of King Arthur though it is highly doubtful that this is so. Tintagel was used as a summer home by a few English nobles. To approach the castle, you must walk down a narrow and very steep road to the ocean where you get your ticket and then climb up a large number of stairs. There are two parts to the castle, one being on what is essentially an island though the space between it and the mainland is only a few meters and filled with stone (due to erosion). I first made my way to the top of this island by following the steps made of slate and timber to the top. The castle is in ruins and is not much of a castle here, really just a noble's house. They are still digging here to try to uncover more about the area (though right now they are stopped because of the winter). Following the trail through the first 'noble's house' section I proceeded up the remainder of the island (it is basically a tall chunk of slate with extremely steep cliffs around it), passing by the remainders of many other buildings. Evidently this part was used as a settlement and had as many as 100 houses on it! Getting to the top, it is easy to see why since it is a very large open space (and VERY windy as you might imagine). I wandered around the top of the island, peering down the sides to the ocean below, crashing on the rocks. Quite spectacular.

I wandered around the area for quite some time, lingering over the views. I managed to make it down to where ships would (ostensibly) dock to provide supplies and was surprised to see a seal in the water only meters below. I had seen him when I was looking around on the top but did not expect him to reappear later. Got his picture though…Very big creature, all by himself too. Anyway, proceeded down the side of the island and climbed up to the second part of the castle, being on the mainland. This area was much smaller and only contained what is suspected to be a guard tower and entrance.

I made my way back down and walked along some stones at the base of one of the cliffs to have a closer look inside one of the close-by caves. Very dark in there, could not really go too far as I would not be able to see where I was stepping (a serious consideration on boulders of this size). I had to do it. I had seen the cave from the top of the island and had wondered what was in them.

Tintagel from Merlin's Cave

Took my time walking back up to the town, stopping on the way to some Cornish Clotted Cream Ice Cream, very good (if a bit small), the lady and I chatted for a few minutes about the weather before I continued up to the town. Right across from the beginning of the castle road there is a Cornish Pasty shop so I HAD to stop and pick some up, I figured I should be able to get them home before they go bad…These were the REAL thing (according to that thing I had read in the pub at The Lizard), massive, as big as a plate and full of chunks of meat and vegetables. Heaven. Hurried those back to the car and then returned to the village to visit the Old Post Office which is operated by the National Trust. It is unique in that it is one of the view remaining unaltered houses in the area. It was a residence for quite some time before being used as a post office earlier in this century. It is very squat and has a terribly uneven rooftop of slate. The walls are very thick and made of slate. They have to re-white wash every year as the walls do perspire and stain. The house has very low headroom and has been decorated with things from sales in various buildings in the area (the trust bought it empty). A very pretty little place. Supposedly, this building is the most photographed building in Cornwall. I certainly did my bit to keep that claim going. The people operating it were very friendly (they even had a fire going, quite nice considering it was a bit cool and windy out).

I then proceeded on my return journey. It was a long one but I decided to make the early portions a bit more interesting so I proceeded across the Dartmoor Forest. Unfortunately, it had been getting more and more foggy as the day progressed and up at the top of the Moor it was so foggy I could not see much at all except for the occasional sheep on the road and car coming from the opposite direction. It was quite interesting, what I could see of it. I did stop to sample one of the Pasties in the trunk but did not see too much.

Dartmoor Moors

The drive back was not terribly interesting except for the fog. I eventually arrived home around about 8:00 at night. I had left Tintagel at 2:00. I am a BIT tired. The traffic was not bad at all. I was quite pleased though much of it was very tedious. A LOT more interesting than similar distances travelled in North America – at least this always had something new and different to see.

I have left a lot left to be explored in Cornwall and Devon for that matter. I will have to return to see some more of this part of the country. A lot of it I feel I should explore on foot or perhaps bicycle. There are a large number of B & Bs in the middle of nowhere that would be very nice to stay at. Distances are quite large (for England) and so make getting around a bit difficult. Then again, perhaps a scenic train ride would be a good idea next time?

Another holiday over and another one where I feel extremely tired. Mother says I should learn to “smell the daisies”, I was driving by WAY too quickly to smell them this time. I need a holiday…what next? I have heard good things about…

I stayed at the Bowling Green Hotel in Plymouth. 9-10 Osborne Place, Lockyer Street, Plymouth, Devon PL1 2PU, phone: (01752) 209090.

From their brochure:

  • Opposite the world famous 'Sir Francis Drake's Bowling Green', this elegant Georgian hotel has superbly appointed en suite bedrooms, and is centrally situated for the Barbican Theatre Roayl, leisure/conference center & ferry port, with Dartmoor only a few miles away. Central heating. Phones in bedrooms. Tea/ coffee facilities. TVs.