Back to Britain, Part 14
Landís End and Penzance
June 10-25, 2003 (Updated Nov. 28, 2003)
Monday, June 23, 2003 Ė To Landís End
We had mild and sunny weather for our last day in Cornwall. We took advantage of the gorgeous day by driving a 30-mile loop around the extreme southwest coast, stopping at several places along the way including Landís End and Penzance.
Driving south on the narrow road along the coast, we passed several abandoned mine shafts and works. Brick and stone smokestacks stood like sentinels guarding the remains of a once-thriving tin mining industry. The
|Lewis at Pendeen Lighthouse|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
The coastal road was only lightly traveled this day. That was a good thing because in parts it is only one lane wide. Occasional wide spots allow the slow-moving, opposing traffic to pass. There must be an etiquette that governs who pulls over or back up to give way, but I never did catch on to it.† All the drivers we encountered except for one at the wheel of a monstrous tour bus were quite polite. The tour bus Ė on a side road clearly marked as unsuitable for buses and motor coaches† Ė would not yield an inch. What a jerk.
The views of the Cornish coast from our rented Vauxhall sedan were magnificent. There were not many places to stop and admire the scenery because the road is so narrow. On either side of the road were miles and miles of deep green pastureland. Occasional herds of dairy cattle grazed on the lush grasses. The pasture plots were separated by low, stone walls that reminded us of Southwest Ireland. While the parts of Cornwall we saw are not nearly as craggy and rocky as the coastline of Irelandís Dingle Peninsula, the shoreline is still quite rugged. The Atlanticís clear, blue-green waves and white foam meeting the dark rocks and yellow beaches here is just as beautiful as that in Ireland, albeit not as savage and violently wild.
The best view we came across was down an extremely narrow, country lane to the old Lighthouse near the village of Pendeen. Sheer cliffs swarmed by nesting seabirds†† overlook clear-water† grottoes and black and reddish rocks below. The rocks are now and again topped with the whipped cream of ocean froth left by breaking waves. Putting the majestic landscape and seascape to good use on this sunny morning were a wheelchair-bound painter and a man who had so much camera equipment that he must have been a professional photographer.†
We continued our drive to the south and west along the coastal road to Landís End, which had been dismissed by our fellow guests at the Trewinnard Hotel in St. Ives. It seems the thrifty Brits had been offended by the three-pound fee required to park on a gravel lot a few steps away from the entrance. A free lot is perhaps a quarter of a mile away. Since weíve done a lot of shopping for clothing through the Landís End catalog sales company back home and the name is legend in sailing literature, we had to see the geographic oddity.
|Lewis by craggy inlet near Pendeen|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
Lands End is at the extreme southwest tip of England. All we could see to the west was the blue Atlantic Ocean. It is 3,147 miles to New York.
I suppose that we land-locked Memphians look upon Landís End through a different lens than did the Trewinnard guests who had bad-mouthed the place as being too commercial.† They are natives of the island-nation where no point is more than 75 miles from the sea. Maybe they are blasť about spots overlooking the ocean, particularly if man-made. I thought Landís End was a really neat place that was made even better by the hand of man. The parking fee seemed to be reasonable, even cheap compared to what close-by lots charge near the major landmarks of America.
A good-sized, commercial development that serves tourists is nicely positioned between the parking area and the walkway-paths atop the high cliffs. It offers Ė at no admission charge Ė several restaurants with a variety of menus and prices. One is a cafeteria-style place that serves quick food like Cornish pasties and freshly made sandwiches. Also offered are souvenir shops and clean restrooms. Several rescue boats of different vintages plus other maritime equipment and artifacts are displayed outdoors. Admission is only charged for admittance to several entertainment and educational facilities aimed at children. It really isnít necessary to spend any money at Landís End.
The views from the cliffs are spectacular and we got some excellent photos. Within a mile or two from Landís End are several businesses that predictably advertise themselves as being the ďfirst and lastĒ pub, hotel or other establishment in England. The popularity of those absolute attributes Ė and indeed that of Landís End as a tourist magnet Ė may be due to the mankindís fascination with superlatives.
As with Landís End, we had also been advised by several of our fellow guests at the Trewinnard Hotel in St. Ives that Penzance is over-rated and not worth the drive. Since we had come this far Ė and at age 60 with no assurances of ever coming this way again Ė we made seeing Penzance a priority. We had been told by a well-traveled friend back home in Memphis that Penzance Ė made famous by a movie and musical about its pirates of long ago Ė isnít much to look at compared to St. Ives. She was right. It made me glad we listened to her and stayed instead in beautiful St. Ives. But I do admit that not everybody sees it that way. Fodorís ďUp CloseĒ suggests Penzance as an ideal base for visits to St. Ives, to Landís End and for a ferry trip or plane ride to the Scilly Islands a few miles offshore.
Iím sure we would have found Penzance to be most attractive had we not first seen St. Ives. In my view, it is only in comparison to that absolutely beautiful and charming St. Ives that Penzance suffers.
Penzance is an important, coastal town in southwest Cornwall and it offers attractions and services not available in the smaller villages like St. Ives. Fodorís says that while its days of piracy and smuggling are past, ďtoday it is the sloping rows of old stucco houses, the quiet seaside and the never-ending squawk of seagulls that draw people to this old market town. Penzance and its next-door neighbor Newlyn were home to the Newlyn school of painters, who recorded local sailing and fishing life in a social-realist style.Ē
|Betty overlooks rocky coastline at Land's End|
|Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
The town is built along and behind a massive seawall promenade that is perhaps a mile or more long. Unfortunately for us and other visitors this day, a cheap carnival was set up on the promenadeís pier. Traffic was diverted around the coastal road and through the very congested town center, which is lined with tidy shops.† We walked along the wide promenade a good ways and enjoyed watching a game of lawn bowling. The mature bowlers were nattily unformed in white trousers or dresses, white shirts, neckties with regimental stripes, white hats and white shoes. The playing surface was a rolled and clipped lawn that looked like an excellent putting green on steroids.† It seemed to us that a serious, team match was underway so we didnít intrude to chat or to take photos.
Discouraged by the traffic snarl around Penzance, we contented ourselves with a distant view of St. Michaelís Mount, the site of an island castle considered to be one of the finest in Britain. Fishermen in the 5th Century had vision of St. Michael on the summit of the island and by the 11th Century it became the site of a Benedictine Monastery. Three centuries later a castle was built on the vertical slate and granite crag. It is reached by ferry in the summer and also by a causeway when the tide is out. The island fortress is reminiscent of Mt. St. Michelle off the Brittany Coast in France, which we visited some years back.
At such future time we are fortunate enough to revisit Cornwall, we will be sure to make time to see St. Michaelís Mount. Other historic places Iíd like to see include Pendennis Castle overlooking Falmouth; Tintagel Castle, the legendary birthplace of King Arthur; one of several tin mines that have been re-opened to tour; and the National Maritime Museum at Falmouth. Thatís the way it is with England, so much history and so little time.
I learned on the drive back to St. Ives that there are two golf courses within a few miles of town. We stopped at one, a par-three course attached to a castle-like hotel on a hillside above the town. Another is a full-sized course at a private club in Lelant, said to be open for public play on Mondays and Fridays for 35 pounds. A golf handicap card is supposedly required. We didnít check it out so I donít know if rental clubs are available.
Upon our return to the Trewinnard Hotel, we enjoyed drinks with our hosts. Betty did some final shopping in the town center and then we walked 100 yards or so to the Sheaf of Wheat for pub food that evening. Bettyís pork chop was a bit tough and my poached salmon was a little bony. But the portions were generous and the prices modest. Back at the hotel, we paid our bill for the week (they accept Visa and MasterCard but not American Express). Co-proprietor and hostel Glynis OíShea shared with us an interesting e-mail from her adult son in Bali, an adventurer who is traveling the world.
We are sorry we are checking out tomorrow morning and hope to return one day.