Sunday, 19 August 2012


Before embarking on our 3-year assignment here in the UK, I had some preconceived  ideas about how we would spend our vacation time.  It largely had to do with how many different countries we would visit while here.  We had a few pent up desires (Paris, Rome, etc.) but I've changed tactics for the most part and have decided to focus more on the UK sites and visit the places that we wouldn't necessarily come back across to see.

In doing general research on travel forums I noticed that Cornwall kept coming up.  I then realized that everyone (really, EVERYONE) from work seemed to take their holiday in Cornwall.  What's all the fuss?  It must be the greatest thing ever so we'd better give it a try.  [I'll save my summary until the end so be sure to scroll down.]

So, we set off on our third long road trip of the year . . .

First of all, I had to figure out what Cornwall was.  It's not a single place but a county in the extreme southwest of England.  It's a bit remote and I had heard all sorts of horror stories about driving there as there's really only one route in.  Fortunately, they've upgraded that route such that most of it is 4-lane divided highway so that helps.  We also set out on a Friday to hedge our bets and we didn't have any issues (6 hours all the way to Land's End with stops for fuel and lunch).

We broke up our stay into two 4-day blocks.  The first was in Penzance (B) and the second in Falmouth (C).  Point D is the Eden Project which we visited on the way home.

Day 1 (Friday)--Travel

I didn't have anything planned for the first day as I thought it would take forever to get there.  But rather than check in right away, we drove straight to the end, Land's End.  There's a little collection of touristy shops (including the photo-op at the top which you have to pay for if you want to stand next to the sign -- not me thanks).  But, you also have some fairly magnificent views like the one above.

and this one

We next drove around to Porthcurno, home of the Minack Theatre.  The Minack is a famous open-air theater which has been carved out of the stone along the sea.  They unfortunately had a matinee going while we were there so we couldn't explore very closely.   I opted not to take in a show ourselves for a variety of reasons (one of which is it gets quite cold at night!).

Amazing views up the coast from Minnack.   Rather than miles and miles of sand, you typically find these smaller pockets nestled in amongst the cliffs which makes for some stunning scenery.  That's Pedn Vounder Beach shown.

This is the more accessible Porthcurno Beach, a few steps from the Minack.  You can see a sliver of Pedn Vounder at the top.

We weren't mentally or physically prepared for the beach on this drive-in day so we opted for the photo instead.

Day 2 (Saturday) -- Sennen Cove and more Land's End

Our B&B host at the Glencree House in Penzance gave us lots of good information.  Based on that we decided to take a beach day at Sennen Cove.  We heard lots of good things about Porthcurno as well, but we wanted to pick a place that rented some gear.

UK swimwear.  Not knowing how the kids would like it, we opted for renting ("hiring") the wetsuits for the day.  As our host told us, it may look like the Mediterranean but it doesn't feel that way (think Maine). 

Alex too

I took a short stroll down the beach and this is a photo looking back up.  No rain, but unfortunately not much sun either.  It was about 20C (upper 60s) on this day and most of the week.

Yes, they did get in the water.

Both in fact.  This area is known for its waves and runs a surf school.  However, the seas were completely calm on this day.

The adults?  Nope.  We don't do cold.  Notice the windscreens that people also put up.

The kids did enjoy it but after 2-3 hours were ready to pack it in.  So, we set out to walk to Land's End from Sennen Cove (about a mile or so) as you get a different perspective from that direction.  This is looking back at Sennen Cove.

and again, but from further up

the cliffs towards Land's End

my one photo and my wife decides to make me small

closer shot of cliffs

pretty wild flowers and the Loch Ness monster?

We are suckers for animals so we decided to visit the petting farm at Land's End (which we did enjoy even if it was overpriced).

Alex finally got the courage to feed them directly

  really hairy rabbit

Day 3 (Sunday) -- St. Michael's Mount and some village walks

High on my list was to visit the UK version of St. Michael's Mount.  Recall that we visited the one in Normandy just a few weeks ago.  Some info from the Wiki link.

Though perhaps slightly less grand than the French version, one neat aspect is you can walk out at low tide.  Alas, the tides did not cooperate and we ended up taking a small boat each way.

I got a chuckle out of this on the walk from the parking lot (trash cans are called bins here).

The castle, small village at the base and the small harbor where the boats ferry people back and forth.

having arrived -- yet another "interesting" smile from Alex

Yes, Virginia, there are palm trees in England

They had some sailing competition or at least club event going on.  Nice views from SMM.

ready to go in after climbing to the top

I liked the clouds and water combo in this one.   That's Penzance at the top (middle).

The village of Marazion back on the mainland.  You can see the covered causeway footpath as well.

neat cork model of the castle inside

aforementioned sailing competition

Proper Cornish Cream Tea at the cafe on SMM.  (Cream Tea doesn't mean cream in your tea, though many put milk in it, but rather the scones + clotted cream & jam).   Yummy.  We had this one other place as well.

After making the short drive back to Penzance to leave the car at the B&B we decided to take the ~3 mile walk to the "picturesque" village of Mousehole (mow-zal).  We walked through the fishing village of Newlyn en route.

a hazy view back across the bay to St. Michael's Mount

Mousehole.  Meh.  Didn't do much for us I'm afraid.  Another couple in the B&B had the same reaction but perhaps it's just us.  Kuk even asked one of the shop workers what there is to do -- nothing really was the response.

Checking out the rock beach on the way back.  I didn't get a photo but there were lots of stacks of stones like at various spiritual settings (kinda neat).

We were kinda pooped so we took the bus back.  It started to rain as well.  Best £8.70 I spent.

Day 4 (Monday) -- St Ives

We decided to head to another popular picturesque and artsy town for the day:  St. Ives.  Weather was a little dodgy though not miserable but we opted for some indoor activities.  After trawling through some of the shops along the beach front we ended up at the Tate St Ives art museum.  It's a smallish museum that was pretty much converted into an Alex Katz exhibit.  Personally, I've never heard of Alex Katz (an American) but that's not saying much.  Kuk enjoyed it and it was fine for the rest of us as well.

partial view of St. Ives on approach

a beach on the other side (Porthmeor, I believe)

the big hit was the promise of going to the leisure centre (indoor pool) which the kids enjoyed -- I would unfortunately get badgered the rest of the week to return

rainbow from our B&B

more palm trees -- this time in a church yard in Penzance

Day 5 (Tuesday) -- Praa Sands Beach & Pendennis Castle (Falmouth)

Today was the day to head slightly east for our Falmouth base.  We picked another largish beach (Praa Sands) to stop at along the way.

Beach level view of Praa Sands.  Though large enough for facilities (of sorts) and a few cafes, they did not have the setup for gear rental so we all went without (which meant minimal water interaction).

but still some fun in the sand

our next B&B hosts (Poltair) were heading out for the night so we checked in around 1:30.  Their cat Oscar was there to greet us

given our early check in, we had time to walk to nearby Pendennis Castle, shown above

I had found out that there was a special event going on so that made it even better.  There was certainly a festive atmosphere.

The castle is more small fort than actual castle.  It was one of the many established by Henry VIII to protect the coastline.  Here's a view looking back at Falmouth Harbor.

a better view of Falmouth from up top -- the land for the castle juts out such that there is water on all 3 sides.  Folks are getting in place for the main event (jousting).

Alex manning a very large gun

Nicole waiting on a hill

trying to get a good view of the jousting though decided it was a little too precarious in the end

I was wondering how they were going to do the jousting bit.  They had 4 competitors and did actually joust on horseback.  The trick was the jousting poles essentially disintegrated on contact.  The shortest remaining pole "won" the round.

another action shot

they even had a set of minstrels/singers -- "Bravely ran away, away, bravely ran away . . . " (too much Monty Python in my memory banks)

Alex holding a small sword and looking like he's going to clean out the guy's nose

The last event was this "executioner" talking about all sorts of punishment back in the day.  We've heard most of it before but it still makes you a little squeamish (lots of detail on the punishment for high treason:  hanging, drawing and quartering).  Yikes. (wiki link for the morbidly interested). Glad we've moved on from that.

A fine day turned nasty in a hurry.  Of course, we had brought all our gear but I hadn't hauled it with us on this particular outing.  Lesson learned.  Here's the disposable poncho picture of shame (purchased in the gift shop).

Day 6 (Wednesday) -- Falmouth

Another questionable weather day has steered us to try some indoor activities.  We started at the National Maritime Museum and then we walked around Falmouth. 

The Maritime Museum had some good hands-on activities as well as some nice exhibits on survival and rescue.  Alex had a turn at controlling a sail boat (his Dad doesn't have much knowledge to pass on here).

Nicole too

Got to make some boats with some miscellaneous supplies

finished product

Sorry, not too many photos of the exhibits inside.  We were unfamiliar with the Robertson family story about surviving 38 days at sea on which there was a nice little exhibit.  (Wiki and other links).

It happened to be Falmouth Week (sailing) and there were many special activities going on.  We caught this biking demo right before the skies opened up.  One guy could balance his bike on all sorts of obstacles and another was a jumper.  Glad we caught it.

Getting some air.  Fortunately Alex had wormed his way closer to the front.

Notice the bar.  He jumped it (sideways) from a stand still.

Nice shot if I do say so myself.

Reminded me of a nice YouTube video of Danny MacAskill in Scotland (link)

We ate well during the week -- lots of seafood as you might expect.  I'll spare you most of the food shots but I couldn't pass up this "Shack Stack" for 2.  Crab, mussels, oysters, squid, scallops and prawns (shrimp).

Favorite restaurants were Oliver's in Falmouth and The Bakehouse in Penzance (ate there twice).

Brown Crab.  You can see the bottle of tabasco for size reference (big fella).

Once again, Alex is his mother's son.  He loved the crab and would meticulously dig out all the meat.  Can't wait to get back to Maryland for some blue crabs.  Summer 2014??

Day 7 (Thursday) -- Trelisseck Gardens and St Mawes

Once again, not the best forecast but we decided to have a go outdoors while we could.

We wanted to visit St. Mawes, a small village across the bay (only 2.5 miles from our B&B in Falmouth) but we decided to fit in Trelisseck Gardens as well.  That involved driving up to the Gardens (near King Harry on the map), taking the ferry over and driving to St. Mawes.  It made for a nice day.

Trelisseck Garden is a National Trust property in the northern part of the Falmouth estuary along the River Fal.   Here are the kids in front of a large Japanese cryptomeria (or so the guidebook says).

hydrangeas were certainly in bloom

more flowers

bird's nest (empty)

Alex and a large tree

we couldn't decide if they were dancing or wrestling

Alex was in the picture posing mode for some reason

the green cones on this one looked like eggs on the branches -- more flower shots below

Next was St. Mawes, another picturesque village (and one we liked).   We parked in town and walked up to the castle.  This is looking back at the village.

This is another fortress and is essentially the twin to Pendennis on the other side of the bay.

another small peninsula and lighthouse -- we decided not to take the ferry across to it as we thought that would be a little much

enjoying the castle grounds (and stiff breeze)

St. Mawes

cool (presumably tourist) ship coming into Falmouth harbor

another canon shot

looking back to Pendennis through the clouds and haze

Nicole resting on a canon

both kids on canon row (and a rare calm moment together)

another "shot" back to Pendennis

Falmouth Harbor across the way

Day 8 (Friday) -- Falmouth rain

We awoke to the worst weather day yet:  horizontal rain and 25+ mph winds.  I had a few things on my list that we had yet to work in (Helford River, Lizard Peninsula, etc.) but alas today was not the day.  Gear or no gear, walking around in that weather is not much fun.

After a week of "Pool?  Pool?  Pool?  Pool?" from Alex, we decided to head to the Ships and Castles Leisure Centre in Falmouth.  The good news was that they had an indoor water park of sorts.  The bad news was a lot of people had the same idea.  We had to wait about an hour for our alloted slot and were only given about 75 minutes.  But it was still fun.  Seems a waste to come this far for a pool outing, but the kids did like it.  Heck, Kuk and I got in on the act this time too.

After parking back at the B&B and a short walk to Gylly Beach, we had a nice lunch in the cafe.  We (Kuk) then decided we weren't going to waste the day and we set out for a short walk along the coast.  Nicole observed that the lifeguards must be tired today as they set the swimming flags really close together (see red/yellow above).  [On a day like this, who'd be out anyway?  The hardy Brits, of course!]

Good attitudes and waterproofs helped.  That said, we did cut it a little short (2 miles) and headed back to the B&B.

Day 9 (Saturday) -- Eden Project and home

Since the drive down wasn't as tortuous as I thought, I decided to fit in the Eden Project on the way home.  We could have done it from Falmouth (~1 hr away) but it made more sense to catch it on the way home.

This was a really cool place.  We really enjoyed it.  From the wiki link:

The Eden Project is a visitor attraction in Cornwall in the United Kingdom, including the world's largest greenhouse.  Inside the artificial biomes are plants that are collected from all around the world. The project is located in a reclaimed Kaolinite [clay] pit.  The complex is dominated by two huge enclosures consisting of adjoining domes that house thousands of plant species, and each enclosure emulates a natural biome. The domes consist of hundreds of hexagonal and pentagonal, inflated, plastic cells supported by steel frames. The first dome emulates a tropical environment, and the second a Mediterranean environment.

In addition to having all of these plants, etc. outside and in the biomes, they also had good explanations to go along with the hows and whys.

started off with the ferns and the pre-flowering era

then come some flowers and the giant bumblebee

A view from the inside

a very large pan of chickpea stew being prepared in the cafe (why?  not sure)

these guys (I assume the light colored ones) have sweet seeds so that ants are attracted to them and therefore carry them below ground.  As a result, they aren't burned during fires but do work their way up after a fire passes through -- cool!

They had a set of pepper plants in the Mediterranean area.  I did not know that there was a "Scoville Scale" used to measure such things.   The Dorset Naga (habanero) is by far the hottest.  Eating one would require hospitalization! 

some interesting sculptures inside as well

and another

moving on to the very hot/humid rainforest (go figure) and a pretty flower (when Kuk says "oh, this one is nice" that's a translation for "Steve, take this picture")

screw pine

funky tree (sorry, missed the name)

fruit with a tail

sugar pod (?) tree

cooling off by the waterfall

back outside and the sunflower farm

lots of talk of ales vs. lagers around here -- here's the definition if you are interested.  The previous sign talked about how it was much safer to drink beer than water back in the day and so that's what people did?

recognize this?

lots of good uses for hemp though they did leave one off the list.  I assume it's illegal to grow here as well but I can't say I've checked.

I can't let my slug fans down.  As you might have gathered, it did rain a bit while we were here so we did have a few of our slimy friends following us around.


As usual, we had a good time and were glad to partake in the quintessential British (or at least English) holiday.  That said, I wouldn't personally rank it up there with Scotland, N. Wales, Ireland or Normandy.   So why not?

1)  perhaps we are finding out that we are more mountain people than beach people.  We like history, too, and didn't manage to fit as much in (though there were some options)

2)  we aren't English!  Part of the charm must be that folks come here as children (every year), become quite familiar with the area, and enjoy sharing it with their own children, etc.  It's hard to capture that in a one-time visit.

3)  it helps to fully commit to the beach.  That means buying and hauling the gear (wet suits, chairs, body boards, etc.).   We saw quite a few overstuffed cars with trailers, roof racks and carrier tops.  If you are coming regularly then that makes sense to do.  If you have to rent/hire the gear then that limits you to more populous beaches.

4)  the weather -- not that terrible but not great either.  We've had some good luck (in Scotland particularly) but I don't think our Cornwall experience was that atypical.  Had it been nice every day and we fit in all my outdoor activities perhaps it would have ranked higher.  Hard to separate that aspect out.

All in all, it was still a nice week away.  Alas, summer is drawing to a close.  We have a 3-day weekend next weekend and then it is back to school for Alex and soon after for Nicole.

Have a good week everyone.


  1. Wow, this travelogue is terrific, Stephen! And the pics are so helpful with the scenic views. I too had heard of Cornwall plenty of times but hadn't known exactly what it was, so your trip was educational for me. I may have to see St. Michael's Mount if I ever get back to England again. Take care!

  2. Interesting post. Great job as usual, it was interesting seeing your take on the same things we did. I have to agree, Cornwall was nice for our quick trip but I wouldn't have wanted to spend a week there. Funny about the beach observations - same as I had. I also didn't get the "charm" of mousehole. Loved the Louis Pasteur fact. I'm guessing the hairy rabbit wasn't part if the MP knight killing rabbit family? T'is just a flesh wound!

  3. Good post Steve. Very interesting!