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Our trip to the British Isles

10 September to 11 September

London to Cornwall

 

For a full description of towns and sites visited see Towns Visited

Tuesday morning, 10 September 2002

Wake-up call was for 5:45.  We were spending our second night at the Regent Palace on Piccadilly Circus.  Breakfast was a box continental, and after finishing that we went downstairs to get onto the bus.  We chose seat 29/30 toward the back, right side.  At 7:25 the bus pulled out for Victoria Station to pick up 5 more of our group.  This was our first “loo” stop!  When loaded there were 52 of us plus our guide Caroline Neilon and driver Gary.  22 Canadians, 14 Australians, 12 Americans and 4 New Zealanders.  The bus, a Volvo, was set-up for 53 passengers, so the middle of the bench seat at the back was unoccupied.  Seats were a bit cramped, and there was not a great amount of legroom.  There was the bus A/C plus personal A/C at each seat.  Each day everyone moved 2 seats in a counter-clockwise direction so were able to meet new folks across the aisle.

 

From Victoria Station we made our way to M3 and A303 via several streets, passing such landmarks as Harrods, Earls Court Exhibition Building, the Hammersmith Bridge, Rugby Stadium in Twickingham, Chiswick – the modern name for Cheese Wick – a medieval cheese manufacturing area.  By 9:15 we were well into the farming lands west of London.  The hay was baled, most of the grain combined and the straw baled and poly-wrapped, some row crops – corn, sugar beets.  Very little pasture land and no livestock visible.  The land is too valuable and pastures too inefficient, so cattle and sheep are fed in paddocks, barns, etc.  Further along A303 the land became rolling hills with sheep and Holstein-Friesian cattle in pasture land.  In Canada we call the cows Holsteins but I noticed Caroline called them Friesians.  They are a dairy type of cow.  There were more trees than I expected.

 

At 9:50 we stopped at Stonehenge for the loo and view of the Stones.  Also saw some of the barrows – believed to be burial mounds for the people who died on the job building Stonehenge.  Although Caroline promised us a perfectly flat plain upon which Stonehenge sits, we found the land to be gently rolling low hills.  In fact, for a lot of England, gently rolling land with low hills is the most common topography.  The day was sunny and warm.

 

From Stonehenge we backtracked a bit to Amesbury then down A345 to Salisbury and the Cathedral there.  Salisbury was a market town in Medieval times and is the meeting place of three rivers: the Avon, Nadder and Bourne.  After touring the cathedral and lunch of bread and cheese on the grounds, Lois & I went down town to the open air market.  At 1:15 all were back on the bus and we continued on A303 into the County of Devon.  Still lots of agriculture but now seeing more cattle, both dairy and beef.  Many farm tractors, and all are big 4-wheel drive and from 70 hp up.  Fords, Massey-Ferguson, New Holland and John Deere most common, with some European models occasionally.  Many fields are flat and at least 50 acres, and divided by hedgerows.  Lots of trees along the road, most hosting English Ivy on their trunks and lower branches. 

 

One feature of the buildings that is common is the insertion of flint nodules in the concrete that helps form the exterior walls.  Noticed this last week when traveling with our friends the Croxfords and Davies.  All buildings are built from brick, stone or concrete blocks, occasionally faced with concrete or mortar.  Even the barns and outbuildings are of these materials.  There are no wood frame constructed buildings.  The roofs of the older buildings were made with wood rafters, then strapped horizontally with lumber – likely 2 x 4’s – at appropriate intervals and slate tiles nailed to the strapping.  Wide spacing of the rafters plus the weight of the tiles means that many roofs have lots of sagging.  Roofs on modern houses are manufactured wood trusses spaced at 2 foot centres, so sagging should not be a problem.

 

At 3:25 made a loo stop at the Exeter Services on M5, then on A38 to Plymouth where we spent two nights at the Strathmore Hotel.  There was a harbour tour of Plymouth for those who chose it.  Otherwise a walking tour of the harbour area, the Mayflower Steps, the Glass Factory (retail store), the Royal Citadel, and the Hoe – the area where Sir Francis Drake was bowling when the Spanish Armada was sighted.  Our hotel, the Strathmore, was a short distance from the Hoe.  Supper was at the hotel and the cod & chips were terrible!  We had a walk on the Hoe after supper; it was a lovely night, and we had a view of the whole harbour area.  Thus ended our first day of the bus trip.

 

Wednesday, 11 September

Left the hotel for a tour of the County of Cornwall via the Tamar Bridge.  The Tamar River is the boundary between Devon and Cornwall, and to leave Plymouth (west) is to leave Devon and enter Cornwall.  The Cornish people are very nationalistic re: a Free Cornwall, and fly their own flag a lot more than the Union Jack.  The Cornish flag is a silver-gray cross on a black background, and was much in evidence.  Cornwall has an area of 1359 square miles.  The national saint is St Peran, who floated over from Ireland on a millstone.  Another saint of importance is St Ia, again Irish, who floated over on a leaf.  Ia has the town of St Ives named after her. 

 

In Cornwall we were on A38, and the land became more hilly but still agricultural with sheep, beef and dairy herds, corn, hay and a lot of pasture land.  Many trees also – even forests.  Some of the land was too steep to farm.  We followed the valley of the Fowey R (pronounced foy) which in places was 200 – 300 feet wide (the valley, that is), and these areas were farmed.  After 25 miles or so we got on to A30 and the land smoothed out somewhat, though there were still some steep valleys.  A few miles to the south are the Cornwall Alps, from which China Clay is mined, and is an important export for Cornwall.  However, the most important industry is tourism; the export of flowers is a big business in both Cornwall and the Scilly Islands, 23 miles off Lands End.  There are several “wind farms” in Cornwall – groups of windmills producing electricity.  Later saw same in other parts of the British Isles.

 

Mining of tin and copper was very important during the 18th to 20th centuries, but the mines have played out, and the last one, South Crosty, closed 2 or 3 years ago.  In the mining heyday there were 340 mines and some 50,000 men, women and children working at mining.  The men would dig the ore and have it hoisted to the surface where the women and children would break up the rock to get at the minerals.  Underground tin and copper mining here was rated 3 times as dangerous as coal mining.  The Cornish pasty was developed as a miner’s lunch.  It was a casing of pastry enclosing a mixture of potatoes, onion, meat and turnip, generally well seasoned.  A thickened edge of pastry served as a handle, and the miners initial was sometimes carved into the pastry before baking.  Sometimes also, a fruit filling would be at one end of the pasty – main course and dessert in one easy package!

 

The major weeds the farmers have to contend with are heather and gorse.  Both are tough bushes with lovely flowers, very prolific and hard to get rid of.  Burning has proved to be most successful.  The average farm size is 168 acres, and major crops are grains (oats, wheat, barley), corn, potatoes and sugar beets.  Many foods such as turnip, cabbage, onion, parsnip, broccoli and peppers are imported.

 

At 10:10 made a stop at the Cornish Goldsmiths, not too far from Penzance.  Chance to do some shopping for gold jewelry and gazing at £1,000,000 in gold bars and another £1,000,000 in £5 bank notes.  Also, the car James Bond had in Goldfinger was on display here.  Then on the St Michaels Mount for a photo stop, a drive through the city of Penzance followed by one of the best drives of the whole trip – across the peninsula and along the Atlantic to St Ives.  The road we followed was narrow, lots of twists and turns, and several times traffic had to back up to wider spaces in the road so that passing was possible.  There was one farm with a herd of Guernsey cattle, but mostly there was wasteland.  The hills were very steep, quite high, covered with ferns (also known as bracken), heather, gorse and often very rocky with boulders and/or ledges.  Most tops of hills were rocky outcrops.  There were no trees; there was a short shrub that reminded me of juniper and it was widespread.  After crossing the peninsula we drove along the coast of the Atlantic.  The hills ran right to the sea and were as barren as those just described.  There are three or four settlements along this road, consisting of 4 or more houses.  The road is so narrow that there was a real danger of the bus hitting the eaves of the houses.  Had a photo stop at the remains of an old ventilation shaft and hoist house.  There are many of these scattered throughout the countryside.  Most are in ruins as they have not been used for many decades.  We soon arrived at St Ives where we did a walking tour of the town.  At 3:00 we headed back to the hotel in Plymouth, no stops.  No supper provided that night so we made do with “cup-of-soup”, bread & cheese, yogurt, milk and cookies.  And whiskey!

 

Page 1- London to Cornwall
Page 2 - Cornwall to Ireland
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