Friday, 26 July 2013

Devon and Cornwall, Days 2-5

Sunday 2nd June

Over the next four days in Cornwall, we packed in a lot of sightseeing, together with various family occasions. Sunday revolved around a barbecue at my aunt and uncle's house, involving probably the biggest reunion of my mum's side of the family in at least a decade. I hadn't seen two of my cousins since about 1995; in some sense it was almost like we'd never met, but equally there was an instant family tie, with none of the awkwardness that sometimes comes with meeting new friends.

My aunt and uncle's house is set on the edge of a village in beautiful countryside. We'd picked the right week to come to Cornwall: not two days before I left, it was cold and miserable, but by Sunday afternoon it was hot and sunny, feeling genuinely like summer for the first time. We sat outside in the sun enjoying our hot dogs and our steaks (to say nothing of the wide variety of salads and side dishes laid on), soaking up the sun.

After a lovely afternoon spent reminiscing and swapping stories, rounded off with a walk down to the river just down from their house, we headed back to the hotel, stuffed full of food. Rather than go out for dinner, we eventually headed out for a picnic, making our own sandwiches and eating them in the car on the beautiful beach at Polzeath, just north of Padstow, on the north coast, before taking a walk out to the edge of the Atlantic.

Monday 3rd June

The next day my parents and I left my aunt and uncle and headed west, to the very edges of England. While Land's End is the more popular, it is only the westernmost point in England, not Britain (Ardnamurchan, in Scotland, is further west). On the other hand, the Lizard Point is the southernmost point in Britain, but is much less of a tourist trap.

We headed first to the Lizard, over an hour's drive west even from Bodmin. (Even Cornwall itself is big!) The Lizard is a beautiful peninsula: the land is covered in beautiful fields, while the coastline is rugged but well-worn, with easy access to the coastal paths. After a nice walk over to the next headland, we headed back into the village of Lizard for some lunch.

After a brief stop at Kynance Cove - a beautiful bay just north of the Lizard - we headed to Marazion, just east of Penzance and home of St Michael's Mount, a natural island just a few hundred metres off the coast which has acted as a natural fortification for nearly a millennium.

While we made it to the island, unfortunately by the time we got to the castle it was too late in the afternoon and we couldn't take a look around the inside. At low tide, one can walk across the causeway to the island; but when we got there the tide was well in, and so a little motorboat shuttled us to and from the island.

With the afternoon gone, but plenty of time before dinner, we headed to Land's End. While much more touristy, and geographically less relevant, it's easy to see why Land's End is so much more popular than the Lizard: the whole country seems to narrow about you as you drive west on the A30, until at last you arrive at the end of England, surrounded by nearly 270 degrees of sea.

Surrounding the point itself is a sprawling tourist complex, with multiple cafes and gift shops. But arriving as we did at 6pm it was mercifully quiet, with just a few visitors and none of the tourist hubbub. The one disadvantage was that the toilets were locked, but otherwise we got to look into the Atlantic on all sides in peace.

We had dinner in St Ives, about half an hour's drive from Land's End, in a lovely fish restaurant with a view over the old harbour. Our meal was delayed by a hold-up in the kitchen, but this meant that we exited the restaurant just as the sun was crossing the horizon in a fabulous orange sunset. The fading sunlight persisted, with a few faint rays staving off darkness for the whole hour-long drive home.

Tuesday 4th June

On Tuesday, blessed with even better weather than the previous couple of days, we headed to the north coast, to Tintagel Castle. Located on a rocky peninsula jutting into the sea, and making a perfect natural fortification, Tintagel Castle may have been used as early as the third century AD; but the first definite evidence points to a fortress in early medieval times. Legend has it that King Arthur himself was conceived here.

The castle itself is a nearly impregnable fortress perched right on the coast, with just one wooden bridge linking it to the mainland. After climbing up a staircase carved out of the stone, you find yourself on top of the main rock of the island, and wandering around you get superb views out to the sea and to the cliffs on the coastline.

The ruined buildings of the castle make for an interesting sight (and site!), with remnants of a great hall, a well, a chapel, and a tunnel possibly used for storing food. The island is surrounded by cliffs, in one of which lies Merlin's Cave. The whole thing takes the better part of two hours to fully explore, and is remarkably interesting, made all the nicer by the lovely sunny day.

After a very nice lunch in the visitors centre at the Castle, we headed back up the steep hill (which hadn't seemed half as bad on the way down!) to the village of Tintagel itself. We then paid a visit to the Old Post Office, a beautifully-preserved fourteenth-century stone house now in the hands of the National Trust, before relaxing in the sun with a nice scone.

In the evening, after a brief rest in the hotel, we headed to Padstow for dinner. Padstow, a pretty fishing port on the north coast of Cornwall, is sometimes referred to as Padstein - a tongue-in-cheek reference to the number of eating establishments in the town run by Rick Stein. We managed to avoid them all, however, and had a very nice Italian meal in a restaurant overlooking the harbour.

Wednesday 5th June

Wednesday was the last full day of family - my parents and my aunt and uncle were headed home on Thursday. We were thus headed for one last family lunch in Fowey. Beforehand, though, we paid a flying visit to Wave 7 Gallery, run by my cousin in rural Cornwall just a few miles north of where we were staying. The gallery is filled with paintings, pottery, prints and assorted knick-knacks, and my mum couldn't resist the urge to buy a couple of things.

A quick drive over to the south coast brought us to Fowey Hall, a lavish country house hotel where my Cornish aunt and uncle treated the rest of us to a fabulous three-course meal, all the while swapping stories aplenty. After a long, lingering lunch, we left my Cornish aunt and uncle, and the five of us headed for a drive around the coast to Mevagissey, where we stopped to look round the little fishing village.

After that we headed for the nearby Dormer Point, or more accurately to the car park where you can walk to the point. Navigating there proved to be a challenge: we dispensed with the satnav and I used a proper old-fashioned Landranger to guide us to the car park, which was down a seemingly interminable series of lanes. Once there, we went for a short walk; while we didn't bother going all the way to the point we still got some lovely views round the coast; my dad, ever eager, continued on to the point proper at his usual brisk pace, and by the time the rest of us had dandered back to the car he had practically caught us up.

Having had such a big lunch we decided a picnic tea would suffice, so we grabbed some sandwiches and, once back at our hotel, sat outside in the fading sunlight to enjoy one last picnic as a family.

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