London Diary – Cornwall – where a Legend is born!

 

Oct, 2017

4th time to Cornwall, loooved it as usual, despite the weather. Included in this visit, Padstow, a charming, sophisticated waterfront town, Port Issac, a beautiful seaside town and yes Doc Martin’s Portwenn, and Tintagel, breathtaking sea view made magical with its link to Arthurian legend.

Padstow

First day at Padstow weather was stormy at sea, windy and rainy on land. We drove around and explored anyway. Looking for Bedruthan Steps, we ended up at Beach Head Bunk House, where we got a glimpse of the violently surging waves in the distance. Next we stumbled across Trevone Beach where there is a parking lot with view to the sea and beach. We sat inside the car and watched the waves slashing against the rocks, an awe inspiring scene.

I chose to stay at Padstow mainly b/c of Metrolepole, a sister hotel to Fowey Hotel that I liked very much. Having not giving much thought to the town itself, it was a nice surprise when Padstow turned out to be so much more than expected, a lively and lovely town with finishing port. Among a number of restaurants you might come across multiple places owned by Rick Stein, a fancy seafood restaurant, a cafe, and a casual seafood place, which was our favorite, superb seafood in casual setting.

Prideaux Place was a most unexpected and happy discovery, what a stunningly beautiful 500 year old house with its Gothic arches and castellation. It immediately reminded me of Thornfield of Jane Eyre.

Alas, the house was closed to visitors for the year. With a lucky twist of event that worked out in our favor, and thanks to Sue, the sprightly and kindly 80 year old house keeper, and Carmen, our guide, we got a tour of the house. Photos were not allowed inside, but I was given a few exceptions. The mediaeval great hall has a ceiling covered in exquisite carving. It was concealed by a faux ceiling for no one knows how long until the current owner Peter Prideaux-Brune discovered it as a boy climbing around inside the house. Making the visit more interesting, we met Elizabeth Prideaux Brune and learnt of the family’s connection to Jane Austen. Great grandmother of the current owner Peter Prideaux Brune was JA’s great niece.

An architectural gem, fascinating history and stories to go with it. Don’t miss it if you are in the area. Here is the link to its website: http://prideauxplace.co.uk/

 

 

Port Issac

Thanks to Doc Martin, Port Issac is better known to the world now. A lovely coastal town surrounded by stunning views, it certainly deserves the attention. The shop featured as Mrs Tishel’s Pharmacy is in real life a candy shop and sells yummy fudges. Chatting with the young woman at the till, I learnt that the shops is turned into Mrs. Tishel’s pharmacy for several weeks for filming and then resumes its nornal life afterwards. Also according to her, season 9 has been booked, filming will start in 2018 and air in 2019. Season 8 is being shown right now on ITV in UK.  The next season will be a little bit of a wait for Doc Martin fans. There are guided tours available. It is also easy to do a self-guided walk around town. Watching the show now is a little more interesting, since I now recognize some of the locations.

Tintagel

If you’ve seen Tintagel, you’d understand why it’s been linked to Arthurian legend. Dramatic coast was made even more atmospheric by the foggy weather that day.

The view on the coastal path between Glebe Cliff to Barras Nose is unrivaled. Other highlights are St Materiana’s Church on Glebe Cliff, Tintagel Castle on its namesake island, Merlin’s Cave, Barras Nose Headland and Camelot Hotel.

In the village, the Old Post Office, a National Trust property, is worth a visit, a time capsule of a post master’s household, cute as a button. King Arthur’s Great Hall was closed. With commanding views and colorful interior, Camelot Hotel is another interesting landmark of the village, where we had cream tea before leaving.

Arthurian Legend is probably just that, a legend. Tintagel is nonetheless symbolic of the search for the chivalry and ideals that Arthurian Legend embodies. That to me is part of its magic.

 

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London Diary – Cornwall Never fails to Excite me !

Oct 20, 2016

A year ago today I arrived in London.
Today I am taking a road trip to Cornwall. Yes Cornwall again!

Oct 20-23, 2016

After about 6 hours on the road, we reached Land’s End Hotel in the early evening. Our journey had seen clouds and sunshine in alternation but luckily the rest of the evening was perfect, a lovely welcome back to Cornwall indeed. Cornwall never fails to excite me. Once we pulled into the hotel parking lot on the ocean side, we were surrounded by stunning views that made my heart leapt. Literally pulled on by the force of nature, I jumped out of the car and started toward the cliff. From then on, our visit was a feast to the wild Cornish beauty.

Land’s End

South west tip of England, Land’s End’s enduring attraction is its beautiful surrounding, Atlantic Ocean, rugged rocky cliff, jagged rock towers, light house and promontory afar. Icing on the cake are a small visitor center with shop, restaurant, playground and amusement for children and Land’s End Hotel with view that few others can rival, making it a lovely place to stay, for day trip or base for walks to Sennen Cove or Porthcurno in the other direction. We booked a premier double with sea view, which we were very happy with, to make it sweeter, a nice surprise awaited when we checked in, we were given a 3 for 2 deal.

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St Michael’s Mount

In France there is Mont Saint-Michel, in Cornwall, there is St Michael’s Mount, 30 minutes east of Land’s End and south of Marazion, a nice little seaside town.

It is no wonder that I had at a time mistaken St Michael’s Mount for Mont Saint-Michel. Although St Michael’s Mount is smaller, the images are strikingly similar, both of conical shapes, and they were historically linked at one point, both belonging to the same Benedictine religious order, having been awarded to the Benedictines in 12th century by Edward the confessor. The island and church was however confiscated by Henry VIII like many other monasteries in the 16th century. Until the St Aubyn family purchased it from the crown in 17th century and it has been the family’s primary residence for 12th generations. Currently National Trust co-own and manage the island and castle.

It is a fantastic visit. The castle is grand and the interior is rich.  As you climb up by foot, you are surrounded by lovely views that change by every turn and a beautiful garden by the rocky seashore located on south east side of the island can be seen from the Sun Terrace.

Little chat with the guides, we discovered that the St Aubyn family also owns properties outside the island including some in Marazion. While the only way to get up to the castle is by foot, there is an underground tram entered from the harbor that is used to carry things up and down between the castle and the harbor.

As it was the only option, we left our car at a seaside car park at Marazion, which has a stunning view of the little island. A causeway links the island with the mainland, but tide was high at around 10:30am, and we had to take the ferry. Leaving the island at 1:30pm, the tide was low enough to clear up the causeway, with the exception of several feet in the center that was still covered by a shallow puddle. A little more than 5 minute, but it was a fun walk; kids of all ages were making the most of it.

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Porthcurno

Porthcurno is a village on the coast south east of Land’s End. A couple of the main attractions we visited are Minack Theater and Porthcurno beach. Minack Theater is a divine outdoor theater carved out on the face of the cliff with a stunning view to Porthcuno beach and Logan Rock promontory. The beach is one of the beautiful locations featured in BBC TV series Poldark.

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A Beautiful Walk to Sennen Cove

Sennen Cove is a seaside village north east of Land’s End. The foot path by the cliff linking Land’s End and Sennen cove is 1.5 mile and according to the hotel staff a 30 minute walk. It took us 3 times as long. With beautiful views at every turn the walk was exhilarating! Around midway, you’d also find the remains of a ship wreck.

Something very cool happened that day too. We spotted from afar someone climbing the cliff near the Coast Guard’s lookout. She, with a long ponytail, was navigating nimbly and quickly through the rocks. She beat us in reaching the lookout tower but we caught up with her and realized the pony tail had misled us. It was a boy, probably in his late teens. He was about to ride away on his bike and helmet, which was the only protection he was wearing while scaling the rocks. I commented what he did was very impressive. He replied he grew up in this area, was used to that sort of thing and today he was out exploring. Just exploring by scaling the rocks, couldn’t be more casual for him.

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Levant Mine and Botallack Mines

Copper and tin mining was an important part of Cornish economy during 18th to 19th century and a number of mines dotted its coast. You can still see a number of chimney stacks tower over the landscape driving around the right spot.

I learnt of these mines for they are the filming locations of BBC show Poldark. BTW I was a fan before the episode that aired on Sunday Oct 23rd. What happens in that episode however greatly disappointed me. Captain Poldark is no longer one in my list of literary heroes.

Nonetheless I am glad I visited these mines for it was more treat to the beautiful coastal scenery and an interesting lesson in Cornish mining history.

Levant Mine is substantial in size and located between St Just and Pendeen, 9 miles north of Land’s End. It was a joint venture and the investors certainly struck gold, eventually having their investment grown more than a thousand folds. It is a National Trust property. Visitors can roam about the ground free but the underground part of the museum is closed that day, albeit a Saturday. Geevor Mine next door appears substantial in size, not a National Trust property and also entirely closed that day.

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Closer to St Just are more mines at Botallack including Wheal Crowns Mine, Grambler in Poldark, and Wheal Owels, Wheal Leisure in Poldark. Botallack is National Trust property. There is a small office building with café and toilets available. Visit is free to all and you can get a map for self guided tour.  Some of the remaining structures were narrow tunnels, a few small kids were crawling through them.

The most striking is Wheal Crowns. Its building is a typical mine engine house like others. It is the location that gives it the stunning edge. The best view of both of these mines is on a terrace towering over the sea. The path to it, as narrow as a sheep’s intestine, is a precarious one; one misstep could cause one to tumble down the dizzying height of the cliff. Fortunately, it isn’t too long, we made it forth and back safely.

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Pendeen Light House

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Cape Cornwall

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Lizzard Point and Kynance Cove

Last day in Cornwall worked out most efficiently and happily. We visited Lizzard Point, Kynance Cove, and had a nice, big meal at Top House, a pub in the cute little village, Lizzard Village, before leaving around 4pm.

Lizzard Point is the Most Southerly Point in England, about 30 miles south east of Land’s End. Leaving Land’s End on a regular day, little did I know it’d be the most intensely windy spot I’d ever been to. As soon as we reached the parking lot next to a light house, I felt the strong wind. But most intense was when walking the short cliff path between the light house and the café and being around the café. My skin was pulling away from my face, my hair was slashing my face left and right, there was fine grits in the air, at times I had to hold on to something to steady myself and even doors of shop and café were rattling. I wonder how those little buildings had withstood the intense wind year after year.

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Kynance Cove is a dramatically beautiful cove with fine sandy beach and interesting rocks. There is also a café right by the cove.

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Both Lizzard Point and Kynance Cove are National Trust property. The foot path on the cliff top between both points should be beautiful. But at more than 5 miles long we did not have time to cover it. Luckily National Trust has parking lot at either end, making it possible for us to visit both points. Parking is free to members. Otherwise it is £3.

England 2014 (6) – Searching for Manderley in du Maurier country

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again… I came upon it suddenly; the approach masked by the unnatural growth of a vast shrub that spread in all directions… There was Manderley, our Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been, the gray stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and terrace. Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, nor the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand.”

That is the opening line of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, one of her best known novels. The first adaptation for it was a black and white movie by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fotaine. Hitchcock, doing what he does the best, captures the depth and length of Rebecca’s dark secret. What has stoked my fantasy however is Manderley, the beauty and romance that it represents. It is so much in my mind that it is the impulse behind the purchase of a set of oil paintings.

Daphane du Maurier was born and grew up in London. Her family started going to Fowey for vacation when she was little child and eventually bought a vacation home there, which is the house now known as Ferryside in Bodnnick, about 1 mile north of Fowey. She fell in love with Fowey. She got married in Fowey and lived in Fowey the most of her life. She loved Cornwall and Cornwall in turn returned her affection with generous inspirations and material; all her novels are set in Cornwall and most in Fowey. One such place lending her inspiration is Menabilly, a house she discovered by accident while on one of her exploring walks, which was not occupied at the time. There the idea for Rebecca and Manderley was born. du Maurier herself would eventually move in to Menabily and lived there for more than a quarter century. She would have loved to extend the lease and continued to stay at Menabily but the Rashleigh family wanted the house back for themselves. du Maurier thereafter moved to another house in Fowey not far from Menabilly, Kilmarth, and lived there till the last of her days. By and by and not surprisingly, Fowey and its surrounding area became “du Maurier Country”.

There are number of walks that would take one to du Maurier’s stomping grounds and the premises of her novels. My brief stay there however can afford me only the tip of the iceberg so I must set my priority.

My quest for du Maurier and Manderley started at Fowey Hotel located on Esplanade. We stayed there for two nights, maybe in part because du Maurier had gone there for tea in her days. In any case, Fowey Hotel is beautiful in its own right. Elegant and classic, it still has one of those earliest elevators, a rarity these days.

Arriving Fowey late in the evening, the town in silhouettes tantalized. But all was revealed in the morning. Fowey Hotel is an elegant building of Victorian architecture and enjoys a gorgeous view of the river. It stands opposite to the lovely town of Polruan, near the estuary and conveniently close to town center. Its dining room, bar, sitting room, balcony, outdoor picnic/sitting area and garden across the street all come with fantastic views.

After breakfast, we walked towards the town center east of the hotel. The town, most of it built on the slope, is picturesque with its labyrinth of narrow lanes and charming houses, buildings and churches. One third of a mile from Fowey Hotel, there are The Ship Inn, a 16th century pub that we came back later for dinner, Fowey Museum, where on that Friday there was a Craft Fair, and St Fimbarrus Church, Fowey’s Parish Church. Right next to the church, there is the Daphane du Maurier Literary Center located on the ground floor of a small house. The room in the front is a gift shop and a smaller room in the back hosts an exhibit about du Maurier’s life and works. The Tourist Information Center is nearby and the river is just steps away.

Provided with the information from the ladies at the literary center, we were able to prepare ourselves better for our main expedition of the day. We picked up something for a light lunch from a bakery and Kittow Bros, “Butchers Delicatessen”, a salad, two types of buns, a quiche and something sweet. I also stopped at the hotel and switched from the ballet flats to sturdier walking shoes, which proved to be an absolute necessity.

With that, we embarked on a journey to Menabily that took more than 5 hours. Starting from Fowey Hotel and heading west, Esplanade becomes Readymoney Road. At the end of Readymoney Road, are Neptune Point, a gorgeous waterfront, Italianate stone mansion that used to belong to the Rashleigh family but now the home to actress Dawn French, Readymoney Cove and Beach, a small cove and beach situated right next to Neptune Point, and Readymoney, a house facing the cove and beach where du Maurier lived between 1942 and 1943. The town seems to also come to an end right there. We took the path going around Readymoney to get to SWC. Shortly after that we reached St Catherine’s Castle. A pair of small artillery ports was built by Henry VIII in the 1530s to defend Fowey Harbor, one of which sits at the western end of Fowey, the other, right across the estuary in Polruan. Waterfront view of Neptune Point from St Catherine’s Castle, and town of Fowey, are spectacular.

From then on, the path zigzags, ascends and descends. It meanders through sloppy pastures, goes through gates and stiles, and we came close to large groups of cows multiple times, but SWC always hangs close to the cliff’s edge. Breathtaking and idyllic, it is one of the most exhilarating and inspiring scenery I’ve ever seen.

It was mostly cloudy throughout the day. Earlier at the hotel’s balcony, a dense fog moved in at such a speed, Polruan across the river was almost completely lost in sight in a matter of seconds. Then it cleared up almost as fast and unexpectedly as it had came over. The clouds however did not diminish the beauty of the area. Oddly, it added a quality that was almost je ne sais quoi, a wild, daring and unattainable spirit.

About two hours into it, we came to a stunning view, one that came with rocky shore line, coves, hills, cows, and a light house that was barely visible on that day. I recognized that view, we were close to Polridmouth and Menabily estate.

Menabily House is completely concealed by heavy woods and could not been seen from any perimeter. When du Maurier trespassed and discovered it decades ago, the house was unoccupied. The Rashleigh family is now living in it and has a reputation of being very private. There are few photos and description of it from du Maurier’s days and it remains that way still. Polridmouth however, cove, beach and cottage that are part of the Menabily estate and inspiration for Rebecca’s boat house, is within reach. The cottage on the beach is now a holiday cottage for rent. Booking of the cottage has gone as advanced as 2016 but there are some weekly spots available, check their website for details. Or you can just pass by via SWC, which cuts through Menabily between the beach and the cottage.

The path rose and fell one more time and we reached Polridmouth. The cove is secluded and there are actually two beaches, separated by rocks. The beaches, where du Maurier and her children had often played and swim when they lived at Menabily, were strewn with seed plants. Few other people were around, among them a dad and his two kids playing on the edge of the water at the beach to the west. It was quiet overall and the cottage showed no sign of occupation. We set down on a rock on the beach to the west and took our lunch break.

At that point, we were on the southern end of Menabily estate, not far from its house north of the woodland. But since we were not there to duplicate du Maurier’s discovering expedition, the best bet would be to go up to Menabily’s gate, located somewhere northwest of the estate and of the house and end it there. A tiny path off SWC and opposite the beach where we just sat seemed to be the one and we took it on.

First we went through a path lined by hedges, passing cows and sheep. It was quiet and the only people we encountered were two young men walking about half dozen very lively dogs. At the end of the gravel road was Menabily Barton on the left, a farm west of Menabily estate. It also offers some rooms as Bed and Breakfast, which I had considered because of its proximity to Menabily but decided against at the end.

The path turns into a paved road and shortly after that, there is a car park to the left, which is the closest car park to Menabily’s gate and Polridmouth. I was aware of that car park and it was to be a contingent option, but we did not need to take it up. The truth is, if you can do it, walking the whole route from Fowey is a much better way to experience the du Maurier country.

The paved road continued on and we passed a few small houses on the way. Finally, about 30 minutes from the beach, we reached the gate of Menabily and its lodge house. Quietly the gate stood but it was wide open that day. I found myself lost for words for a moment. I did not expect to see it open because all reviews there were invariably lamented at the anticlimax, firmly closed gate. A sign was set atop each of the gate posts, “Strictly Private” on one and “Strictly Private” on the other. From the other side of the road I stared hard at the gate and down the approach road beyond the gate; I got glimpses of what looked like a house in between trees. “Has anyone attempted to run down that road?” I thought. At that moment, a car zipped by, passing through the gate and disappeared down the approach road.

We turned around. As it was pointed out by the lady at the literary center, Menabily is the inspiration for Manderley but it is not Manderley. It was probably better to leave Menabily alone in its woods and to keep the mystery alive and the dream of Manderley.

When we were passing by Polridmouth again on the return journey, I could see a young man and a young women sitting by the window. Outside of the cottage, another young woman was coming towards the east facing front door, hair wrapped in a big towel as if she had just washed her hair. She smiled at me. I wondered if they were in the car that zipped by me earlier at the gate.

Back on the hill where we first spotted Polridmouth, we ran into the two young men walking the half dozen dogs. One of the dogs got a bit too frisky, took a lunge at our direction and was put back on its leash, the others remained unleashed, which seemed to be the norm there.

An hour and half after leaving Manabily’s front gate, we were very close to Fowey and were coming down the hill towards Readymoney. By some impeccable timing, we ran into the group of three women again, whom we ran into at Readymoney earlier and we chatted about du Maurier and Readymoney House. We stopped to exchange a few words. They asked how our journey was. I told them we had gone all the way to Menabily and stopped at the gate and that I had loved every part of it. They said they were heading back that way. It was after 5pm and I could not imagine going on for another one and half hours. They said no worry, it would be easily done.

I wish I could say the same. Having been on my feet for more than five hours at that point, my legs were about to fall off. Yet, as strenuous as it was physically, my spirits were high, I remained excited and elated. Just as the nameless heroine of Rebecca wishes to bottle up her good memory, I wished I could bottle up that spirit and keep it forever.

So there in du Maurier Country, Manderley was close and palpable, and yet it remained elusive. That is perhaps how it should be. And I wished to come back before I had left.

Fowey Hotel

Fowey Hotel


View from Fowey Hotel

View from Fowey Hotel


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St Catherine’s Castle

St Catherine’s Castle


Polridmouth from SWC

Polridmouth from SWC


Polridmouth Beach

Polridmouth Beach


Polridmouth Cottage

Polridmouth Cottage


Towards Menabily Barton

Towards Menabily Barton


Menabily Gate

Menabily Gate