Encouraged by friends who had recently visited the southwest of the UK – mainly Cornwall and Devon – we decided to take advantage of low airfares to jet in for a long weekend and see what we could fit in. We had not anticipated doing this in the middle of a heatwave, but you have to take life as it comes and certainly the fact that our car had air conditioning was, literally, a life-saver. Or at least it felt that way…
We flew into Bristol at an obscenely early hour on Saturday morning, and left late on Monday night. So more or less three full days for a whistle-stop tour. In retrospect, flying into Bristol was a bit too far North, we should have tried for flights to Exeter or Newquay. And we also should have based ourselves further south hotel-wise, rather than our excellent hotel on the edge of Dartmoor. But you live and learn, and next time I’ll know better.
Saturday benefited from the fact that England were playing in the World Cup Quarter Final, so traffic was probably lighter than otherwise. We spent the day exploring around Tintagel, reputed site of ‘the court of King Arthur of round table fame’ and then on to the pleasant town of Padstow where we had reserved an early table for dinner in one of Rick Padstow’s multiple restaurants. Both Padstow itself and the restaurant were lovely, and we headed back to our hotel by driving across Bodmin Moor.
I should at this point say that once you get off the main roads in Devon and Cornwall, the driving is hair-raising. I have never gone around so many blind corners in second gear in my entire life, and I eventually had to turn off the SatNav because of some of the roads ‘she’ was sending me on. Truly scary.
After a VERY good night’s sleep on Saturday night (England won their World Cup match comfortably also) we rose early and drove down to the south coast – about 90 minutes away. First stop was the wonderful ‘Lost gardens of Heligan’ which are, basically, a gardener’s dream outing. Wonderful walks, hidden gardens, history, vegetables, ferns, wildflower meadows etc. We dragged ourselves away reluctantly (as the temperature headed toward 30 degrees) and headed in our car toward the Lizard peninsula – the most Southerly point in England. It’s very pretty, and the walk down to the point itself in the heat sapped whatever energy we had left. So a Cornish ice-cream was called for to restore energy levels. Which we ate in the shade.
We headed on to the nearby town of Penzance, and more specifically to see St Michael’s Mount, which is a church/castle on an island just off the coast, joined by a causeway at low tide. At this point it was around 4pm and the heat was intense, so rather than visiting the island we lounged on the beach opposite, and gazed across at the mount and the blue horizon on the sea. I swam briefly in the very cold but clear waters, dodging the jellyfish that occasionally appeared. They were not too big, so I reckoned I’d survive an encounter, albeit none appeared.
Last stop for the day was Land’s end – the southwest-most tip of Britain – and about 10 miles away. The temperature was still 30 degrees, and the sun was shimmering on the sea as we did a brief walk along the cliffs. Unfortunately we still had a two hour drive back to the hotel – it would have been so nice if we’d been staying closer. But them’s the breaks, and we made it back to the hotel in time to eat in the Beer Garden and explore the wine list. Another good night’s sleep, needless to say.
On Monday the plan was to ‘explore Dartmoor’ – given that we were on its doorstep, and after another ‘full English’ breakfast (diet begins tomorrow) we set off. Once again, the roads we travelled in getting TO the moor itself were scary in the extreme. High green hedges, no-where to allow cars you met to pass, and generally we alternated between praying and cursing loudly. We finally made it and drove up, up to the high moors. Which were, in fairness, very impressive. The Dartmoor ponies are friendly, the scenery intriguing, and the sheep lie on the roads panting in the heat, so you have to drive around them, with care.
We climbed Haytor (most of the ridge tops are called ‘tors’) and enjoyed a great view over the surrounding countryside as we wiped the sweat from our eyes. On to the beautiful Widdicome in the moor, as picturesque a village as you are likely to see, and then some more scary roads until I got to the old Clapper bridge at Postbridge, which apparently is one of the oldest bridges in the country. Basically it’s a set of granite slabs laid across the river. Then on to some more scary roads all the way into Exeter, where I got lost despite SatNav lady’s best efforts.
I eventually managed to find the M5 North and we headed back toward Bristol. I had one more stop planned. I wanted to see Glastonbury Abbey and the nearby Tor. Having tried and failed on multiple occasions to buy tickets for the rock festival, this was my ‘next best thing’. The Abbey itself is largely ruined, and was closed down by King Henry the Eighth in the reformation in 1539. But we had a great guide, who brought it all to life, and it really is worth a visit. Very easy to get at also – you basically park at the front gate and walk through the entrance. These things are important when the thermometer is once again hovering around 30 degrees.
We made a short tour of Glastonbury itself, grabbed a restorative coffee, and marvelled at the many ‘mystical’ and New Age shops on offer. How do they all survive? We also noticed, from our roadside coffee point, the numbers of people wandering around in tie-dye outfits – there’s definitely a ‘different feel’ on view in this town. A short spin in the car out to view the legendary Glastonbury Tor was followed by setting the SatNav for Bristol Airport, which we found despite some false turns. As in ‘does she mean turn here or further on’? And we made it back on one piece. Just about.
In one sentence, I’d say… Lovely place, great vistas, way too much for one weekend, scary roads, nice food, and we survived the heatwave. I think we’ll be back…