9.45 a.m. is a good time for a departing train. It gave us a reasonable amount of time to get ready in the morning while, at the same time, gave us a good amount of time to do a few things at our destination. Being May Day bank holiday the train was fully booked. It was a good thing I'm so organized and pre-booked our tickets ages ago. The one thing I hate about train travel when you haven't reserved seats is that someone can come along at any stage during your journey and ask you to move because they have reserved the seats you're sitting in, so you're never certain of a comfortable trip, especially if it's a long one.
The last time we had rolled out of Paddington station was when we went to watch the All Blacks in Cardiff. It was just going on winter then and the countryside was looking a little bleak. It is now spring and nature is out in force adding a sense of optimism to the days. People are more cheerful and life is good.
The trains were on time so we rolled into Plymouth at about 2.00 pm. Plymouth was bustling on this beautiful sunny afternoon and it soon became apparent that it is definitely a student town. The university plays a big part in the city with advertisements everywhere for "student" this "student" that. There are young adults everywhere, but differences between Plymouth youth and London youth is marked. Whereas London youth are threatening and aggressive, Plymouth youth are active, polite and enthusiastic about life. Walking amongst them is a pleasure and their zest for life is infectious. Justine and I were laughing and skipping our way through the Hoe and Barbican (and just so you know, it isn't gay for a guy to skip, as long as he's with a girl). Park. We made our way down to the seaside and took a stroll along the promenade and the pleasure boat dock area. There are some great little pubs and eateries down there, however, we were a little concerned for the health of the Plymouthians (for want of a better word) as Plymouth must surely be the fish 'n' chip shop capital of the world. I swear we counted 5 fish 'n' chip shops out of 8 shops together down by the docks with 3 of them right next to each other. There are, of course many many more throughout the city. Fish 'n' chips seems to be a way of life down here in SW England.
Down by the docks are the May Flower steps where the first Pilgrims boarded the Mayflower destined for Massachusetts in America. There isn't much left of the steps now, if anything, but there are markers there nonetheless showing where the American legend first began.
Walking further around the bay we had a drink at a waterside bar where some mis-guided f***wit was throwing his pitbull terrier into the sea as some twisted show of machismo to his mates. The dog obviously did not want to go in the water, but at the same time couldn't disobey his master when he was told to "come here". It is no wonder these types of dogs (favoured by idiots) have social human interaction problems when this type of confusing messages are given to them.
Our last stop before we retired back to the hotel was a nice little bar restaurant where we blew our budget and had a really nice dinner and drink. Lovely jubbly.
Back at the hotel we were hardly in the door when the resident boarder collie Katie had her toy plastic hamburger out shuffling it towards us with her nose so that we could play with her. Justine distracted her with a throw into the sitting area while I quickly sneaked past and shot up to our room to let us in.
The room we had was pleasant enough but there were a couple of issues. The first was the beds that slopped to one side, meaning any turn could lead to a fall. The mattresses were probably as old as the house. The second issue concerned the toilet cistern, For some reason the proprietor had fitted a "toilet shredder" to the back of the bog, and whenever somebody flushed the toilet or turned on the tap, a horrendous blender-type racket erupted from the "shredder". Now I'm assuming that the necessity for this device has something to do with the set up of the house, otherwise there must be a serious problem with constipation in Plymouth for a shredder to be needed to pulp someone's fecal matter before it is acceptable for flushing. All the same, it is bloody annoying. Not only does the shredder keep going for an ungodly amount of time, but you can also hear all the other room's shredders going at all hours.
Despite the issues described above, all was forgiven in the morning when the complementary full English breakfast was served. Oh what a wonderful healer food can be.
The day dawned overcast and was destine to remain that way for the rest of the day. On the way to the station the streets of Plymouth were empty. The students must be sleeping off their hangovers from Saturday night. As we approached the station, I was amazed to discover that not all students bothered to go home to sleep off the nights reveling. What appeared to be the victim of an assault, on closer inspection, was simply some dude who'd obviously just fallen asleep where he'd fallen in the middle of the footpath. People just walked on past as this guy lay sprawled on the concrete with his cellphone lying next to him. I went over to see if he was ok, but he was just snoring his head off and there was no obvious sign of injury so I let him sleep it off.
We bought ourselves a Devon Sunday Rover pass for 5 pound, which allowed us to use the Tamar Valley Train line as well as the intercity buses throughout the Devon and Dartmoor area all day. We got on the train that twists and turned its way up the Tamar Valley from Plymouth to Gunnislake and back again every 2 hours. Our plan was to switch to the bus network at Gunnislake and make our way into the heart of Dartmoor National Park to catch a glimpse of the world famous barren moors that spawned the Sherlock Holmes novel "The Hound of the Baskervilles". However, the logistics of that exercise proved to be too difficult, we decided to do a more modest loop between Plymouth and Gunnislake. Although we did get to see some of the Dartmoor hills in the distance from the bus. The Tamar Valley line is a very quiet little provincial run with just two carriages that meanders its way up the constant incline through some lovely countryside. Some of the stations a long the way are picture postcard little English village stations that conjure up images of the Famous Five and their "splendid" adventures through Devon and Somerset with lashings of ginger beer. At one stage the train stops and driver jumps out of his cabin onto the platform, unlocks an electrical box and manually changes the tracks. The train reverses and carries on its merry way in the new direction.
At Gunnislake we got out and took a walk around the town and down by the riverside before the scheduled bus arrived two hours later. Nothing much to see but we did have some "cream tea" done in the traditional way with clotted cream at a cool little country pub, the Taverstock Tavern. They were very helpful and told us where the best spots around Dartmoor were.
After tea, (Jeez we're starting to sound like real nanas now) we moseyed on down to the bus stop to get the next bus to Tavistock. As we waited Justine thought it would be a good idea to ask the guy waiting at the bus stop on the other side of the road whether we were at the right place. Of course it was me who had to do the asking. I was halfway across the road when the guy stood up and went "Goo - ap - ap" wrapped his arms around the back of his head, clapped twice rolled his eyes and scrunched up his face. O...kay, I think the only information we're going to get out if him was whether his farts had lumps. As I turned back, I started to feel the "Deliverance" movie feeling all over again.
A woman, or what seemed to be a woman, emerged from a nearby house. She must have been close to the most unfortunate looking person I had ever seen. One leg was shorter than the other, her tiny features and no lips were all squashed into a moon-like face and her hunched torso tapered down into two varicose-veined stick-like legs. To top it off she wore a singlet and a pair of denim shorts. She said hello to the "clapping guy" as if she felt sorry for him.
As the bus finally pulled up, clapping guy shouted out "Tavistock ... Tavi T- T- Tavistock". Thus we knew we had the right stop.
Tavistock was nice little town and we wandered around for about an hour until the connecting bus to Yelverton arrived. Justine commented that she could easily live in Tavistock, which seemed to be a theme for Justine the whole way around Cornwall. The bus taking us to Yelverton, which was in the heart of Dartmoor National Park, was also heading back to Plymouth. So as we pulled into Yelverton and saw what was there ..... nothing ... we stayed on the bus all the way back to Plymouth. We caught a view of the Dartmoor moors as we were traveling, but nothing to write home about.
Arrived back in Plymouth, we had to walk a fair distance back to the train station to catch the Tamar Valley line back out again. This time our destination was the little riverside town of Calstock. Getting off the train we bumped into a Scottish guy who'd been living on Waiheke Island for the past 5 years helping a vineyard convert to organic. He gave us a tip on where to invest our money, but of course I can't tell you or I'd have to kill you. He told us that Calstock was a little like Waiheke in that people just seemed to wash up there and just stayed. We could see why too. It was a picture postcard little town nestled on the banks of the Tamar River. A beautiful viaduct spans the river, which carries the train we had just come from. As you walk through the town everybody knows everybody else and there is a great mix of people living in harmony. Even the cats are really friendly. Justine and I spent a good 30 minutes playing with them. We were going to get straight back on the train as it cam back from Gunnislake, but we liked it so much we decided to stay until the next rain came back 2 hours later. After a walk through the surrounding fields along the river, we came back into the village for a pint. One pint turned into 2 and would have turned into 5 if the train wasn't soon to arrive. The pub was great albeit too smokey. When the time came to leave we were both more than a little cut. It turned out the beer we were drinking, Kronenburg, is nick-named "Kronen-bastard" by the locals due to its high alcohol content and its intoxicating effects.
Staggering back to the train station, we made it back on the last train to Plymouth. Hunger was starting to set in now and I was left once again with the responsibility of feeding Justine before it all kicked off. I was sure we would find something near the hotel, but Justine was unconvinced and threatened to slit my throat in the night if I was wrong. As luck would have it, a great bar/restaurant called Slippers was just down the road. We stuffed ourselves on rissoles and desserts until we were near popping. Quite reasonably priced too. There was nothing left but to walk off the food, then bed.
It was checkout-time in the morning after a full English breakfast and a wee chat with the proprietor. We took our bags down to the train station expecting there to be a left-luggage place ....ah ....no! We had to carry our bags to wherever we decided to go today. Luckily we'd packed comparatively light. We decide to take another small train line to the Cornish coast to a town called Looe.
What a beautiful place. A lot of English tourists go there for the holidays and we could see why. The sun was shining, glistening off the tidal river that runs through the town. The fantastic medieval old buildings rise up the hills on either sides glistening in the sun, inviting images of a by-gone era when fishermen and smugglers alike frequented this medieval town. Justine and I couldn't believe our luck at stumbling across this gem of a place. Immediately we knew we'd be here for the rest of the day.
Looe is everything I imagined a traditional old Cornish fishing village to be ... and more. Character just oozes from every corner. As you can imagine, Cornish pasty stores abound alongside lovely English tearooms and traditional pubs. There is quite a nice little beach at the mouth of the river and a great walk along the top of the cliffs overlooking the sea.
After lunch (Cornish pasty and a cake ... of course), we walked through the tiny streets of lovely old building to the top of the cliffs and walked around to another town further along the coast. This town was a lot more contemporary and obviously caters to the holiday home set. The little beach there is quite nice too and it was here we witnessed, in true quirky English tradition, something slightly bizarre. As we came down the hill into a bunch of houses near the beach we saw a lovely grey cat come out of a driveway and makes its way down to the sand. It was a particularly friendly cat even for Cornwall and seemed to enjoy Justine's patting and cuddling. After it had had enough of us, it headed off onto the sand and into the tidal pools nearby, making funny meowing noises. There were two little girls playing in the pools and it soon became apparent the cat was trying to get their attention. Justine and I looked on thinking that it was quite unusual for a cat to enjoy walking and lying in the sand, but this one obviously did. At this point an older couple appeared on the scene with a little dog and proceeded to walk off along the beach with the dog in tow. Suddenly from behind us another cat came along, a black one this time. As the couple and the dog walked along, the black cat followed. This was quite novel in itself, but what really raised our eyebrows was the sight of the grey cat running over to play with the black cat and the dog in the sand. Who would have believed it, a family with two cats, a dog and two children all playing on the beach together. Bizarre. Luckily we caught it all on video. Once the family had left the beach with animals in tow, we headed back to Looe for a spot of afternoon tea at Millies tearoom (Nanas again).
As the sun descended on our day, it was time to make our way back to the train and Plymouth in time to make our scheduled train back to London (oh joy!). As it turned out, the train we got back to Plymouth was actually headed back to London. So we decided to stay on it until we got to Exeter where we were scheduled to change anyway. We couldn't stay on the train because we'd have to pay an extra 20 pounds. F*** that! So we got off and had dinner on the lawns of the University of Exeter. The train from there back to London was stifling hot due to broken AC and before long we were feeling pretty sick so we asked the conductor if we could move. Our carriage was packed so we were relieved to find that the carriage further down to the front was virtually empty and a whole lot cooler. Thanks for telling us about it earlier conductor man!
We rolled into Paddington station at 10.30 pm feeling pretty exhausted. We'd had a great time and really loved Cornwall. Reminds me a bit of home except with a lot more history, but less mountains and rugged country. Highly recommend Cornwall.