Sunday, August 21, 2011

The north coast of Cornwall

We left Penzance Thursday morning under cloudy skies and with a hopeful forecast of no rain. We once again headed towards the end of the peninsula and the town of St. Just. On the way there we spotted this stack. It is a remnant of the mining industry in this area.

There was a field full of heifers across the road and this inquisitive girl asked to get her picture taken. The cows and sheep have not seen a lot of bicyclists and will stare or stampede when we ride past.

North of St. Just is the Levant Mine museum site. The north coast of Cornwall had a long history of copper and tin mining. There are deposits that become exposed on the cliffs and were mined in ancient times with diggings straight into the cliff. Later on in the 1800's vertical mine shafts were drilled in the cliff and then extended out under the sea floor. The submarine complex of the Levant mine extended for a mile out from the land.

There are mine shafts all over the land like the one pictured below and the stacks were associated with steam engines that powered equipment to raise and lower men and ore.

The Levant mine was one of the largest and most successful employing 550 men in it's heyday.

The beam steam engine is enormous.

As we pedaled onward to St. Ives we enjoyed the beautiful vistas of the land meeting the sea.

As we rode we realized the south coast of the peninsula is protected and heavily wooded, but the north coast is exposed and is a totally different landscape. The north coast has a history of more shipwrecks since it is a lee shore with a north wind blowing boats onto the rocks below the cliffs. On Friday we left St. Ives and had to endure another day of glorious Cornwall coast. The Hell's Mouth was spectacular.

We ate lunch across the road and the food at the cafe was not at all in keeping with it's name.

The heather is in full bloom and creates a beautiful tapestry of color across the hills.

We have been drinking a lot of St. Austell ale since we visited the brewery. There is another large brewery in Cornwall called Skinner's. One of it's popular ales is Betty Stogs. We like Betty and were curious about her legend.

One barman said she was a prostitute. We did some further research and found out she was a wild girl who was raised by drunken parents. She got pregnant and was rushed to the altar with a local ne'er do well. She took to drinking after having the baby and didn't take care of it. So fairies came and took the child and cleaned it up. In the story, she and her husband are so scared by the loss of the baby that when they find it they give up drinking and live happily ever after. On the bottle and on the taps, Betty is represented in her dissolute state. A little further up the road were the North Cliffs.

We ended the day in St. Agnes in a B&B that was more like a boarding house. The old woman who ran it had a lot of family visiting and it was like a zoo. On Saturday we left St. Agnes in a light rain to ride the final 15 miles of our bicycle journey to Newquay. On the way there we spotted this sign and were glad we had not planned on visiting this attraction.

We have mentioned the steepness of the hills we have been cycling through so, although we did not go that way, this sign demonstrates the range of possibilities. Our European trip is coming to a close. We began our last full day of riding with a morning of rain, but then in the afternoon the weather cleared to a glorious Cornish afternoon.

Tomorrow we catch a train to Leicester and the hospitality of our friends Anne and Steadroy. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mount St. Michael (again?) and Land's End

On Tuesday morning we were checking out of the Angel Hotel in Helston when the receptionist asked where we were going. When we mentioned Penzance, she asked if we wanted to stay in the Angel's sister hotel and then mentioned that to a gentleman in the office. He asked how we were getting there and we said by bicycle. He volunteered to take our luggage and so we rode unloaded to Penzance. It turned out that he was the owner of both hotels! As we got close to Penzance it was low tide and we looked across the bay and saw St. Michael's mount.

The tide was low enough to walk on the causeway to the island and we had unloaded bikes as well. Mont St. Michel and St. Michael's mount are two of the four places where the archangel Michael has been seen. He appeared in 495 at St. Michael's mount to warn some fishermen from washing up on the rocks. A religious community was founded on the mount and built a church and other buildings. The mount was transferred to the religious order at Mont St. Michel in 1080. Mont St. Michel's hold on the mount diminished during the 100 Years War with France. The religious community was disbanded during the reign of Henry VIII and the mount was held by various noblemen as a strategic fortification until 1659. In 1659 Colonel John St. Aubyn bought the mount and his heirs have made it the family home since then.

There are symbols of both the religious community and the fortified era.

But it is a really neat residence that the St. Aubyn family has lived in for 12 generations.

We got on the bikes on Wednesday to ride to Land's End, the most western point of England. There was a drizzle that turned into rain that stopped after about 5 miles. Land's End is so famous that it has become a major tourist attraction. We rode up to huge parking lot with lots of cars and several tour buses. However, we were waved through on our bikes. This sign shows how many lighthouse beacons surround Land's End and it's dangerous rocks.

We ate our picnic lunch and then the sun came out. We had a glorious ride back to Penzance. On the way back we stopped at another stone circle, the Merry Maidens.

There are 19 stones in the circle and there is no concrete explanation for their use. However, they were given the name the Merry Maidens by the early Christian church. The legend was that 19 maidens were turned into stone for dancing on the sabbath. This legend was started to discourage the old pagan rites. We finished the day with dinner at the Admiral Benbow Inn. Our desert was a marvelous concoction called Irish Lumpy Bumpy.

It consisted on a bottom layer of pound cake, covered by a layer of flavored cream, topped with whip cream, and then covered in caramel. Mmm... Good!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Observations in southwest England

In each new country on this trip we have had to learn some new roadsigns. Most of the signs are international and fairly easy to understand. Some of the signs we worked up translations for just to make sure our interpretation was right. In England, no translation is necessary but sometimes we have been at a loss. We saw the following sign in Dartmoor National park.

Zebras in Dartmoor? Here was the new zebra.

Most people associate double-decker buses with London. Here was the local bus in Helston.

At the hotels we've had the most unusual bike storage areas. Yes, our bikes are in the cooler with the ales.

The VW van is alive and well as a vehicle in this area. This one is representative of many that we have seen.

We have ridden on some very small roads, lanes in fact. The traffic on the lanes goes slow and pulls into little wide spots to let other traffic go by. Here is one of the "wide spots".

We have found the drivers to be patient and polite. Many main roads through small towns are reduced to one lane due to parked cars in one lane. Drivers from both directions approach that spot carefully and take turns passing through the area. We think that the physical dimensions of the roads have made drivers here to be thoughtful and considerate. By the way,you can tell you are in England when there is a sign in the bathroom saying "Please don't put tea bags down the toilet".

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Lizard and Helford estuary

The people of southwest England have been very helpful and kind. They remind us of the southern Italians since they are also eager to give us directions and recommendations of sights to see. In fact, we have changed our itinerary based on this advice. Land's End, which we will visit in a couple of days, has the reputation of being the southernmost point in England. However, that is wrong and Lizard Point has that honor. On Sunday, we rode out to Lizard and enjoyed the views and glorious sunshine.

The structure shown above is the old lifesaving station from 1914. We also stopped at Kynance cove with it's beautiful cliffs and beach.

After our ride it was beer o'clock and we stopped at the famed Blue Anchor and enjoyed some of the best beer in Cornwall. We tried four different ales, Bens's Stout, the Special, an ale brewed in honor of the royal wedding of Will and Kate (WnK) and the Middle, the most popular ale. They were great and we also had a good time talking to two locals about the local fishery which includes crabbing and lobster pots.

On Monday we headed out to see the Helford river estuary. Here is an example of some of the forest along the roads we have ridden during the last 12 days. The forest will often hang over the road as well and we plunge into the darkness of deep woods as we descend to a stream or creek.

We stopped at a local farm for a Cornish pasty for lunch. They are the fast food in this area, were filled with steak and potatoes, and were delicious.

The tide was quite low today and frustrated our efforts to take our 13th ferry ride. The picture below is from a tributary of the estuary.

We headed back to Helston in misty conditions. On Tuesday we head out for Penzance.

Monday, August 15, 2011

St. Austell to Helston

On Thursday we spent an extra day in St. Austell and it was well worth it. We researched our train trip to central England to meet up with Anne and Steadroy Henry, went to the Charlestown shipwreck museum and witnessed a special event at the Charlestown harbor. We met a German family who was catching a train at the station with their bicycles and they told us their experiences on the English trains. We watched them load and depart and are prepared now. The special event at the harbor was a tall sailing ship leaving the inner harbor. The boat must be maneuvered by ropes to turn all the corners since the inner harbor entrance is at a right angle to the outer harbor. The inner harbor entrance is on the left hand side of the picture below. Dave got a video of the event, but we are unable to post it.

On Friday we left St. Austell on the National Bicycle Network route 3. The first 7 miles were off road on a gravel walking path. That was fine until we had to climb over a hill and then it was very challenging and slow. We passed through Mevigissey and Portmellon the next two towns on the coast.

We had to push the bikes up very steep grades after each town. It started to rain after Portmellon and a little further down the road we saw this sight through the mist.

It's a castle you can rent for a vacation! There were also small buildings on the estate for rent (gatehouse, gamekeeper's cottage, etc.). Here is a view of the headlands we came across in the morning.

The next town, Veryan, had these unusual round houses. They reminded us of the Italian trulli and the French windmill houses. The legend attached to the round shape is that the devil can't hide in the corner if there are no corners.

We stopped in Philleigh after 22 very challenging and damp miles. On Saturday we left Philleigh and within a short time were on the 12th ferry ride of our trip. Cornwall has many significant rivers draining to the coast and has utilized ferries to cross them rather than build a lot of bridges.

The ride to Helston got easier as the day progressed. We had left the bicycle route and had selected roads that had reasonable grades. We had lunch in this charming pub in Stithians.

As we were leaving the pub, we met some people who asked where we were going. When we said Helston, we were given a hearty recommendation to try the Stingo ales at the Blue Anchor. Cornwall has many thatched cottages and this one particularly caught our eye.

We reached Helston and checked into the oldest hotel in town, The Angel, which has been in operation since the 1500's. We are going to spend a couple of days here exploring the Lizard peninsula and Helford river estuary with unloaded bikes.