Better late than never

Ah live blogging. Tweeting Trump tirades. Instantaneous pictures of food. All the wonders of the 21st century. And here I am stuck in the past, thinking back to early September and a final foray (in 2016 at least) in the southwest of England. Luckily the memories are vivid, and the wonders of the 21st century mean that I can draw on way too many photographs than is healthy.

swlast01I remember arriving back from London in splendid sunshine and almost immediately rushing to the moors. The car had alternate ideas, but some rectification and replacement meant that the day wasn’t totally ruined. In fact the afternoon sky was bluer, the light clearer, the warmth warmer on a rapid trot up from the tinkling cascades around Norsworthy Bridge towards Down Tor. Clearly, so clearly, and happily back in Devon.

And then, crossing counties, there was the day. In other years it has been around Porthcurno or Padstow or Fowey or St Agnes. The Cornwall Day. The day when I venture out into a world set up so perfectly that you start to question why you would even think about going anywhere else. Sure, it was a long trek down to Penzance on the train, and then to Land’s End with its touch of tack and touristification. But head north, mostly along the coast path, and you are transported into a rugged, beautiful, heart-warming world that oozes pasty filling and rich clotted cream.

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swlast03Practically round the corner from Land’s End is Sennen Cove. Though most of the Land’s End crowd have filtered out, the beach remains busy and tiny car parks are amply populated with people eternally waiting for someone else to move. But beyond the main drag the alleys are cosily quiet, and the coast path is trampled in only an infrequent fashion by jolly people with beaming smiles. I may have been one of them.

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swlast05Further along the path the beach empties out, disappearing altogether as a small headland perforates the arc of Whitesand Bay. There are rocks to clamber over and a tightening of the sea against the land. It’s just a small inconvenience when you round a corner and discover another bay, another beach, another dream that you might want to pinch yourself from. If anywhere in the UK is ever going to get close to a rugged beach of southern New South Wales, then maybe Gwynver Beach is the one.

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But unlike the other souls who have found this place, there is little time to linger, other than to eat a somewhat squishy Double Decker on a rock. I have public transport timetables to consider, and there is not very much to consider. It is the bus or bust. So I move promptly northward, following the cliff line towards Cape Cornwall. The sandy beaches have gone and it is all raggedy rocks and windswept heather, brilliant in the afternoon light beamed from the west. It is archetypal Cornwall and it is only right for this particular Cornwall day.

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I never make it to Cape Cornwall, thanks in no small part to bus concerns and the elongated fissure that is Porth Nanven. In true Cornish fashion, the coastline is pierced by a stream, the steep valley it has left in its wake stretching to the suburbs of St Just and requiring a significant detour. With St Just tantalisingly in site and consulting my bus timetable, I instead make a dash for the 1644 to Pendeen.

The bus is – almost inevitably in this part of the world, at this time of year, at this hour in the day – a little late. But it is running and drops me off at The Queens Arms in Botallack. This is a handy place for a bus stop, as I make a mental note of the time back to Penzance and do swift calculations in my head to ensure there is opportunity for a pint. It all depends though on how much I linger around the Botallack mine sites.

There is plenty to linger for here, and with the sun gradually moving lower you know it will probably get even better. At first glance it doesn’t seem the most aesthetically pleasing spot, mining remnants littering the whole coastline, chimney stacks towering above a small gravel car park, wheelhouses crumbling into a pile of rubble. But out on one of the headlands is the iconic site of a mine perched precariously next to the Atlantic Ocean. And another above that. It is a right proper Ginsters Smugglers Pilchard Jamaica Inn Poldark of a sight, and it takes a lot to tear you away.

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swlast08Such as a pint. A pint of Doom Bar in a Doom Bar glass in an independent, old school pub perched on the edge of Cornwall, the edge of England, maybe even the edge of civilisation (though that is debatable more than ever these days). Can there be any better way to toast an exemplary Cornish Day than waiting for the bus like this?

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You know, as well as getting frequently drunk it seems the in thing in England these days is to get bleatingly nostalgic about the supposedly good old days, often while drunk. I was wondering what it would be like after the whole let’s leave Europe and go our own way rah rah rah eff off we’re full thing. Maybe it was a decent summer, maybe it was Olympic glory, and maybe it was the fact that not much had really changed – yet – that doses of an idyllic, untroubled, pacific England were there to be had. Like that final late afternoon upon Brentor, sticking up above the rolling patchwork, dotted with sheep, cows, the odd cosy farmhouse and distant church-steepled villages. I love this spot.

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And with sweeping sentimentality there were also the inevitable farewells to be had on those last few days. A farewell to Plymouth, who’s Hoe I finally got to visit one spontaneous evening. A farewell to proper clotted cream for another year, nurturing and sustaining me through winding lanes and gigantic hedgerows. A farewell to the school summer holidays, mercifully. A farewell to pasties, though with Sarah deciding to close on a Sunday, the last taste was one of bitterness and disenchantment in Looe. Oh, and a farewell to some of these people, once again. People who never fail to entertain, irritate, feed, amuse and always capture my heart.

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Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking

More moors

Dartmoor is a very handy place. Particularly on those days where guilt gets the better of me and I engage in the preposterous proposition of work. After instant coffee breaks – a sure sign I have been in England too long and settled for inadequacy – it reaches something like 3pm and I yearn to break free. And there Dartmoor is, through the school and hospital and fast food takeaway traffic, and up the A386.

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moor05The area around Burrator is probably the handiest and offers a useful mixture of forests, tors, ponies and a chance to gobble down a Willy’s ice cream. Sharpitor, Leather Tor, Sheepstor, Down Tor all provide the opportunity to scramble around and over clutters of granite, to gaze north and east into the wilds and south and west over the patchwork dream to the hazy ocean on the horizon. Swathes of bracken meander down to gnarly forests and tinkling streams, some of which are occasionally plummeting (conveniently and suspiciously close to the ice cream van).

From such moorland vantages – and practically any other hilltop in West Devon and East Cornwall – the modest mound of Brentor is visible, disconnected from the barren tops of Dartmoor before it slides down into the Tamar Valley. Its distinction not only stems from its prominence amongst flatter surrounds, but its famous church that some dedicated god-botherers decided to construct a long time ago.

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moor02I suspect the church provided a symbolic, steadfast two fingers to the heathens, roaming the moor via their crazy stone circles and rows, all wild hair, posies of heather, and rampant Chlamydia. An outpost for civilisation, a rising up from the moral turpitude of the flea-bitten masses towards the light. I feel much the same leaving Plymouth and heading to Dartmoor today, bathed in its pure air and natural light. Swept away in wonderment, even my jeans are feeling holy, what with all the pasties and frequent straddling of giant cracks between granite blocks.

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moor07As well as flailing raggedly down from Dartmoor, heathens would have been in profusion west of Brentor and into the dark, forbidding uplands of Kernow. Willing to shake it up a little, I grabbed my passport one afternoon, crossed the Tamar and headed towards Bodmin Moor. Less defined and gargantuan than its Devonian counterpart, there are nonetheless pockets of heather and gorse pierced by shattered tors. Ponies graze and stone rows lurk and the diggings and ruins of the tin industry crumble away in profusion. There is less of the idyllic in this zone around Minions, but there is enough to encourage future exploration.

From these boggy pastures the River Fowey runs south and widens into that rather delightful spot by the sea. Upstream has its highlights too, as I found at Golitha Falls. Verdant woodlands are making the most of the last of the summer, tinges of yellow and orange and red brushing the tops exposed to the sun. A scattering of leaves are floating down towards the mossy branches and rocks of the forest floor. All the while, the pure waters of the river meander and tumble unendingly onward, luring you to follow them forever towards the sea. Cool and refreshing and rejuvenating, there are no excuses not to get back to work, other than more moors.

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Driving Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking