Category Archives: United Kingdom

The Good Life – First Pea Crop

After I had completed the task of clearing the overgrown garden and handed it over to Kim for cultivation I retained a small plot for myself to try my hand at growing vegetables.  I have been rewarded with a first crop of peas that I have taken for mangetout.  Later I will let some develop into full peas before impatiently harvesting.

MangetoutFirst Crop 2019

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Cornwall, Padstow, Tintagel and Boscastle

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It really doesn’t pay to go back and look again at the things that once delighted you, because it’s unlikely they will delight you now.” – Bill Bryson,

Sally and the grandchildren were returning home today, a day earlier than Kim and I so with a two hundred mile journey to consider we decided to make some visits to places along the first part of their route.

We started with Padstow, a popular fishing port on the north coast of Cornwall.  We could have chosen any one of a number of similar villages but we chose Padstow because we wanted fish and chips from Rick Stein’s chippy.

Rick Stein is a famous English celebrity chef who lives in Padstow and specialises in fish dishes.  He has been so successful that he now owns several restaurants and food shops in the town and the locals now refer to the place as Padstein.

Rick Stein - Spain

As we got close it became obvious that a lot of other people wanted Rick Stein’s fish and chips today because on a gloriously sunny day the car parks were full and the charming little harbour was overrun with tourists and day-trippers.

The queue at the fish and chip shop close to the harbour was too long and too slow for my impatient grandchildren so went elsewhere and bought them from an alternative restaurant and I am certain that they tasted just as good.

We spent a couple of hours in Padstow around the boats and the seaside shops and looked across the Camel Estuary to the up-market seaside village of Rock where I holidayed with my parents around about 1965.

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After Padstow  I was keen to visit Tintagel because I had happy memories of it from 1965.  Tintagel Castle is associated with the stories of brave King Arthur, mysterious Merlin, The bold Knights of the Round Table and beautiful Queen Guinevere and this was when I still believed the stories of the Arthurian legend.

Although it is almost certain that King Arthur (if indeed there ever was a King Arthur) never stepped foot at all in Tintagel or its castle (mostly on account of the fact that it wasn’t built until several years after his possible existence) the village and English Heritage (who own the castle) have made a very good job of convincing everyone that he did and have successfully turned it into one of the most visited places in England.

This is a picture of my grandparents visiting the castle in 1960…

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… in 1960 they always seemed old to me but they were only in their mid-50s and now that I am sixty-five I see them in a different way.

I can’t be sure why I remembered Tintagel as somewhere interesting and worth a return because it turned out to be spectacularly unmemorable. We parked the car in the visitor centre which without explanation was closed and walked towards the castle along a long linear street lined with shops and cafés which all had a predictable Arthurian theme and held no interest for us.

After a steep descent to the coast we came upon the castle which was also closed whilst a new footbridge is being constructed across from the mainland to the rocky promontory that is the castle.  I say castle but all there is to justify this description are a few scrappy bits of ruined walls and not much else so I wasn’t too upset that it was closed and at least we saved on the admission fee.

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Tintagel goes onto my list of disappointing places alongside Jamaica Inn.  I had no plans to visit Jamaica Inn today because even as a ten year old I can remember being greatly underwhelmed by the visit there over fifty years ago.

So we went to Boscastle where I remembered the Witches Museum which also turned out to be a place that I didn’t really need to go back to.  I offered my grandchildren money not to go in but they insisted and their assessment was one of disappointment and regret that they hadn’t taken the cash offer.  Boscastle has more charm than Tintagel I have to confess but after a walk alongside the long sinuous harbour and a visit to the National Trust shop there isn’t really a great deal more to see.

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But the real purpose of our visit was to complete the week with a Cornish cream tea so we identified a suitable place where the grandchildren could terrorise the staff and spoil the afternoon for any other visitors and sat in the sunshine and enjoyed a plate of homemade scones, some plain, some with currants and remembered that in Cornwall it is jam first and cream on top unlike in Devon where they reverse the procedure.

After tea we said goodbye to Sally and the children, they headed east towards the Midlands and we returned to Mevagissy and the cottage which now seemed curiously deserted and quiet.  I always get an empty feeling when the children go home.

The following day we enjoyed a long walk along the coastal path in the unexpected sunshine and a week that began requiring raincoats, scarves and gloves ended in shirt-sleeves, shorts and sun-cream.  What a genuinely fascinating and eclectic place England is with its interesting diverse weather conditions that always manage to delight and surprise.

The next day we vacated the lovely Tranquility Cottage and made the long drive home to the East Coast.

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Cornwall, The Lost Gardens of Heligan

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“Heligan is a modern miracle, once the estate of the Tremayne family, it was definitively scuppered – like so much else – by the First World War. It lost the great bulk of its staff and its thousand acres or more lapsed into almost complete decay.”  – John Fowles

After a couple of days we had exhausted all of the obvious local National Trust options that were close by and with no real appetite to tackle the dreadful A30 again we decided to stay local even though this involved putting hands in pockets and paying an entrance fee.  We chose the ‘Lost Gardens of Heligan’ which cost £55 for a family ticket.

Heligan, it turns out is one of the most interesting estates in all of England. Lost to the brambles of time since the outbreak of WW1, this Sleeping Beauty was re-awakened in 1990 to become Europe’s largest garden restoration project. Even without Alan Titchmarsh!

The name says it all I suppose. These gardens on the south coast of Cornwall near Mevagissey had once been a thriving country estate, but went into decline after the First World War and lost to the sands and weeds of time.

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The story of the lost gardens of Heligan is now the stuff of legend. When the ecologist Tim Smit and local builder John Nelson entered the estate sometime in 1990 they made a pivotal discovery – the magnificently named Thunderbox Room, which had been the gardener’s lavatory.

The pair found signatures scribbled on the flaking plaster along with the date August 1914, as they prepared to leave and go to war.  These were the men who had looked after the gardens and the pair resolved to rediscover them.  Twelve left, only three returned and the nine lost their lives on the battlefields of France.

After the war the owner John ‘Jack’ Tremayne declared that ‘he couldn’t live with the ghosts of the place’ and left Heligan for Italy. No Tremayne has lived there since.  With a desperate shortage of labour in the post-war years the gardens were abandoned and left to return to nature.

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In 1990, work began on what is Europe’s largest garden restoration project and now it is possible to get an idea of what a Victorian estate may have looked like.

And what a splendid job they have made of the ambitious restoration and we discovered a lot to see and do in the gardens and surrounding woodland. The northern gardens around the house consist of a productive vegetable and fruit area and some pleasure grounds, which include various aristocratic distractions such as an enclosed Italianate garden and the pineapple pit where the fruit is grown under glass in rotting manure. From the formal gardens the estate slopes south towards Mevagissey and the highlight is the ten acre jungle garden because the combination of a south-facing valley and mild Cornish climate makes this perfect for exotics.

I always worry about taking children to see gardens for fear that they might be bored but there was no chance of that at Heligan.  We walked for almost five miles along the paths, running, skipping, jumping, climbing (the children of course, not me) and after our picnic on the lawn and as we left we declared the day to be a resounding success with no complaints from us about the entrance fee which we all agreed was very good value for money.

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Cornwall, Around Mevagissey Harbour Part 2

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After leaving St Michael’s Mount we had another frustrating drive back to Mevagissey and arrived in the late afternoon.  The sun was shining so I went straight to the harbour with my camera and became fascinated by the boats and the reflections…

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Cornwall, St Michael’s Mount

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“In 1067, the monastery of Mont Saint-Michel gave its support to Duke William of Normandy in his claim to the throne of England. This he rewarded with properties and grounds on the English side of the Channel, including a small island off the south-western coast of Cornwall which was modelled after the Mount and became a Norman priory named St Michael’s Mount of Penzance.” – Wikipedia

Everyone knows that driving in Cornwall can be a tedious and frustrating affair.  I knew it but didn’t expect it so early in the year as the month of April (even though it was school Easter holiday week).

Today we were driving thirty miles west to the village of Marazion and St. Michaels Mount.  A simple enough matter anyone might think.  Entrance to the castle is restricted by the tide because visitors have to walk across a causeway that becomes submerged twice a day so timing is somewhat critical.  I studied the tide tables and set a departure time which would give us plenty of time to get there for the opening of the causeway and a couple of hours wandering about at the site.

First of all we drove to the town of St Austell which is not a very appealing place I have to say.  It was once the centre of the entire World china clay production and most people will have an item of porcelain in their homes which came from this area but the quarries are all closed down now.  It is estimated that there are fifty years of clay reserves left in the ground but the owners find it more economical to concentrate on operations in Brazil.

Away from the dramatic coast line Cornwall is not an attractive place.  Pause for sharp intake of breath from readers.  Concrete not stone, render not brick.  The rural landscape is rather dull and the towns are depressing, grey and ugly.  Places look better in the sunshine of course but in Cornwall the sun has to try a lot harder than some other places.  I am reminded of the joke, “There was an earthquake in Cornwall last night, it did a million pounds worth of improvements to Cambourne”.  St Austell is surrounded by white peaks of spoil from the quarries but even the optimistic description of the Cornish Alps cannot really hope to make them any more appealing.

Cornish Alps St Austell

North of St Austell we finally reached the A30 and I foolishly looked forward to straight forward effortless motoring for the final twenty miles.  How wrong I was.  The A30 must be one of the worst roads in England.  You cruise along nicely for a couple of miles on a dual carriageway and then every five miles or so the traffic grinds to a standstill at a roundabout and then everyone creeps forwards at increments of about two feet every ten minutes.

The traffic was frequently at a standstill and according to my calculations the tide was coming in at St Michaels Mount and I could feel my normal calm demeanour rapidly evaporating.  I cursed myself for not allowing more time for the journey.

We finally arrived at Marazion and being late for the tide and the foot crossing it was so busy that we had to use an overflow car park which involved an additional fifteen minute hike to the causeway and then inevitably everyone wanted to go to the toilets which added another ten minutes or so and my frustration entered the red zone as I could see our tidal window of opportunity quickly ebbing away.

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Eventually we made the windswept crossing to the castle but we only had a couple of hours now before we would have to return or be cut off by the tide and have to stay there for eight hours or so.

I was keen to see St Michael’s Mount because a couple of years ago I had visited its counterpart in France.  Mont St Michel is a lot bigger and although a magnificent spectacle is disappointingly commercialised so I didn’t know quite what to expect.  It turned out to be quite different without the tacky tourist shops and cheap food outlets which have spoilt the French island castle but really I wouldn’t expect that sort of thing from the National Trust.

Interestingly, despite the tat Mont St Michel is a UNESCO World Heritage Site but St Michael’s Mount is not.  How unfair.

It is one of the iconic landmarks of Cornwall and today it was rather too busy for my liking with thousands of people swarming across the causeway and then making their way to the very top of the rock and visiting the interior.  Inside was hot and cramped so we turned back after the first room and skipped the visit preferring instead to sit outside on the rocks and wait while the family completed the tortuous route through the castle.

From the top we could see the tide beginning to advance so it was time to make our way down and cross back to the mainland before the causeway would be completely submerged.

Despite the crowds this is a place well worth a visit and I enjoyed our short time on the rock with its attractive harbour, medieval cobbles and stone built houses where real people still live.  As it happened there was no real need to rush off because there was a ferry boat service that would have taken us back for only a small charge.

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Just by way of comparison this is Mont St Michel in Brittany in France…

Mont St Michel France

Cornwall, Value For Money with the National Trust

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With the weather much improved, the sun shining and the temperature rapidly rising we could now begin to make plans for the rest of the week with a whole lot more confidence.

We are all members of the National Trust so one of our plans was to take full advantage of this and see how many places we could visit without spending a penny on admission.  The annual cost of a joint membership is £120 and I have discovered before that it is quite easy to get all of that back in only a few days.

First of all we visited nearby Lanhydrock, an aristocratic Victorian country house, an upstairs/downstairs sort of place with a succession of perfectly preserved rooms and exhibits.  I especially liked looking around the kitchens and the food preparation areas probably because in the social hierarchy of the time that is where we would most likely have found ourselves.

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It was a busy place and I was surprised to learn that it is the tenth most visited National Trust property in the UK.  First, by the way, is the overrated Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.

We spent an enjoyable afternoon at Lanhydrock exploring the house, a walk in the garden and an Easter Egg hunt for the children.  Without National Trust membership the cost of admission would have been a whopping £53.75 for all of us.

Next up was Trerice close to Newquay, an Elizabethan manor house that was once the home of the powerful Arundell family where little it seems has changed since it was built in 1573.

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It has a nice garden and some interesting rooms and a hands-on dressing up in Tudor clothes rack for the children.  This is a good feature of the National Trust, they know children are going to be bored out of their minds in the house and gardens so they lay on several distractions.  Mine bypassed the clothes and went immediately for the medieval armour helmets.  The poor man on duty nearly had a fit when he saw my three trying them on for size and almost dropping them on the stone floor.  William’s chosen helmet was almost as heavy as he is. The man was greatly relieved when we put them down again and moved on and so was I because I wasn’t looking forward to explaining the damage to the Board of the National Trust.

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Outside in what was once the farmyard there was a barn with more children’s activities, egg painting, brass rubbing and more dressing up.  I left the children to it whilst I explored the gardens and the old orchard outside.  I especially enjoyed this visit.

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Total saving on admission price at Trerice was £47.25 and after only two visits we were almost in credit on our membership fee.

On another day we visited St. Michael’s Mount at Marazion but I am saving that for a full post later because it was an especially good day out.  Total saving on admission prices £56.00.  I was feeling really good about all of this.

On the return journey from the island retreat we stopped over at the country house of Godolphin, once home to the family of the same name who were once the richest landowners in the whole county with an immense and obscene amount of wealth based on exploitation of minerals and mining.

It is a pleasant little house and garden but the house it seems is rarely fully open because it is let out as a holiday home by the National Trust.  It wasn’t open when we visited but the children enjoyed the gardens and the activities that were laid on for them,

I thought that the place was overpriced and our total saving on admission price was £31.50.

On the final day in Cornwall we visited Tintagel.  We wanted to visit the castle (English Heritage, not NT and prepared to pay) but it was closed so instead we went to the National Trust Old Post Office which quite frankly was a bit of a let-down and I would have been very annoyed indeed if we had paid the full adult admission charge of a combined £9 for just a couple of rooms and a tiny garden.

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Adding all of that together that was a total of £197.50 in saved admission charges on the day but of course to keep things in perspective I have to say that if we hadn’t been members then we certainly wouldn’t have gone to all of them!

Within the last year we have visited other places as well…

Hadrian’s Wall and Seaton Delavell in Northumberland (total saving £32.40) and Oxborough Hall, Sutton Hoo and Ickworth House in East Anglia (total saving£59.20) so overall I think membership has provided value for money and I shall be happy to renew without any grumbles when it is due for renewal in June.

Cornwall, Around Mevagissey Harbour Part 1

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After all that walking I slept especially well and when I woke at about eight o’clock and fearing the worst I immediately listened out for the wind and the rain but all was quite calm.  The only sound was the slow and satisfying rhythmic thud, thud, thud of a diesel engine taking a boat out to sea which I took to mean that if a boat was going out to sea then the gale had surely blown itself out.

Sure enough the sun was shining so I immediately took advantage of this unexpected improvement in the weather, pulled on my clothes and immediately went into the village to capture some pictures.

Mevagissey is a delightful place, the streets are narrow and twist like a corkscrew, some lanes are more like staircases than streets, most are too narrow for cars but that doesn’t stop some people trying to drive down them, there are no pavements and double yellow lines to tell people not to park even though this is surely patently obvious.  A hundred years ago or so the designers of the village were more concerned with keeping out the sea than attracting visitors.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…