Sunday, 26 September 2010

Of waterfalls and nightmare hotels - Chronicles of a Cornwall holiday - Day 3

We stirred early the next morning to the sound of a light rain against the french doors of our hotel room. Sound can be somewhat deceptive though, as we found out when we opened the curtains. The sky was black in places, grey in others, and the rain was pouring down on the patio outside the room. In other times this may have put a bit of a downer on the day, but not today. Not now. We are on holiday, and we are going to enjoy it, no matter how much the gods conspire against us. To quote Billy Connolly, "there's no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes!"

After a good breakfast at the hotel, we checked out and headed off in search of St. Nectarns Glen waterfall which we had passed on the way into Tintagel the evening before. We knew the car park for the waterfall was no more than 5 minutes up the road, but were unsure of where the waterfall was from there. We arrived at the car park just a few minutes later, and put on as many clothes as the temperature would allow to keep out the rain. We then headed off in the direction that the signs told us.

The rain didn't hold off for long, but it wasn't long before we were under a canvas of trees, walking though a woodland and following a beautiful little stream. With the rain hitting the leaves overhead, the gentle trickle of the stream, the smell of the forest in my nose, and the fresh air in my lungs, I felt a beautiful calm wash over me. I was thoroughly enjoying the walk, despite how wet I was getting.
After a while, we started rising away from the stream and into the upper forest. We arrived at a small house who's garden was packed with garden chairs. This is the house who's occupants own the land on which the waterfall resides. They have also opened their garden as a coffee shop and postcard retailer. There was nobody around, and the gate down to the waterfall was locked, so we had no choice but to wait for somebody to turn up. We sat down on the only dry table we could find and waited. And waited. and when we were bored of waiting, we couldn't decide what to do, so we waited some more. Eventually the owners turned up, and opened the gate for us.

Now, I know we live in a world where people will always try and make a profit from anything, but I do have something of a problem with asking people to pay money to see something that is natural. Waterfalls are carved out of rock over the course of thousands, if not millions of years. I don't believe you can put a price on that, and people should not have to pay to see the natural beauty of the world. By all means set up a coffee shop, a pub, whatever next to it and let people choose to go into them, but forcing somebody to pay for something for which you can take absolutely no credit and could never really "own" should not be allowed.

Nevertheless, we paid our money and headed down the steep steps to the waterfall. And my, what a waterfall it is. The water cascades beautifully down the hillside, and then through an archway before falling to Earth. So beautiful, and somehow so delicate that I simply can't put it into words.
After about half an hour, we left the waterfall and began the long walk back to the car. Although still quite dark, the rain had started to ease a little, and temperature had improved. On the way back to the car as we were crossing the road, I heard a small scream behind me. I turned to see what was going on, and couldn't see anything the matter at first. Louise explained to me that as she crossed the road, she was about to put her foot on a leaf when the leaf, taking the form of a small frog, started jumping away from her towards the kerb. I walked back a few paces, and found the frog resting in the grass on the roadside probably analysing the details of it's whole life that had just flashed before it's eyes!
Feeling the first bite of lunchtime hunger, we got into the car and pointed the front wheels in the direction of Tintagel
We carried on heading south-west along the coastal roads, heading towards Port Isaac. Port Isaac is a tiny little village on the coast and is most famous for being the village in which the TV Doc. Martin is set. Personally, I have never watched Doc. Martin. As much as I like Martin Clunes, it is not a programme that I have ever made a point of watching, and being on at a time when I am usually on the way back from work, I have always missed it. Still, it was as good a destination as any, so a little while later we rolled into the village. And straight back out again. The village really is that small! Unperturbed, we headed back up the road to find a car park, and then took a walk down the hill towards the port and the actual village. When I say hill, I mean mountain! Well, not quite mountain, but very steep and long hill anyway! You have to worry when you see a car parked on the hill with small boulders being used as chocks to keep the car in place!

Despite being a tiny, and very hilly village, Port Isaac is a beautiful place to go, and I would like to go back there. The village is set back from the surrounding cliffs where the sea comes much further inland creating what must have been an ideal location for the pirates and smugglers of old.
After only a short while in Port Isaac, most of which was spent watching a man playing with his two dogs on the beach, we headed back up the road to the car. Our next stop was to be Newquay where we would be staying the night. Back on the road in the afternoon traffic, it wasn't long before we were in Newquay and looking for the place that we had booked to stay the night. When booking it, I was a little hesitant as the name "Lusty Glaze lodge" conjured up all sorts of images of drunken ramblings, but upon checking the map, I discovered that Lusty Glaze was actually a real place name, and not the embodiment of a certain emotion! We drove all the way through Newquay looking for the hotel, but couldn't see it. It was only after we turned round that we saw it from the other direction.

Have you ever seen the episode of Scrubs where every time JD does something wrong, an opera singer comes up behind him and sings in a powerful soprano voice "Mistaaaaaaaaaaaaake!"? Well, that's kinda how I felt driving into the grounds of the Lusty Glaze lodge! From a distance, it looked OK. Just a standard hotel. But as we got closer, the cracks started appearing, and by the time we got into the car park (which looked like an abandoned building site) we were really starting to worry. Potholes in the car park, empty beer bottles lying on the grass by the entrance, tables piled with dirty stuff in the lobby, they really did have everything. We checked in and went up to the room which was filthy. We would have had a lovely view of Lusty Glaze beach and the sea beyond had it not been for the dirt on the window.
After what seemed like an age sitting in the room and wondering what to do, we needed to get out. We went downstairs, and after a short discussion decided that we were going to check out. I think it is a testament to the quality of the hotel that the reception staff didn't seem at all surprised that we were wanting to check out, and were more than happy to give us a full refund.

We jumped back in the car, and started searching around for a bed and breakfast. One of the great things about this part of Cornwall at this time of year is that there is more than enough accommodation going round for everyone. It wasn't long before we found a very good looking B&B that had a vacancies sign in the window. We pulled into the car park (admiring the lack of potholes!) and went up to the door. There was a sign giving the phone number of the owner and telling the potential customer to call. I called, and was told that the ladies husband would be there in just a few minutes with the keys. After waiting, we checked in, instantly falling in love with the place. Everything was clean, the room was comfortable, the staff were really kind. It was everything we wanted.

We left the room and headed out on the short walk into the town centre. For the first time so far on the holiday, we were actually in an area that could be classified as a town. We headed through the town and down towards the beach on the other side. The tide was out, and although we didn't go down onto the beach, we whiled away the time watching a few dogs play on the sand. Beside us was a nice house situated on a high rock at the side of the beach, only accessible by a rope bridge to the mainland. I can't remember how much for, but I am told the place is for sale. Still waiting for the lottery win, though!!
Later, we headed away from the beach, and back into town for some food. After a recommendation from the owners of the B&B, we had settled on a very nice Indian restaurant overlooking the beach. An outstanding feature of the restaurant was that every single table had a sea view. This wasn't achieved by a clever laying out of the tables, or by having every seat next to a window. Instead, in a blinding moment of genius, the management had erected beach-facing cameras on the outside of the building, and displayed the video feed on TV screens carefully situated throughout the restaurant. If that doesn't deserve an award, I don't know what does!

Fed and watered, we took a long evening stroll back to the B&B for a well earned sleep.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Of awesome drives and runaway cows - Chronicles of a Cornwall Holiday - Day 2

After an astounding night's sleep, we awoke early with the smell of toast in the air. It's funny how toast can make you feel instantly hungry. I am very happy to say that it wasn't just the smell of the breakfast that was fantastic. Food, glorious food! A full English of the vegetarian variety, toast, coffee, fruit juices, fresh fruit and cereals were amongst the choices on offer. Food of such good quality and service with a smile and a chat from our hosts is what makes bed and breakfast so much better than the equivalent hotels!

We left the bed and breakfast, and started heading north. It hadn't really been our intention to head north, but after taking a quick look at the map, I couldn't help myself. I was instantly consumed with excitement when I saw the name "Westward Ho!" shining like a beacon from the page. It is my opinion that anywhere in the world that has an exclamation mark in the name must be truly awesome. I've not seen a place name with an exclamation mark in it before, which I have begun to feel is a bit of a shame! I would love to see more punctuation in place names. As some of you will know, I am very fond of exclamation marks wherever they are used. I think somebody should take the initiative and put more punctuation in place names. Maybe the odd question mark wouldn't go amiss. Picture the situation. Some bright-eyed soul adds a question mark to London, and all of a sudden, nobody seems to know where it is, and when people say they are going there, they would always sound like they can't quite believe it (I'm going to London?). The world would be so much a better place.

We started heading along the main A road and after a few minutes we hit traffic. Ever the optimist, I was once again not expecting to hit traffic, especially this far into Cornwall. As it turned out, one of the roads had been closed due to an overturned caravan. A quick check of the map, and our route had been replanned, taking us inland a little, going horizontal and vertical, rather than the expected diagonal route. The road this way was much clearer, and I have to say that I was thoroughly enjoying it. I have enjoyed driving ever since I started taking lessons oh so many years ago, but there is something about driving in Cornwall which makes it all the better, not only because it was a holiday drive, but the roads are exceptional. The road we were travelling on was twisting and turning through the countryside, a long left hander immediately followed by a hard right, and steep hill and then a drop that brings you back only about ten feet away from where you started, as the crow flies. This is what driving was invented for! In my head, I was a rally driver! In my head, there was nobody else on the roads, and although I was driving safely, I was driving to the best of my ability and absolutely loving every second of it. To all of you, I beg you, if you ever get the chance to drive in Cornwall, take it. Spread your wings and fly through the Cornish countryside in the best way your car lets you. To those of you that do not have a driving license, I implore you to pass your test as soon as possible, get a few years driving experience behind you, and then head to Cornwall. Don't ask. Don't procrastinate. Do!!

We arrived at Westward Ho! (<< still makes me giggle!) and were greeted by an exceptional surfers beach, people enjoying the sport amongst the waves a little offshore. Westward Ho! is not a particularly big place, but to be honest, I think it would be spoilt if it was. The beach seemed to stretch on for miles, bordered by cliffs and breakwater's either side. The tide was a fair way out at the time, which meant that it was a fair walk to the waters edge, but that only meant that there was more room to play for those who'd taken their dogs onto the beach. Incidentally, there is a practice here in the UK that I have to admit that I am not overly fond of, that being the restriction of dogs on beaches during the summer months. Having once owned a Collie, I know how fond dogs can be of running freely in the sand, just as we all were as children. I understand that because a few messy people let their dogs poop freely on the beaches and don't clear up after them, and some people are scared of dogs, that some considerations must be made, but it seems these days that dogs aren't allowed anywhere unless they are on the lead and muzzled. It just seems a little unfair to me!
After a brief walk along the beach, we headed back onto the road, and heading south to Bude and beyond. By now, the road I had intended on taking that morning had been cleared of the caravan and reopened. And what a road it is! I know, I have already mentioned how good driving in Cornwall is, but it is made even more spectacular when the view encompasses great hills on one side, and cliffs and ocean views on the other. Because of a lot of the corners, it was impossible to do more than forty on the sixty mile an hour road, but it wasn't about the speed. But something a little strange happened along the way. We were going through the winding cliff roads, left, right, up down, round again and then...

Traffic. AGAIN! What is going on. What could possibly be causing us to slow down this time? I looked ahead of me. This traffic jam was a little odd, as it seemed to consist of just three cars, and a man in the middle of the road shouting. Then I realised what was behind him. About fifty cows had joined their owner in an afternoon stroll along the main road, taking in the sights of Northern Cornwall. Is this normal? Is this supposed to happen on a Saturday afternoon in these parts? Is the farmer that conscientious of the welfare of his cows that he gives them a run-out at the weekends. No wonder Cornish clotted cream is said to be the best in the world if this is the environment the cows are living in! Had the cows been stampeding, or even running, I might have thought that this was a case of a broken fence and a few cows getting loose, but they seemed to be perfectly happily moving in their mass down the road, past the cars and towards whatever their destination was. And what seemed even more odd was that the rest of the traffic didn't seem to even notice. Just sit and wait, no horns, no angry shouts, no words with the farmer. Nothing. As if everything was perfectly normal.

Having got past the cows, we persevered and carried on towards Tintagel, stopping at Widemouth Bay for some lunch and some surfer spotting along the way. Eventually we hit Tintagel, a lovely little town who's claim to fame is that King Arthur once held court there. Well, that is as the story goes, anyway. There is a lot of proof to the contrary, but that will never stop the tourist machine. The result is that absolutely every shop, pub and road sign bares the name of King Arthur and many of them complete the picture with a suit of armour guarding its entrance.

We found our hotel and checked in. I have to admit that I was exhausted by this time. The long drives over the past 48 hours had really begun to take their toll on me, and although it was only late afternoon, a short lie down on the very comfortable bed turned disastrous as sleep overcame me. There's something about sleeping in the afternoon that I have always been a fan of, no matter where I am, and it did me the world of good.

After my few hours sleep, we left the hotel in search of a few lazy pints at one of the local pubs. I can't remember the exact name of said public house, but given where we were, I am sure it must have been something along the lines of King Arthurs Arms, or something equally Arthurian. A very relaxing evening was to be had in the company of locals and tourists alike, but it wasn't long before the affects of my afternoon sleep had worn off, and I felt the bed calling once more.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Of traffic jams and Stephen King novels - Chronicles of a Cornwall holiday - Day 1

After quite literally moments of planning, my girlfriend and I took to the road on the 3rd September and headed for Cornwall. Actually, that makes it sound a lot easier than it was. The truth is that we had planned to leave at around 10am, but actually ended up leaving at around 12:30. Funny how much more relaxed you feel about it when you are driving!

With the route planned, we hit the road in glorious sunshine, an eclectic mix of music thumping from the stereo, and that little bit of excitement that is only felt when you are going on holiday (as opposed to having arrived!). We got onto the M3 and everything was looking absolutely great, the car was going fine, and the other drivers were behaving themselves and sticking to their respective lanes.

We had been going for about an hour and a half when the traffic started to slow down around us. My car only being a Citroen, and not the superhero style car that I had asked Santa for at Christmas, I was forced to give in to peer pressure and slow down as well. Being foolishly optimistic, I hadn't been expecting to hit traffic on the way down, but lo and behold, the driving public of southern England had other ideas.

After nearly two hours, we finally hit the end of the traffic. And what had caused it, you ask? Stone Henge. That's it, that's all it was. The rubber-necker brigade appeared to be out in force. Scientists have been struggling for years to explain what the reasons for Stone Henge being built were. Is there a religious significance, and was it a place of worship? Or was it some form of time keeping device? On the evidence I have seen, I feel the answer seems to have been staring them in the face. I think it is simply an ancient, if slightly elaborate pacifier. People come from all over to look at it, and can never seem to pass it by at more than five miles an hour!

All in all, it took us the best part of six and a half hours to complete the journey. It should (if Google's directions are correct!) have taken us about four hours. This wasn't only due to the traffic. Those of you that know me could probably testify to the fact that when it comes to directions my ability is only slightly above that of a drunk puppy! Eventually we found the road on which the bed and breakfast we were staying was situated. We turned into the driveway and our hearts sank. The road was dark, overgrown with trees and the road itself had potholes the size of coffins. My mind raced to Stephen King novels. I was expecting to hear cackles coming from the surrounding woodland, a serial killer or two hiding behind the trees. Hearts and minds racing, we drove hesitantly up the road. After what seemed like an age, the trees opened out and a revelation was beheld.

We were greeted with an immaculate gravel driveway leading to the most beautiful of Cornish cottages. I instantly fell in love with the place. I went inside and was greeted by the owner who showed us the room which was absolutely stunning. We couldn't have asked for more, and with a warm handshake, the owner told us to make ourselves comfortable, using the living room if we required.

Knowing that we were already heading into late evening, and that it was such a clear sky, we decided to head to the coast and take in the sunset. And what a spectacular sunset it was! We had found a clifftop overlooking Widemouth beach, the waves crashing against the rocks on the shore, and a deep red sun plunging into the sea on the horizon.

After watching the sunset, we went down to shore level, and took a short walk along the beach. For me, the walk turned into a short run. I couldn't help myself. I came over all childish. With the air in my lungs, and my childhood in my heart, I ran as fast as I could to the waters edge. It was only once I got there that I became an adult again, and remembered that I was wearing shoes, and didn't want to get them wet. Not wanting to spoil the moment, I ran like a five year old all the way back again! The holiday had officially started, and we couldn't have asked for a better start.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

WTF Wednesdays - 01/09/2010


Those of you who follow the simply wonderful Stephen Fry on Twitter may have seen this morning a post regarding the drinking of whiskey made from the urine of diabetics.

Not one for disbelieving Stephen Fry, I had to follow it up, and as ludicrous as it sounds, the story is actually true.

One James Gilpin has started creating a whiskey in which the sugar rich urine of his diabetic grandmother, among others is used in the distilling process. Once the whiskey has been fully distilled, the product is bottled and labelled under the "Gilpin Family Whiskey" label, with the name and age of the person who "donated" to the process included on the label.

Not that I drink whiskey, but I can't say that I'm overly keen on drinking it! Still, you have to try everything once!

The Gilpin Whiskey site can be found here

Happy Hump Day :0)