“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.
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.
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…
… 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.
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.
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.