The inevitable happened. It rained. And became a bit cold. On the plus side I think I found a good coffee but cannot be sure because it was a mocha. It helped comfort against the cold, which actually hasn’t been bad at all. Indeed, it is far from doom and gloom (yet), with still warm early autumn days and sunshine enough to counter the occasional days of murk. And such seasonal randomness swings my mood and affection, from absolutely, undoubtedly in love with where I am for a moment, and then still in love with it but begrudgingly so the next.
In the immediate confines of Plymouth I have taken to short forays to catch the views from the top of the hill nearby, over the Tamar and into Cornwall. In the other direction, enjoyable visits to Devonport Park, starting to brown just a little but doing so in an elegant manner. Mostly these forays are a good escape from soaps on TV, while the weather is still light enough to escape. Family add a welcome, warm distraction, when they are not glued to the soaps.
Escapes further afield have been possible, in a large part made easier by proximity to Devonport railway station. For instance, this at least makes the trip to Padstow slightly easier, connecting from the train onto a bus at Bodmin Parkway. I say connecting, but their timings don’t really connect amazingly well, so you just have to go into the cute cafe on the platform and eat homemade coffee and walnut cake. You just have to.
Not that you need sustenance to keep you going because Padstow is synonymous with Rick Stein and, apart from being able to eat the man himself, you can pretty much take your pick from his products: fancy seafood, good old fashioned fish ‘n chips, pasties, pies, breads, meringues, tarts, shellfish, ice cream. Beyond the world of the Steins there are numerous cafes, bakeries, pubs and ice cream vendors in the town. With money, you will never go hungry.
For all the cashing-in it is undoubtedly good for Padstow and the surrounding area. And I’m sure if you asked Rick Stein where his favourite place in the world is, of all the places he has been, from France to Asia to Mollymook, he will say Padstow. And why not, why not at all?
The Devonport – Bodmin Parkway rail route offers up another lovely option, without a bus connection. This means that it’s hard to justify coffee and walnut cake but you can take solace with a National Trust cafe instead. A walk of a couple of miles, tracing the River Fowey through verdant woodland and leading along a broad tree-lined drive takes you to Lanhydrock House.
At Lanhydrock there are gardens doing their utmost to remain in summer and a sneaky side gate or too in which you can enter without paying. Well, it’s not like I was deliberately avoiding having to pay for 10 minutes wander around a garden, and I did spend money on a caramel slice and coffee afterwards. So just keep calm and carry on, as they all say in these places I think.
In these places I have been a while now, which means a clear routine has set in, particularly in the mornings. A folding up of bed and shifting of table is then followed by a cup of tea and a watch of BBC Breakfast News. The weather forecast maintains interest and days and weeks are planned around what the smiley weatherwoman decides is happening. A cool, blustery day means trips to town and hanging out in the library to do some writing of some kind. A sunny day is greeted with the enthusiasm that comes with the expectation of this being the last of the year.
On what I thought would be the last sunny day of the year I shifted to bus travel and a bumbling ride to Noss Mayo in Devon. This is now just one of those established jaunts that tends to fit into the annual southwest pilgrimage. Not so many miles from Plymouth it nonetheless takes a while to reach, as the bus frequently stops and reverses for other vehicles to squeeze between it and the ten foot high hedgerows. Practically scraping the walls of pastel cottages, the bus arrives beside Noss Creek and a pleasantly varied walk of an hour or so: coast, farms, woods, creek, boats, pub, beer. And then back on the bus through the rabbit warren of the South Hams to Plymouth. Such is the blessing of living in this part of the world.
The sun failed to shine on the far west of Cornwall despite it being a day which I thought might be the last sunny one of the year. Quite possibly the lamest high pressure system in the history of the world covered the British Isles and daubed it in low cloud and mist. And so, unlike my last trip down to this pointy end, St Ives was blanketed in a grey melancholy, with a cold wind picking up off the bay, the only comfort coming from a Pengenna pasty and that good mocha I mentioned before.
Things were no better on the southern coastline around Mounts Bay, that is until the train pulled out of Penzance Station at four o’clock and the cloud parted over Marazion and continued on to Truro and such brilliant blue skies as befitting the last sunny day of the year continued all the way into Plymouth. You could say it was frustrating and you would be right, but the train ride back was two hours of blissful enjoyment and appreciation of Cornwall.
The next day dawned, well, sunny. Very sunny indeed, and warm despite the end of September creeping ever closer. While the cloud filled in a little the warmth endured and offered up a couple of hours of unbelievable shorts wearing. This was in Calstock, on another train trundling up the Tamar Valley. The main attraction, apart from the snaking tidal river, impressive viaduct and waterside cottages, is Cotehele House and its wooded estate sloping down to the water. It’s a peaceful, sedate corner of the world, again just a stone’s throw – or train ride – from Devonport.
And so you see, while it did rain and it has been cold, this has generally been the exception rather than the rule. My last day here, before I disappear elsewhere for a while, involved shorts-wearing for goodness sake! And when shorts can be worn there is no rush to cross continents, not just yet. Not until we have that last sunny day of the year at least.