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.

mag01

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.

mag02

mag03

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.

mag04

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.

mag07

mag08

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.

mag09

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.

mag11

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.

mag13

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.

mag15

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.

mag18

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.

mag19

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

Food & Drink Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking

Gap Fillers 1: Southeast Cornwall

I am behind, seriously behind. Numerous distractions scattered within a 30 mile radius of Plymouth have conspired to infiltrate the memory card of my camera and ingratiate the memory banks of my brain. Blogging was so much easier when I was marooned in Canberra, with just the occasional escape to regurgitate and local tree pictures to upload. Today I forget what day of the week it was yesterday and where I popped out in the afternoon after labouring in front of my computer doing work (eeek).

So, in an effort to catch up to the present day, here is the first of a non-sequential, scattergun melee of words and pictures. To provide some semblance of logic, the focus is on Southeast Cornwall and various trips I have made across the Tamar to this somewhat understated of back yards. It’s an area that can get overlooked – in fact I have been guilty of such – for the drama and mystique of the North Cornish coast. But there are many gems, some of them new to me, littered within the rolling fields and crystal coves of the south.

Literally just across the Tamar are the twin villages of Cawsand and Kingsand. It’s a small pedestrian ferry ride away from the salty sewage and sinister seagulls of Plymouth’s Barbican. Despite the influx of Janners, it is undeniably charming courtesy of its narrow streets and pastel ocean tones. Stick around as a sunny Sunday afternoon lengthens, and you can gleefully soak in the mellow vibes with a Doom Bar outside the front of the Devonport Inn.

scorn01

Around the corner from here is Whitsand Bay. An area that I frequently bypass in pursuit of those finer grains of sand. Come at high tide and there will be little of it to walk on. But when the tide is out, the bay stretches on and on and on. The ribbon of road skirting the cliff tops bears a passing resemblance to a small section of Great Ocean Road, and steep tracks lead down to the sands and rocks and pools far below. Not so bad to reach, but harder to return.

scorn02

There is a great sense of space here – of vast ocean and big sky, Plymouth hidden by the hulking spine of Maker Heights and Rame Head. Small fibro shacks with names like Eddystone View and Shipwreck Haven add a rough and ready, ends of the earth, windswept aura. It could be coastal Tasmania, Devonport around the corner and Launceston up the road.

Along from Whitsand Bay the trappings of modernity return at Looe, a place of many a childhood day. There is nothing overly special about Looe – it’s just your regular run-of-the-mill southern Cornish fishing port nestled into a steep valley. Peppered with fish and chips and amusements it is a resort town, though not of the same ilk as Skegness or St Tropez. Two prime assets are its leafy branch rail line linked with Liskeard and Sarah’s Pasty Shop. Both in the same day make it worth an afternoon.

scorn03Many of the emmets and grockles and – indeed – locals combine a trip to Looe with a stop in Polperro. Polperro is undoubtedly the prettier of the two, with narrow (mostly car-free) streets, cosier cottages, and a ruggedly fishy pungency. Pasties look no more than average, but the recent revival in crumbly fudge (as opposed to the bland, processed slabs packed in Huddersfield) has blessed the town with a new outlet to be commended. Cornish sea salt is the fitting and fulfilling way to go.

From here I am going to skip a huge section of the coastline and return to it in a jiffy. Mainly because I want to build this post up towards a marvellous, heady climax. So, shifting further west, if I was to pick a line between Mevagissey and Falmouth I would be marking unchartered territory. It excites me that I still have unchartered territory in this part of the world. I made a small incursion into it the day after returning from London and it confirmed that if I was ever to move back to the UK it would not be in London (but never say never right?!).

scorn04Gorran Haven is, I suppose, nothing remarkable and its town beach would disappear with a high tide. But it offers a less touristified alternative to nearby Mevagissey, possessing enough steep narrow streets and cobbled harbour walkways to keep seaside amblers happy. I think it’s the kind of place where everyone knows everyone and their business, which is no doubt discussed in lurid detail at the local RNLI supporters group meeting every third Tuesday of the month following the gathering of the Retired St Austell Druids and Mystic Circle Society. But I think I might like that. Its fish and chips and fairly remote and secret sandy beach around the headland might also make it bearable.

scorn05

But if we are looking for blissful sandy beaches in azure seas there is a gem amongst gems, a golden crown gleaming through the rubies and pearls of Southeast Cornwall. I had not set my eyes on it until a month or so ago, benign and more subdued under cloudy skies. A sunny day in early September gave me inspiration to return.

Eschewing another day of winding lanes and tractor blockages, I took the train for a change, disembarking at Par for a bus to Fowey. Fowey is kind of like Looe and Polperro, being yet another steep harbour lined with pastel cottages and granite townhouses. I like it the most out of the lot of them, maybe because it is a bit more upper class when I am not. I could live here but doubt if I could afford it. You can tell it’s on the Islington radar, with a beautiful bakery and organic butcher and delicatessen and many a cosy cafe to wait for a water taxi to take you to your yacht. I think this might help explain why I think I could live here.

scorn06

scorn09I could just as equally live in Polruan, across the river from Fowey and gateway to another luscious corner of cotton wool clouds hovering over creamy fields spilling into the sea.  No fancy bakery, no organic quinoa, just good old fashioned St Austell Ales and the sound of circular saws emanating from the boatyard. A steep, steep hill laden with bunting, or a slightly less severe meander lead to St Saviour’s headland, and expansive views south, east and west.

scorn08Back in classic South West Coast Path territory, the trail dips and rises steeply once again, the glare from a becalmed sea radiating heat like the sun through a windscreen. Turn a corner and you cross over into the Mediterranean, as the horseshoe cove of Lantic Bay welcomes the weary. Islington-on-sea may have anchored down below, but the ultimate satisfaction is to arrive on foot, rewarded for effort beyond expectation. I cannot think of a better place to eat some of my provisions from that bakery and delicatessen, marvelled by the colours from on high.

A jewel for the keeping.

scorn07

Great Britain Green Bogey Photography Walking