Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Cornish Weekend or was it Cabo?

Town center of Penzance

Veteren's Day weekend, a long weekend...... where to go, what to do?  Check the bucket list. Hmmmm..... Never been to Cornwall, probably be a good place to visit this time of the year. We would avoid the summer crowds, see some fall colors, do some walking on the coast.  Sure, why not?

After an easy 4 hour drive from Cheltenham,  we arrived at the Hotel Penzance. We had a terrific view from our room and could see plenty of palm trees. We could also see the harbor crowded with boats of all sizes.
View from hour hotel

 After afternoon tea served at the hotel, we set out to stretch our legs and see the sights. Penzance is a working port city all year long, in the summer becomes a tourist mecca. In the autumn, it is still mild and
fairly quiet.

Spot the lookout on the roof looking for Turkish pirates?


Penzance has signs alluding to its pirating past. From medieval times and in later centuries, Penzance was subject to frequent raiding by Turkish pirates.

We made our way back to the hotel to rest up and get ready for dinner. We enjoyed a delicious meal at the Bakehouse, a restaurant we found in our favorite guide book, Good Food Guide. Seafood is always on the menu here in Penzance so I had the Hake which is delicious meaty white fish, yum.

 St Michael's Mount

The next morning, amid glorious sunshine, we walked out to St Michael's Mount.  It can only be reached by a causeway during low tide.  Starting at 10:30am with high tide not coming in until 3pm, we thought we had plenty of time.

But as we walked out, people we passed would say "no ferry on Sundays" or "your going the wrong way". If we got stuck on the island it would be six hours before we could go back. So, we literally ran across the causeway, and up the hill to the viewing station before we chickened out and started back. The water was lapping at our toes as we finally made it the mainland. 

A little history about St. Michael's Mount:  according to the official website, from around 350 B.C. this island was a key port for the trading of tin to the rest of Europe, and in 495 A.D. a vision of the Archangel of St Michael appeared on the Mount, hence the name. It was later given to the Benedictine monks who eventually built the church. Now, it is in the hands of the National Trust, and is home to only 30 people who take care grounds.

After this stop, we started to make our way to Land's End, with several detours in mind. The coast road is pretty good for driving on, but when we veer off to see the sights, the roads are tiny, hilly, windy one lane roads. Here are some of the sights we saw on the way.

The coast was so beautiful, we kept stopping to take pictures. It took us a while to make it to our next stop, the Minak Theater.  This is really the most incredible place.

Lush tropical gardens at the Minak Theater
  In the 1930's a young woman called Rowena Cade, whose family owned a house on the point, wanted a place to perform plays (the Tempest was the first) with her friends. Her love of theater, inspired her to begin building, and with the help of a elderly gardener, created what is now the Minak Theater.

Young Rowena
The water was turquoise and reminded us of Cabo!

Seating is not the most comfortable.
The stage.

Although some seats are cushioned!

View beyond the stage.

Rowena Cade
I didn't believe that she built it herself. But here is a photo to prove it!

 There is an interesting exhibit with the story of her life. It must be quite an experience to see a play here, with the water crashing into the rocks down below and wind blowing. We recently saw a program on the BBC about the Minak.  It showed the theater packed in the pouring rain. People interviewed either said it was a once in a lifetime experience or they come every year!

Onto the next stop, Land's End.

The most westerly point in England!   Land's End is where the land, umm well, ends.

At Land's End there is an artist colony and small working farm (so I could get my chicken fix!) and kitschy attraction about the history. It looked more like an amusement park, so we passed.

 We walked the coastal path there for an hour or so and then into the car for our next stop. On the way, yes there were some fun things to see.

Old tin mines dot the coast.

Cows on the side of the road from Porthcurno to St. Ives.

Last stop for the day, St Ives

We read about St. Ives before we came and learned that it is a fishing village, very touristy and commercial, but has some nice galleries, one of which is a Tate gallery.  When we got there, it was late in the afternoon, and the sun was still shining brightly, we really didn't want to go inside, so we instead soaked up the sun and atmosphere and had tea and a scone with the famous Cornish cream.

In St. Ives there is surf school and we saw many surfers in the water.
It was about 55-60 degrees the day we visited, great for surfing? This lady thought so.

We made our way back to the hotel and had dinner their restaurant The Bay, also in the Good Food Guide. It was good to be off our feet!

Port Isaac

Doc Martin is a BBC series filmed in Cornwall. I have always loved the scenery in the show. While we were in Cornwall I asked locals where it was filmed. Many didn't know, but the bartender in the Turks Head told me that is filmed in Port Isaac in north Cornwall. Perfect.
After a delicious breakfast, we packed up, check out and made our way to Port Isaac. Once again the roads were narrow, hilly and breathtakingly beautiful. 
Port Isaac is a small fishing villiage, not a tourist destination, that said for a cloudy Monday in November, there were quite a few people wandering the streets. I imagine ramblers pass through as they walk the coastal paths. It is just quaint. Andrew spotted Doc Martin's house right away.
Doc Martin's  is the little grey house going up the hill.

These caves are accessible when the tide is out.
 In a recent episode of Doc Martin, the children at the village school were in the caves, looking for fossils and seashells.

 After walking the paths and taking some pictures we went back to the village for a cup a tea to bolster us for the long ride home.
We found Cornwall to be beautiful and welcoming. The mild sunny weather made for such a pleasant visit.
When we return (and we will,) we want to do more walking.

Monday, 12 November 2012

October....A Busy Month

 Cheltenham Literature Festival


 October started off like a shot with my volunteering at the Cheltenham Literature Festival. Oh, what an experience! This 10 day festival with 400 speakers and 600 events in many different venues throughout the city.

 Once the festival began we were busy all day from 8:30am until 10:30pm. This lasted until for about 5 days, when I had to cry uncle. After that I worked 8 hours a day.

The first few days were "Getting in" days, where we moved furniture, hung signs, and set up venues. There were 40 or so volunteers who helped with these jobs.  They ranged in age from retired to students, from all over the UK and Europe. Thirty marquis (tents) were set up in the towns two main gardens.
Inside the Waterstone's book tent

One of two food tents.

Spiegletent set for wine tasting.

Posh writers tent, the green room.
Me and Caitlin Moran, from the  London Times

Richard Ford at book signing.

The highlight for me were meeting the other volunteers. Meeting Ian McKewan, and PD James and hearing Rupert Everett were also up there at the top of the list.

I learned a some interesting things: One author I heard speak, wrote a book about her grandmother, who went to India for the Durbur of 1911. Quite a journey. I didn't know that a Durbur is a royal visit to commonwealth.  She had her grandmother's diary and a photo album that provided the factual skeleton for the novel, Glimpse of an Empire.

I also heard a talk about a fire in London in 1865 that was facinating. 

Fellow volunteers celebrating the end of the festival.

All in all, a terrific experience and yes, I will do it again.

Westonbrit Arboretum

 Needing to reconnect with the natural world, we took a daytrip to see the fall foliage. The leaves change here in England also.  Westonbrit Arboretum had been recommended as "the best place to see the colors". As you can see, it didn't disappoint.

It was a fun, but busy month. November looks to be just as busy! December will be here before we know it. I can't wait for the holidays, the kids come for a nice long visit.

Watch this space, next up, a visit to Cornwall.