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Published: October 20th 2013
Beautiful Cornish seaside town.
After five enjoyable but tiring days in France
I didn't get back to my flat from the airport until about 1.30am. Just a few hours later I was back at work for three stressful days, before I was back on the road for a three day trip to Cornwall.
I was absolutely exhausted before I had even started the trip.
Just as exhausted from similarly stressful working weeks were Jaimee and Kristy, who were joining me for my road trip. I know Jaimee through my old flatmate Loren, who you may recall joined me on my last UK road trip to the Cotswolds
. Kristy is a friend of Jaimee's who I had met a couple of times before.
Rather annoyingly, netflights.com had lied to me about our car hire company having a desk inside Heathrow Airport. Instead, we were using the same car hire company I used for my Cotswolds trip which was based in the Holiday Inn, a ripoff 10-minute bus ride away from the airport.
We therefore took a literal last-minute decision to get off the tube at Hatton Cross and take a taxi to the Holiday Inn. Unlike taxis from the airport, taxis from nearby Hatton Cross are
Ecological tourist attraction in Cornwall.
actually willing to take you to an airport hotel and so it proved as within 20 minutes, we had each paid £5 each - the equivalent of the price of the rip-off Hotel Hoppa bus - to arrive at our destination on time and without having to wait around for a bus that doesn't stick to its published timetable.
The car we got wasn't as good as last time though. Whereas last time we had got the bigger Nissan Qashqai, this time we were landed with a Nissan Juke which although had the same size engine, seemed to be a much less powerful car which was frustrating to drive as I often couldn't get power when I wanted it and frequently had to shift up gears in order to get any sort of acceleration.
Nevertheless I did enjoy the driving as it is something I rarely do although I'm not sure I had quite mastered the manual transmission by the end of the weekend. Although I had learnt in a manual car as a teenager, the majority of the driving I have done post-2000 has been in an automatic. I just wasn't used to having to think about what
St Michael's Mount
Island castle located off the coast of the town of Maraizon that is accessible by foot at low tide via a causeway.
gear to be using at all times, after so long.
Anyway, our first stop on the trip was at the Eden Project.
Boasting the largest greenhouses in the world, the Eden Project is an ecological and botanical visitor attraction famous for it's massive domes (stop laughing at the back). Within the domes are two enclosures, one that artificially emulates a Mediterranean climate, and one that artificially mimics a humid, tropical climate. In each enclosure are plants from all over the world that are able to live in their natural climate.
As well as being fun to explore, it was educational experience more than anything as you learned about the different plants and animals that are natural to each biome
. Naturally, it also highlighted the issues of climate change and conservation and the material impacts of both throughout the world. While by no means a tree hugger, like most New Zealanders, the environment and looking after it is important to me and I certainly had my green hat on while visiting the Eden Project - it certainly brought out my left wing tendencies.
The highlight was undoubtedly the tropical biome, where the temperature inside was 27 degrees and humidity was
It really is just an impressive pile of rocks.
set at 90% - hot enough and humid enough to annoyingly fog up my camera lens. The enclosure was also deceptively tall and this was scarily brought to attention once we climbed up to the top of the highest dome, standing on a platform hanging off the top of it. I was positively sweating by the time I had trudged up there - from the heat and humidity, of course.
But that wasn't the scariest thing we wanted to do there - above the domes is a zipwire off which you can fly over the entire compound. Booked for a 5pm "jump", we got up there only to be told that because someone was getting married inside one of the domes, they were closing up early and we would not get our ride. Apparently they didn't have a number with which to call us and let us know and the lady at the ticket office down on the ground seemed unaware of the early closure when we enquired about the zipwire. A classic case of people in the same organisation not communicating with each other. Though a little apprehensive about doing it, it was a big disappointment once denied the
Towan Beach, Newquay
One of many beaches in the town.
opportunity, much like when I was prevented from doing a 12m cliff jump in Slovenia
For our two nights in Cornwall we were to stay in Newquay which is supposedly a good night out.
After scrubbing up at our guest house, we hit a pub for dinner before having a couple more drinks.
At the pub, I finally had what was probably my first-ever, decent fish and chips in the UK. The fish was skinned and the batter was crispy and tasty, as it should be. Like most things the English have invented (football, rugby, tennis, to name a few) other countries have adopted fish and chips and done it better.
The nightlife? For a place of that size, there was certainly a countless amount of it but like most UK cities and towns, it was all pretty standard, all the same. In most UK cities outside of London, there seems to be a dearth of bars that are unique, themed or have any sort of character. Although the place we were drinking in looked quite nice, we were disheartened to discover it was a Wetherspoons. It was a Wetherspoons-type crowd as well - young and chavvy. I might
St Ives Town Centre
The cobbled, pedestrianised "high street" of St Ives with it's range of cute, boutique shops.
be showing my age here, but I just felt above everything that was happening in front of me - loud jocks and screaming hen-dos downing shots and Jaegerbombs like no tomorrow, the object to get as wankered as possible. I've said it countless times before, I prefer the crowds in Europe (except Russia
) where you just drink enough to get to a good level before maintaining it rather than drinking to the point where you can't even see straight.
The highlight of the night though was when we witnessed the intergenerational night out. I had been told that it happens up in Newcastle
but I had never seen it first hand. But there it was in all its glory - the daughter, the mum and the grandma all tarted up for a night on the lash. Fantastic role models, whichever way you look at it. You're only as old as you feel right?
Anyway, my cynicism was probably down to my mood that night. I was exhausted, full, and knew that I had to drive all day the next day, so being hungover was not going to be a good idea.
The first of several stops we made the
The dramatic coastline of Land's End with a cliff in the background that resembles the Giant's Causeway.
next day was St Ives, which is beautifully picturesque. There is always something charming about English towns by the seaside. St Ives felt nostalgic too with its cobblestoned alleys and boutique shops. It was just a shame that the weather wasn't playing ball, giving us a chilly wind and overcast skies instead.
It got worse at our second stop in Penzance, where we got absolutely pissed on. The town itself didn't help matters either as it was a massive disappointment. There is absolutely nothing to see here and seemed like a carbon copy of most UK towns, with all its high street chains. Lonely Planet describes it as "authentic" which is a tad diplomatic.
Its only redeeming feature was the Mackerel Sky Cafe where we stopped for lunch and where I had a delicious skate wing (fish) in cream sauce.
The next stop was Land's End, which is exactly as the name suggests - the end of the land, the most westerly point in England, and the traditionally accepted lower extremity of the UK. There is a really tacky theme park built on it which given the weather (luckily it wasn't raining at this point) and the time of year,
Awesome theatre built into the cliffs.
was literally empty. Nothing was open anyway. You could still have your picture taken with the signpost though, with a backdrop of granite cliffs plunging into the Atlantic. In reality Land's End is nothing more than a box tick, but the landscape and scenery is certainly as dramatic as its name.
Fourth stop on our driving tour of Cornwall was the Minack Theatre which is some sight. An outdoor amphitheatre, the audience looks down upon the stage while sitting on terraces built into the cliffs with the Atlantic Ocean as the stage's background. It was a shame we did not have access to the stage, or indeed a helicopter from which we could take a photographs of this theatre carved out of the cliffs.
Our final stop - fantastically timed to coincide with low tide at 7pm - was St Michael's Mount, the English version of Mont St Michel (it even shares the same name). While not as aesthetically dramatic or architecturally grand as it's French namesake, it is essentially the same thing - an island castle that can be reached by a causeway from the mainland during low tide. It is still quite the sight though. Unfortunately, although it
Slightly submerged walking path to St Michael's Mount.
was physically possible to walk over to the castle on the causeway, the causeway was still submerged in about half a foot of (likely) freezing water. The sea was a little rough as well and waves were crashing over the causeway. With a lack of anything truly spectacular on the island (not from what we could see anyway) and the light fading fast, we decided to give it a miss. Gumboots (wellies for you English folks) and a raincoat would have been the perfect gear required to make the crossing but alas, we had neither.
Conscious of time, we decided to head back to St Ives for dinner as it was closer than going all the way back to Newquay. The rain and chilly weather put us all in the mood for soup and what more appropriate a soup could you have on the seaside than chowder
. We had picked a fairly upmarket looking restaurant and the chunky chowder matched its stylish interior. It was excellent - delish!
The drive back to Newquay was a little bit of a challenge as the weather was bad, there was zero highway lighting and the roads were narrow and winding - but it
Above The Canopy, Eden Project
Inside the rainforest biome. Scenes from the Bond film Die Another Day were filmed here.
was no challenge that could not be overcome.
We were understandably knackered by the time we arrived back to the guest house, so it was straight to bed.
Now I'm usually not one to plug anything on my blog, but I was so impressed with the Fairways Guest House that I am going to do just that. Jo, the owner, was lovely and friendly and very accommodating. My double room with ensuite was clean and comfortable and had everything I needed. The place had the perfect blend of hotel comforts and the authenticity of staying at someone's house and the full English breakfast hearty and generous. All for a very good price in a great location two minutes walk from the town centre. So if you need somewhere to stay in Newquay, definitely head along to the Fairways Guest House!
We had a walk around Newquay the next day before making our way back to London. Newquay is pretty much the surf capital of Britain and seeing surfboards and surf shops set against a background of English cottages and two-up-two-downs seemed at odds with each other. We headed down to Fristal Beach which is a pretty decent surf
Island House, Newquay
Towering over Towan Beach one cannot fail to be impressed by a house that is only accessible by a swaying bridge or a challenging/impossible rock climb.
beach although the surf wasn't really up that day. Didn't stop some hardy souls giving it a go in the freezing water though. Reminded me of the crazy Geordie lady I saw go for a late winter swim up in Tynemouth last year.
The bays and the coastline in Newquay are very picturesque and we stopped for a drink at the Walkabout which perched on a cliff overlooking Towan Beach, is probably the most stunningly located Walkabout ever.
We of course could not leave Cornwall without having a Cornish pasty, so we made sure we had one from a local bakery before we headed out of town.
There was still one more thing we had to do en route to London. Considering how famous and significant a landmark it is, it was a surprise that none of us had been there before considering how long we've all lived in London. Ladies and gentlemen - we were going to Stonehenge.
It meant however, that we had to take a different route to the one we took to get to Cornwall, a much slower route which I found frustrating. The Nissan Juke had a really small fuel tank too and we
The ditch in the foreground was part of the original monument.
had to make several stops to fill up.
Not having a satnav made things a lot more difficult though the Google Maps app on my phone is pretty decent for a free app, if not as quick to react as a proper satnav.
Oh yeah, and I hate UK road markings - lanes open up and close all the time on multi-lane motorways and you never know if you are in the right lane or not. To be fair though, a lot of the confusion was down to Google Maps and the 3G network taking its time to tell you which way to go.
Anyway - Stonehenge!
We arrived literally twenty minutes before it was due to close so we had about fifteen minutes to see it and walk around the thing taking photos. I must've taken about fifty photos of the thing from all the different angles but with the grey sky, the time limit, and the enforced distance from the monument due to the boundary ropes, I found it quite difficult to take anything creative. So I hope I have included some good ones in this blog entry.
What did I think? While the age (4000-5000 years old)
More Cornish Coastline
More dramatic coastline just around the corner from the Minack Theatre.
and how they could possibly have constructed the monument without modern technology is extraordinary, at the end of the day - it is just a pile of rocks.
And with that we continued on our way back to London.
Jaimee and Kristy were good company - I always find it easier to chat about things to New Zealanders, especially ones who have lived in London for awhile like me, as they usually understand just about anything you are talking about. I have a bad habit - call it being male - of switching off when girls start talking to each other and I was caught out by the girls on more than several occasions. Sorry about that girls. All in all however, it was an enjoyable weekend away.
On the subject of famous places like Stonehenge that people in London should really have visited, my next blog entry will be coming from my 50th country - my first ever trip to Ireland (I know, it's just over the water!).
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