Sunday was a lazy day for us. We slept in for an hour, had a late breakfast and then headed north to the village of Padstow to go to Rick Stein’s famous Seafood Restaurant for a lunch that we had booked online before we left Australia. It’s a very popular restaurant and almost impossible to just walk in off the street and get a table.
We were early enough to first spend some time at the nearby little village of Port Isaac. The is a lovey village is set in a deep valley where the narrow streets run down to a sandy beach by the harbour. It would have been a problem to try and drive all the way down to the harbour and we found a car park on the headland above the village. It was a 500 metre walk around the headland into the centre of the village.
Port Isaac pier was originally constructed during the reign of Henry VIII The village centre itself dates from the 18th and 19th centuries, from a time when its economy was tied to local coastal freight and fishing. The port handled cargoes of coal, wood, stone, ores, limestone, salt, pottery and other goods which were all conveyed along its narrow streets.
Across the water, I could clearly see the little cottage where Doc Martin lived in the BBC series of the same name. It is now a B&B (the little brown house at the right, with the car parked in front). I have a bit of a cold and I thought of visiting the ‘doctor’ for a consultation but there were a lot of people in town and he probably would have been too grumpy to give me any time. Instead, I walked back to the car and we drove on to Padstow in time for lunch.
Traditionally a fishing port, Padstow is now a popular tourist destination. The town is situated on the west bank of the River Camel estuary. Although some of its former fishing fleet remains, it is mainly a yachting haven on a dramatic coastline which has few easily navigable harbours. The influence of restaurateur Rick Stein can be seen in the port, and people, like us, travel from long distances to eat at his restaurant and cafés. (ironically, he was in Australia at the time of our visit). However, the boom in the popularity of the port has caused house prices to inflate both in the port and surrounding areas, as people buy homes to live in, or as second or holiday homes.
The restaurant is very grand. It has now been operating for nearly thirty years, so I guess that the chefs have had lot of practice in cooking good seafood. Jill had an entree of assorted shellfish (mussels, oysters, periwinkles, crab, scallops and langoustine) followed by a main course of hake. I had a very tasty bowl of mussels and then grilled plaice. All of this was accompanied by a bottle of nice New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. It was a long leisurely lunch in a very fine establishment. I see that my newly married nephew Robin and his new wife Larissa have been enjoying life in some gorgeous boutique hotels across the USA on their honeymoon. Seafood at Rick Steins was our attempt to also live something of the good life that they have been enjoying.
After lunch, we followed the coast around to Newquay. This is the surfing capital of England. We found beaches of golden sand with people surfing. On one beach, a group of lifesavers had people swimming between the red and yellow flags. At least in these waters, they are not going to be attacked by sharks – icebergs perhaps, but no sharks!
We had our first wet day today (Monday) and we drove down to an old mining district near St Just, in the extreme west of Cornwall. Luckily, we only had a few showers in the morning when we were looking around outside, but these showers developed into more constant rain for the afternoon.
Near the village of Botallack are the remains of a number of tin and copper mines. The mines, are low down on the cliffs and look as if they are cling precariously to the rocks. The nearby Levant Mine and Beam Engine is a National Trust property. Its main attraction is that it has the world’s only Cornish beam engine still operated by steam on its original site. The mine reached a depth of about 600 metres. It got the nickname “mine under the sea”, because tunnels were driven up to 2.5 km from the cliffs under the sea.
There are remains of old mines scattered across the Cornwall landscape. Some are near roads and others look like they are on farmland and without public access.
Our one mistake of the day was to drive through the narrow streets of St Ives. We wanted to get to the harbour but this took us through narrow streets just widen enough for a car and we annoyed all the pedestrians who were enjoying the atmosphere of the town. The constant rain made it difficult to concentrate and when we actually reached the harbour car park, we found that its was only available for local fishermen. I had time for one photo before we braved the narrow streets again to get back to the highway. At one point I actually dragged my left door mirror agains the wall of a building.
St Ives has been a busy fishing port since the Middle Ages and is believed to have been settled as early as the Bronze Age. Nowadays, the fishing has given way to tourism as the main industry. This initially came about after the extension of the railway and more recently with the opening of a very good gallery . It is worth spending a whole day there, not just the half hour that we gave it because of the weather. There are so many attractions to see in this town which is probably the most popular tourist destination in Cornwall.
It was getting dark early and by 4.30 pm, we were happy to be back at the hotel and get dry again.