Thursday, 16 July 2009

Day 5 - South West Coast - Lands End & St Ives

I drove from Mousehole to Lands End, the most south westerly point of England. When I arrived, it was raining, and foggy. There was a queue ten cars back from the kiosk, where they were charging £4 to get in. And then I saw the sign that said there was a shopping mall. I decided to give it a skip and carried on to St Ives.

A shopping mall at a place with a romantic name like Land's End? Not sure it works!

St Ives has a talked-up reputation, and deserves it. It's about four times the size of tiny Mousehole, with a bigger harbour and waterfront, but it has the same charm. It's busier with tourists, and there are more designer boutique stores. But the town still has "old charm" written over it, the streets are too narrow for SUVs, and they twist and turn randomly, as if the town's builders woke up every morning and threw a dice to see in which direction they'd build an alley way. It's romantic.

Cornerways B&B suits St Ives well. It's classy, yet reasonably priced, in the old part of town, on a hill that overlooks the harbour. The building is an old three storey fisherman's cottage, with narrow staircases. Inside, it's renovated, modern in a maritime way and very comfortable. For attention to detail, Cornerways deserves a good mention. And because the rooms are stacked at odd angles and at different heights, you feel like you're in your own small flat, with couch, table, and ensuite bathroom. And a view of the harbour. And there's a seagull that perches on the roof of the neighbour's house, staring into your room while you're changing. No wonder it's squawking at me so much.

Room at Cornerways...the windows look out onto the pic below...

...Where a seagull squawks at me while I'm changing.

Have lunch at the Cornish Pasty shop just down from Cornerways, on the promenade. For £2 you can have a medium sized traditional pasty (steak, potato and veggies, wrapped in a light tasty pastry). I had two!

Day 4 - South West Coast - Mousehole - Some old pics..and bit of history

Like all villages along the coast of Britain, Mousehole is all about the ocean and the people who survive off it. The air is thick with salt. The sea is loud wherever you are in the village. People practically live IN the ocean. So everything relates back to the sea. I found these old pics from The Shipp Inn's bar area...incredible. My fishing mates in Cape Town won't believe the pic of the massive shark, taken in 1939. The caption for the photo says it weighed five tons and the liver was one ton...

Incredible. Nature is amazing for what it can come up with!

The caption for the shark on it to read it in a bigger font.

The best beer in the world for admirals - and us.
And Mousehole's history is violent. It was burnt to the ground by the Spaniards in 1595. Squire Keigwan defended his manor house to the death, and it still stands today.
And the last speaker of the Cornish language - Dorothy Pentreath - lived and died in Mousehole, passing on in 1777 at the age of 102. Her grave is in the churchyard above town.

Day 4 - South West Coast - Mousehole - Ice cream from heaven

I've just tasted the best ice-cream in Cornwall, if not the galaxy. It’s made by Mr Robin Webb, whose company is called...Webb’s.

If anyone should put their name on their business’s products, Mr Webb is that man. In fact, he should call his ice-cream flavours after his children, because he must be that proud of it. And he should be knighted and ordained all in one go, because his ice-cream must make thousands of people happy to be alive when they lick their favourite flavour.

I’ve eaten way more than my life’s fair share of ice cream already, so I really do believe, with all my heart, that Mr Webb’s ice-cream is up there amongst the best I’ve tasted. This is not an exaggeration, because on the wall of his mom’s tiny ice-cream store in Mousehole are more than twenty annual awards for “Cornwall’s Best Ice-Cream”, as judged by the National Ice-Cream Alliance. (Update: Actually, I've just visited Robin in Penzance, and he says he got a merit award, which is about tenth place out of a few hundred entries...still not bad!) Now that’s an organisation that I could work for, and if it ran the United Nations, I reckon it could ensure world peace just by handing out endless supplies of Mr Webb’s chocolate ice-cream.

Mr Webb runs his business from Penzance, and I’m going to pay homage tomorrow or the next day. (Have just done so, and he's an ordinary man selling extraordinary icecream - the name of his shop is the Coffee Pot, and it's on the main promenade near the arcade in Penzance. Don't pass it by.)

Because I went back for seconds immediately after my first cone, I thought I’d strike up some friendly conversation with his old lady, Mrs Webb, to find out a bit more about this holy grail of ice-cream. But being an unashamed fan of her son’s ice-cream doesn’t make you special, as I found out when I asked Mrs Webb what her first name was. “I don’t tell people my first name. I’m just Mrs Webb to you, and that’s the way it’s going to be, okay?” Fair enough - I guess you wouldn’t ask the Pope’s mom what her first name is either.

Day 4 - South West Coast - Mousehole - Tiny fishing village

Mousehole. I knew I had to spend a night in a town called Mousehole (pronounced “Mowzel”).

It’s a tiny fishing village, in a tiny cove, with tiny fishing boats, with tiny streets, tiny buildings and tiny night-time fairylights. You can walk around the whole village in five minutes.

There’re only a couple of places to spend the night. I am staying at tiny The Ship Inn, which has the best spot, right on the harbour, overlooking the tiny fishing boats, and the tiny breakwater that keeps the very large sea out. The Ship Inn is mainly a pub that serves good food, but they do offer a couple of rooms upstairs.

I am sitting now in front of the bay window of my room, which has a view that might just rival that of The Cottage Hotel in Hope Cove. But it’s a different view. It’s a very comforting view, not an awe-inspiring natural view. The fishing boats in the harbour look safe and sound, like small children wrapped up snuggly in bed. Old fisherman must have felt the same way coming back into Mousehole’s harbour from a night on the ocean. The sounds from downstairs in the pub: laughter and chatter. People passing on the street below. The seagulls doing seagull stuff out on the harbour’s wall.

NB. Just before you get to Mousehole, make sure you visit Marazion, just to the east. St Michael’s Mount sits just off the coast, a spectacular hill island with a superb abbey on top, connected to the mainland by a narrow, low causeway. It really is special to see – its sense of history matches its physical impressiveness: the abbey dates back to the 5th century. It’s currently draped with scaffolding for restoration, but even so, it’s WOW.

Mousehole harbour

Mousehole itself...The Ship Inn is in the middle with the flower boxes

St Michaels Mount, just to the east of Mousehole

Day 4 - South West Coast - Lizard Point - Southermost point on mainland

A quick mention about Lizard Point, because it’s the southernmost point on the British mainland.

Like everyone perhaps, I’m not sure why we all trek off to these sometime mostly sunspectacular places, which are really just important because of the longitudes and latitudes dreamt up by mapmakers. We come back and say a little proudly that we’ve been to this and that point, without knowing why we’re proud.

But even if Lizard Point is buzzing with tourists and is not AS stunning as much of the rest of this coast, there’s still a pensive, reverent feel to the area. People sit on the grass, talking softly, staring out to the horizon, re-evaluating their live's...we can’t help ourselves, can we!?!? So go, only to say to that you’ve been there. And it is beautiful in it's own right.

The view from Lizard Point, the southernmost point on the mainland.

Follow the signs...

Day 4 - South West Coast - St Austell - St Austell Brewery

From Eden, it’s a five minute drive to St Austell Brewery, where you can ponder the future of the earth over several pints of real ale. The brewing company has more than 170 pubs in the south west of England, where you can enjoy their five or so different types of beers. It’s been in the family for five generations, and when you do the brewery tour you get the feeling that they really do love their beer.

It’s not contrived or commercial at all – if you love beer, then do the tour, especially because you can sample all the different ales. St Austell’s beer lasts only 6 weeks in the cask, because they don’t use any chemicals or preservatives. And the brewing water is still sourced from the same spring that was originally used.

Jeremy Mitchell at the brewery looks after all the different pubs in Cornwall, and has spent plenty of time visiting all 173 of them. So he knows the area like the bottom of a beer bottle. His top picks of things to do and see in the region:

- Charleston, for its famous tall ships.
- Fowey (pronounced “Foy”), because it’s a pretty but un-touristy coastal village.
- Veryan, because there are two thatched houses which are round: locals believed that the devil could hide around square corners.
- Halford Passage, because there’s a famous oyster farm there
- Gweek, for its seal sanctuary
- Lizard Point, the southernmost point on the British mainland.
- Porthcurno, firstly because you can suntan naked – there’s a nudist beach there. And secondly, the Minnack open air theatre is apparently spectacular and hosts shows every night in summer.
- Watergate Bay, to visit Jamie Oliver’s restaurant called “15 Cornwall”.
- St Meryn, to enjoy another celebrity chef’s food: fish and chips at Rick Stein’s Cornish Arms
- The whole coast between Newquay and Padstow...there are at least seven long beaches, all with decent surf breaks. Jeremy grew up in St Agnes, whose nearby beach has a particularly good reputation amongst local surfers.