Exploring Devon & Cornwall - part 2
Words and photography by Peter Thorpe
The coast features beautiful beaches with stunning scenery
Wow – another fabulous couple of days touring Cornwall. Everywhere you look, amazing scenery and quaint little villages with narrow little cobblestone streets. Our bus driver is amazing how he negotiates narrow country roads, with only enough room for one car – a bit hairy at times. I just close my eyes and think of England – but our driver obviously knows these roads intricately and seems to squeeze the minibus through spaces smaller than the vehicle with ease.
We’re in St Michael’s Mount, which takes its name from the archangel Michael, who appeared to protect the local fisherman from mermaids. Must have been wild gals, those mermaids!
St Michael’s island is one of 43 walk-able islands around Britain, which means you can actually walk to the island when the tide goes out. The legend of the island says it was once home to a giant but more recently, it was home to the monks and the first monastery here dates back to the 8th century. It’s low tide so we walk out along the shore and explore the island and the monastery, being careful to head back to land before the tide comes in and we need a rescue boat.
The beach at St Ives - it regularly wins the ‘UK Best Seaside town’ award
Then, we’re off to St Ives, which used to be a major pilchard fishing area and at its height in the 1750s, yielded nearly one billion fish annually. Sadly, like many places in the world today, this industry was destroyed by over-fishing and it’s now is a famous holiday spot for both local and overseas visitors. St Ives regularly wins the ‘UK Best Seaside town’ award, which is not surprising and is also well known for its local art scene. It also has a surprisingly good beach, with nice white sand and clear blue waters. Not quite Bondi but not bad on a sunny day. Plenty of locals out on surfboards but not a ripple in sight. I also notice most people are wearing wet-suits in the water – it is freezing.
Of course, being in Cornwall, we have to have a Cornish pasty for lunch. Delicious!
You can't go to Cornwall without eating at least one pasty!
Also, met a statue in the street – the most amazing one I have ever seen. Looked like it was made of stone and had me fooled for a while before he pointed at his bowl, asking for a donation.
Believe it or not - this statue is a real person!
Then, we’re on the road again, mostly hugging the coast. Everywhere we look we see abandoned tin mines. In their heyday, some of these mines employed up to 500 people until they closed in the early 1900s. Finally, we reach the most western tip of England, Land’s End. We find this a bit over commercialised and not quite what we expected but if you are travelling with your grandkids, they will enjoy the fun pier.
The amazing Minack Theatre - worth the price of the trip on its own.
Next, we’re off to the absolute highlight of the trip, the Minack Theatre. This amazing place is an inspiring story of English eccentricity and is worth the price of the trip on its own.
Created on the side of a sheer cliff, it was built by a slightly-built lady and her gardener. Rowena Cade bought the plot of land at Minack point in the 1920s for just £100. When locals needed a venue for their production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, she offered her land and literally carved a theatre out of the cliffs. Following the shows’ success, she continued her work developing the facilities and together with her loyal gardener, worked for decades to build one of the most atmospheric and iconic open-air theatres in Britain. One of the most amazing places we have ever visited.
The schoolhouse where Doc Martin's wife teaches
Another tick on the bucket list! Finally made it to Port Issacs or Portwenn, if you are into the British TV show, Doc Martin. I’ve enjoyed the show for years and always wanted to visit the town where it is made. This was a lot of fun.
Port Isaac is a charming little fishing village on the west coast of Cornwall. It features a pier and breakwater, constructed during the time of Henry VIII, with prosperity coming from freight and fishing industries. It was a real treat seeing the surgery where Doc Martin practices, Burt Large’s fish restaurant and Mrs Tishall’s pharmacy and the school house where the Doc’s wife teaches. Even if you haven’t seen the TV show, this place is well worth a visit as a classic Cornwall fishing village.
The breakwater at Port Issacs or Portwenn, if you are into Doc Martin
Then, we’re back on the road and off to Tintagel, where the legend of King Arthur began. The now ruined Tintagel Castle is alleged to be the birthplace of England’s true King. However, ‘History of the Kings of Britain’ written by Geoffrey of Monmouth, actually describes Tintagel Castle to be where Arthur was conceived. After the King, Uther Pendragon had fallen in love with the wife of the Earl of Cornwall, Igraine, he laid siege to Tintagel castle in her pursuit. With the help of the magical Welsh Druid Merlin, he transformed his appearance to gain entry to the castle and successfully woo the lady of his desires.
Finally, our fourth day ends in historic Exeter, which is thought to be the furthest west the Romans dared to travel during their occupation of Britain. Landmarks here include the remains of the Norman Rougemont Castle and Exeter Cathedral, which was constructed mostly in the 14th century.
And if you’re not into the 3Cs (churches, castles and cathedrals) there are a few great little pubs in town that serve a mean Guinness.
The following day we leave Cornwall behind and head for the historic city of Bath. But that’s another story.