Two-nighter – Late September 2011
South West Cornwall
The saying goes that too much work can make Jack a dull boy – and it’s no different for Jill… Having worked hard on my writing projects (as well as catching up on long-overdue household jobs) over the past months, a break in the camper was well overdue for Jack & Jill (ie Steve & me), so we booked a pitch down in West Cornwall for a few nights and headed off.
There was no let-up in the rain as we made our way down west, but rather than drive straight to our site, we decided to do a spot of sight-seeing instead. After all, our blog readers don’t want to hear about two campervanners huddling inside their van doing nothing all afternoon, do they? They want to read about a couple of adventuring souls unafraid of battling with the elements and getting soaked to the bone!
The remit for our break away was to make the most of our soon-to-expire National Trust membership, and a visit to Trengwainton Gardens near Penzance was first on our list.
Covering 25 acres, the Gardens were filled with magnolias, an amazing variety of rhododendrons, banana plants and ferns; and some sections would certainly have made a good background in a Jurassic Park-type film.
At this time of year, we’d missed seeing the place in its full glory. Still, there was a large, walled kitchen garden to draw the interest. For some reason, this was built to the dimensions of Noah’s Ark and, given the relentless rain, it looked like we might just need some kind of ark to see us through the afternoon.
One highlight of the kitchen garden was a stunning array of lettuces (looking enviably pristine and snail-free) plus several varieties of squash. It was heartening to see that a few veggie beds had been cultivated by local school children, despite the fact that everything was now going to seed.
After a few hours wandering about the gardens, we were drenched, and headed off to St Buryan, just a few miles away. Our site was the same one we stayed on for our Coast & Carn blog back in May. A pitch in a farmer’s field, it had basic amenities and was away from the hustle & bustle.
A HILL LIKE NO OTHER
The next morning, we awoke to a completely different weather picture of glorious sunshine, which dried all our clothes before we headed off to the coast on another adventure. Our destination was the Levant Mine & Beam Engine site not far from St Just, but on the way, we made an impromptu stop for a walk up what appeared to be ‘just another hill’.
In fact, it turned out to be the most westerly hill in Britain, with a Bronze Age summit cairn of a sort only found in Scilly and West Cornwall. Over the centuries, it has had many uses: a site for burials, a hermitage and chapel (hence the hill’s name, Chapel Carn Brea), a beacon for fishermen, and a military observation post. Pretty amazing!
IN ORE OF THE PAST
Levant Mine and Beam Engine is not only owned by the National Trust but is also a World Heritage Site; and an informative film sets the scene before you wander about the site. Along this coast, whole networks of old mines exist; and you not only get to look down a few mine shafts but there are still remains of buildings and other installations along the coastline which once played a part in the mining process in one way or another – from getting the people down into the mines, to extracting water (many mines went far out to sea) to bringing ores ‘up top’ and finally to processing them.
Unfortunately, I missed out on seeing the beam engine (used to bring up ore) in operation; and the engine house itself was so chock-a-block with tourists, that I couldn’t see who was doing the talk inside. The speaker, however, turned out to be the only surviving member of the original ‘Greasy Gang’ who restored the engine after 60 years sitting idle (the engine, that is, not the Greasy Gang).
Walking along the stunning coastline, with the aged buildings looking out to sea in their retirement years, I couldn’t help thinking about the vast differences between past and present…
For those working outdoors in the mining era, days would have been long and hard; and, having lived in this area years ago, I know the coast can have more than its fair share of dreary, wet and windswept days. Working in the mines meant a long working day, let alone possible dangers such as flooding, arsenic poisoning and pit collapse.
As a tourist visiting Levant today, I had the luxury of basking in the beautiful weather; and the only toiling I did was to lift my camera to take pictures.
The following day was another sunny delight and we were all set to go home – but not before visiting the third and final National Trust property on our list.
Still home to the St Aubyn family, St Michael’s Mount is set opposite the village of Marazion near Penzance, and is an iconic rocky island reachable via causeway at low tide, and boat at high tide. Subtropical gardens frill the island at its base and a steep, cobbled incline leads to a medieval church and castle at the summit.
Somewhere along the line, I had got it into my head that the island was once used by pilgrim monks as a stop-off point before heading to the ‘partner island’ of Mont St Michel across the Channel and beyond. However, the over-riding impression was that the Mount had been used over the years as a battlement – evidenced by the castle’s paintings of soldiers in various eras, numerous weapons on display, and a remaining army defence ‘pillbox’ in the lower grounds.
MAKE NO BONES ABOUT IT!
Now, although it turns out that the Mount was indeed a major pilgrimage destination in the Middle Ages, all manner of myth seems to surround the Mount, so you do have to be careful what you believe… For example, there’s the legend of Jack the Giant Killer, who is said to have slain a giant living on the island. Apparently his bones were found in the 14th Century, but conveniently, I saw none on our visit!
After descending from the stunning views and wind sweeping the summit, we had lunch and made our way home. We might have had only a few days away, but we’d thoroughly enjoyed our break and made good use of our National Trust membership.
CONCLUSIONS & TIPS
- It might seem obvious to say it, but take a trip away even if it’s only for a day or two. Being out of your everyday environment can be most revitalising.
- Plan ahead with meals. I made up some nutritious, tasty grub before we went away (soup & pasta sauce) and put it in tubs so we didn’t have to do much food preparation in the evening. That way, we could make the most of the day and chill out a bit when we were tired later on.
- Take extra wet-weather gear. If it’s rainy one day, you can be wearing a dry mac the next day while the other one dries. Window racks or similar (plus pegs) are also invaluable for drying clothes on!
- If it’s in your line of interest join an organisation like the National Trust or English Heritage. Planning your trips around their destinations will give your trips direction and interest. Since we’d visited most of the NT properties in our area, we decided not to renew our membership, but even if you join for a year, you’re supporting a good cause whilst getting good value for money.
Look out for another Steve’s Cycle Shorts which will be in the virtual post soon. But, answer me this: how can it be that Steve’s doing another one of his Cycle Shorts when he hasn’t even been doing any cycling while we’ve been away? Solve the enigma in our next blog spot.
This year, we packed in most of our travelling in the early season, to spend some quality time at home over the busy summer. But we may just manage to fit in a few more trips before the weather closes in on us and we ‘shut up shop’ on our campervan capering for a while.
In the meantime, we have another mini adventure about The Land of Arthurian Legend which will be posted soon. So stayed tuned if you don’t want to miss it…
You can also read about our adventures in my book Campervan Capers. Available at all major outlets online. Click here for more info.