Saturday, March 24th
The journey begins
We got up at 7 a.m. made a cup of tea – always a safe way to start the day. Freya had been taken to the cattery the day before and we had packed in the evening so today all we had to worry about was getting to the station on time.
Everything was in the big red wheelie suitcase which it is my job to haul. Tigger also had the case containing her laptop and I a rucksack for good measure. We heaved this, and ourselves, aboard a 205 bus which conveniently terminates at Paddington station.
We had nearly an hour to wait for our train so we had breakfast at the Ritazza coffee bar, watching a pigeon with a damaged left foot hop from table to table looking for scraps. The train arrived and our journey began on time at 10:05. It was to last 6 hours and, because of engineering works, to include a coach ride from Tiverton to Plymouth where we regained the train.
As we progressed SE, the weather steadily brightened and we arrived in Penzance to find it warm and sunny. Not that this lasted: by the evening it was as cold as London.
The little hotel is behind the station. The room is a bit small for two big people and we have to take care not to get in one another’s way but at least it’s warm and the bed comfortable.
In the evening we took a stroll round the town. Everything was closing so we concentrated on finding something to eat as we hadn’t had a proper meal during the day – a mezzaluna at Paddington and a cheese sandwich at Plymouth. We settled for an Indian restaurant and ordered vegetable thali plus a side dish of mattir panir, which we love, and lassi to wash it down.
After the meal we took another stroll, looking for somewhere to have coffee but it was so chilly we returned to the hotel and brewed up there. We always take tea with us, of course.
Tonight the clocks go forward which is annoying. It really is high time to stop this foolishness of messing with the clocks twice a year. We altered the time on our mobiles (my watch is radio controlled and looks after itself), set the alarm for breakfast and, as Samuel Pepys might write, so to bed.
Sunday, March 25th
Birthday in Sennen Cove
Sunday, March 25th
Today is Tigger’s birthday. Happy birthday, Tigger!
I woke up at 6:45, Summer Time. I had set the alarm for 7 as breakfast is from 8 to 9. I made tea and then we washed and dressed and went down for breakfast.
We reached the bus station just after 9 and made a choice between the available buses, electing the 9:20 to Land’s End. The sky was grey and the air very cold. We sat on the sideways seats behind the driver and I put my rucksack in the luggage well between us.
On a whim, we left the bus at Sennen Cove. There was nothing open except a little shop called The Old Boathouse. Among the goods on sale we found a black tee shirt with a silver tiger on the front and on the back. Tigger requested this as a birthday present and I was happy to oblige.
The shopkeeper, called Sharon, wrapped the tee. It was only when Tigger suggested I put the package in my rucksack that I realized I had left it on the bus. Damn!
Sharon kindly phoned the bus company and was able to raise someone who informed her that the same bus would be back in Sennen Cove at 12:30. It was now 10:30 so we repaired to the Old Success Inn for tea. That is where I am writing this.
In a while we will go for another stroll and then wait for the bus and see if the rucksack is still aboard. The sun has come out, which gives a more cheerful feeling to things.
The bus arrived 5 minutes early and as I nervously approached, the driver cheerfully pointed to my rucksack in the luggage rack near the door. Phew! I’m glad to have it back because there are a few articles in it I prefer not to lose and because it means Sharon’s kindness met with success.
The bus ride back to Penzance was uneventful. On arrival, we found our thoughts turning to lunch. We had seen an “Organic Restaurant” and went there. Several tempting vegetarian dishes were on offer and our meal was very tasty and satisfying.
On the way back to the hotel for tea and a rest, we stopped to watch a herring gull feeding by plunging for food. I was really enchanted by this because I didn’t know they did this.
The gull was floating about on shallow water and I could see he was observing the bottom. Suddenly, he up-ended and plunged his head down into the water. Because he was so buoyant, when he went into deeper water he jumped right out of the water to achieve the momentum necessary to reach the bottom. What he was catching I don’t know but we could see he was eating.
Tigger pulled out her latest toy, a miniature video camera, one of Tchibo’s finest, and so we have a couple sequences of the plunging gull.
That’s the second interesting fact that Cornwall has taught me about gulls.
We went back to the hotel for a cup of tea and a snooze. By the time we emerged it was 7:45. At the bus station, we looked for a destination we could both go to and return from: not always a foregone conclusion in Cornwall where transport tends to go to bed early. The first bus to appear was for Mousehole so we climbed aboard after ensuring there were buses to bring us back.
Mousehole (pronounced “mouz’l”) is a pretty little town, even in the dark. The only problem was that every eatery ceased serving at 8:30. We caught the 9:15 bus back to Penzance but even there the first restaurant we tried had ceased serving. Little India in Albert St was open and welcoming and that is where I am writing this.
Thus ended our first full day in Cornwall in 2007. Back the hotel, we have made tea and are studying bus and train timetables in preparation of our next adventures.
In our room lives something that Tigger calls Biggles.
Biggles is positioned where you would expect a light fitting: in the middle of the ceiling. I spotted Biggles as soon as we arrived and had to play with him.
Biggles is an electric fan with four blades like an aeroplane propeller. The lower part of Biggles includes three light bulbs in old fashioned glass shades. Lamps and fan are controlled by two hanging pulls. The longer switches the lights on and off and isn’t much fun. The shorter controls the fan and is more fun.
One pull causes the fan to spin at top speed. This is quite alarming, especially if you are lying on the bed underneath it, because the whole fan swings about on its stalk and you might think it was about to detach itself and fall on you.
A second pull makes it spin less fast and stops it wobbling about. A third pull makes it spin slower still and a fourth cuts the current so that the propeller slows to a halt.
On the housing is a black two-position switch. According to whether the switch is up or down, Biggles spins clockwise or anti-clockwise. In one direction it blows air downwards and I can see how lying under Biggles on a hot day could be a blissful experience but I don’t see the use of it spinning in the other direction.
I don’t switch Biggles on when Tigger is on the bed as he alarms her.
Monday, March 26th
To St Ives
Today’s expedition is to St Ives. I am hoping not to repeat my exploit of falling down in the street.
The bus ride was uneventful. We sat in the sideways seats behind the driver but I kept hold of my rucksack throughout so as not to forget it.
The day started grey and chilly but while we were on the way to St Ives the sky cleared and the sun shone. It became a most beautiful day although the wind remained cold.
St Ives is prettier and more picturesque than I remembered it and we enjoyed wandering through the streets and alleys. We even made it up to the Coastwatch Station where we were able to observe a hovering sparrowhawk. We were amazed how still it remained despite the gusty breeze. It seemed untroubled by the people and by going up to the chapel on the cliff top, we got within about 30 feet of it and Tigger took photos.
A couple of times the hawk was “buzzed” by gulls but it returned to hovering again. We didn’t see it strike, something that would have caused me mixed emotions.
We had a look in jewellers’ shops and art shops, where Tigger bought several sets of beautiful postcards and in a bookshop where I spent one of my accumulated book tokens on a book on gem stones.
At 2 p.m. we broke for lunch at a place called Onshore. The family at the next table were intrigued by my nail varnish and covertly photographed me. A brief moment of fame.
We sat for a while looking over the beach and sea and watching the aerial acrobatics of the gulls, some of whom were “legless”. Tiger had a go at filming one.
We caught the 4:05 bus back to Penzance and returned the hotel for a cuppa and a rest. After reading and dozing for a while, Tigger became active again and the evening’s plan emerged: we were to catch the 7:35 17B bus to Marazion.
We reached Marazion at dusk. Tigger thought the clouds in the evening sky looked like bruises. Maybe they did.
For a while we thought we were going to go home hungry as everything was closed. We tried one pub only to be confronted with a blackboard inscribed “Kitchen closed – sorry!” So we were relieved to discover the Cutty Sark pub where not only was food being served but several vegetarian options were available. Marazion joins the role of honour!
The night was clear and the the moon half full so we could explore some of the unlit alleys leading to the beach and we could also pick out Orion, the Plough and other constellations away from the town lights.
The bus arrived at 9:43 to take us back to Penzance. I am writing this in our hotel room over a cup of tea. We have viewed Tigger’s video sequence of the “legless” gull and it has come out. I will see if I can link it to this blog entry.
Tuesday, March 27th
One of those days
On emerging from the hotel we found that the temperature had risen and we were overdressed in our winter gear but it was too late to change so we had to put up with it.
There was a while to wait for the bus so I paid my first visit to the jeweller’s. They have an amazing selection of rings but the problem, as always, is finding one my size. Time was pressing and we had to hurry to the bus station for our bus to Hayle. By the time we reached Hayle it was a hot, almost summer, day. It didn’t take us long to explore the main part and have drinks. So we decided to take the next bus to Truro. I am writing this in the Upstairs Downstairs Cafe where we have had lunch.
After lunch, the day went a bit wrong. Each holiday has a day like this. When we took the bus to return to Penzance, the driver pointed out we didn’t have two day tickets, which we had asked for and paid for, but one day ticket and one return ticket. That didn’t matter too much as we were on our way back to Penzance but it would have cost us money if we had wished to continue touring.
Worse still, the driver knew something we didn’t and did not see fit to tell us. The bus makes a stop at Cambourne. After Cambourne, we noticed that we were covering the same ground we had covered on the way here. After an hour, we had to accept that the bus was returning to Truro, not continuing to Penzance. Why the heck hadn’t the driver challenged us at Cambourne? Why would she think we were going to sit on a bus for two hours, only to end up where we started when our intention was obviously to go to Penzance?
In the morning, we bought our tickets on the bus to Hayle. We didn’t even know at that point that we would later travel on to Truro. So why did the bus driver sell us one day ticket and one return to Truro?
The bus to Hayle had been crowded and we had to stand. At one stop, the driver called out that the bus behind had more room on it and was going to Hayle as well. We and a few others ran to that bus. Just to confirm, we asked the driver if he was going to Hayle. “No,” he said, “I don’t go to Hayle.” So we ran back to the first bus that was fortunately still at the stop. We told driver that the other bus didn’t go to Hayle. “Oh yes, he does” was the reply and indeed, the second bus was at the stop when we reached Hayle. So why did the driver lie to us?
We eventually made it back to Penzance, intending to have dinner in one of two places. Despite it being only 7:30 both were closed. We found a pub called The Dolphin that advertised food until 10pm. It also had some good vegetarian options, including a curry with vegetables and chick peas.
“Sorry,” said the barmaid. “The chef says he’s defrosting the fridge and there are no chicks peas.” We checked the menu and put in an alternative order. “Sorry,” said the barmaid. “There isn’t any feta cheese pie left.”
In the end, the chef redeemed himself somewhat by offering to make us a vegetable curry. It was very tasty.
It would be easy to draw uncomplimentary general conclusions after such a day but that would be unfair. We have a possibly interesting experience lined up for tomorrow and if that goes well our good humour and optimism will return.
For her “Birthday Present Part 2”, I bought Tigger CD called Housewives’ Favourites¹. As I write, we are listening to Doris Day belting out Qué será será and drinking tea. Good humour slowly returning…
¹Disc 1, Timeless favourites from the radio; Disc 2, Unforgettable love songs and ballads. River Records RRCD357 & RRCD358.
The name Penzance is thought by some to mean “holy head” in Cornish from pen, “head” and sans, “holy”.
Wednesday, March 28th
The “experience” was to go on Harry’s Safari. Harry is a local man who takes parties of up to 8 people on a tour of the area in his van. He is a very pleasant and entertaining character with a wealth of knowledge, anecdotes and jokes to pass on to his charges. Usually I am not keen on guided tours so if I enjoyed this one that shows it was a good one.
There was a bit of field walking and a need to scramble over a couple stone stiles but apart from that the course was easy.
The first stop was at Sancreed to see the Holy Well. This well dates from ancient times but of course, the Christians came and claimed it and there are still baptism services there at certain times of year.
I went down into the well, the only member of the group to do so. There are about six stones arranged as steps leading into a small cave. The well itself resembles a shallow rectangular pool or bath of clear still water.
As you might expect, there are those who believe the water has magical and healing properties. I wondered what tea made of it would be like.
Moving on, we came to the star site of the tour, the Carn Euny Iron Age village. According to Harry, there are 40 such villages in the immediate area, most of them unexcavated and only 2 of them accessible to the public. Many are being damaged as stones are removed for modern building projects.
Carn Euny was inhabited from about 800 BC to about 800 AD. The villagers farmed but also traded copper and tin which they obtained from local rivers. According to Harry, the village has survived because it was used as a warehouse by smugglers who kept its location secret and discouraged folk from going near it.
Another stop was at the Merry Maidens, a stone circle. This consists of 19 standing stones, a commonly found number though its significance is unknown. Three larger stones, two called the Pipers and a third called the Fiddler, stand some distance away. I was not convinced by Harry’s explanation of this as a meeting and trading place. I would guess it had ritual and perhaps astronomical significance like stone circles in other places.
Many centuries ago, a tribal chieftain or other principal person had died and been provided with a stone barrow. The body had been imperfectly cremated and the ashes and cinders deposited in an urn set in the floor of the burial chamber which had been lined and roofed with massive stones. Beside the urn had been placed a large flat stone with hollows carved in it, perhaps to hold a selection of grains. What the builders could never have guessed was that in a later era the railway would come to Penzance and a road would be built to carry farming produce to the station or that the labourers digging the bed of the road with pick and shovel would discover what is now known as the Tregiffian Barrow.
Having visited and pondered upon the barrow, we were taken to the Lamorna Pottery for tea and cake in the excellent cafe.
On the way back, we stopped in a daffodil field to admire a view of Penzance and its seafront spread out below us.
Returning to our hotel, we rested and had a cup of tea before embarking on “Wednesday, Part 2”.
First call was the jeweller’s that I had had to leave yesterday to catch the bus. I ransacked their collection of silver rings without finding one that was big enough and that I liked.
We spent some time watching a daring starling that kept entering a bread shop in search of crumbs and then we took the bus to Newlyn.
Newlyn is famous for the school of painters that formed there. We found an art gallery that doubled as a cafe and ordered the Cornish cream tea we had been promising ourselves for some time.
After this there was a simple choice: return to Penzance or wait for Pizza Patio to open at 6 pm. It was now only 5pm and everything was closed. We walked to the dock and watched the antics of the gulls and then went to a nearby church. It was closed so we had to make do with the bench outside. There we sat until the restaurant opened.
Having dined, we caught a bus back to Penzance. I am writing this in the hotel while Tigger studies the various travel pamphlets she has collected during the day.
Thursday, March 29th
Day of the Lizard
Today was Lizard day. The Lizard has a special place in our affections. There is no train service to the Lizard nor a direct bus service from Penzance.
The “official” route is to take a bus from here to Helston and change there to a bus for the Lizard but Tigger worked out an arguably better and faster route. We bought Ride Cornwall tickets which provide a day’s unlimited travel on buses and trains and took the train to Redruth and the bus from there to the Lizard.
We reached the Lizard at about 11:30. We had left Penzance at 9:30 and were now looking forward to a hot drink. The day was cold and a biting wind was blowing over the fields from the sea. Our first port of call was the cafe on the green only to find it had closed for the season.
We crossed the road to the Top House, the pub but it too was closed. It was now raining and we wanted somewhere to shelter. Shops? Except for the village store, they too were closed.
Fortunately, Summers coffee bar was open. This was new to us but has apparently existed for two years so far. We ordered two large hot chocolates and soon felt more cheerful. We surmised – correctly, as it turned out – that the pub would open at 12 noon. It did and we found a table right beside the open fire.
After lunch, we went for a walk and found that the craft shops were beginning to open. We went into the first which sold articles in serpentine made on the premises. I bought a small serpentine egg as a memento of the Lizard though I hope to return in the not too distant future.
We learnt that the serpentine industry is in crisis as local supplies of the stone that for many is a symbol of Cornwall have nearly run out.
We had thought to explore more thoroughly but as it was so cold and there were frequent showers, we decided to move on. The bus back to Helston also serves villages in the neighbourhood of the Lizard so the first part of the journey is quite scenic.
We had a little wander around Helston. It is a pleasant little town with a good museum, though didn’t visit it this time. Instead we went to the Blue Anchor. This is a quaint little pub. On the right as you go in is a small but traditional bar room. On the left is a children’s room. We went there to avoid the tobacco smoke in the bar. Further along on the left is another room for drinkers to occupy.
We then took the bus back to Redruth where we joined the Penzance train. We did all this with our £12 bus and rail tickets.
On reaching Penzance aboard a rather crowded train, we repaired to our hotel room for tea and a rest. The plan was to continue using our tickets with a trip to Land’s End but by the time we went out again it was 6 pm so we thought we would eat first.
In the nearby shopping arcade there is a cafe restaurant called Renaissance. We had tried to eat there several times but each time we were too late and the kitchen was closed (things do tend to close very early in Cornwall, especially out of season). Today we were finally successful. We enjoyed a surprisingly good meal with splendid views of the sea and Saint Michael’s Mount.
By the time we had finished dinner, it was becoming late in Cornish bus terms. It was now not easy to find a destination that we could both get to and get back from. We thought we might go to Mousehole again but would have had to wait for an hour for the next bus and we knew everything would be closed apart from pubs. In the end, we took the easy way out and went back to the hotel.
Outside the station is a concrete plant holder. As we passed it this time, Tigger noticed a movement. We both looked and saw a small rat scuttle among the plants. It was quite slender and light coloured. It was not visible for long enough to get a good sighting, let alone a photo but my guess is that is either a wild field rat or an exotic species that has escaped.
Our train doesn’t leave for London tomorrow until 5:35 pm so we hope to make it to Land’s End early in the day.
From being virtually a dead language of interest only to a small number of enthusiasts, the Cornish language is becoming a force to be reckoned with. More and more signs are written in both languages. For example, outside Penzance station is a large stone bearing the legend “Welcome to Penzance” and underneath this in even larger letters “Pensans A’gas Dynergh”.
Friday, March 30th
How to (nearly) miss a train
This is our last day but our train is not until 5:35 pm. so we want to make the most of the day. We arranged to leave our suitcase at the hotel and took the double-deck bus to Land’s End. The journey was reminiscent of some of those we enjoyed in September with the bus bouncing along narrow roads where it hardly seemed to fit, tree branches rattling along the roof and windows.
Buses back from Land’s End were every two hours so we decided to stay with ours and come straight back. As we had a front seat on the upper deck, Tigger clamped her video camera to the handrail across the window and filmed the journey. We await the results with interest.
We broke our journey at Newlyn so Tigger could film some birds we had seen on our previous visit. Comparing them with the picture in my pocket bird recognition book, I think they are common sandpipers. They run hither and thither in a busy and comical way.
We next took a bus back to Penzance to explore a street called the Causeway that we had hitherto neglected. We visited a crystals shop where Tigger bought me a bracelet of small fragments of tiger’s eye stone. I am writing this in a cafe called Waves as we drink “Milkshakes made with Cornish icecream”.
After milkshakes we took a look in Silver Witch. I bought a silver dragon ring. I had been thinking of a dragon ring and this one fitted exactly then refused to come off so I bought it. It’s a so called “worry ring” whose outer part rotates independently of the inner part so you can twiddle it while worrying about something. I’ll be worrying about how to get it off my finger.
We are now in a cafe restaurant called the Causeway, like the street, waiting for them to serve our lunch.
After lunch we continued our wandering and went along Bread Street. There were two cats sitting at a large upstairs window, one pale ginger, the other a tortoiseshell with unusual pale eyes. Further along we met a black cat with blue eyes and a surprised expression. After overcoming her nervousness she was very friendly.
We now have over two hours to wait for the train but feel we have walked and bussed enough. What to do? We have come to the Renaissance cafe bar to drink tea and look out over the bay and watch the sea and the changing light. Clouds sweep across a blue sky and ever and anon a shower splashes the windows while Marazion is sunlit or Marazion grows dim and the sun shines here brightening the wet tarmac of the street below.
Pleasant as it was sitting watching the sea, Tigger became restive and decided to go for one more bus ride. It was now 3:45, our train was at 5:35 and we had to collect our suitcase from the hotel. Not a tight schedule until you add the Cornish bus services into the equation.
We boarded a bus for Porthleven. “That’s the next stop after Marazion,” said Tigger confidently. “Should be plenty of time.”
It was a pleasant ride along bouncing Cornish roads with changing scenery and weather. I kept an eye on the time. Villages came and went, Marazion came and went. No sign of Porthleven. At 4:15 the bus stopped at a pub, the Ashton Lion & Lamb. We got off and crossed the road to the stop on the other side. The timetable told us there was a school-term-only bus due at 4:16 then nothing until 4:45. “Uh-oh,” said Tigger.
You have to realize that Cornish buses run to their own time which isn’t necessarily the same as the time on your radio-controlled watch. And they often leave early. We had no idea whether we had missed the 4:16 or whether it was even running today.
It was with a feeling of relief, therefore, that we saw the dark blue double-decker approaching. Suddenly, everything was all right again!
We reached Penzance station with 35 minutes to spare, enough time to collect the suitcase, buy sandwiches for the journey (the train buffet always runs out, if it has any to start with), and sit for a while at the round table where we saw and photographed “Pen’s ants” last September.
The train arrived; we climbed aboard; and the long journey back to London began.