The English Moors…. images of ominous skies, fog, forbidding landscapes, but also desolate beauty, hiking – and ponies! Take Dartmoor, forever linked to The Hound of the Baskervilles, perhaps the most famous Sherlock Holmes story of them all. We recently went exploring the large Dartmoor National Park, cragging up some of the Tors (rocky outcrops) with cool names like Hound Tor – not named after The Hound apparently. I couldn’t help but sing ”You ain’t nothin’ but a Hound Tor, craggin’ all the time” which my wife said was an insult to Elvis. We did not spot any hounds nor caught any rabbits but did see one, as well as wild ponies, horses and cattle wandering about, including on the roads. What we also spotted and stop at was a little bakery/café for some delicious tea & scones with clotted cream and jam. You’ll find these all over Devon and Cornwall and it is fun to get into the local preferences on whether to put on jam first or cream. It’s like whether to put milk in tea first or add it after pouring the tea. We didn’t mind either way, as long the discussion was short so we could dig in!
And then there’s Bodmin Moor and the Jamaica Inn … Fans of Daphne du Maurier will feel a tingling up and down their spine hearing that foreboding name! No pirates or smugglers or horrible landlords anymore though: the lunch was good, the pint tasty, and the staff very friendly! We had a long look around, spending some time in the small but neat area history museum. You can’t miss it: Jamaica Inn is quite large and offers lodging, a restaurant, pub and large outdoor patio, complete with an ominous looking pirate head with parrot sign that swings and creaks in the wind….
Continuing west, just half an hour from the Jamaica Inn, you’ll find the Eden Project. This former giant china clay pit is now a huge eco-project with enormous Biomes that may help us understand – and save – the rainforests. It shares this purpose and interest with Prince Charles’ Rainforests Project. Charles, the Prince of Wales, is also known as the Duke of Cornwall. Way too much info for this blog so, I recommend you have a look at their very informative website (click here). A little further down the road you’ll find the “Lost Gardens of Heligan”: had to mention it, as they were “saved” by a fellow countryman, Dutchman Tim Smits. Click here for further info.
Next, we spend a week in Penzance, staying in a wonderfully charming Bed & Breakfast, a short walk from the centre. Didn’t see any pirates except one glued onto a pub roof! Penzance is a perfect base to explore Cornwall’s far west and has a lot to offer in the town itself. See the unexpected façade of the Egyptian House right in the centre or visit the Penlee House Gallery with its interesting West Cornwall history museum. Nearby Land’s End has nice hiking paths and all around are little towns boast surprisingly good restaurants, We found a great one in Mousehole, pronounced “MOOS-ull” or “MOWZ-ull” but never the way too obvious for British English “mouse hole”! and everywhere lots of pubs with tasty local brews.
Fun fact: did you know that the Cornish coast has become a bit of a surfer’s mecca? Especially the north coast with the town of Bude near Port Isaac has become quite a draw. It gets a bit nippy though, so be prepared, bring at least a good surfer shirt or, even better, a wet suit (yes, those are, oddly, the ones that keep you dry. A dry suit is too loose and has too much drag for surfing). The area has another famous and more contemporary claim to fame linked to Cornwall: “Doc Martin”, the grumpy yet lovable TV doctor from the British ITV series, played par excellence by Martin Clunes. The fictional village of Portwenn is really Port Isaac (click here for town website) near Tintagel. Also on the north side, a mere 9 miles above Penzance is St. Ives, pretty little town and long-time artist colony, well worth a day’s trip to visit galleries, shops and cafes.
Cornwall has so much to offer, one could spend weeks there but, to me, a “must-see” highlight is St. Michael’s Mount. This ancient little island with its Castle and Chapel can be reached via a Causeway made out of granite setts – but only at low tide, as it’s underwater the rest of the time! When dry, you can walk across (and official vehicles can drive) to visit this cool spot, quite the fun adventure, while keeping the tide tables and time in mind. It’s just off the coast at Marazion, a very short drive from Penzance.
Cornwall is easy to get to. We flew into London and rented a car. Breaking up the drive – like, at the Jamaica Inn – is a good idea, as it’s about 5 hours straight from London to Penzance. Leaving is easy too. After our Cornwall stay, we dropped the rental car at the small regional but surprisingly well served Newquay Airport (NQY) and flew out to Gatwick on FlyBe. They have flights from NQY to many additional UK airports such as Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and also Belfast in Northern Ireland, rain or shine, which is a good thing here, but check their website (click here), as they’re not all dailies. Without a car, there are plenty easy trains to and from the east. And yes, you can take your Hound Dog on the train – but please don’t sing the song: it wouldn’t be high-class! Sorry, Elvis…