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Posts tagged ‘historical places’

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard (& more ships than you can shake a stick at)

After finishing up at the Royal Marines Museum we made a beeline for the Historic Dockyard, located on the large Portsmouth naval base.

The dockyard is a big deal in these parts and is regarded as the home of the Royal Navy. We weren’t going to be able to see and do everything but we had a shortlist of priorities. Three of the most famous warships in history are now safely tucked up here, and we were especially keen to visit one that had been discovered to have a link with my great grandfather.

So for me the afternoon had two main highlights.

1. Harbour tour

This was excellent, not too long and plenty to see. Sitting on the outside deck we were taken alongside the dockyard and base to see many of the ships berthed there. Quite a number seemed to be either out of service or not far from it and the captain’s commentary rued the gradually diminishing naval fleet.

A collection of anchors, the HMS Warrior and the Spinnaker Tower as seen when heading down to join the queue for the harbour tour

An impressive line-up of big grey boats – and there was plenty more to come

Mum and dad enjoying the jaunt around the harbour

New aircraft carrier hull on a barge ready to leave Portsmouth

Within a day or so of our visit this enormous section of ship, part of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, left Portsmouth for Scotland where it will be assembled.

The aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious, due to be retired in a couple of years

The HMS Bristol and some of her crew

2. Tour of the HMS Victory

The Victory is a bit of an old girl, having been commissioned in the 1770s. She had a long life before arriving in the dockyard in the 1920s. Of particular interest to us, my great grandfather’s time in the Royal Marines included a stint aboard the Victory. That she has been restored and opened to the public is fantastic. The ship is in dry dock and was undergoing some outer restoration at the time of our visit.

HMS Victory

Just a tad fancier than navy ships these days

Me and dad

I wondered what these are… they are fire buckets, which makes sense on a big wooden boat. I think they’d make pretty good ice buckets too!

A place for naughty sailors… and fathers

Good view down to another of the dry docks where a smaller ship is also undergoing restoration. This is M33 which amazingly was involved in the Gallipoli campaign and is one of only two British warships still around which date back to WW1

Mum and I looked through all eight decks – there didn’t seem to be enough space for a full crew of over 800 men. Maybe they were quite small

Big rope pile on one of the decks – having once worked for a rope manufacturer I feel expertly qualified to provide profound captions on such matters

There’s plenty more going on at the dockyard though we limited further explorations to general walking around and shop browsing. Plus a visit to the museum of the very very historic Mary Rose, but for me this was less interesting.

Dockyard buildings

A fair treasure trove of caps at one of the dockyard gift shops. I did contemplate the white captain’s hat for Mike, as they’ve been a source of amusement since we first saw them in Venice, but unluckily for him it was a bit too expensive

Victory Gate, the main entry into the dockyard

While mum and dad finished their wandering I waited outside the main gate where there were more views of the third famous ship, the HMS Warrior. We forewent a tour due to our time constraints but she was certainly majestic to look at from afar.

And that was that. I’d definitely go back to the dockyard if I ever return to Portsmouth.

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A first peek at Portsmouth

Day one in Hampshire was a low key affair and after a lazy morning we had a fairly leisurely expedition into Portsmouth.

As mentioned, dad’s dad came from Portsmouth hence our reason for loitering in the area. Dad still has a few cousins in England, several of whom he hadn’t met, but the one he knows best lives locally. We picked Helen up from her place and ventured out for a late lunch.

Sunday roast for lunch (when in Rome and all that) at a pub in the Bere Forest area on our way in to Portsmouth

It was a slightly hurried affair. A gypsy fair was being staged in nearby Wickham the following day with many of them arriving that day, which prompted police to advise local establishments to close mid-afternoon on account of the trouble that may otherwise arise. That teensy observation of how cultures adapt to each other was quite interesting.

We drove on to Portsmouth, specifically the original historic part of the city known as … Old Portsmouth. (Can you see what they did there?) We parked and wandered along the waterfront.

A series of memorials for things such as the Falklands conflict and an expedition that circumnavigated our dear neighbour Australia

The Round Tower, part of Portsmouth’s first permanent defences, flanked by what was the Eighteen Gun Battery

Inside the Round Tower – me with dad and his cousin

Great walkway along the old wall defences

The lay of the land in this part of the world is a bit confusing without the context of a map, on account of the higgledy piggledy coastline and numerous waterways. A good chunk of Portsmouth is actually on an island (Portsea) and other islands take up quite a bit of the harbour. The harbour entry is quite narrow and what you assume is another part of Portsmouth across the water actually isn’t. The Isle of Wight is a short ferry ride away, though we wouldn’t be going there on this trip.

A border agency boat enters Portsmouth Harbour past part of the old naval facilities in Gosport

Old Portsmouth Beach

So far I was liking this city. Waterside location, lots of old bits, especially defences and fortifications, and some grey boats.

Peeking through Old Portsmouth to a moored naval boat

At Spice Island, one end of Old Portsmouth

After pausing in the Spice Island Inn for a fortifying red bull for me, cup of tea for the grown-ups, and warm chocolate brownie, we walked inland 15 minutes or so to where dad’s dad’s family had lived. Mum had been here before so kinda knew where we were going.

A thingy on the Portsmouth Cathedral which our route took us past

What you can do with those cannon barrels you no longer need

Street where dad’s dad lived when he left on his own for NZ as a teenager

The house was where the dark brown brick dwelling is now

A shame that the original house is no longer there but it was great to see the location all the same, and its proximity to the old city. There would be more family places of interest during the week, things that for me were worth the entire trip.

Walking back to the waterfront, we made one more stop in another area. We’d only been in Portsmouth five minutes but it was obvious and surprising how extensive the coastal defences were that once served the city. I saw church ruins nearby and like a magpie distracted by something shiny, I immediately detoured.

The Royal Garrison Church dates back to the 1200s and if not for a fire raid on the city in 1941, it may have been a bit more intact today

A good first day and I was looking forward to coming back tomorrow. Between the Royal Marines Museum and the Historic Dockyard it was going to be a busy one.

Britain’s most famous stone circle

We wanted to see Stonehenge. It wasn’t actually the main drawcard for us in Wiltshire, but, y’know, since we were going to be in the neighbourhood…

Our stop for the night ended up being in nearby Amesbury. The route there took us past Stonehenge, or should I say beside – I was really surprised at how close to the road this famous place is. I imagined something a bit more remote. It is incredibly accessible.

Many stop to simply view the stones from the road, saving themselves £8 or so. Not us though.

We returned for our proper look-see the following morning, arriving just before opening time. While you kinda gotta resign yourself to queuing at these places, mercifully at that time of day we didn’t have too long to wait. After 20ish minutes we were in, collecting our audio guides and walking through the tunnel that takes you under that much-too-close road.

From here you pop up at the start of the walkway that takes you around the outside of the stone circle.

This was the closest we would get to the stones. I probably should have lingered here longer, but a) I lacked patience in among the big crowd of people clustered in the same spot wanting the same photo; and b) I knew there was still a bit to fit into the day.

Until 1977 the public could freely walk amongst the stones. To get closer these days you can try to book a sought-after tour in the early morning or late evening that allows you to gain access to the circle. This did appeal to me, but it simply wasn’t something we had time to contemplate organising.

A Station Stone – originally there were four, now two remain

It is thought that the stone structure originated between 2000 and 3000 BC, and the whole site (much bigger than the main circle and contains other stones as well as earth banks and ditches) probably took around 1500 years to complete. It is quite something to be in the presence of such culturally significant oldness.

Experts believe that Stonehenge was last used for ritualistic purposes in the Iron Age, which in Britain was roughly the period 1200 BC – 400 AD.

Some restoration was undertaken periodically up until the 1960s, mainly to stand up the stones that had fallen over. As you might expect, archaeology has been carried out at various times and I can imagine how fascinating a place it must be to uncover traces of its past life.

I try to minimise the number of photos of the same object in each post. But I can’t help being a bit repetitive with this one!

As close to civilisation as the site feels, it is thanks to some concerned people of the 1920s that it was saved from further urban encroachment. The National Trust was able to acquire the site and steps were taken to start preserving it: nearby buildings were removed and grass allowed to return. However, the roads were left and today the site is flanked by two main A roads. I see there has been much debate about this over the years so I’m by no means alone in feeling concerned about how intrusive these are.

The Heel Stone, a wee distance away from the circle and in between the road and walkway. It gives you a feel for how close the road is

We completed the circuit and I contemplated going around again, but we really did need to get going. But that wasn’t the end of our stone monument visits that day. Next though we needed to find a local landmark with a strong link to New Zealand.

Quick blat around old Plymouth’s waterfront walkway

After leaving Dartmoor we continued south to the coastal city of Plymouth.

You can’t really visit a city in one afternoon but that was the plan, and we had a fairly narrow scope to give it some purpose.

The interest in Plymouth is its historical connection to New Zealand and to our family. In 1840, NZ joined the British empire and ships set sail from Plymouth, as Captain Cook’s vessels did in the 18th century, to take settlers to the relative no man’s land that was then New Zealand. The city on the west coast of the North Island which they would help establish was named New Plymouth.

Aboard the William Bryan, the first ship to depart, was my great x4 grandfather who had lived in Boscastle, along with his wife and their four children. It took them 133 days to reach New Zealand. Ugh.

Fast forward 172 years and I was in search of a car park. It wasn’t the best choice in the end and involved a bit of a walk for parents who had twinges in limbs, but at least we were roughly in the right area.

Our walk took us around past the aquarium, across the footbridge over the entry to one of the marinas (where we twiddled thumbs for several minutes as the bridge was raised to let boats in) to the Barbican area. There are numerous memorials here, including ones to the ships which departed for strange faraway lands.

Cool blue wall – mum and dad had no choice but to comply with my request

Looking over to part of the Barbican area and coastal walkway

Wee sidewalk fishies near the aquarium

This fugly fella, a hybrid of locally found fish and shellfish, was apparently not popular when first erected (no kidding) but he was allowed to stay

Plaque near the spot where a boat load of people left on the Mayflower in 1620 to settle in North America

Another plaque, this one for the ships which left with settlers for New Zealand and the city appropriately named New Plymouth

Memorials to those lost at sea

We continued around the waterfront, kinda winging it from this point. Mum and dad with their aches and pains streaked ahead of me as I dawdled with my point-and-shoot. There were plenty of distracting features – the coastline, historical landmarks, navy ships in the harbour, restored foreshore facilities, abandoned foreshore facilities, and several war memorials. I had a great time.

We wondered what these signs were about… ‘tombstoning’ is where silly youths jump from ridiculous places into the sea, evidently Plymouth Hoe had been a hotspot for it. Deaths and injuries lead to the removal or closure of several features that had been used as jumping platforms

The Royal Citadel, a large walled fortification built in the 1660s. It is still occupied by the military today

Looking along to the foreshore below the Plymouth Hoe

The Tinside Lido saltwater pool was born in the art deco era but closed in 1991, only to have a makeover and reopen a few years ago. It wasn’t yet open for the season at the time of our visit. Drake’s Island is in the background

Royal Marines Memorial

Plymouth Naval Memorial

Big kitty on the Plymouth Naval Memorial

During our tripping around Cornwall and Devon we saw a few places getting ready to host the Olympic torch relay. Judging by the extent of temporary facilities being set up it was clearly a big deal

Smeaton’s Tower – a former lighthouse which was relocated to the Hoe and is now a memorial to its designer. For a small fee you can climb it (I gave this a miss)

We were treated to the sight of a fleet of Royal Navy ships in Plymouth Sound on some kind of exercise

A bonus was seeing a line-up of black boats speed back toward shore. I couldn’t find a clear answer online but I think they belong to the Royal Marines. Their landing craft units are based nearby at the Devonport Dockyard

The coastal route had such appeal I walked back along it, and that was pretty much my experience of Plymouth. By the time I eventually caught up with mum and dad it was time to get back to Boscastle for our final night in Cornwall.

Dartmoor day trip: 2~The moor

We crossed the cattle grid into Dartmoor country. I nabbed the first parking spot I saw and jogged back in the chilly misty rain to get a couple of shots.

We were curious about the ‘covert capture cars’ sign – these are parked cars with onboard video and audio equipment aimed at catching baddies in the act

An old milestone marker, a bit the worse for wear but indicating distances to Tavistock and Mortonhampstead

An old post office cable marker

Along we continued, stopping randomly here and there.

Aren’t they nicely colour coordinated with their environment

In a blink-and-you-miss-it place called Postbridge is one of the most visited features in Dartmoor. Clapper bridge is the term, odd though it is, given to an ancient form of bridge built using large slabs of rock on stone piles. Postbridge has a great example just off the main road, dating sometime around the 1300s.

The clapper bridge

The road bridge, only around 220 years old

Postbridge was a picturesque wee spot so there was a bit more dawdling before returning to the waiting father.

The lower speed limit through the moor gave me an opportunity to survey the passing landscape as I drove. This vigilance paid off as with a yelp I pulled off to a sort of parking bay and announced to mum and dad: “a stone circle!”. This was the first example I’d seen in person, and it was nice that it popped up unexpectedly rather than as a planned feature. Mum and I scurried over.

I later read that it is called the Soussons stone circle and dates to the Bronze Age – which in Britain is regarded as being from 2100 to 750 BC. Give or take.

22 stones in a circle almost 9m across

In the forest behind the circle

We finished the drive through the moor. The weather stayed blah but that just added to the atmosphere – and probably met my preconception of how a moor should ‘feel’.

A man and his dog trek up a tor

But the day was not over and we pressed on to Plymouth.

Dartmoor day trip: 1~Towns & a prison

We had one more night left in Cornwall and another big day trip planned. The pace was fairly relentless but we had to see as much as we could before moving on. Dartmoor was a focus of today’s gadding about, which I was really looking forward to seeing. So with the expert guidance of the tiny Englishman trapped inside the satnav, we set off in a south-easterly kind of direction.

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Launceston, Cornwall

We made a short stop in this town near the border with Devon. Mum needed to run a couple of errands in a town with more facilities than Boscastle, and Launceston (evidently pronounced ‘Lanson’ by the Cornish) seemed a good candidate. As well as being fairly much on the way, it is home to some castle ruins and, well, castle ruins were still a pretty appealing novelty to these Kiwis.

Launceston’s war memorial in the town square

Inside the walls of Launceston Castle: English Heritage office and the ‘motte’ up on the hill

Imagine if you will a kitchen…

Peeking through the south gatehouse to the town hall and guildhall

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Tavistock, Devon

On the western border of Dartmoor, as the grey sky started to leak, we stopped in the market town of Tavistock. It’s a bit on the old side, having established after the Tavistock Abbey was built in the late 900s. Today very little remains of the abbey but the town’s market heritage is still alive and well with a permanent market building and regular festivals throughout the year.

Abbey Chapel, once part of the abbey

The Parish Church which stands near the Abbey remains

Inside the Pannier Markets

A beautiful commemorative artwork called The Tree

Abbey Bridge and weir over the River Tavy

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Princetown, Devon

And then we were in the moor, which I’ll cover in the next post. Such an interesting landscape with an atmosphere enhanced by the grey and brooding day. It would have been great to spend more time roaming around it.

One feature I was curious to see was in Princetown. I was probably a bit surprised it was located in amongst civilisation as I imagined somewhere quite isolated, though clearly staff and supplies have to come from somewhere. The things you kind of perceive without really thinking about it.

Anyway, I’m talking about Dartmoor Prison.

Driving down into the town we saw glimpses of it over a wall and through the trees. In need of a car park, we decided to stop at the prison museum which is on the main road into town, located amongst some old dairy buildings. Dad decided he wanted to look inside and I popped in to the shop briefly, though I was more keen to use the time to take a walk and hopefully a photo or two.

I noticed a sign saying it was ok to take photos of the prison, but not of staff or prisoners. So with that I trotted down the road to the main gate – where a couple of guards were visible. While they unhurriedly departed the scene, I tried to nonchalantly lurk out front. At least with having abandoned my DSLR a couple of days ago due to its intermittent fault, the compact camera was very easy to whip out at a moment’s notice.

The prison was built in the early 1800s to hold prisoners of war and several thousand Americans from the War of 1812 were detained there. Since then its target ‘clientele’ has changed a few times and the prison has gone from housing high-risk serious offenders to those more toward the other end of the spectrum.

Outside the museum are garden knick knacks for sale made by the prisoners

Main gate into the prison

A road heading out of town provided better views of the prison…

…and some of the locals

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Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devon

This village lies in the heart of the moor. Famous for its annual fair, after which a well known (though not to me) folk song was penned, it is a charming village that bustles with tourists. Particularly quaint is the unfenced village green on which a herd of cattle graze and generally lounge about. The large church nearby, known as the Cathedral of the Moors, was badly damaged in an event called the Great Thunderstorm of 1638. Gruesome reading, but interesting.

The village green with its bovine residents and adjacent church

It’s a tough life (at least until they want your meat, I guess)

We visited just prior to the Diamond Jubilee and in some of the towns we went to we saw objects, such as this seat, commemorating the Golden Jubilee

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The next post will have more moor 🙂

I don’t go to church but I like churches

While attending religious services doesn’t interest me, I do appreciate that churches are usually historic sites and reflect the origins of the settlements they served. Then there are the aesthetics – I love old stone buildings, which the churches in Great Britain typically are.

Probably though it is the graveyards that hold the most fascination, and these were often located in the grounds of the churches we saw.

So yep, if I ‘have’ to visit a church, I’m usually quite happily occupied.

This topic applies to the trip generally but the post focuses mainly on our time in Cornwall where we visited a few churches that ancestors on mum’s mum’s side of the family had frequented.

Our typical routine was: drive to the church; mum and I get out of the car; dad stay with the car; mum go into the church; I frolic around outside; dad survey the immediate surrounds, and wait… and wait…

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Forrabury Church

We stayed up on the hill near Forrabury Church during our few days based in Boscastle.

Two crosses outside the church. That’s an ancient Celtic cross in the foreground

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St Breward Church

The village of St Breward in Bodmin Moor is home to the church with the highest elevation in Cornwall – though this is more just fact than inspiring selling point as, well, it’s not that high really.

Sundial above the church door

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St Tudy Church

Located in St Tudy village, the church was closed much to mum’s disappointment – unfortunately some churches are no longer left open because of theft. So we just had a quick blat around the grounds.

Cross for a solider killed in action in France, 1944

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St Gennys Church

The hamlet of St Gennys contains a church of the same name which has wonderful sea views from the sloping graveyard.

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St Juliot Church

I recall that getting here required navigating a few narrow country lanes, enough to make you wonder if a church could really be in the middle of nowhere. Very quietly located (if you don’t count the tractor on the farm next door), St Juliot is fairly famous due to its association with the writer and poet Thomas Hardy.

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St James Church

The odd one out here being located in Devon. We drove to the village of Ashreigney on the day we left Cornwall but the church was closed. The grounds were fairly boring but included (as many churches seemed to) a border of memorial stones.

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Church of St Nonna

No family connection with this place on the north-eastern edge of Bodmin Moor, but as we drove through it on our way back from Lizard Point I felt compelled to stop and take a pic. And for once there was somewhere to pull over to fulfil this whim. The village is called Altarnun and the church is also known as the Cathedral of the Moor.

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We also went to Minster Church in Boscastle.

But as churched out as he was after all this, we were still to visit the area of England that his father came from. Sorry dad, there were still one or two more churches to come!

Minster Church & Valency Valley

We had arrived back in Boscastle after what had already been a full day’s outing to Tintagel and Bodmin Moor, but our time in Cornwall was running out. So with the remaining afternoon daylight we ticked off another local activity.

The sneaky turn-off on the outskirts of town to Minster Church found, we drove down this quiet shaded lane and dad pushed the eject button on mum and I. Happily for him, the plan required a drop off here and a pick up somewhere else, thus giving him a good ‘out’ from partaking in the activity himself.

Mum wanted to come here because it is another family church, my great x4 grandfather having lived in Boscastle.

Plus, there is a nice walk between church and village down the Valency Valley (or up, depending on your tendencies). If we’d been there a few weeks earlier we would have seen daffodils in bloom around the church which is apparently quite a sight. Never mind, it was still a beautiful place.

Neither Minster nor Forrabury, the two churches of Boscastle, are located particularly close to the village which is a bit unusual. They date back to Norman times which makes their origins older than the village but of the same era as the 12th century castle around which the village subsequently grew.

Minster is located on one side of the Valency Valley. In 2004, flood waters rushed down the River Valency, through the church, to Boscastle where much damage was caused. You would be hard pressed to find any residual evidence of this now.

What I assume is a remnant of flood damage on the floor

We got a runner!!

See the scissor shape? No one knows why it’s there. Strange huh.

After a bit of ferreting around inside and out we began the walk down to the village.

Bit of a novelty to see holly growing in the wild

Not a water nymph

On the valley floor not far from the end of the walk in the Boscastle carpark

We only walked one way, but it’s a very achievable two way exercise. Peace, quiet and green woodland scenery guaranteed.

Oh and yes dad did remember to pick us up.

Tintagel’s legendary cliff-top castle

Tintagel is quite a well-known and well-visited place, though I hadn’t heard of it prior to this trip. (Not that that should be a benchmark of whether something is famous or not!)

The main reason for its allure are the legends that Tintagel Castle was the birthplace of King Arthur.

Today the castle remains are greatly diminished but still quite extensive and owing especially to their dramatic location, are well worth a visit. And being only a few miles from our base in Boscastle, it was an obvious inclusion on our to-do list.

After some confusion about where the castle was and how we got there (strangely it didn’t seem to be well sign-posted) after parking the car we instinctively walked to the end of the village. From the grounds of the impressive Camelot Castle Hotel we looked across a gully and there was the elusive castle. I hadn’t researched this place beforehand and I was surprised about how large the site seemed to be. It was also going to require a bit of effort to get there.

But the path to the castle wasn’t anywhere to be seen (so much for instincts) and we backtracked into town until we found it. Rather, we just followed the trail of other tourists heading the same way.

A ways down the path we could choose to head left uphill to some of the castle remains, or right downhill to begin at the visitor centre. Which importantly also had toilet facilities. Right it was.

The castle ruins are in two main sections, the more extensive site is on an island (though there is still a narrow bit of mainland connecting to it) with the other part on the end of the mainland. Back in the day they were connected via a drawbridge, until that fell into the sea. Quite a few sections of castle on both sides met a similar fate thanks to the rugged coastal location and exposure to the elements. Today efforts have been made to strengthen and stabilise what’s left.

The coastline and a cove called Haven lay just beyond the visitor centre. Fortunately it was low tide and the beach was accessible so down I scooted for there were a couple of interesting features to see.

The Haven

In Merlin’s Cave. Given the whole Arthur thing the cave sounded really intriguing but it was only named as such after the 19th century when Tennyson wrote a few poems about King Arthur

Then it was time to go up, past the turnoff to the mainland castle ruins, around the large group of foreign students on the bridge, and up further.

Steep climb up to the island

Breathing a lot more heavily than I had been two minutes before I stepped through the big wooden door into the courtyard and Great Hall. Strolling around ruins, one of my favourite things to do.

A nice section of stone remains I thought. Later I checked it against the guidebook and, well, seems that it was part of a latrine

Island courtyard wall and gate

The path continued beyond here, past some Dark Age ruins (the site evolved over many centuries, chopping and changing as different rulers and landowners occupied it) and up to the top of the island.

Dark Age remains. While the guidebooks use this term apparently it is rarely used now by historians

Sitting low on the hill is the Iron Gate which was originally built to prevent access from the cove below

Looking down onto the courtyard and Great Hall

Pausing at the chapel where there is a mix of foundations from various ages, possibly back to the 5th century

A cave-like tunnel, no one knows for certain what it was used for

Looking from the island over to the mainland ruins

Then it was time to catch up with mum and dad who were making their way over to the mainland part. ‘Over’ = steep steps down + steep steps up.

From the mainland looking back to the island

Upper mainland courtyard

Lower mainland courtyard

You could spend all day wandering around here, or I could at least, but we had other stuff to go and see. Mum and dad’s respective dicky ankle and knee held up on the return walk to the village where we flopped into the closest watering hole.

Time to go find some lunch

Like the umbrella says…

One week based in Boscastle

Boscastle is a coastal village in northern Cornwall where we based ourselves for several days. Of many potential destinations, Boscastle was the lucky recipient of our collective presence because my great-great-great-great grandfather lived there once upon a time. Mum had been there before and was keen to return.

Roads

If you were to drive to Boscastle direct from London it would take around five hours. We drove from Bath with considerable phaffing along the way so it took much longer.

England has such a diverse mix of roads, from fast multi lane highways to the most narrow lanes. Our journey to Boscastle and the ensuing week covered the lot, with satnav often taking us through the network of back country lanes.

Beautiful country lanes, narrow though they were

Not only are the lanes somewhat narrow, often you can’t see any of the countryside on account of the hedging, let alone around the next corner

Bit breezy in these parts?

Accommodation

Boscastle has an old and new part. We had planned to stay down in the old town near the harbour, in a self-contained cottage that used to be a carpenter’s shop in our family. Unfortunately there was a botch up and we had earlier learned that our booking hadn’t been received and couldn’t be reinstated. We found an alternative place up in the new town. It was fine though didn’t have the same significance, and we were more reliant on the car up there.

Our cottage in Forrabury Hill

Departure day pic outside our cottage with its views to the other side of Boscastle

Village

Boscastle originated in three distinct parts: the area built near the harbour; an area further up the hill around ‘Bottreaux Castell‘ (from which Boscastle derives its name); and a farming area on top of the hill. Today old has blended with varying degrees of new and these parts have spread into each other.

The harbour area has a definite old feel to it: stone shops and cottages, potted flowers, narrow streets, cobblestones. Many of the buildings here have been converted to accommodation for the tourist market. A destructive flood in 2004 changed the face of the town permanently, though today you’d never know it happened.

The village has a few pubs – though nothing like the 20-odd it had in the 1700s – which we made our way around for some of our evening meals.

This was the original cobblestoned high street of the old town

Valency River running toward the harbour. The 2004 flood swept down this, taking with it 75 cars, several boats and buildings. Around 100 other buildings were destroyed

Dinner at Cobweb Inn, a great Boscastle pub with tonnes of atmosphere. Dad is doing his usual trick of talking while the photo is being taken

The Wellington Hotel, we had dinner here on our last night

Harbour

Volcanic rock created a natural harbour inlet that a couple of entrepreneurial settlers enhanced into a small port. Boscastle used to be a busy port up until the railway arrived in the region. Today it is the domain of a few fishing boats.

The main pier is on the south side of the harbour and is supported by a smaller outer barrier on the north side. What looks like a walking path to the outer pier, especially at low tide, and albeit with some wet and slippery looking patches, is not actually a walking path, though it could be that the sign advising this is not really noticed until one has in fact completed the return walk along it.

There are a couple of good short walks from the village alongside the harbour and up to elevated points on either side. For the more extreme walker, there is a coastal path which extends some seven miles.

On the main pier behind the inner harbour looking back toward the village. In behind, the harbour winds in an S shape from the mouth to the outer pier, which was rebuilt in the 1960s after being destroyed through the combination of a drifting German mine post-WWII and subsequent storms

The entry to Boscastle Harbour

Headland & coast

Some consolation for not staying down near the harbour were the features of interest up near us.

Track up to the Coastwatch Lookout at Willapark. This headland was home to a fort around 2500 years ago. The building you can see was originally a summer house in the 1800s, then used as a lookout to deter smuggling, before becoming a coastguard station. In the last 10 years it has resumed its function as an active coastal lookout

Along the cliff tops at the left you can see the coastal path. I was keen to walk some of this but ended up running out of time

From Willapark looking down to Penally Point and the harbour entry

Forrabury & common

Forrabury Church, St Symphorian’s, has an elevated position above town and was 2 minutes walk from our house. It is a family church so mum visited a couple of times. I liked the graveyard… and the fact that 3G coverage was possible just beyond the church

Forrabury Common (or ‘Stitches’) lies between the church and the sea and dates back to Celtic times. The land has been divided into strips, about 40 in this case. These days it is owned by the National Trust but is still farmed using the original crop rotation method. Locals also walk their dogs there

Sunset over Willapark and the Lookout

Me freezing while watching the sunset just beyond the church

Technology

Internet access was a frustrating aspect to the week, mainly as I had hoped to keep more on top of the blog than was possible in reality. Access existed here and there if you knew where to find it and this information was hard to come by. I sniffed out 3G access and a couple of inns in town had wifi, I eventually realised, which prompted some of our evening meal routines.

The Falcon Hotel in the nearby town of Bude with me sitting in front using their unsecured wifi

Unfortunately during this week my DSLR camera sucked the kumara. First the autofocus went on the shorter lens and for several days I diddled around with manual focusing, which I grew to enjoy. But then an error message kept appearing when using both lenses and I gave up on it in disgust. So for half the trip I had to use my little Canon compact.

Activities

We didn’t spend all that much time around the village as several day trips were planned. Below is a summary of the week, though many things will require separate follow up posts to do them justice.

Day 1: After a welcome sleep-in the plan was to take advantage of the good forecast and jump back in the car for a day trip back into Devon. This also seemed like a good way to mark that it was Mother’s Day in NZ. We lunched in the nearby town of Bude and stopped again at the village of Kilkhampton where mum chanced a visit with someone she knew. Our main destination though was Clovelly, the very quaint village which I have covered separately.

Day 2: A wet day so we hung around Boscastle. It only rained lightly and cleared up in the afternoon. While it was still grey and moody I ventured up to the Stitches and Willapark and found some great views of the wild coastline. Later on we ventured down into the village and moseyed through the shops – I did not come away empty handed – and along the harbour. In between that and dinner I zoomed back to Bude to pinch some wifi. This was before I knew that we’d find good wifi at the Napoleon Inn where we went for tea.

Day 3: A long day out and about. We stopped by the coastal towns of Port Isaac (where Doc Martin is filmed, those of you who this means anything to), Padstowe, Penzance and Mousehole. The main destination was the southern-most point in England, The Lizard. I preferred to go here rather than perhaps the more obvious Lands End. Not far from here is a big naval air base and we scooted into a viewing area as a helicopter was landing which was pretty cool. On the way home we drove through Bodmin Moor and dad and I were stoked to find the road goes through an old air force base, complete with ruins of buildings and runways.

Day 4: We drove to Tintagel, a few miles from Boscastle, to look at the castle ruins. I had planned to walk five miles of the coastal path from there back to Boscastle, but upon seeing the walk required over to the castle and the extent of the ruins, and given that the castle is quite legendary with reputed links to King Arthur, I put the walk on the backburner. We returned to Bodmin Moor in the afternoon for mum to stop at a couple more family churches and for dad and I to go through the museum of the old air base we came across the day before.

Day 5: Another big day in parts of Cornwall and Devon. Our southern route took us through Launceston, Tavistock, Dartmoor, and Widcombe-in-the-Moor, and possibly another church or two. Dad had well and truly lost count by this stage. Our main destination was the coastal city of Plymouth where there was loads to look at including navy ships, memorials for wars and ships of settlers bound for NZ, and preparations for hosting the Olympic torch relay. This was our final night in Boscastle.

I really liked Cornwall and would like to return to see the things I didn’t get time to. That family originated there is a nice bonus as I just really enjoyed its picturesque and historical features.

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