The doorstep

A habit of mine is to go for a walk somewhere every day of the week. Or at least try to, even if this is a little amble to the shops or a trudge through puddles in a park. It’s a habit easily fed in Canberra, where leafy suburbia intermingles with random patches of bushland and sprawling hilltop reserves, usually rising under big blue skies. I can walk out of my door and be in any number of spots that hardly feel as though they are in the middle of a city: trees and birds and kangaroos and a horizon of mountain wilderness espied in the west.

This habit bordering on obsession can become a little harder in the UK, which is surprising when you consider all the public footpaths and country lanes and bridleways and muddy fields marked on an Ordnance Survey map. British cities are denser and usually grimier and most definitely wetter, meaning a walk from the doorstep often requires a little deeper investigation, a tad more imagination, and a dose of good luck. Like finding the slightly cottagey lanes of Compton Vale in Plymouth or clumps of woodland on a steep highway embankment, or the spooky cemeteries of Janners past.

Of course, with a car the options open up exponentially, but so too do the speed cameras and the filter lanes and the traffic lights and the roundabouts clogged with cars rarely indicating. It can be a bit of a chore to get out of Plymouth for a walk, but once you make it the world is pretty much your oyster. Until the next village with a parade of speed bumps and cattle grids.

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The roundabout at Roborough is a significant, welcome milestone in the escape from Plymouth; a conduit between giant superstores and industrial estates and the rambling wilds and shady valleys of Dartmoor National Park. This is Plymouth’s backyard and, once you get there, a fairly quiet one away from the usual honeypots and ice cream traps.

Even on a sunny Saturday – admittedly a bracingly cold Saturday for early May – the moor was more than ample to soak up the extra ramblers and cyclists and trippers tripping on cream teas. This includes an additional fellow in young Leo, who was adamant he was coming with us for a walk and, of course, ended up being carried the whole way. Kids, huh?!

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The walk near Princetown felt a far cry from the city, all empty and remote, a desolate bleakness intensified by the icy wind casting sun and cloud patterns upon the barren brown moors. Yet here civilisation creeps in, or at least tries for a while. The solitary austere brick structure of Nun’s Cross Farm stands resolute, providing a little shelter in the lee of the wind to tame Leo’s hair. Rather than a blight on the landscape, it seems to fit, offering as much a representation of life on the moor as ponies and tumbling clusters of granite…

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…And clotted cream teas. After such an frigid walk can there be anything more delightful than a log fire, buttery scones, pots of tea and the usual trimmings? It’s not like I planned the walk around this or anything, it just happened to be nearby, and we were hungry, and well… There is only so much rugged emptiness one can take. What’s the point of walking if you can’t get to enjoy it?!

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Back through that roundabout at Roborough within the city of Plymouth, there is a pocket of countryside on the banks of the Plym, wedged between the Devon Expressway and the South Hams Tractortrack. It’s ideal for a pre-dinner stroll or – better still – post-dinner, when Emmerdale, Coronation Street and Eastenders zap the brain cells of millions of devoted followers. Saltram is a gracious property boasting copious, succulent Devonian land, including plenty of woodland pockets in which Mr Darcy can brood.

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Saltram has its trails but is not without its trials. First off, National Trust property, which means the good people of busybody parkingland can’t wait to rob you of gold. For all the wonderful things the National Trust provides, it all seems a little exorbitant to me…I can’t help but feel some of the charges are siphoned off to some sycophantic Daily Telegraph fundraiser to install the natural heir to Churchill as PM. That dog from the TV ads.

The other thing with Saltram is that it takes a circuitous effort to reach by car, navigating a manic roundabout whose lanes disappear into a wormhole, and then a slip lane clogged with cars turning into Lidl for a pint of milk or 60 inch flat screen. Such is the travail of the journey, the prospect of digging into your life savings to park, and – should you mistime – the odorous tidal pong of the River Plym, that Saltram can prove a frustrating affair.

hm06Or it can be wonderful, arriving a little before rush-hour and just after the parking attendant has gone home. This yields a quiet fist pump of glee and a good mood in which to walk the parklands. Along the river, the tide is high and holding on, and clouds part to release the sun. Forget the roar of traffic along the Embankment, and the mould-tinged sails of Sainsburys, and focus instead on the flourishing green of the woods and bounteous swathes of wild garlic. Embrace the chirping birds and walk with the hope of encountering a deer.

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hm08Look down upon manicured fields and be thankful that this is indeed upon your doorstep. A doorstep in which the land and sea meets, producing conditions that are often frustrating but usually fruitful. Beyond the chav-filled potholes of the city, a land of strawberries and cream or raspberries and cream or just cream goddammit.

A daily walk is an obsession not for the air, nor for the nature, nor for the killing of time in a rather pleasant way. A daily walk is the only way I can try to keep that goddam luscious cream off!

Food & Drink Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking

Mother country

I am back in Australia, honest! Proof of this are the shorts adorning my waist, the flat white on my desk and the gorgeous melodies of magpies lurking outside ready to peck my eyes out. Yet still the European adventures linger on, and the feeling of being at home away from home away from home.

Plymouth won’t win any prizes for Britain’s most beautiful city, but it is my home town and I’m happy that way. Mostly thanks to its geography and history there is a lot to love about Plymouth, despite clusters of concrete dreariness and chavvy hang outs. Somehow I felt an air of greater positivity in Plymouth this year, which is perplexing given years of council cutbacks and the potential cliff edge that we all know weighs upon the near future. Perhaps this is what a good summer yields.

The Hoe, how I relish seeing Plymouth’s Hoe, especially on fine evenings as families gather for picnics, friends congregate for frisbee, and old fogies stare out to sea behind the protection of their car windscreens. I love the sense of community, the fraternity, this contented coming together in public spaces…from the ridiculous music coming out of the devices of yoof splayed out on the grass to the flasks of tea being enjoyed by elders within the comfort of a Nissan Micra.

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Many people are out enjoying Plymouth’s classic circular amble, milling their way through the historic Barbican before rising up along the foreshore and taking in vistas of Plymouth Sound from The Promenade. The Barbican is a reliable go-to to wile away an hour, to seek out food and drink and to perhaps even discover a good coffee…eventually. A salty air of old sea-dogs and staggering drunks, intertwined with fancy foods and crumbly fudge.

And what of the sights and experiences within half an hour or so? Well, on three sides there is Cornwall, Dartmoor, and the South Hams respectively on your doorstep. All national park or areas of outstanding natural beauty, designated or otherwise.

Probably the most pleasing way to cross the frontier west into Cornwall is on the tiny passenger ferry from Cremyll to Mount Edgecumbe. Here, the rather expansive country park offers everything from rampant rhododendrons to tumbledown towers. A shoreline of seaweed and pebbles is fractured by swathes of woodland meandering down to the waterside, while formal lawns and regimented flower beds are dotted with Romanesque statues and Georgian hidey-holes. This is a place of childhood summers, an escape accessible to all Plymothians, as long as the ferry price doesn’t continue to escalate.

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Trips to Cornwall require a river crossing of one way or another, producing a deliberate period of transition between the city and its exterior. Travelling to the South Hams provides no such moment; one minute you are navigating parked cars and speed cameras, the next, you are in the rolling green ambrosia characteristic of this part of the world. Longer drives lead to jewels such as Bantham, Hope and Salcombe and, of course, a little closer sits the timeless charm of Noss Mayo. Closer still – practically a Plymouth suburb – is Wembury, where many a local will pop out for a National Trust delicacy and stroll upon the beach. Better still – as I discovered – you can park up towards Wembury Point and head along the coast to Heybrook Bay for a pint.

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It’s a blessing to have these places on your doorstep but if there is one clear antidote to the drab post-war concrete jungle, overloaded roads, and profusion of Janners grunting something like “Fook, I’m goowun down Demnport un gonna smassh iz fookin fayce in” it is the rugged expanse of Dartmoor National Park. The higher parts are open and barren, bruised by the weather, the shattered granite tors tumbling down amongst bracken towards fast-flowing streams. But there is also a tamer side to Dartmoor, replete with an abundance of countryside charm, cute villages and human enterprise.

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ply06It is from these hills, from this sponge in the middle of Devon, that the waters which give Plymouth its name first spring. The River Plym here is a far cry from the sludgy and stinky tidal estuary meeting Plymouth Sound. Clear and rapid, tumbling over boulders and pooling on bends, the river descends into dense valleys packed green with mosses, ferns and leafy trees. Plymbridge Woods is but a short descent through a dark, narrow lane from industrial estates and Asda superstores, yet it is another world away.

 

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ply09So, to the north, to the east, to the west there are pleasures easy to reach. Should you have a boat or a longing for Brittany, the south also offers much. And slap bang in the middle, Plymouth. My home that still feels mostly like home while existing slightly distant. It’s funny how things you took for granted, things that you didn’t notice when you were younger now trigger a fond, sometimes joyous sensation. And that extends from leafy green woods and cobbled quays to the family comforts of laundry fairies and roast dinners. Home, still.

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Food & Drink Great Britain Green Bogey

Hope for blue

Devon, oh Devon. Rolling hills, white fluffy clouds in a blue sky, white fluffy sheep in a green field, the deep blue sea shimmering in a haze of paradise. Oh yes, the picture-perfect Devon of custard cans. Such were my thoughts on the first day back here as gales lashed rain sideways upon a window in gritty Plymouth city, the smell of roast dinner the only comfort. It’s good to be back.

That stormy day has been the exception rather than the rule but, while there have been some blessed interludes, the predominant feature has been cloud. Cloud and cream and catch ups and cars to get used to ferrying family and escaping Emmerdale.

Like practically everyone else in this sceptred isle I have been paying frequent visits to the BBC Weather website, analysing the hourly chance of sunshine breaking through the milky clouds and estimating with a little skill, experience, and luck, where the gaps could emerge. And the success rate hasn’t been so bad.

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Noss Mayo is a reliable friend. I know its lanes and paths well – meandering up past happy farms, coursing loftily above the sea, before weaving down underneath a green canopy as jaunty boats upon the Yealm begin to break through. I know where to crawl tentatively around which corners of single-track lane to avoid a head-on crash. I know sunny spells can be more likely to emerge here. And I know where to park and where not to.

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Well, I thought I did, unless there is a fete on and the compact car park becomes overwhelmed to the extent that a complex series of nine point turns on a 20% gradient is required to squeeze in next to a wall against which you can’t open the door necessitating an undignified scramble over the passenger seat. I guess ferret racing, wellie throwing, and cake tasting is an enduringly popular attraction in Devon.

Despite this bank holiday anomaly, the rest of Noss was as pleasing as ever. Happy farms, lofty sea views, jaunty boats, that kind of thing. The sun even broke through. Customarily, I had half a pint at the end but – given things had been slightly awry from the start – made a controversial visit to The Swan rather than The Ship. From where that time-honoured tradition of watching unknowingly parked cars become submerged by the rising tide could play out.

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After Noss Mayo, greyness came and went for much of the week and my continued scrutiny of the BBC Weather page started to wane as it became clear that they didn’t really know what was going on. The supposed sunny mornings were cloudy, cloudy afternoons became bright, and once in a while shorts might have been tolerable in the same day that you were wearing a fleece and long trousers and struggling to see through drizzle.

In an effort to get out with the sun and conveniently avoid a pile of tripe being served up in The Woolpack, an evening on Dartmoor produced a fine end to an otherwise dull day. The drive itself proved an adventure in threading a car through lanes hemmed in by characteristic ten-foot-high hedgerows on roads I did not now. Disorientation is never far away. Happily, I ended up on Harford Moor Gate, an area I had never previously accessed and one which led to a yomp over open moorland burnished golden by the lowering sun.

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I set out for a random tor in the distance with the nebulous but entirely logical aim of seeing what was over the other side. Avoiding anguished cow bellows and boggy hollows, it turned out the other side had more open moorland and little else. On a whim, I headed for another pile of rocks a few hundred metres south. And there it was, the view of South Devon and its patchwork fading in the dying light.

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The sun was heading back into a band of grey on the western horizon, but before it did I managed to make it back to my first tor to say farewell. Farewell again.

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The by now notorious BBC Weather page continued to largely offer the ambiguous white cloud symbol. Always a few days into the future, perhaps some sun. Always offering a little hope. And finally delivering.

Still in the school summer holidays I feared Hope Cove in the South Hams would be largely inaccessible. Farmers would have seen the blue sky and decided to secretly annoy everyone by undertaking essential tractor on road affairs. Grockles would be flocking to car parks, caravans would be wedged between quaint red post boxes and quaint red phone boxes, kids and dogs would be running amok in a melange of buckets, balls and bowls of water that I always trip over. How, exactly, is the tranquillity?

But I was surprised. We got a park. We got a spot on the small beach cove. We got an ice cream. And we got a blue sky that was very comfortable for shorts and a walk along the South West Coast Path. That tranquillity? It’s pretty fine thanks.

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Leaving the bubbling hubbub of Hope behind, I headed up towards Bolt Tail for magical views back to town and over the sapphire calm of the bay. There is little that is more joyous than traipsing on the trails of the coast path when it is like this. Nowhere in the world.

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For now, here was Devon. Devon, oh Devon. Rolling hills, white fluffy clouds in a blue sky, white fluffy sheep in a green field, the deep blue sea shimmering in a haze of paradise. Oh yes, the picture-perfect Devon of custard cans. Such were my thoughts surrounded by hope. It’s good to be back.

 

Food & Drink Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking

Hope and some glory

And so, over a month since I last had a cream tea I can bring myself to write about pockets of Devon explored and re-explored in 2017. It’s not that I have been avoiding it out of separation anxiety, as such. Just rude work interruptions punctuated by apathy and good sunshine. I love to get outside every day if I can, and being raised in Devon I am pre-programmed to do that whenever it is dry and reasonably pleasant. So writing a blog post in front of a screen in Australia when there are magpies to swoop at me and sunburn to frazzle requires a commitment far beyond my genetic capability.

Now it is gently raining in Canberra, something which it largely failed to do in my first week in Devon. The second spell made up for that a bit, but even then there were suitable gaps to encourage a punt on winning a hole in the cloud.  But that first week, wow. Could Devon look any finer?

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Apart from the blip of Plymouth and a few other towns of much less note, the southern half of Devon is dominated by Dartmoor and the South Hams; one a National Park, the other a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. And like an indecisive lump trying to pick between a cream tea and fish and chips I flitted from one to the other at regular intervals. There was plenty, as ever, to savour.

Dartmoor is relatively convenient from the home base in Plymouth. I say that despite seemingly endless road works and traffic lights and, of course, speed bumps and congestion caused by people flocking to superstores and drive throughs on their way to the homeware warehome. But once you’ve got to that last roundabout and whizzed past the Dartmoor Diner, it’s like your inner dog is released; nose through a small gap in the window, full of anticipation and impatience, and – possibly for more deviant types – panting at the prospect of free-roaming sheep.

dv01On the road to Burrator, the sheep are out in force, arse sticking out into the tarmac, head tucked into a giant gorse bush, oblivious to the fact that there are two cars coming at opposite directions on a lane built for one. Further on, a few sheep mill about in the foot of Sheepstor, just so they can pose for clichéd photos and get in the way of cars trying to park. Better to get out on foot though, and take in a stretch of reservoir, country lane, farm and hamlet aesthetic, before climbing the wilder, granite strewn hill itself. It’s a route I’ve taken a few times now and strikes me as a wonderful bona fide welcome back to Devon.

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Journeying into the South Hams also presents traffic perils, often in the form of a grumpy farmer at the helm of a tractor revelling in sticking two proverbial fingers up to everyone else. Peak season for this would be August, when holidaymakers increase traffic by a factor of ten thousand. Add in twelve foot high hedgerows on single track roads down to car parks with a capacity of twenty spaces and you begin to get the picture.

It’s in this mix that a little local knowledge and strategic blue sky thinking can come in handy. For instance, set off later in the day, when the tide happens to be out anyway (as you would have diligently checked on Spotlight the night before). Try to avoid the A379 as much as possible if at all possible. Not very possible, but possibly possible if you consider the A38 and cut down at some point, such as through Ermington. Avoid Modbury and head down to Mothecombe. Where you will have cheaper post-3pm parking and plenty of sand left for everyone.

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dv04It really is in a delightful setting, Mothecombe; the tranquil shallows of the River Erme meandering out to sea, the sandy banks and rock pools revealed at low tide, the sheltered, undeveloped bay with gentle waves and translucent waters. Such appealing waters that people were in there swimming and I got the shock of my life when I put my own feet in. Not the usual, anticipated shock of oh my god what are they doing this is f*****g freezing, but a slight eyebrow raising oh this is actually tolerable for a bit up to ankle height I guess. No wonder the roads are so busy.

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If that was Devon in the joyous throes of summer, my final week (after an interlude in other parts of the UK) was very much an autumn affair. The most overused word of that week was blustery, closely followed by changeable and showery. On Dartmoor, the scene was moodier, more forbidding, occasionally bleak. But Dartmoor does bleakness to such great effect; in fact bleakness really is its preferred state.

dv07Following a day of showers merging into longer spells of rain I was keen to get outdoors when a longer spell of rain appeared to have passed leaving a few showers behind. I was in the habit of checking the weather radar by now, and took a bit of a gamble on a potential gap in the way things were tracking. Out around Sharpitor, as cloudbursts pummelled the Tamar Valley and a black doom sat unyielding beyond Princetown, some late sunshine pierced the skies and set the landscape aglow. Sheltering from the cold wind, I stood insignificant within expansive moorland and raggedy tors, alternately shining golden in sun or darkened by racing clouds. Barring the occasional car on the main road crossing the moor, it was just me and the sheep and a pony or two to witness it. I felt as though I had struck gold.

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There was less good fortune back in the South Hams, where a Harvester I had pictured in my head didn’t exist and lunch ended up somewhere down the road and over the hill and a little further along from the tiny hamlet of traditional dining hours. This wasn’t terrible, for outside the intermittent showers had done their let’s merge into a longer spell of rain thing and ducks revelled in the whole experience. But essentially I am an optimist and British…an entirely contradictory thing I know, apart from when it comes to the weather. There is something in our character that makes us look up at the skies and sigh with a grudging acceptance before donning sexy pac a macs and trudging on regardless. On to the eternal hope that is Noss Mayo.

dv10And you know what? In a turn of events that no good travel writer would ever make up, it pretty much stayed raining albeit with some slight easing off for about five minutes. Thankfully the Ship Inn had some funky outdoor pods to huddle together and drink hot chocolate in – think three quarters hamster ball in Teletubbie land – and with the tide being in (well checked, sir), the scene was not one of stinking tidal sludge. Indeed, it was rather serenely pretty under a comfort blanket of cloud.

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Instead, Hope was on the horizon the next day, my very last day in Devon. Hope, just down the now more placid A379 and a rollercoaster lane of twelve foot high hedgerows. Hope, where there is parking for twenty cars and a few spaces to spare. Hope, set into its namesake cove surrounded by steep wooded cliffs iced with undulating pasture. Hope, sat in warm September sun outside the Hope and Anchor with half a Tribute and in the Salcombe Dairy ice cream taking the bitter edge away. Bittersweet is Hope on days like these. Days when Devon couldn’t – again – look, smell, taste, and feel any finer.

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Food & Drink Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking

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

Over the hills

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It wasn’t so long ago that I spent an awfully long time in the south west of England. Time that was only occasionally awful in the gloomy despair of November; otherwise it was all sunshine and lollipops or – more accurately – white cloud and clotted cream teas. Thus arriving back again on the most sublimely gorgeous of blue sky days proved no big fuss.

clr_00Who am I kidding? It was a sublimely gorgeous blue sky day after all and, following a quick embrace of various family members, I scarpered for the moors, reuniting with narrow lanes, wayward sheep, dry stone walls and a Willy’s ice cream. And on the subject of willies…such was my frantic rush to climb Sheepstor I ripped the trousers I had on while straddling a ditch, leaving me delightfully well ventilated if a little wary of human encounters. The views – from my end at least – were majestic.

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clr_02Ripping trousers so early on are not a good portent for the remainder of a holiday which has historically involved a deluge of high fat dairy products, intense sugar, and hearty stodge. The fact that I was here not so long ago for an awfully long time (acquiring at least one stone in the process), failed to have little impact on my behaviour. Pasty done, cream tea done, massive barbecue meat fest done and 48 hours not yet passed.

Lest things become all a little familiar, a circuit breaker came in the form of a Canadian visitor – Claire –  who I had not seen since 2003 in New Zealand. Visiting the country for a couple of weeks I naturally proceeded to take Claire to some familiar Cornish places and indulge in familiar Westcountry treats. But at least I got to experience them through a new pair of eyes – an experience confirming that jam on cream is definitely wrong and not at all aesthetically pleasing (I mean, what do Canadians know about cream teas anyway?!!)

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clr3Unfortunately it was all a little murky in Boscastle, but at least the descent to the harbour took us out of the clouds and into a flower filled, tourist peppered, boat bobbing idyll. From which we promptly walked up and up (a seemingly recurrent theme all day) along the coast path to the western headland. Here, the clouds skimmed our heads and offered a little pleasant drizzle, obscuring the coastline and patchwork hills inland. While a weather feature atypical of Manitoba, it could only divert for a few minutes at best, and half a cream tea back at sea level felt like a more agreeable option.

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Radically, the cream tea was in a new location for me. And such adventurousness continued when I stopped midway between Boscastle and Tintagel and sought to find Rocky Valley. After a touch of on road uncertainty I found the path (hint: look for the valley with lots of rocks), and it was quite a sight. Of course, walking down into a valley meant going back up again, but what would Cornwall be without all these hills, eh?

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Familiar ground was back on the cards in Tintagel, where we called in for a Cornish pasty, obviously. The pasties here have acquired a legendary status over the years, rivalling those of wizards and knights and horses and pixies and things. But as such legends have become diluted by a parade of tourist tat shops, so too the pasties may well be in decline. They are still more than tolerable, but not on the pedestal they once inhabited. Next year, I will have to check again!

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The Cornish pasty was of course the typical tin and copper miner’s lunch. In fact, it probably features in Poldark, crumbs smeared down the body of that actor dude that everyone seems to think is a bit of crumpet. Well, Poldark lovers, I may have trodden in his footsteps (and pasty crumbs), radically keeping my top on in the process. I cannot be sure of course, for I have never watched the goddam show, but the scenery around St Agnes looks the part. All windswept headlands, precipitous cliffs, thrashing waves, purple heather and golden gorse, with the added decoration of Wheal Coates mine. It is Cornwall in a snapshot, as Cornish as the pasty, and I am pretty sure as pleasing to a Canadian visitor as patchwork fields, jam on cream, Arthurian legends, mist, bobbing boats, and – undoubtedly – the novelty of hills, those inevitable, never-ending, Westcountry hills.

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Driving Food & Drink Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking

Changing of the guard

Britain is a pretty unspectacular place. It has no alpine peaks or broad rift valleys, no mighty gorges or thundering cataracts. It is built to really quite a modest scale. And yet with a few unassuming natural endowments, a great deal of time and an unfailing instinct for improvement, the makers of Britain created the most superlatively park-like landscapes, the most orderly cities, the handsomest provincial towns, the jauntiest seaside resorts, the stateliest homes, the most dreamily-spired, cathedral-rich, castle-strewn, abbey-bedecked, folly-scattered, green-wooded, winding-laned, sheep-dotted, plumply hedgerowed, well-tended, sublimely decorated 50,318 square miles the world has ever known – almost none of it undertaken with aesthetics in mind, but all of it adding up to something that is, quite often, perfect. What an achievement that is.

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And if you are thinking that is the most masterful, evocative, and passionate paragraph I have ever written (or, alternatively, overly rose-tinted, nauseating and contentious), then you are just plain wrong. For the always marvellous Bill Bryson had that to say in a Christmas present I bought myself, courtesy of some shady international bank transfer originating in Switzerland. With researcher instinct and the preposterous suggestion that someone might a) read b) notice and c) sue me for breach of copyright, that would be Bryson (2015, p.33).

montage1aNow, back to some original nonsensical drivel, and Christmas in Great Britain finally came and went. Blink and you may have missed it. I think I was part of it – my waistline certainly attests to such – but already it seems a world away. I remember a Christmas jumper and a gargantuan dinner and a predictably endless game of monopoly. I recall a losing battle to eat my way through four types of cheese and multiple slices of ham and final dollops of clotted cream with practically anything. I recollect a Boxing Day trip to Argyle and another success to stay top of the league. This part sounds the most fantastical, and perhaps I really am just dreaming.

montage1bA fond memory persists from Christmas Eve, rain sweeping briskly through to provide a few bright hours pottering in Polperro and tackling a cloying coastal path. Sunlit and sedate, contentedly winding down towards the Christmas weekend, it was all rather lovely. With the addition of a Doom Bar in a low-ceilinged, cosily log-fired, jauntily handsome pub, it delivered a moment to cherish.

I like to think it was quite a feat for me to make it through to Christmas…November and December testing my patience for all things grey and damp. But in reality it was barely a chore. Over almost half a year I came to love the variety, the luxury of choice for walks and wanders near and far. I marvelled in some unseasonable early autumn weather and wallowed in a shifting, fading, tinted landscape. I discovered new wonders like the Jurassic Coast and sublime pockets of South Cornwall and cultural and historical hotspots of London town. I also found comfort in the familiar, the cream teas and BBC and old friends and Plymouth Sound. True, I struggled to adapt to an unending parade of TV soaps (how much Emmerdale does one really need in life?), but became wearily accepting of the indifferent coffee. I adjusted and accepted and it became the norm.

Now things shift back to Australia once more and a counter-adjustment is in flow. No bothersome soaps and plenty of amazing coffee. Warmish temperatures (not that it ever got cold in England), but still some rain. Pitiful ‘Devonshire’ Teas. An absence of a delectable coast path, but a plethora of sweeping bushland trails in its place. Happy reunions proving some compensation for forlorn farewells. A new year commences with a newish start in what feels – at this point – a new place. A novelty that will quell my curiosity for the weeks and months ahead, until England – and its people – comes calling again.

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Reference

Bryson, B. (2015). The Road to Little Dribbling. More Notes From a Small Island. London: Transworld Publishers

Great Britain Green Bogey

I’m an Australian, Get Me Outta Here?!

Every once in a while I pick up on a sign that I have been in Britain for a lengthy time. The coffee becomes more tolerable and I seek out a Costa. I engage in the politics, once finding myself watching Andrew Marr on a Sunday morning and invariably tutting and name-calling towards an array of politicians (just like a Sunday morning with Bazza and co in Australia). I also develop greater familiarity with popular culture, aware at least of which predictable warbler might remain in X Factor and who ends up eating cockroaches in the Gold Coast hinterland. I am persuaded that Ant and Dec can actually be quite funny. And reminded that most of the press remains dire, particularly for non-xenophobic lefties.

If anything, weather fixation intensifies and I obsessively scramble to watch the national forecast on BBC breakfast every morning. And then the local one ten minutes later. Absorbing, calculating, praying in hope that there will be a clearer slot in between graphical blues and greens depicting more rain. I doubt that I have used the word ‘dank’ in Australia, but here it re-enters my lexicon. It was inevitable, but it still comes as a disappointment.

I later discovered that November was the gloomiest on record which is absolutely brilliant isn’t it? Bright spells were as rare as succulent oak trees in a delightfully scorching sun-blasted desert. Any glimmer of blue (or white or less grey grey) prompted me to seek the outdoors. Sunshine and squally showers meant a good day, like on an outing to Newquay with Mum.

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I would naturally avoid Newquay in the summer, jammed as it would be with school holiday sun-seekers stumbling over surfboards and clinging to caravans. Out of season is a different proposition though, with Fistral Beach sparse and surfers unwilling to venture upon seas whipped into meringue peaks. An out-of-season foam party streams onto the sand as a continuous crashing soundtrack booms in from the Atlantic.

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nov03It is – to be sure – bracing, but seems more purposeful than hunkering down to watch endless episodes of Pointless. We pursue the headland for the 360 degree views and a ragged crossroads of wind and water and land. Shelter is close and welcoming, provided by another Stein enterprise which can comfortably survive a winter with fish and chips and bread and tea specials.

Post-batter and it is back through the foam party and across to Pentire Headland. Similar to before, angled walking is required to puncture through a north-westerly headwind; pausing still to take a photo requires strength and agility. Waves crash on three sides and filter into the beach at Crantock. A distant squall promptly bears down and sends us scurrying for the car. The rain is back, and the blue sky gone again.

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My standards of what constitutes a good day in November have lowered, indeed plummeted. A grey morning triggers a return to Noss Mayo, an oft-visited haven but never so late in the year. What once was quaint is turned dour, the sheep peppering the coast questioning their existence and the yachts of the estuary creaking in ghostly wails. Bleakness envelops and a downpour drenches me before I could seek refuge in The Ship Inn. Posh people hog the fire with a sense of entitlement. Times have changed but some things haven’t.

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The weather folk on TV keep trying to sound cheerful, gleefully informing us that it is unusually mild for the time of year, before presenting a summary of the week ahead featuring words like “unsettled”, “rain at times”, “overcast”, and “winds increasing”. So it came as something of a surprise to wake one Saturday morning to find a frost on the car windscreen, hastily scraped off in an attempt to enjoy the blue skies before the clouds encroached and it became “overcast” again.

The moors were looking stunning in such rarefied light, swathes of bracken glowing bronze and raggedy silver outcrops piercing a deep blue. Not everywhere was shimmering though, the sun sitting on such a low trajectory that hollows and recesses struggled to shake off the shade. Thus on a nice sunny day I find myself in a chilly, dark chasm, following a beautiful watercourse in Lydford Gorge to the foot of White Lady Falls. A very reliable supply of water (i.e. Britain) ensures the falls plunge with suitable grace and power, offsetting the annoying lack of sunlight in the valley.

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nov06With the trees rapidly denuding it seems that autumn is fast dwindling away into winter, even if the temperature is hardly playing ball. It starts to feel like Christmas is of course a-coming, although the shops have been full of Christmas since September. I cannot remember there being so many TV adverts for Christmas food, Christmas presents, Christmas drinks, Christmas movies, Christmas jumpers and Christmas music. I thought it would be nice to stay in the UK for Christmas, but this overabundance is starting to drive me mad. I guess that is part of the whole Christmas experience too!

Chances of a white Christmas appear non-existent, unless you escape to a seascape brimful of foamy fury. Unlike Newquay and the north coast, stretches of the south coast may not cut it for impromptu seafoamball fights, thanks to protection from Atlantic surge. Beaches like Bantham and Bigbury are generally more sedate affairs and miraculously the sun may break through the white cloud thanks to the shelter of the hills. At low tide, miles of sand act as a barrier to the elements and afford safe, non-muddy footing for bracing strolls.

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nov09Burgh Island is the centrepiece of this quaint corner of South Devon and easily accessed when the tide is out. Catch it at the wrong time and you’ll be faced with a giant tractor ride or a perishing wade through water surging in from left and right. Or maybe wait it out with a cocktail in the artiest deco hotel of them all. Alas, my re-acclimatisation means I am used to paying attention to the tide times along with the weather forecast and miss out on cocktails and tractors.

Despite the predominant cloud, despite the withering trees, despite the headwinds and squalls and muddy tracks, despite the gloomiest November on record, there is just a little charm and delight to be found. A few hours like those in Bigbury, or Newquay, or at Lydford make a world of difference. They are rare interludes, and may not be enough to persuade me I could do a whole November again. But then it could be a lot worse, it could be December instead…

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Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Society & Culture Walking

October, revised

If I had been diligent and conscientious and just a little more bored, I could have written something about the month of October by now (as well as July, August and September). I would probably have discussed the drawing in of the northern hemisphere nights and the first big storms barrelling in from the Atlantic. Meanwhile, down in the southern half of the globe, shorts and bushfires would be a genuine topic for discussion yet again.

octsw05As it happens, October 2015 has been somewhat benign, at least in the southwest corner of England in which I have mostly lingered. And I have been perfectly content to linger there, what with this benign weather and all. I do believe we endured two whole weeks without a single drop of rain, an occurrence putting many outside of their comfort zone. At the start of the month I got away with a few hours in shorts, and the dry weather appeared to encourage farmers to set fire to things. On a beach, near Padstow, in an ashen blue sky air, T-shirt adorned, it could almost have been Australia.

octsw01One day of particular breathlessness spurred me to get on a bike, reassured that I would not face a headwind of Atlantic gale proportions. Hiring two wheels from Wadebridge, I rode much of the Camel Trail, only wishing that I was on my own more comfortable machine which languishes back in Canberra. Breathless from forty kilometres of riding through breathless scenery in breathless air. It was not quite Vancouver high, but the experience provided much to enjoy, including an inevitable stop for Rick’s fish and chips, well-earned.

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octsw04Around the corner from Padstow another day offered something a little more sedate, though with just as much, if not more, breathlessness in the scenery department. A stop for coffee overlooking Watergate Bay (coffee=acceptable and worth revisiting) preceded a jaunt along the cliff line overlooking Bedruthan Steps. Here stands the archetypal grandeur of the North Cornish coast, carved and sculpted by The Atlantic, still relatively benign. And upon these mighty shores, the National Trust serves delectable treats from their cafe…potatoes as giant as the rocks and wedges of ham as thick as the surf.

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octsw07T-shirts and scrumptious food at Bedruthan became a happily common theme for a few days, transferred to settings closer to Plymouth. A visit to Mount Edgecumbe offered discovery of a good lunch spot and welcome to an autumn, though at times it was hard to distinguish this from spring within the formal gardens. A couple of afternoon hours at Wembury proffered sunlit sea, coffee and cake. Meanwhile the steady climb up to the Dewerstone from Shaugh Bridge was sweat-inducing, relieved by a home-made sandwich that hit the mark like only home-made sandwiches sometimes can.

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Plenty of leaves remain on the trees, but despite the best efforts of the weather the signs of autumn ever-so-subtly emerge. No Atlantic storms, but more and more tinges of yellow and gold, fading to dour brown, eventually to carpet the land and decompose into treacherous sludge. Sweeping moors are turned to rust by the bracken which dwindles under a lowering sun. Offers for Roses and Celebrations pepper the shops, a proliferation of karaoke singers and pantomime dancers parade on TV, and Argyle are still top of the league.

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Quite possibly the best thing about this time though is the fact that Devon and Cornwall can return to some kind of quiet normality without flocks of marauding caravans and plagues of Daves from Dudley. The roads are quieter, car parks cheaper, dogs are (alas) allowed back on the beaches, even though it seems they were never off them in the first place. Sometimes you feel you have this land to yourself and it really is a quiet little backwater in our giant world.

octsw11And so, there I was, rarely bumping into anything other than the odd pheasant down in the Roseland Peninsula. A farm track took me out to Dodman Point, high above a placid silver sea pierced by the occasional trawler chugging back towards Mevagissey. Around the headland, Anvil Beach was – this time – peppered only by one or two souls, some inevitably allowing their dogs to run wild.

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The tangle of tiny roads and time of year seems to make this area a backwater amongst backwaters. The seemingly vast Caerhays Estate hosts a few timeless hamlets, invariably reached by a steep decline toward the sea or a severe kink in the wooded lanes. At Portholland, chatter over a cup of tea rises into the gentle afternoon sun, while at Portloe, it is though you are transferred to a Polperro without the masses, sitting quietly content amongst its pockmarked coves. Here, as the afternoon quickly fades there are signs of closure, of people battening down the hatches, of a looming change to be embraced sometime soon. The Atlantic storms will roll in, but perhaps we will just have to wait until November for that.

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Food & Drink Great Britain Green Bogey Walking

Seventh Heaven

I experience inevitable pangs of longing as pictures of Floriade, flat whites and thongs in thirty degrees Celsius begin to infiltrate my Instagram feed. Suddenly (and quite dramatically this year it seems) the balance tips and before you know it the people of Canberra will be cycling blissfully along the lake in bushfire smoke. I would be quite happy to throw on some shorts, pedal down to Penny University for a coffee, pop back to Manuka for some takeaway Mees Sushi rolls, have a nap if the squawking birds allow, and then watch the shadows lengthen on Red Hill. Still, I could fairly easily be doing that this time next week if I chose to.

The day will come, but not yet. There have been, and still are, plenty of good reasons to linger in the northern hemisphere. The recent weather has been better than it was in August, though the days shorten and wind now has a bite. As September trickled into October, autumn itself appeared on hold. Seven days with barely a cloud, and even those were as fluffily white as the sheep. Seven days in which I again got distracted. Seriously…

Sunday

A morning walk on the moors, what better way to absorb the clear air and open space? Intending to go to one spot, I ended up at another, but that can often be the way with Dartmoor. Squeezing through Horrabridge and up to Whitchurch Down, the setting looked exquisite enough to not need go any further.

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I think I ended up climbing to a clump of rocks known as Pew Tor but I didn’t know this at the time. It seems apt, since several rows of disorderly granite offered exemplary seating to watch proceedings across to Merivale and Great Mis Tor and down the moor into the Tavy and Tamar Valleys. Brentor was there (again) as were the beacons of Bodmin Moor across the border. A seat for a Sunday morning service I don’t mind attending.

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Monday

I had duties to perform but duties that only served to add an extra layer of holiday feeling not at all conducive to working. The A38 and M5 – often a scene of holiday hell – acted as a gateway to Bristol Airport and temporary disposal of the parents. I could’ve just turned around and come back to revel in my newly found again freedom, but that little stretch of road between the M5 and Bristol Airport is just so lush that it seems a waste to pass it by. Especially when I can zip off my legs, eat ice cream and toil atop Cheddar Gorge.

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mag05Steep climbs made a warm sun feel hot. Only brief glimpses of gorge and harsh but inevitable comparison with the many amazing chasms of Australia put this one close to the wrong side of the effort-reward ratio. Still, the rolling Mendips and glary Somerset levels offered an appealing backdrop, and the effort was ample to justify a wedge of clothbound, cave matured, genuine Cheddar.

mag06Anyway, the weather was of course A-MAZE-BALLS and I may have added to my dirty tan. It certainly did not feel like autumn, despite a few sneaky clues emerging in shadier spots.  Who needs Ibiza? Even the drive back on the M5 and A38 was quite a pleasure, as if one was heading west on holiday oneself. Which one pretty much was.

Such gloriousness spurred me to an impromptu, upwards detour as the sun lowered across Devon. Up to Haytor to see the last, laser hues of sunlight projected Uluru-like on the grey granite. Shorts still on, but not exactly appropriate. Cooler nights ahead, but clear and calm days to linger.

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Tuesday

For balance, I completed some chores and did some work. But by about four o’clock that became tiresome and the sun was still taunting me through the window. So I hopped over on the Torpoint ferry to Whitsand Bay, parked up and walked out to Rame Head.

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mag10What gorgeousness in the shelter of the east wind, the sunlight cast low upon the rugged line of cliffs stretching to Looe. What good fortune to still be able to do this so late in the day, after being unusually productive. And what a nice spot to watch the sun go out again, the end of another year accomplished.

Wednesday

If I was to design my own exemplary birthday present it would probably involve a sparkling drive across the rolling countryside of eastern Cornwall. I would reach the north coast at Boscastle, where I would sip on a reasonable coffee by the water before moving on to Tintagel for a more than reasonable pasty. Crumbly fudge may also be picked up via this route as an optional but inevitable extra. Interspersed between the eating would be cliff top walks under a big blue sky, the sound of ocean waves rising from the caves and coves of the coastline. Yes, the coffee could be still better, and the weather still warmer, but I sense a contentment of such simple things with age. Tintagel Island my cake, a steak and stilton pasty the candle on top.

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Thursday

mag12Older, wiser, even more prone to daytime napping, I again used the day in a semi-productive manner with frequent interruptions. A few spots of cloud came and went and the hours ticked on by to leave me with yet another end of day outing. Somewhere handy and close would do the job, and while the inlets of Plymouth Sound and cars of the city are detrimental to handiness, the views from nearby Jennycliff still manage to do the job. Goodbye sunshine, see you again tomorrow.

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Friday

Having barely ventured outside of the Plymouth city borders yesterday (a few steps on the coast path veering into the South Hams), corrective action was necessary on what was shaping into yet another sunny and mild day. This fine weather is getting tediously predictable, yet I still feel the urge to make as much of it as I can, because surely tomorrow will be worse. And so, ship shape and Bristol fashion, it’s off to Salcombe we go.

mag14I think it’s fair to make a sweeping generalisation and say that Salcombe is in a more upmarket corner of Devon. Upmarket in the ships ahoy, jolly poor showing by the English against those Colonials I say dear boy mode. The Daily Mail is the predominant manifesto of choice amongst a bowls club of stripy sweaters keeping a keen eye on the watery horizon for any unwanted intruders. And, across the river – at East Portlemouth – high fences of hydrangeas protect expensive views and private beaches.

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mag16Thankfully there are access points for commoners who make the effort. The ferry – manned by a servant with pleasingly gruff countenance – bobs back and forth to link town with East Port (as the locals probably call it). The fine, golden sand of Mill Bay is perfectly accessible, as long as you abide by the many rules and regulations set out on the Charter of Public Citizen Access as endorsed by the Board of Her Majesty’s Quarterdecks and Royal Commonwealth Bridge Club. The National Trust – a more agreeable British institution – have usurped some of the land nearby for all to use, and this takes you round to a couple more secluded bays and out back into the wilds.

mag17Now, the clipped hedges and accents fade, paralleled by a spilling out of protected estuary into untamed sea. A yacht bravely ventures out past Bolt Head and into the deep blue. A sea which is looking fairly placid today, reflecting much warmth towards bare cliffs and making me legless for the second time in a week. For some reason I am reminded of a tiny stretch of rare undeveloped Spanish coast between Cartagena and La Manga. Warm, barren, secluded. A palette seemingly burnished by the sun.

There are a few people for company out in the wilds, especially upon reaching Gara Rock Beach. An old man on some rocks seems to glare at me as if I was wearing a fluorescent pink onesie emblazoned with the words ‘LOOK AT ME’ or something. Only when he gets the binoculars out do I realise his penchant for birdlife, and my likely noisy clambering disturbing a pair of superb tits. A scattering of people bathe on the sands, while fellow ramblers wheeze their way up to the cafe seventy five metres above.

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Ah the cafe. I am back in Salcombe, with its crayfish pine nut salads and cedar-pressed Prosecco, served on a deck all wood planks and reinforced glass. Torn between two worlds, I resist and plough on down through woodland with my homemade cheese and ham and – a little in keeping – avocado sandwich. Back in town, an ice cream from Salcombe Dairy perfectly caps it off, a delight that anyone can most definitely enjoy on a day such as this.

Saturday

And so we are back where we began. Or, to be precise, back where I had intended to begin a week ago: at the top of Pork Hill between Tavistock and Merivale and heading into the heart of empty, high Dartmoor. Late day light replaces that of mid morning, but the scene is much the same. Perhaps the grass is a little more yellow and the bogs a little less swampy. The sheep are thirsty and the ponies unfathomably shelter in early October shadows. Small white clouds swiftly pass on the steady breeze, projecting speckles of shadow on a landscape devoid of much at all. One small farmhouse lingers in the fringe lands of the valley. Tors rupture and balance in a haphazard jigsaw of granite. At Roos Tor, there are no roos to be seen, but I am perfectly fine with that. For now, in such magic weather, with such a magic week, there is nowhere better.

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(Sunday: It was cloudy, I napped and had roast dinner)

Food & Drink 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

Devon slices

The eternal battle between Devon and Cornwall hinges on the correct approach to bedeck a scone. Cream then jam, jam then cream? Does it really matter when both are so god damn delicious? Well, clearly the answer is yes and, clearly, Cornwall wins.

It may seem a trifling matter, but the fight for sconepremacy reflects something far deeper in the southwest psyche. That is, which is the better county? Unlike the scone debate, this question cannot be so easily resolved. In my mind at least it is on a par with assessing the merits of England and Australia and as complex as Tony Blair being the logical person you’d hire to bring about peace in the Middle East. And you know what, I think the answer to this conundrum may be to appreciate each as equals, and revel in the fact that they are both pretty good anyway, particularly as scones are plentiful in whichever county.

For balance only the leftist BBC conspirators could dream of, let me now present some recent evidence for the case of Devon (given my last entry was Cornish). Specifically, the southern and western part of Devon within reasonable proximity to Plymouth. The other stuff doesn’t really matter, mostly because the pong from Exeter ruins it. And this is the stuff that is close to home.

The best mayo:

dev01Hellmans and Simon despair, for Noss Mayo is the winner and may well take out loveliest village in Devon competition. Just a short run out from Plymouth via a maze of ten foot hedgerows, it’s a place of peace and serenity and that colourful bunting that is just about in every village in the southwest. Cottages with names like Anchor’s Rest and Primrose Lodge scatter haphazardly down to the water, while home grown asparagus sits next to an honesty box and a bowl of water for passing dogs.

dev04An additional perk of Noss Mayo is the perfectly blended walk of seaside cliffs, creamy pastures, flourishing woods and boat-a-bobbing creek. A loop walk that can – should you wish – be completed at a relaxed, ambling pace. Just watch out for frenetic foreigners high on sunshine and the scent of silage.

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dev06Oh, and did I mention there’s a pub? I probably have, several times in the past. It’s positioned perfectly towards the end of that walk, at the heart of the village, jutting out into the water (or…at low tide, the slightly less idyllic mud). The pub is arguably the jewel in the crown of Noss Mayo and I can now recommend the fish and chips as well as the selection of ales. Experience suggests this may not assist the final climb back up to the car, but it will likely have you coming back for more.

A nice set of hams:

Outside of Noss, there could well be many other contenders for Devon’s loveliest village yet to be discovered. It’s a fair bet that a bulk of these will also be in the South Hams, the luscious, rolling countryside tumbling down from the moors and into the glittering ocean. Various rivers cut their course through the hills, passing thatched roofs and church spires on their way out into the sea, itself fringed with shallow sandbanks and undulating dunes.

dev09Of course, the weather cannot always be relied upon to generate the picture postcard that I have so feebly conveyed. And when the sun does shine in summer, the village of Modbury can transform into a car park. Beaches such as South Milton Sands become busily popular, but there is enough room to play cricket and tentatively wade into the inviting but tepid ocean. Escaping humanity remains a possibility, with the ever glorious southwest coast path providing hope to reach Hope. Meanwhile, the increasing proximity to Salcombe means that the ice cream from its dairy becomes commonplace.

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The loveliest village could actually lie along the stretch of road between Kingsbridge and Dartmouth in the South Hams. The problem is that it is difficult to assess, since negotiating each village by car requires a shot in the dark, following by a wait and a reverse, and a punt around the next corner before a tractor bears down on you followed by an unfeasible double decker bus, which is wedged in next to the pub that would be nice to have an ale at if there was somewhere you could park and be able to get out again, without hitting any ramblers lurking in gargantuan hedgerows. Despite its obvious perils, driving on this apparent A road is marvellously endearing.

dev11I think it may be nine miles from Kingsbridge to Torcross but it can feel five hundred, and five hundred more. Torcross sits at the southern end of Slapton Sands, so named because the sands were obviously slapped on a ship and sent miles away, leaving only pebbles and more pebbles. Smooth and colourful and cleansing, they lend the seascape a pristine hue, and – if you don’t look too closely – the beach does appear as though it could pass muster in Australia.

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dev13Like everywhere around this way, there is good walking to be had. Over the hill to Beesands with its less photogenic beach, and on to Hallsands, precariously awaiting the next winter storm. Beyond Hallsands the waters of Start Bay curve their way against precipitous slopes, topped with radio masts, sea mists and happy cows, giving way at Start Point.

I could push on to there today, but the hills get steep, my legs say no, and I still have the potential car parks of Dartmouth and Totnes to negotiate before getting home. One small mercy is that the tide is now out, and the hill between Beesands and Torcross can be circumnavigated via the millions of pebbles. Who needs sand all the time anyway Cornwall? It just ends up in every crack and crevice.

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Moor scones available:

dev15While the South Hams possess the requisite balance of thatched cottage to rolling pasture to pebbly beach, the somewhat tamed landscape eventually gives up and transitions to the wild uplands of Dartmoor National Park. Now this is truly on the doorstep. One minute you are navigating hapless drivers attempting to cross a roundabout to get to Tesco, the next you are passing hapless drivers braking sharply and pulling into the Dartmoor Diner. Civilisation may well linger, but it is quite possible to see nothing or no-one obviously man-made for lengthy periods of time when out on the moor.

For many Dartmoor is Plymouth’s playground, where you can stroll, frolic in a river, cycle, have an ice cream, walk the dogs, and fantasise about hairy hands. For me too it is something of a Red Hill surrogate. Though clearly not quite as close (i.e. 5 minutes), there are hills to climb and views to be had and, if you squint hard enough (very hard), the sheep may take on the resemblance of a grazing kangaroo.

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dev22Just around the corner though (maybe 5 minutes with a good run of lights and a Bugatti Veyron) is the River Plym. Gathering down from the moors, the Plym gently meanders its way through leafy woodlands on its way to Plymouth Sound. One minute you are in an industrial estate, the next the lane narrows into a hobbit hole and you are bathed in shadowy leafiness. Again, children frolic, people cycle and dogs yap. Some (dogs) may even become potential kidnap victims due to ridiculous cuteness.

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Plymbridge offers an easy escape – from Plymouth, from Asda, from endless episodes of Emmerdale. And it reminds you, quite simply and quite easily, how really lovely it can be to be in Devon. In fact, just as lovely as Cornwall.

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Tasty taster

I suppose it is not uncommon to arrive in Plymouth in the midst of summer to find the place bedecked in insipid drizzle. A shroud of gloom so dank that even the statue of Sir Francis Drake stares out blankly, wondering where the rather large body of Plymouth Sound has gone and thus if it has been stolen by the Spanish. It’s a welcome that temporarily makes you question why you bothered, offering reassurance that you are doing the right thing by not living here. And then the weather clears.

swA01In the space of one week, you remember to make the most of drier and clearer slots sparingly scattered across the southwest summer, and race to the moors, the coast, the countryside. Dartmoor is literally on the doorstep: one minute it’s all superstores and industrial units and Wimpey homes, the next rolling farmland and upland tors. Somewhere amongst the wilderness you may have the good fortune to deliberately stumble upon a cream tea. And once more, you are back in Utopia.

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Across the border, a pilgrimage to the North Cornwall coast is a must, unifying the potential for pasties, fudge, and ice cream with rugged scenery and pretty towns. There are so many pretty towns with so many pasty, fudge and ice cream shops that is hard to know which one to raid. Experience proves a good option is to hone in towards Tintagel, and have it all.

swA04First though there is Boscastle which is just simply a delight, no matter the weather (although the deluge causing flash flood variety does tend to put a downer on things). Ducking in to a cute cafe by the water as a shower passes overhead, it is all sunshine and smiles the other side of a typically variable flat white. The summer of sorts reappears, and a sweater can be removed in the sheltered harbour glow.

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swA05Tempting cakes and bakery goodies are purgatory, but you push on in the knowledge that a Pengenna pasty awaits up the road in Tintagel. A meal in itself, today it is the main reason for stopping there. A walk past plastic Arthurian swords and St Austell Ales, it nourishes but is underwhelming. High expectations from past delectations are hard to satisfy, but solace comes from a creamy fudgy pile of ice cream from Granny Wobbly instead.

What better way to burn off just a few of the calories than in Port Isaac? Doc Martin and an array of quirky characters with affected bumpkin accents may have walked these narrow streets, but today it is over to the tourists. Most are taking pictures of the places where Doc Martin and an array of quirky characters have walked the streets, but some – like me – push on through the town. Up onto yet another gargantuan headland with views of the harbour and coastline stretching north to Hartland. Inland, as the rain clouds refuse to budge over Bodmin Moor, patchwork farms go about their business of producing life essentials, many of which I feel I have eaten today.

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So, a cream tea, pasty and fudgy pile of goodness completed in little under 24 hours, ticking off both the wilds of Dartmoor and the coves and crevices of the North Cornish coast. Occasional rain days offer more mundane revisitations around Plymouth, but the foodstuffs continue apace. A roast dinner, proper Cadbury’s, and even a barbecue in a bright and breezy sixteen degrees mate.

swA07All this eating necessitates exercise, I guess. If I was in Canberra I would head up Red Hill but here I can return to Dartmoor. Waking early on a Saturday morning, little traffic on the roads heading gradually up through suburbs and to higher ground, half of Devon and much of Cornwall reveals itself. It is, again, bright and breezy, just the ponies for company in the lee of Sharpitor. Selfies are needed, but the emptiness, the space, the clear air, the expanse is a joy to behold in this sometimes claustrophobic country.

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swA10Sigh…if only you could get a good coffee. Hang on, what’s this? It still requires further validation, but there could be something with potential. A flat white which is flat and white and creamy and not scalding hot with a pile of insipid froth on top. Blended together with a mellow strength. Served in a glass as if a latte but I can forgive that. I will have to come back and reinvestigate.

Fortunately there are fine cakes and pastries on offer even if future coffees end up being awful. And there is always tea. With a scone. And maybe some jam. And a smidgeon of cream. And a landscape which is as delicious in the admittedly intermittent summer sun. It is the Ambrosia, and I will come back to taste it again.

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The ice cream bucket list challenge

Laydeez and gentlemun, welkum to Landan Saaaaaaaaffend, where the temprator is nynedeen digreez innit and the cockles an whelks are fresh from the eshtry mud.

ukA00As gateways to Great Britain go, it is a bit different, but Essex is indeed British soil and there is comfort at seeing the red cross of St George adorning the council estates and in smelling the fish and chips on Southend seafront. Should Southend be a little too bedecked with commoners awaiting a summer carnival parade, Leigh-on-Sea is a tad more upmarket with white stiletto undertones. Home to several cosy pubs spilling out onto the mud and water, an ale and hearty burger brings me back to a Britain obsessed with pulled pork and bake offs.

Hertfordshire is the classier cousin to Essex, where inspiring place names like Potters Bar and Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City are linked by motorways and single file country lanes alike. Interspersed within this, offering views of giant pharmaceutical empires and a procession of easyjets bound for Luton, stands Knebworth House. Perhaps best known for Oasis and Robbie Williams mega-concerts it may come as a surprise to hear that Knebworth is rather refined. The archetypal crusty upper class country estate, complete with musty carpets, majestic libraries and derring-do tales of empire building. Gardens with fancy lawns and fancier sculptures, a copse littered with giant fibreglass dinosaurs serving as inspiration for damned colonial upstarts such as Clive Palmer. On an increasingly sunny summer afternoon, as deer graze the meadows and country pubs await, this is England, but not quite my England.

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The next day brings the homecoming within a homecoming as I depart London for Plymouth. That’s not before saying farewell to the iconic capital with two friends who I met in Australia and who I can continue to enjoy pizza with – whether on Bondi or near Bankside – to this day. It is a happy conclusion to the English prelude and the level of unhealthy eating signifies the start of many days enduring essential foodstuffs, the real super foods that are far away from a land of quinoa and hipster-nurtured compressed kale shavings.

ukA02Gargantuan fish and chips were a starter prior to a night at Home Park, watching a rather lame game of football thankfully enlivened by Guillaume the French nephew shouting ‘come on you greens’ in an adorable accent. It worked, for we managed to scramble a deep into injury time penalty equaliser. More sedate, slightly less greasy but perhaps as equally lardy as those fish and chips was the Devon cream tea; the Devon cream tea that takes place in the same spot on Dartmoor practically every year but is a tradition which never fails to be anything other than marvellous. That first bite of scone and jam and – mostly – rich, buttery, clotted cream is like the feeling from a first sip of morning coffee multiplied ten million times. The river valley setting and surrounding tors amplify it further.

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ukA04Indeed, becoming as traditional as the cream tea is the slightly guilt-driven walk up Sharpitor, which is still just a gentle and brief jaunt for hilltop views of half of Devon and Cornwall. Traipsing up with family could get a little repetitive if it wasn’t so rewarding, an annual canvas for Facebook photos and Snapchat selfies amongst the clitter and ponies of the high moor.

ukA05The Cream Tea on Dartmoor Experience is just one required escapade for the bucket list. The next one to tick off is the Cornish Pasty in Cornwall Adventure. Today this requires a rather trundling and busy train journey all the way down towards the pointy end. St. Ives is not only a reputed haven for artists, but possesses one of the more accessible by public transport shopfronts for Pengenna Pasties, where artists create masterpieces of delicious shortcrust pastry stuffed full of meat and vegetables and seasoning. Eaten on the beach, of course.

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I should not neglect here to give a special commendation to Moomaids of Zennor. While their clotted cream vanilla (what else?!) was nothing remarkable, I was hoping that the Cornish sea salt caramel was never going to end. It may feature as a staple of the next Cornish Pasty in Cornwall Adventure (with Bonus Local Ice Cream Discovery).

ukA07Away from food (for a little while), it is about time I mentioned the weather. For should I not write about food nor weather, what will I have left?! Temperatures were well below average as the shorts and sandals in my luggage remained largely untouched, while clean jumpers came at a premium. But there was plenty of dry and fine weather. This meant that, on occasion, clean jumpers would need to come off and then quickly returned once the sun disappeared behind the clouds scuttling across the sky on a chilling sea breeze. It was weather not so much for sunbathing but ideal for family fun in West Hoe Park, where nieces and nephews were able to relive one’s own youth by venturing on the iconic – yes, iconic – Gus Honeybun train and bouncy castle, and create their own memories in a pirate ship mini golf water boats gold panning extravaganza.

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ukA09It was all rather delightful, aided and abetted by bucket list ice cream and raspberries and clotted cream on the foreshore and then, a little later, waterfront dining on the Barbican courtesy of Cap’n Jaspers (so it’s back to the food then already…). A day to remind, as was mentioned several times, that Plymouth finds itself in a quite enviable position compared with – say – Wolverhampton or Corby or Blackburn or pretty much anywhere else not on the sea and in the midst of such coastal and pastoral splendour.

ukA10This undeniable splendour provides the context for one essential bucket list item for a perfect southwestern experience. The oft-quoted, oft-photographed, oft-walked South West Coast Path. I figure that maybe by the time I reach old age I may just have covered around 10% of this amazing trail. On a day that started with grey clouds and rain, the train trip to Truro and a tactical delaying coffee enabled the weather to perk up, and by time I reached St. Agnes on the bus, patches of blue sky were promising much. In fact, the sun very much came out when munching on the world’s best sausages rolls from St. Agnes bakery.

Up over St Agnes beacon, the north coast view stretches down to St. Ives and, heading in this direction, I found myself clocking up a new section of path leading towards Porthtowan. The main features along this typically wild and rugged stretch are the old tin workings and mine buildings of Wheal Coates. If North Cornwall can be summed up in one scene it is from here, which probably explains why it featured as the cover image for Ginster’s Pasties. And I had a sausage roll, tut tut!

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ukA12There was a point into this walk that something quite unexpected happened. I was feeling a little hot. Yes, the sun was well and truly out and I was able to covert my convertible trousers to shorts, roll down my black socks a little, and bare some leggy flesh. I applied sunscreen, wore a hat, and, by time I reached Porthtowan, felt long overdue an ice cream. However, no sufficiently suitable ice cream was readily available near the beach and I settled for a cold beer instead to happily wind down the time until a bus back to Truro.

ukA14The North Cornwall Walking Wondrousness Trip pretty much meant that the Westcountry bucket list had been amply satisfied. The final day down there offered a bonus with a family day out on the train to Looe. It’s not so far from Plymouth but the journey provides a reminder of the lovely countryside of southeast Cornwall and on the branch line to Looe it could still easily be the 1950s. Looe itself offered its reliable fill of narrow lanes, fish and chip smells, bucket and spades and, for me, one final and very commendable pasty! Again, there was something approaching heat, meaning that shorts – if I had them with me – would have been more than acceptable in the afternoon.

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ukA13The train ride back offered that final hurrah and farewell to Cornwall, resplendent and verdant in the late summer sunshine. For once, the same could not be said of Devon, as I departed the following day in a somewhat murky, drizzly air. I missed seeing the white fluffy clouds and whiter fluffier sheep, the glimmering Teign estuary and glass sea of Dawlish. Even so, it was again sad to leave, the murk reflecting a melancholy that drifts along to Exeter. The holiday is not over, the visits and sights await, and there are more cherished friends and family to see. But it does feel that a holiday within a holiday, a homecoming within a homecoming has drawn to a close once again. ‘Til next year.

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Where the grass is always greener

uk01Rain. We give it a bad rap. Wet and splodgy, irritating with its inescapable shroud of damp. An unwanted present from a dreary sky, sent to make boots muddy and ruin plans best laid. A shocking contrast from the sun in Spain that was 20 degrees warmer. But then surely rain is what puts the Great in Britain, our reassuring companion, along with tea and cake.

uk02It is fair to assume that Basingstoke and rain are hardly the most riveting bedfellows, but shops are shops and people are still wearing shorts to go to Tesco. It is hard to let go of the summer and, just for a moment, it returns on a Sunday afternoon at The Vyne. Here, amongst the moist muddy tracks are the autumnal fruits of summer – fungi cascading down mossy brown trunks, spiky green pods spilling out with chestnuts, leaves wafting down onto the ground, coating the forest floor in a layer of browns and yellows. All helped by that cursed rain.

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uk06bRain is no stranger to the southwest of England, as Atlantic fronts begin to form; waiting in the wings to blow in on winds, some strong enough to bring down trees. This is the season where a night can be dramatic, and the next day as placid as a hippy doing yoga on a fluffy white marshmallow. Air blows in clean and fresh and the lowering sun in the southern sky illuminates the greens-turning-brown on magical days.

Magical days are easy to come by in St Agnes, sitting tucked in on the north coast of Cornwall; a prized position to make most of the sun, and the rain, and that wind when it blows on in. Like so many Cornish towns it totters down through a maze of narrow streets to a beach; there are a few pokey shops and – it turns out – a blessed bakery serving the type of sausage rolls I have craved in my mind since seeing one snatched away for someone else’s consumption last year in Hobart. Proper good sausage rolls that are hard to come by in Greggs and Warrens and anywhere in Australia other than one place in Hobart. Possibly.

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uk05Unlike more genteel parts of Cornwall, the landscape here has a raggedy rugged edge to it, peppered with tin mining relics, tinged with a faded glory scoured by eternal weather. The coast path is solid and spectacular, as it always is, heading along to St Agnes Head with views north to Trevose and south along a wave pounded coast towards St Ives. Higher up – atop St Agnes Beacon – an even mightier panorama unfolds, with most of West Cornwall on view, and St Agnes nestled down below, reached by muddy field to complete a memorable circular.

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Magical days are harder to come by holed up in Plymouth library trying to make something up that is of a work-related nature and popping out for mediocre coffee in the hope that just for once it may not be mediocre. Even mediocre coffee can be a welcome distraction though, so when the cloud clears and a sunny afternoon pops up out of the blue the allure to escape is palpable. Luckily there is a very quick escape from the varied charms of Plymouth, by taking a bobbling boat across the Tamar to Mount Edgcumbe.

uk08Here, the meander of autumnal woodlands and fading gardens give way to exposed hilltops, looming high over the Tamar with views spreading out to encompass a Cornish and Devonian sea.  Inland the wide river flows into a border landscape of patchwork fields and secret inlets, punctuated by towns and villages and giving out to rising moorland hills. Herds of deer scarper into nearby woods, aware of your presence and no doubt cognisant of the fact that you would quite like to see some good old fashioned autumnal rutting. Instead, the view will suffice.

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uk07Plonked amongst this idyll is the city of Plymouth, with rows of houses running like dominoes over the lumpy contours of the suburbs, meeting cranes and boats toppling into the river. Its waterfront welcome mat is striking with the Where’s Wally striped beacon of Smeaton’s Tower and a wheel that looks even bigger from afar. Illuminated is a background of moorland, sweeping over the horizon. It is here that you can appreciate the quite blessed setting in which Plymouth sits. Yeah, the city might be a bit crummy and tatty in places, but a turnip growing in a field of flowers is better than a turnip growing in a pile of shit, right?

Another philosophical conclusion I have come to over the last few weeks is, when situated in this part of the world, even when the day is crap, you are having a stinker, work sucks, and other such things, there is the consolation of easy access to clotted cream, jam, scones and tea. This can make a bad day amazing. At Mount Edgcumbe it made a good afternoon sublime.

uk13The hills behind Plymouth spread afar into Dartmoor National Park and this represented what was to become my final outing into the virtual field of flowers surrounding the city. A circular walk from Yelverton offered a perfectly balanced English country composition of riverside woodlands, sheep and cow fields, tumbledown cottages and exposed tors. This amble on the fringe of Plymouth was a pretty decent way to bid it all farewell.

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uk12Spending time here, intermittently from August to November, has obviously allowed me to observe the changing seasons take effect. What once was an uninterrupted blanket of flourishing green is now softening, holes are appearing, and things are shrivelling. A golden brown is slowly but inevitably creeping into the landscape and soon even this will become more spartan and altogether less comforting.

uk14And as the leaves disappear from the trees my southward migration kicks in. It has become a customary route over the last seven years, this time a little later after a little longer than normal. It leaves me with mixed feelings; sad to be leaving one place and excited to be heading to the other. It’s a feeling that comes to life when marvelling in the grand autumnal splendour of Mount Edgcumbe only to come across a couple of Eucalyptus trees shooting up into clear blue sky, aliens in a foreign land. For a moment I am transported, wrapped up against a southwest autumn and looking up at the promise of Australia. The best of both worlds, where leaves do not fall and a cream tea is just around the corner.

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