Lifeboat Station, Mother Ivey's BayOur second night was spent in Padstow, a quaint fishing village tucked into the side of the long estuary of the River Camel. As we walked the narrow cobblestone lanes of the town we discovered Prideaux Place, a small, but elegant, Elizabethan manor house overlooking a deer park. It is open to the public several days a week and has a tea shop.
The following morning we arrived at the harbor to find that the tide was out and that the boats were lying stranded in the sand, looking much like giant, comical insects. We followed the signs to the lower ferry landing to catch our ride across the estuary and then continued our walk northward toward Port Isaac, another historic fishing village. Cornwall’s fishing industry supplies much of Europe with seafood and provided us with many delicious dinners during our trip. Throughout our week in Cornwall we had tasty, freshly prepared food, but our dinner that night at the Port Gaverne Hotel, which included liver pate, a fresh fish platter, and a salad made with bacon and lightly sauteed scallops, was one of the best.
King Arthur (perhaps)
In addition to the natural beauty of the Cornish coast we saw the occasional lighthouse, castle and ancient ruin. The most spectacular ruin is at Tintagel, (pronounced tin TAJ el), where after climbing onto the rocky peninsula we found crenellated castle walls, an old church, an herb garden, and even the remains of a medieval toilet closet built into the castle wall at the edge of the cliff. Apparently the inhabitants hung clothes in the toilet closet because the smell kept out moths and other harmful insects!
Caroline at Tintagel
Tintagel is most famous as the reputed birthplace of King Arthur, although most historians discount any connection between the castle and the real Arthur, a Celtic warrior king who would have lived in the 6th century. The character that most of us know is a literary fiction created first by Geoffrey of Monmouth in the 12th century and popularized by Tennyson in the 19th century. Recently, however, an ancient slate, inscribed with a name that could refer to Arthur, was unearthed at Tintagel. It is the newest of a number of tantalizing clues that suggest there may be some truth to the legend. The real story may never be known, but the island ruins certainly provide a romantic setting for the tale and the village businesses capitalize on the connection. Other sights to see in or near Tintagel include the 11th century church of St. Materiana, the old post office, and Neolithic petroglyphs at Rocky Valley.
Our last two nights were spent in Penzance. This town of 20,000 is on the west side of Mount’s Bay and has been a popular tourist destination since Victorian times when the railroad made it easy for people to get there from London. One still half expects ladies in long dresses and parasols to come strolling down the seaside promenade. Among the local attractions is the city park which features palm trees and other tropical plants.
Most visitors to Penzance make the ten-mile journey to Land’s End so they can have their photo taken at England’s most westerly point, but we decided to give Land’s End a miss when we heard that it is crowded and commercialized. Instead, we took a short bus ride to Marazion and walked across the causeway to St. Michael’s Mount, a tiny castle-topped island in the middle of the bay. The castle, originally built in the 12th century as a Benedictine Priory, is now owned by the St. Aubyn family. It is open to the public and provides breathtaking views across the water. We returned by boat because by afternoon, the tide had submerged the causeway.
Mousehole Harbor at Low Tide
The next day we walked from Penzance around the other side of the bay through Mousehole to Lamorna, one of the many artists’ colonies in Cornwall. Artists have long been attracted to Cornwall both because of its natural beauty and the brilliant light. Their work can be seen at numerous galleries and museums, including the Newlyn Art Gallery near Penzance and the Tate Gallery in St. Ives.
The Merry Maidens (Stone Circle at Lamorna)
The trip to Lamorna also included a visit to the Merry Maidens, a 4000-year-old stone circle, said to be young girls turned to stone because they were caught dancing on Sunday. In three adjacent fields, single standing stones are supposed to be the pipers who led them astray. South Cornwall has numerous Stone Age sites including other stone circles, as well as many burial chambers, holed stones, and quoits, or table stones.
A Cornish Mile
An overview of Cornwall’s long history can be seen at the beautiful Penlee House Museum in Penzance. There I read about a gentleman who visited Cornwall in 1602 and noted that it seemed as if “Cornish miles are much longer than those about London.” (They may have been, since distances had not yet been standardized.) I wondered if he had done a walking trip! There were a few times during our trip that I felt the distances seemed longer than those indicated on our maps, but perhaps that was because I stopped so often to admire the view. Every turn revealed a new perspective--a distant lighthouse, a natural stone archway, a hovering kestrel, or perhaps an abandoned flower field from the days when Cornwall provided London markets with early spring blooms. In our six days in Cornwall we saw a lot, but we still have a long list of things to do on another trip. Perhaps, next time we’ll head south as the Town Crier suggested.
(Although I walked the Cornwall Coast Path more than ten years ago, it is much the same today. The following information is current.)
Getting there: There are several trains a day from Paddington Station in London to Penzance; from Heathrow, take a bus to Reading and catch the train from there. Train information in London is at 0345 484950. If you drive, take the A30 all the way from London to Penzance. Penzance is 280 miles southwest of London.
Getting around: Buses run frequently between most towns although less often on weekends. Taxis are also available.
Where to stay: Guides to bed and breakfasts in Britain are available from most large bookstores in the U.S. and from the AAA. Tourist Information Centers (TIC), located in most larger towns, can help you arrange accommodation. The TIC phone in Penzance is at 01736 362 207. In summer and holiday periods reservations are a must.
Hiking the Coast Path: I bought maps and guidebooks in London at a store called Stanfords at 12-14 Longacre Street WC2, but you can also find what you need at bookshops or outdoor suppliers in the larger towns of Cornwall. The South West Coast Path Association publishes a guidebook, see website below. (Some portions of the Coast Path are owned by the National Trust.) For short walks you can usually get maps and directions at your hotel or local TIC.
For a MAP and information on the SOUTH WEST COAST PATH go to http://www.southwestcoastpath.com/