It was a bright sunny day as we crossed the Tamar Bridge into Cornwall. A few fluffy white clouds scudded across the blue sky. The river below sparkled in the sunlight. Being a bit geeky, I was more focused on the Royal Albert suspension rail bridge which ran alongside the more modern road bridge. A plaque in large white letters on one end reads ‘I K BRUNEL, ENGINEER, 1859.’
Isambard Kingdom Brunel has a lot to answer for. The first tunnel under the Thames, the Clifton Suspension bridge, most of the major bridges and tunnels for the Great Western Railway, The SS Great Britain, the Renkoi hospital amongst other engineering masterpieces. What an amazing list of achievements for one man – many of them considered impossible at the time. Many of his bridges and tunnels are still in use today, 150 or more years after their construction.
We parked in the massive car park in Looe and walked down to the harbour.
Three people were crabbing from the harbour wall. One man had a bucket almost full with small crabs. We asked him what he did with them as they looked too small for eating. “I just put them back” he replied. It was something to do, I guess.
Shops lined the road alongside the harbour. Bakers, chemists, estate agents and banks. Narrow lanes led away from the harbour. Every street away from the harbour had nothing but gift shops and cafes. They were packed with tourists stopping to look in every shop window and at every restaurant menu. Try as I might I could never understand the appeal. Every shop had the same selection of postcards, buckets and spades, t-shirts, sun hats, keyrings, ornaments and tea towels. Most of the visitors were elderly. Even older than me. Maybe life gets like that. You reach a certain age and all you want to do is shuffle down crowded streets with other old people buying tea towels and ornaments.
Madam went into a gift shop and bought a tea towel.
Cars were moving through the narrow lanes, some not much wider than a car, forcing pedestrians into doorways. It was crowded and chaotic. We fought our way through the crowds to a small sandy beach, briefly admired the scenery and the packed beach and said “Let’s go to Polperro.”
We got back to the car and Madam looked at her phone for directions to Polperro. After much sighing and poking at her phone, she said “It looks as though we needed to book a parking space last April. Most of the websites said don’t even think about driving, they say to take a taxi or the bus.”
She poked a bit more and said “There’s a bus next Tuesday I think,”
I looked at an old-fashioned paper map and said “Let’s go to Fowey instead.”
The only parking in Fowey was at the top of a very steep hill. The town website helpfully told us that it was an easy five-minute walk down to the town and just a little longer back up. Very steep wasn’t an exaggeration. It was ski-jump steep. It was don’t fall over or you will roll 300 yards into the river steep. We staggered crab-like, hanging on to any handrail, down to the harbour.
It was a lovely setting and worth the walk. Sailboats were bobbing about on the river harbour. Hanging flower baskets and boxes were full of a dazzling profusion of petunias, red, white and purple, reflecting in the water below. Tables outside of the pub and coffee shop were packed with people watching the river and enjoying the September sunshine.
We walked back into the town but the crowded narrow streets only had the usual fudge, pasty and gift shops. I wonder where all the locals go for their shopping. There were no grocers, no hardware shop, no regular clothes shops. Unless you live on pasties and ice cream and wear beach clothes all the time you are pretty much out of luck. When I think about it though, that doesn’t sound such a bad life.
The local council had thoughtfully provided a shuttle bus back up to the main car park so we headed towards the bus stop. Unfortunately, every other tourist had the same idea and the queue for the bus stretched halfway down the street. We didn’t have enough time left on our parking to wait in line for a space on the sixteen-seater bus, so we trudged up the long, steep hill pausing many times to catch our breath and admire the scenery.
We stayed for two nights in St Austell so that we had time to visit both the Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan. I’d wanted to see the Eden Project since I first heard of it fifteen years ago and Madam had the Lost Gardens on her bucket list.
The only hotel I could find with availability was a budget chain on the main road near a McDonalds and a KFC. The drab corridors smelled of frying. The room was hot and without air conditioning, so we had to sleep with the window open and got to listen to the local boy racers showing everybody how fast they could drive until the early hours.