Saturday, May 11, 2013

Day 9 -- Falmouth to St. Mawes -- Fri May 10th

Short take:  more sightseeing.

As expected, Friday arrived with weather different from that forecast on Thursday night:  although not very warm, there was a mixture of sun and clouds rather than the predicted rain.  So, after bidding adieu to the somewhat rapacious landlady at the Chelsea Hotel, we walked off in a couple of directions:  Claudia and Eric to see the Maritime Museum (which they liked), and the rest of us to Pendennis Castle.

Built by Henry VIII after he comprehensively pissed off the Catholic Church (by divorcing without permission, confiscating all properties of the Church in England, and establishing the Church of England), and thereby gave the Catholic continental powers (Spain and France) a great excuse to make war against him, Pendennis Castle was one of a number of fortifications built to protect key harbors along the south coast.  Falmouth, which has the third largest deepwater harbour in the world (after Sydney and Rio) was one of the most important, and two castles were built, one at Pendennis point and the other at St. Mawes.

Pendennis was subsequently enlarged by Elizabeth I, and remained in use until the end of the Second World War.  For me the most interesting thing there was a historical presentation of the development of coastal and naval artillery over the centuries since Pendennis was built, and in particular the observation that artillery and warships didn't change much between the time of Henry VIII and the Napoleonic period... over 200 years.  

This is intriguing because one of the key arguments often used to explain how Europe came to rule the world is its rapid technological progress driven by competition between the various European states.  But here we have one of the key elements of military power in a virtual stasis until the invention of rifled barrels (which increased the maximum distance that a ball or a shell could be shot from about 2000 yards to over 9000).  Why wasn't this invented earlier?  Inquiring minds want to know!

From Pendennis we walked along the coast path overlooking Falmouth's docks (today much reduced in size and importance -- the military does a little refitting work here, and a private company builds superyachts for billionaires), and down into the town.  A little tatty, we felt, and so after a quick walk up and down the main street we took a ferry over to St. Mawes.

There we split again, with Franz and Ingrid checking into our hotel, and Lidia, Bonnie, and I walking along the water's edge to St. Just in Roseland to see the church there.  It isn't very big, but it is very charming.  There has been a church next to the water here since around 500AD, and although the present building isn't that old, it, and the churchyard, feel old.  Quite a special place.

Then we walked back and got rained on a little.  But that was OK :-).

Sent from my iPad

Sent from my iPad

Friday, May 10, 2013

Day 8 -- Carwinion to Falmouth -- Thu May 9th

Short take: bad weather at last!

It was a dark and stormy night... and the morning, although less dark, was still very windy (Lidia's favorite weather :-). The hike to Falmouth wasn't long, however, so we bundled up, took our leave of Jane and Carwinion, and walked off down through the gardens to the Coast Path. While not as strong as the winds we experienced a couple of days on the north coast two years ago, the gusts were still quite energetic, and not even Bonnie was much inclined to dawdle.

We were fortunate, however, that it didn't start to rain until after we had arrived at Falmouth and we were just a little damp when we got to our small hotel. And that was more or less that for the day, as no-one felt like walking around the town with the rain falling horizontally. We skipped lunch (an increasingly frequent occurrence -- English breakfasts are, even when you hike, difficult to fully digest before mid-afternoon), and after a few games and an impromptu little karaoke dance party in Franz and Ingrid's room (dancing services supplied by Lidia and Bonnie), we ventured out into the storm for an early dinner in a little restaurant on one of the quays called The Shack, which served simple, but excellent and very fresh, seafood.

Friday's forecast is for a continuation of the storm... which probably means that it will be calm and sunny.

Sent from my iPad

Day 7 -- Free day in Carwinion -- Weds May 8th

Short take: sightseeing and reflections on past and present.

Carwinion House, our accommodation Tuesday and Wednesday nights, is a moderately sized stately home that has been in the same family for over two hundred years... a period which will end in a few months time. Our quintessentially upper-class English host, Jane Rogers, told us just before dinner (but a full two hours after we arrived, during which time there was no sign of anything amiss) that her husband had died two days earlier and that due to poor decision making by her husband's cousin (his predecessor as lord of the manor), or possibly malfeasance by the cousin's lawyer during the cousin's dotage (it wasn't entirely clear which), the house would soon be taken over by the National Trust, she would be moving out, and therefore she apologized in advance for if things seemed a little chaotic. Then she served us dinner.

Aside from a breathtaking experience of a truly stiff upper lip, the information cast an end of an era light over our stay. Two hundred years is a long time. When the Rogers family built the house there were no hospitals in Cornwall, nor were children required to go to school (both came only in the early years of the 20thC), mining and fishing were still the primary economic activities in the county, and life was Hobbsian (average life expectancy of miners was 34 years).

I know some of these details from our guide at the Poldark tin mine, which Claudia, Eric, Lidia and I visited Weds morning. The mine was worked for some 60 years during the 18th Century and is one of a huge number that riddle Cornwall (there were over 350 different mines in the area around Poldark alone, and it is only one of several major concentrations in the county).

Tin has been mined in Cornwall since the Bronze Age (bronze being made of copper and tin), and in fact Cornwall is one of only a couple of sources for the metal in Europe. But it was incredibly difficult and dangerous to dig out, and a visit to the Poldark mine is an eye-opening experience.

Tin is found in granite... a very hard rock... so the miners cut out no more than they had to while following the thin and twisty seams of cassiterite tin ore, or making drainage tunnels, shafts, or cross-cuts to get to new lodes. As a result they were often crawling long distances, chipping away at the rock, and then moving the ore, on their hands and knees, their surroundings lit by a single candle mounted on the brim of their hat. Water dripped and flowed everywhere, shifts were 12 hours long, or longer, and the miners lived in state of semi-serfdom, often having to buy most of their supplies (including the candles) from a company store owned by the mine owner. Boys went down into the mines at age 9, while the girls worked from the same age on the surface breaking the ore down with hammers into smaller chunks that the water-powered stamps could crush.

Walking, hunched over, through the (significantly enlarged in modern times to enable visits) tunnels of the Poldark mine on the hour-long tour was a sobering experience. Not for the first time I was reminded of how fortunate we are to live here and now.

After coming back from the mine, I walked through Carwinion's wild gardens with Lidia, several hectares with huge ancient trees, a riot of bluebells and other wild flowers, rhododendrons that were not tree-like, but actual trees, gunnera (also known as giant rhubarb, that can grow to 5 meters in height with individual leaves up to 2 meters in diameter), and over 200 species of bamboo (one of the most important collections in England). Then a few games with Franz, an excellent dinner in the superb 500-year old village pub, and (as always these days spent much of the time in the fresh air) off to an early bed.

Sent from my iPad

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Day 6 -- Coverack to Carwinion House -- Tue May 7th

Short take: we are feeble, but flexible, and we learn to ignore weather forecasts.

The forecast for Tuesday was, as of Monday night, rain. With a hike of 6.5 hours planned, and five consecutive days of walking damage to our legs and feet weighing on our minds (and bodies), we decided to take a day off and to travel by taxi most of the way to Carwinion. We booked the taxi for 10:30 the following morning, and went to bed.

And so, of course, Tuesday dawned bright and sunny.

But we were still tired, and the forecast, as of Tuesday morning, was for rain from midday on. So we stuck with the taxi plan. Shortly before 11 we were dropped off at Helford, a charming little village on the Helford "River" (which is in quotes because it is a ria rather than a river... a ria being a flooded valley system... due in this case to the sea level having been much lower during the last ice ages... but it looks like a river, well, an estuary, and probably that's what's important here... although for mussels, and winkles, and other marine life, the fact that it has very little freshwater flowing into it is probably more important... but maybe I should focus a little and get back to telling you what we did?).

We intended to take the ferry across to the other side of the "river", but because the ferry doesn't cross at low tide, and of course it was low tide, we had to wait half an hour. While waiting we saw at the water's edge a man collecting something... winkles, as we learned. He told us that he used to be a fisherman, but that he could make better money gathering winkles... up to £50-60 for 30kg, which on average took him about 2 hours at low tide. There were tons of large mussels around, and we asked if harvested them too, but he said no, he couldn't find anyone to buy them, although he had heard that they were expensive when bought in a restaurant. Then we talked limpet lore for a while until the ferry came and took us over to the other side.

It was still sunny.

So, we decided to do something that was in the plan for tomorrow -- visit the Trebah garden -- since rain was also in the forecast for tomorrow, and the garden would be nicer in the sun. And very nice it was indeed... with huge rhododendrons and tree ferns and bluebells everywhere and all manner of other flowers. After walking around for a couple of hours we had a snack (rather than a meal, due to "Full English Breakfast" syndrome... i.e., eating enough at breakfast to last until dinner... of the following day :-).

It was still sunny.

So we went to the next garden on tomorrow's list -- Glendurgan. Also beautiful, and with a maze that Lidia, Bonnie and I went into. After running around for a while I made it to the middle and stood where I could watch the other two making Brownian progress :-). After some time more, they found there way back to the exit, waved happily, and went out. I was confused... it wasn't like Lidia to give up. So I walked out of the maze and asked them why they had quit. They were nonplussed... they felt that they had succeeded. It turns out that Romanian mazes either don't have centers... or perhaps (my theory :-) Romanians never reach them and thus declare victory when they get out. Hence the term "Romanian victory" (OK, I admit, I made that up just now... but still, there are times when I seriously doubt that Romania is culturally part of Europe!).

Ummm, it was still sunny.

But it was the end of the afternoon, so we walked off to Carwinion House, our stately B&B for the night. Tomorrow, the forecast assured us, it would rain.

Sent from my iPad

Monday, May 06, 2013

Narrow trails

"Cute" snake

Day 5 -- Cadgwith Cove to Coverack -- Mon May 6th

Short take -- short day.

Mel and Jan left early this morning (unfortunately!), so we were seven when we set off shortly before 10. My customary Captain-Bligh-like attitude was softened somewhat because the hike was short and the weather forecast unproblematic -- clouds and sun, mild temperatures, and a light breeze.

The climb out of Cadgwith was steep and, as has from time to time been the case, between high hedges set close together (it's kind of like going along a one-way tunnel at times... and it is just as well that there haven't been too many other hikers on the Coast Path because passing one another is not always easy!).

Actually, I'll continue with the aside... I've wondered why we haven't seen many other hikers (the last couple of days excepted... a special case because it has been a bank holiday weekend), and I think that one reason is that this past winter has been exceptionally long (basically it only started to get warmer about a week before we started our hike). So people here in the UK, who make up the bulk of the hikers along the Coast Path, have been thinking more about how to avoid going outside, rather than planning hiking trips.

The other alternative is that only the insane go hiking in England in early May. But that seems unconvincing, right?

Returning to the main body of the narrative... fairly shortly we came out onto the cliff tops and walked over springy turf (a couple of days ago it was so thick and springy that it was like walking on a trampoline), or on serpentine rocks often polished smooth by walkers' boots, between wild-flowers and yellow-flowering gorse, with weathered outcrops of grey stone and ancient overgrown hedgerows, and always with these wonderful views down the cliffs to the sea below.

After a while we came over a stile upon which there was a sign saying "Ponies grazing"... and shortly afterwards there were the ponies. They might have been wild, but if so they were so used to people that they didn't even bother to get up as we walked by them lying on the ground.

A little later still, we three men were walking ahead, and the four women came across a little snake. "Cute", they thought, and got up close to take photos... which when they showed me later I immediately identified as an adder. Perhaps we should hike together more often.

We arrived at Coverack around 2:30PM even having walked at a very leisurely pace, found our hotel, checked in, and spent the rest of the afternoon taking baths, playing games, catching up on emails, and so on. A short day, but a nice one.

Sent from my iPad

Goodbye to Mel and Jan!

The intrepid hikers -1

Why we hike :-)

Devil's Frying Pan

Lizard beauty

The Coast Path is not always flat :-)

Day 4 -- Mullion to Cadgwith Cove

Short take: ho-hum... another nice hike along the Cornish coast.

We started at 9:25, finished at 16:25 (Bonnie, Lidia and I... the others were about 20 minutes ahead), and in between the walking was superb. So, since almost everything was good I'll focus on the only things that weren't :-).

The primary disappointment was Kynance Cove, which didn't live up to its advance billing for a couple of reasons: for one, it was overrun with bank-holiday weekend car tourists, for another, it was high tide and the beach had disappeared and so we couldn't walk around looking at the polished red and green serpentine rocks, for a third, the weather was cool and windy while we were there (it was warmer and sunnier both earlier and later in the day), and lastly the much ballyhooed café served distinctly underimpressive food.

And then there was a little frustration detectable at times in the faster group at having to wait frequently for the slower group... but having to stop to look at beautiful coves and rocky beaches and headlands was not the worst fate in the world.

Cadgwith was very scenic (it is still a functioning fishing port, although it doesn't have a harbour -- the boats are just pulled up onto the beach by a tractor), our hotel a little tired but the crew helpful and welcoming, dinner good with lively conversation, and all in all, it was another excellent day of hiking along the SWCP.

Sent from my iPad

Cadgwith Cove

Mullion Cove again

Because it is so beautiful!

Mullion Cove

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Day 3 -- Porthleven to Mullion -- Sat May 4th

Short take: who needs plans? A day in which very little went as planned... and everything worked out fine in the end.

First a coda to yesterday's post: after getting back to the room, hearing singing below, and finding earplugs on the bedside tables, Bonnie and Lidia went down to the main room of the pub to "observe". It turns out that the party was for a choir, and the singing was therefore of high quality -- they were doing Nabucco when Lidia and Bonnie got there. And I was tired enough from the high speed finish to the day that I had no trouble falling asleep even without earplugs!

We awoke to find the sky overcast, and soon a light rain began to fall. I had originally planned to go to visit a nearby mine that offered underground tours, but they changed their opening times in 2013 so as to make this impossible. Lidia, Bonnie, Claudia & Eric therefore decided to go off to look at Godolphin House, a 17th C stately home that used to belong to one of the most important familes in Cornwall. Mel & Jan decided to walk around Porthleven. Franz and Ingrid set off along the Coast Path with the goal of getting to Mullion early and spending the afternoon reading and snoozing (Ingrid had not slept well). And I had some calls and emails and blogging to do.

So 7 of us met back in Porthleven at midday (Godolphin House having been adjudged "interesting and worth the visit"). In the meantime the light rain had stopped, so we picked up some pasties (a local specialty) and set off. A little less than an hour later, at Loe Bar (a natural sand barrier that holds back a large freshwater lake), we stopped for lunch. The pasties were excellent (although Bonnie wouldn't agree -- for some reason she took an instant dislike to them) and while we were eating the sun came out.

The rest of the walk was delightful, and by the time we got to Mullion it was almost hot. However, now another change of plans presented itself. The day before I had received a frantic email from our landlady in Mullion asking me to call her as soon as possible. When I did she apologized profusely -- she had inadvertently double booked... and had no space for us. However, despite only realizing this fact 24 hours before our arrival she had managed, on a Saturday of a bank holiday weekend, no less, to find other accommodation for us. But where? We went to her place to find out.

Jacqui met us there, and between further apologies she ferried us off to the various rooms she had booked for us, together with our luggage, and bunches of flowers for the other landlords who had helped her out. And in the evening, when we got to our table in the Old Inn, we found an array of After Eight mints on the table from her. And the food was excellent, the conversation flowed effortlessly, and a pretty good band played music later on in another area of the pub. An excellent end ot the day. As I said at the outset, who needs plans?

Sent from my iPad