When my two daughters mentioned that they were going to Cornwall to spend a week at Falmouth to help my grandson Sam, move from his halls of residence on his university campus into a shared rented property, I decided it was too good an opportunity to miss by not joining them, with me driving down with the caravan.
Although it’s less than three weeks since I arrived home from Bourton-on-the-Water, I quickly got busy looking for a pitch. But that was easier said than done. I was looking for the CL’s of both Clubs. After my fifth “No sorry, we’re fully booked”, I eventually got an offer on a working farm site five miles from my daughters’ rented house.
The mover drove the caravan out from its parking spot onto the drive and I got hitched up the evening before so that I could get away from home by 6am. That way, although the M25 was busy, it was moving well. The route I chose was the familiar M25, M3, A303 and A30. Ninety minutes and 80 miles later, I pulled into the services just south of Stonehenge for a coffee and walkabout. The morning was lovely. Another 80 miles and time for another stop in a handy layby. By now the sunny skies were behind me with heavy rain clouds ahead. Before long, the heavens opened and the rain was torrential all the way from Exeter to Truro. Fortunately, the rain stopped long enough for me to arrive, set up and get connected. I’d arrived at the Caravan Club CL at Eathorne Farm. The site consists of a fairly large field with water, electricity and chemical disposal. In the adjoining field there was some unusual livestock.
The five pitches
I had the company of three Alpacas
For Friday, Sam and I had booked to visit two English Heritage properties. Because of Covid, timed slots need to be booked and paid for online days in advance. The more popular venues get fully booked for several days ahead. The trouble is, you may find your timed slot coincides with a poor weather day. And so it was on Friday – a wet day. Fortunately, my English Heritage membership gives me free admittance, so we decided not to go, and instead rebooked for Saturday.
We arrived at Pendennis Castle at 11 o’clock. The Castle is built on the headland to the western side of the wide inlet known as Carrick Roads. Between the headlands, the estuary is around one mile wide. Pendennis is one of a chain of round artillery forts built in the 1540s at strategic points along the east and south coasts on the orders of Henry VIII.
Because of his break from the Catholic Church, caused by the divorce from his Spanish Queen, and his second marriage to Anne Boleyn, the Pope encouraged European countries to be at war with England, leaving Englands southern shore vulnerable to attack. France and Spain had formed an alliance and were intent on invasion. The area on which the original fort is built is extensive because it has been adapted for use in later campaigns. An artillery barracks was built at the end of the Victorian era.
After seeing Pendennis, we wanted to see the similar fort on the eastern headland, St Mawes Castle. To reach there by road would have required a drive inland to Truro, then a drive down the opposite river bank, a journey of around 40 miles, however, we travelled a much shorter distance and crossed the River Fal by the King Harry chain ferry. A crossing of around 100 yards.
St Mawes is another four-storey artillery fort which together with its partner on the opposite headland would have acted as a deterrent to enemy ships that might have sought to venture into the Fal estuary.
This is the battery at St Mawes
The estuary taken from St Mawes. The Pendennis Battery can be seen below the red dot in the sky.
For Sunday, I had previously booked a timed slot to visit the Eden Project which required a drive of thirty or so miles up the coast. There are not many long stretches of coastal route in Cornwall, so it was necessary to drive inland to Truro then take the A30 for several miles – before coming out again to the coast. The venue is so popular that I had needed to make my booking a week ahead. For a family of four, the entrance fee is an eye-watering £75, but fortunately, the management have an arrangement with Tesco, so Tesco vouchers saw to my admittance. And happily, the long-range weather forecast kept to its promise. The entire project is built into a huge, long-disused clay pit and the current one-way system wends its way along pathways around the sides which have been laid out as gardens and plantations, before finally reaching the bottom of the pit where one enters the biodomes. Each biodome is planted to represent a different region of the world. First, is the Rainforest Biome planted up with trees and vegetation from West Africa and South America. Then in the next biodome, one is walking through a Mediterranean landscape, full of familiar plants and shrubs similar to those found in Spain. A bit further on and one is in Western Australia.
A rubber tree being milked for its sap.
For the younger and more agile visitor there are suspended, rope walkways through the tree tops however, for me, I thought it advisable to keep to the pathways. Altogether – a great, unusual experience.
On the way back I stopped off in Truro to see the Cathedral.
This is the view from across the river
It looks older than what it is. There have been previous cathedrals and churches on the site, all of which have been demolished and the present building was built during the last years of Queen Victoria’s reign and opened by King Edward.
Monday was another lovely day so the four of us arranged to meet up in the car park at St Michael’s Mount. The first car park was full; as was the second, so I ended up in an over-flow field along the road, but with mobile phones, we eventually found each other. We made our way to the beach where we had wonderful views of the Mount. Visiting the castle is by prior booking and also visiting times are subject to the tides, so by the time we were settled for lunch, visitors were leaving the island and the causeway was rapidly beginning to flood.
This is the view from the nearby beach.
The girls and Sam went for a walk along the coastal path, leaving me to sit for a while, before making my way back to the site. This is one of their pictures taken from the cliff walk.
Today was going to be a long drive – again to a pre-booked venue, and we were fortunate with the weather. We were headed eastwards and over to the northern coast. We were going to Tintagel. This Castle is probably more about legend than history. From the 5th to the 7th Centuries the headland was an important stronghold and probably the home of the then rulers of Cornwall. Early English writers also associated the place with Merlin and the birth and life of King Arthur. Then in the 1200s, because of the legends, the Earl of Cornwall had a castle built on the site, however, it was simply a residence and never of any military value.
The Castle is a half-mile or so from the village, first down a steep slope, then upwards to the headland. The final approach is over a newly built suspension bridge.
Fortunately, there is a privately operated fleet of Land-Rovers to ferry we oldies down to the Castle entrance, then later, back up from the beach. Never-the-less, there are some rough, steep pathways and flights of steps to negotiate. But the views are spectacular.
I had thought to visit Port Isaac on the way back. It’s some six or so miles down the coast, but much further by road. Port Isaac is the home of the television’s “Doc Martin and Portwen” The signposts told me that it would add another 20 miles to our trip, but as it had already been a strenuous day, I decided to give it a miss. Even without the Port Isaac diversion, the day’s drive had been 115 miles.
Today was moving day, and it was raining. It was time for me to leave Falmouth and head eastward to spend a few days in Somerset. Packing up had to be done in the wet, then the 140 mile drive up the A30 was an experience best forgotten. Fortunately, by the time I’d reached Exeter, the rain had stopped. I’d decided to break the journey home by booking three nights at Goose Slade Farm, another Caravan Club CL, just outside Yeovil. The speciality of the farm is geese – hundreds of them in the adjoining field. Bedtime for the geese is 6pm and it was fascinating to watch the farmer open the field gate, stand aside, as his three border collies, working together ran around the perimeter of the field to stand in their appointed positions, gently driving the geese out of the field and into three huge barns.
Yeovil is a place which brings back some mixed memories for me. It so happens that seventy-odd years ago I spent two years of my youth just outside the town. At a huge Army Depot – Houndstone and Lufton Barracks. – the home of No 6 Training Battalion, RASC. Its purpose, every twelve weeks, was to turn out a hundred or so vehicle drivers. Because the three companies owned so many vehicles, adjoining the depot was a permanent workshops company. It was with that small company of mechanics, blacksmiths, auto-electricians and painters that I spent almost all of my National Service. But as I found out in 2015 when I last visited, not one shred of the 1950s remains. What used to be a small country town is now a large industrial centre and the army base is now partly shared by an Asda superstore with a filling station and a crematorium memorial garden.
Today I set off to visit Sherborne. My first stop was at the English Heritage Sherborne Old Castle. It’s the ‘old’ castle simply because there is a later privately owned one adjoining the grounds. The old castle was built in the early12th century as a fortified palace for the Bishop of Salisbury who was also the King’s Chancellor. In those days, when the King went to war, his bishops went with him. Besides being ‘men of God’, they were also fighting men. Since they must not draw blood when they killed, their weapon of choice was the mace. After the death of Henry I, there was controversy over the ownership of the Castle. It was to the Church that the ownership was awarded. In the late 1500s, Queen Elizabeth persuaded the church to relinquish the estate to the Crown after Sir Walter Raleigh admired it, and asked her to acquire it for him. The castle was leased to him for 99 years – or at least until he fell out of favour and landed himself in the tower. During the civil war, the castle was held for the King, but after its capture, much of it was dismantled and then left abandoned.
From the castle, I took a walk around the town. Even before the Norman Conquest, there had been a Benedictine Abbey in the town. When Henry VIII gave notice for the Dissolution of the Monasteries the entire Abbey was sold to a local landowner. He, in turn, sold the Abbey Church to the townspeople who kept it as their place of worship.
This is the Abbey Church.
The original Abbey also contained a school and after the Reformation, the school was allowed to continue their work. Some of the monks’ accommodation was also given to the school. Now Sherborne School occupies much of what was once the Abbey buildings.
Shaftesbury, over the county boundary and into Dorset was today’s destination. A parking slot was found in a car park on the edge of town. First stop was to take in the view from the top of Gold Hill.
Over the years this hill has been made famous both as a film and a television advert location. It appeared in the 1967 film “Far from the Madding Crowd.” Then in 1973, there was that famous Hovis advert of the boy with his bike pushing it up the hill accompanied to the theme from Dvorak’s New World symphony. To refresh your memory, here it is;
Finally, Ronnie Barker used the hill in one of his comedy shows. The buttressed walls on the right side of the hill are believed to be the walls of the town’s defences built in the mid-1300s.
At the top of the hill is the site of Shaftesbury Abbey. It was founded by King Alfred as part of the celebrations following a victory over Danish invaders. He installed his daughter Aethelgifu as the first abbess. Just 90 years later the Abbey acquired the bones of King Edward the Martyr who was murdered by his step-mother when visiting her at Corfe Castle. After the Norman conquest, the Saxon church was demolished and a much larger Abbey church was built. Only the footprint of the church is to be seen in the gardens.
Many miracles were attributed to the relics of Edward and together with the patronage of the King and a steady stream of influential travellers, at the time of the dissolution, the Abbey was one of the richest in the country.
Today was the day to head home. Being a Sunday, the roads were busy but without any delays. Even the M25 was fluid.