Our first night along the drive to Cornwall was in Plymouth, Devonshire. It was about halfway to our destination of Penzance, and seemed like a good place to spend the night and try to catch up on a few zzzz’s. We started off the day feeling pretty good, but once we were on the road for our final three hour drive after Bramshott, our energy began to wane. First we got caught in the traffic drama that bypasses Stone Henge and we saw the great stone circle from a distance. Unless I can get up close and walk among the stones without a thousand other tourists, I’ll be happy to skip the site. We may return for a proper visit when we are staying at our second housesit which is only 20 minutes away if it’s less busy in September. We’ll see.
We stopped for some lunch and then soldiered on to Plymouth. Since Erik was doing all the driving, it was my job to keep him awake – no napping for me. I only wished my tin whistle wasn’t so snugly packed in my suitcase or I would have regaled him with a few tunes.
Driving took longer than we expected and we didn’t arrive at the Cassandra Guest House, in downtown Plymouth, until 7pm. We checked in and then went for a walk about town before it got dark. I hadn’t realized that Plymouth is the point where the Mayflower set sail for North America in 1620! We took lots of photos along the promenade as the sun set, and saw the Plymouth Memorial Steps where all of the Mayflower passengers are listed. Two surnames – Priest and Fuller – interest me as I have Quaker ancestors of those names from Norfolk, UK. I wonder if there is some distance connection to these early pilgrims?
As it was a Saturday night, the bars along the Quay were busy and noisy. Groups of young people, adorned in various costumes, were carousing and milling about – the Brits do love their Stag and Hen parties, and we enjoyed the spectacle. We stopped at one street side pub to get a late supper, only to find that few places were still serving food. We stayed for a beer and then continued on our way, looking for a quick meal. Eventually we gave up, went back to our guest house, looked online, and found a late night pizza place nearby where we shared a pizza at 10pm. Finally to bed by 11 – we were exhausted!
The next day, after another big breakfast, we set off for Penzance, but chose to take the slower roads at least part of the way, in order to visit some of the little fishing villages along the coast. Our first stop was not far, at East Looe. We were lucky to find a parking spot, and then took our time wandering around the little town. It was fairly touristy, but the shops were quaint and we enjoyed looking at all of the places boasting the “Best Pasty in the World!”.
We also laughed at how many warning/information signs were posted in the village. Clearly, they are sick and tired of tourists doing stupid things – from “Do not feed the seagulls – they are vicious” to a sign with a tally of how many people have defied the “Do not jump off the pier” sign and had either been fined or died this year. Everywhere you looked, there was a “Do not…” sign. I wish I had taken more photos of them.
Back on the road, our next stop was Charlestown where parts of Poldark are filmed. Unfortunately, it was getting busy now and after 15 minutes of driving around looking for a parking spot, we gave up and left. This was just a harbinger of things to come as we had chosen to visit Cornwall on what turned out to be the busiest week of the summer – the last week of vacation.
We were getting hungry and tired so we got back on the faster A390 and headed for Truro. Our trusty iPad GPS directed us to a large car park, and we were soon parked and walking around the centre of town. It was quite an interesting city with lots of old buildings and cool shops. We went inside the beautiful cathedral and enjoyed the quiet for a few minutes. Back outside, it turned showery so we tucked into a pub and had some lunch where we chatted with a young local couple and visited with their dog who was sitting quietly at their feet. They gave us some advice about getting to Penzance, and soon we were back on the road. We arrived at our AirBnB studio suite about 4pm and checked in. It was on Chapel Street, one of the oldest streets in Penzance, just a few blocks from the promenade. A bonus for Erik were the two pubs within the same block. The area is dotted with pirate logos and it turns out that we will just be a day or two short of participating in the Guinness Book of World Records “Pirates on the Prom” as they vie to regain their title for the most pirates in one place (current record is over 14,000 so it may be just as well that we are gone by then.)
We dropped off our luggage and then parked a few blocks down the road. Our room was a former art studio, in a separate building in the back of a larger house, with vaulted ceilings, and a partial wall dividing the bedroom with the rest of the studio. Three skylights provided lots of natural light in the suite. There was a wood stove and a small but fully equipped kitchen, and it had a private garden patio, should the sun come out.
Chris and Liv, our hosts who live in the main house, were a retired couple just a little older than Erik. They were both really friendly and interesting and we had several long chats with them during our visit to Penzance. Among other things, we learned that Liv had dated Eric Clapton while they were in high school. We thought that was pretty cool! They had both worked in the film and TV industry, in set design I think, and Chris had a shop where he was building props for his pirate costume, including a pirate hat with a pirate galleon on top!
We spent four nights at the studio suite, eating home cooked food every night but one, and we really enjoyed the area in general. There was lots to see within walking distance, and we took several day trips to see some of the nearby sights. Here are a few places we visited.
St Michael’s Mount
Although only 5 km down the road from Penzance, and quite visible from the promenade near our B&B, this was another horrifically busy site. It only took 10 minutes to drive there, but at least 20-30 to find a parking spot. We eventually had to give up, loop around, and go back to a beach lot about 1km away. We paid for 2 hours parking (in retrospect we should have booked longer), and walked along the beach to the causeway. This interesting island is only accessible by foot during low tide and so the pathway is opened during 4-6 hours each day, with a schedule posted. The rest of the time, you can take a small boat over and back for £2 per person each way although I suspect the lineup might be quite long, given the crowds visiting.
Once we arrived at the island and showed our NTS “get in free” card, we learned that the “queue” for the castle was about 90 minutes long, and the gardens were closed that day. Ah well. We navigated the crowds, sat on the grass for awhile, took a few pictures and headed back to the car. This is another place we will have to visit some day when there aren’t 1000+ other tourists around. More info about St Michael’s Mount can be found here.
First of all, it’s it’s pronounced “Mowzle”, not “Mouse Hole”. This adorable little village is only a 10 minutes drive northwest from Penzance. As the streets are VERY narrow and there’s next to no parking, we parked about 1km outside of town and walked along the path to the quay. The village is tiny but it looks like it would be a really nice place to have a holiday “let”, especially if you have a kitchen (we didn’t see many restaurants). We took some photos of the quirky buildings and of the people sunbathing on the empty cove (as it was low tide and there was a string of boats resting in the mud) and then walked back the car to continue our journey. The weather was mild and sunny and I actually got a sunburn that day!
This was a non-starter. I really wanted to visit this beach where some of Poldark scenes were filmed. It was only a short drive from Penzance, but it was so busy that we could not find a parking spot and eventually had to give up and drive away. Pics of Porthcurno can be found here.
Lands End, near Sennen
Next we drove another 20 minutes to most south-westerly point of England – Land’s End. Similar to Sagres, in Portugal, which was visited in the Spring, this rocky outcrop of land provided spectacular views from the the cliffs high above the sea. There was plenty of parking (£6 for the day with re-entry privileges for 7 days), however, we had to walk through a horribly touristy section which boasted no fewer than four ‘attractions” including Shaun the Sheep Experience (?!), and a number of fast food joints where we made the mistake of having a quick lunch (I’m sure that hot dog was the cause of my tummy upset the next day). Once we passed through the commercial section, the walk along the coast was lovely and we took lots of pictures.
As a side note, I’ve heard that Lizard Point is an equally beautiful, and less touristy, spot to see but we didn’t have the time to visit – next time!
Levant Mine and Beam Engine
A little further up the coast, we stopped in at this National Trust site and were lucky to be able to join the last tour of the day. We learned about the history of Copper and Tin mining to the Cornwall coast, and we got to go underground a ways to see what it was like in the narrow passageways. When out of work, the skilled Cornish miners have travelled all over the world to find work and so wherever there are mines, you will find men of Cornish heritage. Levant mine was particularly interesting because it is one of the filming locations for one of my favourite shows “Poldark” about an 18th century mining family. If you haven’t seen it, check it out – the book series is good as well.
The traditional Cornish Pasty (pronounced past-y, not paste-y), is made with a tasty combination of beef, potato, turnip, and onions in a hearty pastry crust. Some believe that the crimped edge of the pasty enabled the miners to hold their meal in one hand, and then toss the edge of the crust where their arsenic-covered fingers had held it. Regardless, Cornish pasties can be found all over Cornwall and we enjoyed them several times while we were there. I suspect I’ll be trying my hand at making some when I get home this fall.
Penzance turned out to be the perfect spot to use a home base and the four days were definitely not enough time to see everything at a leisurely pace. Subsequently, we took our time and only chose a few places to visit. We’d go for a week if we were doing it again. We also found that the traffic and parking was terrible and it would have been better to have come after school starts in September. However, it’s always nice to know we have to go back again some day!
Next Up: Cornwall, Part Two