Barmy Basset Hounds & Martins of Port Isaac

The thing with eating your ice cream on the sly is that you gotta pay for it later when your wife goes into an artisan fudge confectionery and arms herself with a big waffle cone. Topped up by gigantic dollops studded with moreish caramel bits.

We had reached the village of Port Isaac (which is an easy drive from PadstowBoscastle or Tintagel in Cornwall) when I needed to use the loo at the carpark facing the sea, the water guzzling cow that I am. FYI Cows can drink up to and over 90 litres of water on hot days. I came out of the loo and why there stood my husband quietly tucking into a mint chocolate chip ice cream. A sheepish look surfacing when he spotted me. His supplier was the ubiquitous Mr. Whippy.

Then he offered me a lick. A Lick. It was your veritable “Just you wait, ‘enry ‘iggins!” moment.

Providence is a sweet woman. She took me by the hand and led me to a fudge shop. Behind the till stood Mr Meakins, the owner who had played a part in Doc Martin, the British medical comedy TV series that was shot in Port Isaac. In the show, the village is called Port Wenn.

Martin. There you have the first name in the title of the post come into play. The show is delightful, I promise. You shall not and will not egg me. I would rather you make me an omelette.

At the fudge shop charmingly called Buttermilk – which made me instantly want to tuck into anything I laid eyes on inside its old interiors – I was urged by Mr Meakins to lay my hands on a few fudges but my eyes sparkled at the thought of the half-eaten beauty you see below.

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Ship Shape indeed. Moreish moments. 
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Anchor on the slipway
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Slipway Sights

That rusty old anchor, which could easily challenge a gang of 40 beefy men to lift it, is your introduction to Port Isaac. For this is a fishing village, aye, that traces its fishing roots back to the 13th century. Till the 19th century, men would have also been dragging carts of stone, ores, salt and limestone from the many ships that would have arrived at the small but busy harbour of Port Isaac because it was one of the few sheltered ones along the inhospitable Cornish coastline.

But here I get ahead of myself. Let me pause and retrace my steps to when we entered the village.

From the car park you might just walk take the steps down to the beach below and think this is it, but wait, get out of that carpark onto the main road and then it is crucial that you walk past The Angry Anchovy, make sure not to get ensnared by pizzas and make your way down a steep narrow road. A walk past weathered houses, ivy-caked stone walls and a parish church, and at the bottom of the street, an old school house pops up with its brooding slate exterior. You know you have hit pay dirt.

You are in Port Isaac, dear darling.

The home of British crabs and lobsters.

The main street winding into the town is flanked by 18th and 19th century cottages, some whitewashed with bright blue window panes and doors and others clad in dark slate fronts. A stone owl looked down imperiously at us from its perch upon dry stone walls as we we walked in the footsteps of the grumpy London doctor, Martin Ellingham, who arrives in the village to be greeted by the likes of characters such as Bert Large and two grimy fishermen – who almost drive him off the narrow country lanes after declaring him ‘Bodmin’. You would pounce upon that word if you are a Daphne du Maurier fan. The moors of Bodmin is where Jamaica Inn was (and still is) famously situated. If you were deemed Bodmin by a local it would basically mean you are barmy (also that you could be a repository of murder and madness).

Opes, Cornish for narrow alleys between houses, issued warnings on signposts about big vehicles trying to barge their way in. Seriously, if you even thought of wedging yourself in a big car between those houses, I would say you deserve to sit inside while the rest of the world (like me) passes you by with ice cream cones held aloft as beacons of goodness.

Now if you gave me a house in Port Isaac, I would shut my eyes, and just take it off your hands. It is bustling and chirpy but there is an astonishing level of quiet that comes over the village as soon as you leave behind the harbour and start climbing up the opes where brooks gurgle by stone houses. There is a lifeboat shed in the village and a fisherman merchant’s smelly quarters where seafood is sold during the day but the real deal is as you climb up the hill. The village is spread out below you just beyond the two breakwaters, pale turquoise waters and the coastline.

On our way up, we passed Grumpy Martin’s cottage on the left, a little below which stood Bert Large’s whitewashed restaurant. Too many Doc Martin things in this post, you say? I would agree but that is because I am goading you into watching at least the first episode.

To come to the second part of this post’s title. We heard these baritone barks as we trudged up the hill. These were not your average one or two barks. This was a remarkable volley that refused to stop. We peeked down through the gap between one of the houses and espied a podgy basset hound who was bent on playing Elvis for the day. Now people from Elvis country, hear me out. You had to meet Mr. Personality before you cast disapproving looks at me. After we had spent some time sitting on the hill, and Adi had fooled around on the edges singing away so badly that I had to turn and run, we met this basset hound down at the harbour. He had a brother who was as quiet as he was mouthy. There were a few labradors running around, but your guess is good enough about who stole the show.

To agitate him, his amused master made a few faces and stooped to say a few things. Of course, our basset boy had his say all throughout. Our ears ringing with his deep, deep barks, the sight of his astoundingly droopy face, podgy personality and pendulous ears carved into our minds, we left the village of Port Isaac with deep sighs. But wait, I can still hear his baritone woofs, can you?

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Opes of Port Isaac

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More opes
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You see what I mean when I say that you should arm yourself with an ice cream and then work it off by just walking. These opes demand it.
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Climbing up the hill for a view of the village and the coastline
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The one. Who excels at pestering me.
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Between the breakwaters.
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Taking a moment to savour the beauty of the moment…
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…before breaking off into silly songs.
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Caught in the act.
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It reminded me of a fine painting.
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Port Isaac Harbour
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Bert Large’s restaurant on the left. The whitewashed stone cottage that you see on the left. Above it, the first stone cottage with the orange pipings was Dr. Martin’s cottage in the show.
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Master has a conversation with Mouthy One. 
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That is the image we left Port Isaac with. Master walking away with Mouthy One even as he continued with his hollering.

Before I leave you for the day, here’s Episode 1 of Doc Martin. Humour me. Maybe you will be rewarded with a few laughs.

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Elvis Legs: Boscastle to Tintagel

The path of less resistance can lead to Elvis Legs. This is how. My husband was never much of a one for walking and hiking holidays (even though he used to love climbing mountains as a teenager). His idea of holidays were more in the realm of lazing and packing in the good grub. But then I happened to him. The day that took place he had basically signed himself up for legs that would shake like The King’s. A shout-out to Bruce who introduced me to the term.

Getting back to Adi, he is a hiking convert, and boy he gets attached to things in a pretty solid way. For instance, when he had change to classes as a wee boy, he refused it flat. He would have nothing to do with leaving Claudette behind. She was the teacher, and why I believe, tiny Adi had a crush on pretty Claudette. They had to wait three months before he agreed to leave her behind.

From Claudette to Cornwall is a leap alright, but may I ask you to do that? Last time, we had exchanged a few words over Boscastle and swooned over Hardy. Now I am going to swoon over Red Devon and Friesian cows, gorse bushes, meadows of blue bells, saw-wort (you must have seen those pretty purple thistle-like flowers) and daisies. You can stop sniggering. I see you.

Now we had chosen the hottest day of the week to go for our hike, which meant four hours under a sun that threatened to (and did eventually) peel the skin off our napes. There are a few warnings you have to keep in mind when you are passing through the pastures of our bovine friends:

  • Do not show threatening behaviour towards calves (approaching them closely, making loud noises or walking between a calf and its mother) as you may provoke the mother to defend her young. The best plan is to walk along the hedges.
  • If cows approach you, do not run away as this will encourage them to chase you. Stand your ground and stretch out your arms to increase your size.
  • Avoid taking dogs into fields with cows particularly with calves. If you must and cows charge, release the dog from its lead as the dog will outrun the cows and the cows will generally chase the dog rather than you.

With no dog friend to distract the cow, you can imagine how tough it was on the animal talker in me. I did wave at the Red Devon cows lazing on the ridges, who you shall see in a bit, but there were young, cute Friesian calves in a field without their mothers, and That I could not resist. Adi, on the other hand, is a bit wary of cows ever since a whole herd moved towards us with great alacrity once during a stop at a random field on the way to Lake District. The menace writ large on their faces made them look like anything else but gentle cows. Five years have passed but Adi has not been able to shake off the trauma of it.

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Forrabury Stitches behind us. It is like looking back upon a maze of stitched up greenery. Historic concept open field farming that is part and parcel of Cornish country.
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The kind of views that lie along the entire length of the hike.
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Lazy Red Devon cows
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Thankfully a few hand waves did not ensure a charging mum. Adi dragged me away before she came into the picture.
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Islets along Trevalga that are home to seabird colonies.
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Gorse and husband under the midday sun.

If you choose to do this hike, the good news is that for the most part, it is a moderate hike. Expect to climb up and down meadows filled with wild flowers and gorse bushes turn up in all their wild yellow beauty to contrast startlingly with the waters of the Celtic Sea. The changing hues from gentian to aquamarine, sapphire to turquoise blues, is mesmerising. Each stitched-up pasture is crossed via stone steps and a leap across the dry stone walls that network the length and breadth of the trail and then serious climbing in bits and pieces. But all in all, it is the length of the walk and the hot sun that join hands to conspire to make you fantastise about chilled beer aplenty.

When we espied Hotel Camelot in the distance, a few cliffs away, we whooped and the thought of draining vats of beer was a wonderful reprieve. We could have also had vats of mead instead but then we would have to go down to that fantastic Tintagel Castle that is the birthplace of the mythical King Arthur. And our legs, I fear, would not have made the steep climb back to the village from the castle. Instead we tucked into pasties from the pasty shop there that was selling them at half price, since it was closing time. Amusingly enough, they do things the old way still. The woman from the shop hollers out in a hefty voice about the half-price offer a few times till the old men come streaming in.

At the end of our pub stop for ales to wash down the pasties with, lay another 3 hours of walking because we had not taken into account that the bus from Tintagel to Boscastle is not that frequent. Yes the horror of it. We had another walk ahead of us. All in all we had about 10 miles of hiking and walking at hand to reduce our legs to jelly and flop down at The Wellington Arms in Boscastle for another round of ale. Come to think of it, what would we do without beer? As our good man Franklin put it so sensibly. Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

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Midway between Boscastle and Tintagel is the Rocky Valley where the footpath plunges into a gorge-like valley to take you ahead into the open bay of Bossiney.
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Bossiney Bay
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Oh hello, my beauties. We did have a long conversation with no domineering mother nearby to spoil the party.
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Bossiney Bay

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And finally Camelot Castle Hotel. I have never experienced as much happiness before as I did this time when it came upon the horizon. All a matter of perspective.
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Pints of Doom Bar, at The Cornishman Inn, named after the Doom Bar of Padstow
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Camelot Castle Hotel viewed from Tintagel Castle
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The ruins of Tintagel Castle are tricky to climb especially when it has rained because those steps are quite weather-beaten.
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And when you reach the top, you feel like a misstep would mean a dash into the rocks but oh that view. It does make you want to make a home for yourself among the ruins and dream about the handsome Lancelot and naughty Guinevere.
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The walk back to Boscastle and meeting curious ones along the way.
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The old cottages in Bossiney
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Reaching Boscastle after two and a half hours
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And then finally sighting The Wellington and losing ourselves to ale. Highly recommended.

Hardy’s Boscastle

“I found her out there
On a slope few see,
That falls westwardly
To the salt-edged air,
Where the ocean breaks
On the purple strand,
And the hurricane shakes
The solid land.”

Looking at those mesmerising opal-sapphire hued waters, just like the view that glistened in the midday sun below me, Thomas Hardy would have contemplated upon his chance meeting with the love of his life in the village of Boscastle. Dramatic environs such as these must surely serve as an elixir to seal in young love.

Hardy, if you are not acquainted with the man, wrote Tess of the D’urbervilles and challenged the traditional notions of morality in Victorian England. I have always wondered about it: How is it that Hardy could empathise so with his heroine? Here was a writer who was far ahead of the times that he was a product of. I can almost hear Hardy echo Butch Cassidy: “Boy I got vision and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”

But the post is neither on Hardy (really, you might say with some disbelief, given that the woman has waxed upon his love for two paragraphs at the least and shall devote another to it), the strain of realism that pervades his writing, nor is it about Tess. It is to take you into the quaint fishing village of Boscastle where Hardy arrived as a young architect in 1870 to work on the restoration of the church of St. Juliot. His prize in the North Cornish village would have been to chance upon a pair of blue eyes (you know who that novel was inspired by) and a swathe of blonde hair that would have his heart for a long time, even after the owner of those attributes, Emma Gifford, had died and he had married a second time. Hardy’s heart is buried with Gifford in her grave in a churchyard in Dorset, although his ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey.

When he arrived in Boscastle, he would have come upon the three pubs in the village, a lime kiln and the stonewashed cottages which are said to have been built from stones culled from the ruins of the Botreaux Castle (the village derives its name from the castle).

A lane past Cobweb Inn winds up the village. Now names in the English countryside are literal. You know when you come upon a Two Turn Lane what lies ahead, so when you come upon a name like Cobweb Inn, you can safely expect cobwebs hanging from the eaves and ceilings. Or so you could till the early 90s when some namby pamby Health and Safety inspectors decided that thick, matted cobwebs hanging to keep flies away from kegs of wine and spirits was not quite hygienic. Here they were questioning years of cobweb-by wisdom of decades of men who had run the pub as a wine cellar and flour store dating back to the 1700s.

The passing years have meant that we, as modern-day travellers, got the extras without the cobwebs, such as clutch of stores, a National Trust tearoom and a museum on witchcraft at the entrance of which is the grave of a ‘witch’ called Joan Wytte. That poor 18th century woman’s skeleton had hung for years at the museum till they decided it was not quite okay.

The river gushes alongside and if you follow its path up the cliffs above the harbour, you can go on long walks (as we did and it turned out to be so long that our legs would not stop trembling, but more about the trembling later in the next post).

After the quintessential tea and cake stop at the pretty tea room, once you are up on the cliffs, you can spot the Elizabethan harbour, a powerful reminder of times when privateers, wreckers and smugglers carried on their thriving business with great alacrity. Then you can sit on the cliffs and cast your mind back in time, that is all. Bung in a gale, a stormy sky and turbulent waters lashing against the cliffs. Maybe even imagine the Devil’s Bellows at half tide spouting out water below from the small hole at the bottom of the cliffs, and yes, you will be in another time and age with the necessary ingredient that is at the essence of every wild imagination, the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’.

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Behind Adi is the lime kiln, the third stone structure from the right with the hint of an arched opening (the white cottage next to is the National Trust Tea Room). It points out to Boscastle’s quarrying past. 
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Inside the National Trust tea room. Who would not fall for that?
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Clearly not him! Or I, who followed right after, with a sizeable chunk of carrot cake and then worried about the fact that I had not cut a fat enough piece.
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Luna and Remus. Psst: Potter fans. Transfiguration happened. We got two giant Leonbergers playing in the waters with their mutt mate. However they were kind and they allowed two more strange muggles to shower them with the customary cuddles and coos.
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The bridge in Boscastle
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The harbour, put in place by the English sailor and explorer, Sir Richard Grenville, in the late 1500s, would have been the popular hangout once for smugglers and wreckers.
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Penally Point below which is a blowhole that spouts up water in a gush and with a boom (the Devil’s Bellows) during low tide.
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That spot of white sticking out above the cliffs is Willa Lookout coastwatch
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Looking back at the cliffs of Boscastle from Forrabury Common. The walk is to be continued into the next post. The walk from Boscastle to Tintagel is special.

Clutter Books and Clobber

I acquired that pile of goodness last weekend at a lovely town called Sedburgh which lies within the scenic lushness of Yorkshire Dales National Park. Winding cobbled streets lead you past stalls selling beautiful sheepskin rugs, vicarage lanes and cottages with twee names. Then you trundle down the lane further past book shops called Sleepy Elephant, spectacularly green cricket grounds and shop facades that seem to be peeling away at leisure, till you arrive at the point of why Sedburgh declares itself the book town of the Blighty.

You may ask the question of the cheerful lady at the till of a charity shop and she would smile (because she must have answered this one a few times) and say: “Every cafe, shop and store in this town is stocked with books, and if you go up the street, you will see Westwood Books. It is worth taking a look into because it came from the Welsh town, Hay-on-Wye. They have done a fair bit in promoting Sedburgh as a town of books.”

Now my dear readers, you must have heard of the Hay Festival which for bibliophiles is supposed to induce a Christmas-in-the-mind-at-any-time-of-the-year feeling. It is takes place in the book town of Hay-on-Wye in Wales which boasts of a dozen bookstores. My husband should thank his lucky stars I have not set foot inside that market town yet. But the point of this is that Westwood Books is indeed a jewel of sorts. I entered it, I read inside it (a Gertrude Stein book which was thoroughly mind numbing because boy that woman knew how to pile on the negatives in one sentence – forget double negatives), then I did not know how to leave it behind.

Even Adi, who is not a reader, bought a book and browsed inside the store. Usually he takes a quick look and then hangs around my neck with the look of a bored child who demands to be entertained.That is what a book store worth its salt should be able to do – convert a non-reader/browser into one. Don’t you think?

Sedburgh and Hay-on-Wye are not unique really with their book town status, keeping in mind the fact that there are 40-odd book towns spread out across the world, but here’s how a book town can charm you.

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Clutter Books & Clobber charity shop
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Past the gorgeous tulips you enter the shop that will cast a spell. You shall have to make efforts the size of Hercules to leave those doors.
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Collectors’ editions
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Sketches of quirky personalities
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Punch Library, ladies and gentlemen. Did you even know that it existed?
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That spot of red is Adi browsing books. The very sight of which made my imaginative monocles fall off. 

Finally I leave you with the words of a writer, Eric Robson, who makes me nod vigorously (here you have the Indian head nod), as he says this: “First, a confession: I spend far too much on books. Which is why this idea of creating a Book Town in Sedbergh is a thoroughly bad idea. Until now my nearest Book Towns were Hay‑on‑Wye and Wigtown, which meant my obsessions were held in check by sheer distance. Now it’s going to be far too easy. I can already hear my bank manager turning in his vault. I won’t be able to resist. And there are thousands of other bibliophiles holding their heads in their hands as we speak. ‘Not Sedbergh!’ I hear them cry just before they get into their car and are drawn slowly but surely towards the Howgills.”

 

Ed Has a Little Bottle-Fed Lamb

If you have been dreaming of Bruges, a guest post by a fellow blogger, dream on, and then may I bring you back to the Cornish climes? This post is about Meg, a border collie, her master Ed, a farmer, and new-born lambs.

Now The Byre is an atmospheric barn conversion in Lostwithiel, Cornwall (You can book it through Cornish Cottage Holidays and there are other cottages on the farm too). We got a fantastic bargain. For 8 nights we paid up £385 and then Ed threw in a free night. Now no one in all our years of renting cottages in the countryside has been ever so kind as Ed. A free night! Egad. We had one more day of exploring the countryside in Cornwall which we cannot resist even if it means that we have to return home to Northampton bleary-eyed, post a long day of walks and then 5-odd hours of driving.

Ed lives with his vet wife, Nicki, in Lostwithiel in a rambling farmhouse. They have a menagerie of sorts. A tabby cat who likes to lie flat on their guest bed and luxuriate in the fact that Ed’s son and girlfriend had just vacated its quarters, and then there are the two dogs, Meg and Gizzie. Meg is a border collie who does a fair bit of work in rounding up the sheep and Gizzie is a Jack Russell Terrier who was rescued by Ed and Nicki because he had too many brothers too deal with in his previous home and had therefore started to exhibit signs of aggression. You would not suspect his troubled past from his mien now. He is just a typical Jack Russell, as curious and friendly as they come. You have met both Meg and Gizzie, in a face off, in my previous post.

Then there are the couple’s flock of Shropshire sheep which seemed to tick off on all counts attributed to the 1929 heritage description of the Shropshire sheep’s general appearance: “Alert, attractive, indicating breeding and quality, with stylish carriage and a symmetrical form, showing the true characteristics of the Shropshire.” I do not know about quality but they certainly possessed style *I hear your sniggering

In the lead photo, you see Ed feeding the lamb. That is not because he is trying to domesticate him. In reality, the little one’s mother had refused him milk, so Ed has become his de facto mum and dad. When we left them, Ed was trying to get him to join the flock who have 9 acres of land for their chewing and pooping pleasure.

Ed’s father owned a huge farm where he kept a herd of 200 cattle but dairy farming became a part of his history to be talked about because of the change in times, inflation and the fact that his son and daughter were carving out their own niche in life.

“Plus all my conversation was going to be centred around cows, you know,” said Ed.

The son is a communications press officer with a cricket board and the daughter is a psychologist. So Ed sold off his farms and bought the farmhouse with Nicki where they lead a quiet life with their menagerie. They even have bee colonies, where on a cold grey and windy day amidst a patch of berries, rhubarb and leeks, we heard about the intelligence of bees, how they can figure out ways of stinging you, apart from gazing at an ewe who had just given birth to twins. She was busy licking them clean even as the red trails of placenta hung down her behind. You see, the placenta is not snipped off as in humans, because they have their own ways of dealing with. They often eat it up if they are wary of predators around their babies. Nature surely equips her creatures, does she not?

But beware of Meg’s charms. She is no less than a Madonna. She comes without tight corset tops, skinny jeans, or the need to colour her mouth siren red. Everyday before leaving the cottage and after our return, we used to have a session of squealing and whining and crooning – all of which she did. We had long conversations. Adi, Meg and I. She had a fairly unladylike comportment, I have to admit and about which I did berate her but to no avail. Having identified Adi as the Belly Rub Guy, every time she spotted him, she would start crooning, raise her hind leg, and in a brief second or two, lie upside down for her quota of rubs. If you do meet her, carry a big batch of belly rubs for her, will you?

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Meg the Madonna
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Who wants to be a lady, gah!
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Stylish Shropshires 
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Ewe are looking at an ewe so please do not go ewe once you spot what we have been talking about.
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Bottle-fed boy. He had a soft and springy feel to him.
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Ed’s bee colonies 
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‘Did you say, you cannot see us seeing you? Take your rude self off our pasture.’
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Lambs’ Tales

Portloe

Atop the cliffs of the Roseland Peninsula, I sit on the ledge with the wind in my hair and the breathtaking view of the Celtic Sea below me. Had I taken a few hefty steps back in time to let’s say the mid 1800s, I would have been able to spy on smugglers at work. I would have peered and wondered if I might claim a share of their loot of French brandy. That is the kind of contraband these smugglers – who also doubled up as fishermen –  stored in the cellars of their farmhouses, in the village of Portloe beneath me.

If Portloe is one of the prettiest places on the peninsula, it was also the stomping grounds of smugglers. The scene was serious here, so much so that Customs had to maintain a strict watch here. I like its name a lot which seems to have been a variation of the Cornish word, Port Logh, meaning ‘cove pool’. When you climb down the steep cliffs and reach the valleys, you see the protected cove that gave it its name and also what I mean by it being one of the most charming villages you will see in the club of scenic Cornish villages.

What was once a busy pilchard fishing village has now been reduced to a quiet one where just about three boats work the seas and return with a haul of crabs and lobster.

We sat in the old Lugger Inn for a while before we set out on the coastal walk to Portholland. The bummer is that we did not complete the walk because we were a bit late for it, so we quit after we were halfway there (even this took the better part of an hour of climbing up some steep stretches). Someday we shall do the entire stretch and more. But that walk just gives and gives.

If you are singing aloud, thinking there is no one to hear your hollering apart from the husband who signed up for it when he married you, look out for the old lady sitting quietly around the bend on a bench overwhelmed by overgrown hedges.

Besides the occasional old lady popping up on the scene, we espied a man fishing from his perch upon one of the cliffs that meet the shore at some point, and possibly, his partner resting on the rocks above him. It made for such a peaceful and beautiful picture.

You can well imagine then that Portloe remains one of my favourite hideouts in Cornwall. I visit it often in my mind’s eye when I crave for the sight of those blue waters, the feel of the wind in my hair and some solitude. For there, you can wander lonely as a cloud.

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The protected cove in the village
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That man stood in the cove for a fair bit of time. Wonder what he was thinking.
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If you are not staying at the Lugger Inn, do drop by for a coffee or even a lovely high tea with some Champagne. That view makes anything taste like Champagne. Even cappuccino.
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In his elements. Going down the steep edges of the cliffs.
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The beautiful stone cottages of Portloe. Give me a room in one of them and I will never want for anything in life again.
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Oh for the love of fishing
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The stunning coastal walks are unparalleled.
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In flowery meadows
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Those blue and yellow-paned cottages can be rented for your holidays.
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Where we catch a quick selfie. In Portloe, there is hardly anybody around. Self-reliance is a keyword in Portloe.
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The kind of views you get on the coastal walk.
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I would go for such an epitaph. Would you?
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The mermaid keeps a watch on the shore
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I sit here upon one of the most beautiful benches, coated with pristine white blossoms nodding away cheerily in the wind.

Where to Stay: 

Lugger Inn (www.luggerhotel.co.uk). A room at this 17th century inn will cost you upwards of £147 per night. But it has gorgeous views and a restaurant where you can tuck into the local produce.

Cove Cottage. You can book this beautiful cottage with the blue panes by the harbour through Cornwalls Cottages (www.cornwallscottages.co.uk). Prices start at roughly £110 per night for the three-bedroom cottage. But they are booked chock-a-block, so consider booking in advance. The early bird here catches the proverbial worm and what a worm this is.

What to do:

Circular walk from Pendower Beach to Veryan. The story goes that you will pass a spot in Narehead where lived a fisherman, not quite happy in his marriage. Once a week he used to lower his boat into the waters to visit his wife in Veryan and take her a booty of fish.

Walk the coastal path to the cove at Portholland.

Circular walk from Narehead to Portloe. On the path you will spot a Cold War nuclear bunker and a reef called The Whelps because many a ship met its untimely end there.

Giants and Saints of St. Michael’s Mount

On an April noon when an army of clouds invaded the blue, blue sky and cast a black and silver sheen upon the landscape, we arrived in Marazion. Captivated by its name, the first time I visited it about four years ago, I fell in love with the ancient market town. You will see why, by and by.

Before I gather steam, here’s a brief note. If you are in Mousehole, Marazion is just a few miles away.

Now Marazion has a ringside view of a fairy-tale island that juts out of the Celtic Sea – St. Michael’s Mount (the silhouetted rocky outcrop you see above). The tidal island is a sister counterpart of St. Mont Michel in France. In the 11th century, it had even been ceded to the Benedictine order of St. Mont Michel, till in the 14th century, it became the property of an abbess in Middlesex.

Getting on with the title, many moons ago, a giant by the name of Cormoran (you will remember Robert Galbraith’s gruff detective has the same moniker) lived upon the island. When he got hungry, the cattle of Marazion were his meal. He was 18 ft. tall and his girth spanned a humble figure of three yards, so crossing the causeway was no big feat for our beef-loving giant. He became a blasted curse upon the town. Who should pop up to be the hero of this town? Jack the Giant-Killer of our childhood stories. He is Cornish, yessir, and he lived in Marazion. Our notable Jack not only killed the giant, but he also went on to slay many more giants, was appointed a Knight of the Round Table by King Arthur. He clearly had Cormoran to thank for his glories, eh?

Now ye of deep faith, you might want to put St. Michael’s Mount on your list of pilgrimage. Sailors on the sea from the 5th century have maintained that a saint appeared on the island to guide them to safety from alluring mermaids and storms. This was the patron saint of fishermen, the archangel St Michael, who is supposed to have delivered a few miracles during the 13th century.

I crossed over the causeway four years ago, leaving behind Adi in the car at Marazion to sleep off his tiredness for a chunky hour or so. The tide was low and I felt like I was in a dream, walking across the granite cobbles of the causeway, as the waters swirled in and out in a hypnotic rhythm, to a fairy-tale castle upon a tidal island.

Bells tolled in the old priory and apart from the cawing of a few seagulls, the island was quite deserted. The castle loomed high above the few stone cottages, home to the staff who work in the castle. Entry to the castle however was closed because it was a Saturday. I spent my time, treading through the alleys in the island, exploring the charm of the cottages clustered around it, sitting on the pier and watching the boats crossing to and from Marazion. I did not have the privilege of meeting either the giant or the saint. My wuss-y heart, I fear, would not have been able to bear the glorious sight of both.

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The tidal island looms up across the waters from Marazion. You cannot spot the causeway in this photo because it was high tide when we landed up there this time.
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This is how the man-made granite causeway looks during low tide. A photo from four years ago when I crossed it to explore St. Michael’s Mount.
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The worker’s cottages and the castle above on St. Michael’s Mount.
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Castle entrances. There are three pillboxes upon the island which are a reference to WWII when the island was fortified.
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Nazi foreign minister, Ribbentrop, had plans to live on the island after German plans for the conquest of Britain were successful. He was a frequent visitor to Cornwall.
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The castle has been the home of the St. Aubyn family since the 1650s. One of their descendants, known as the Lords of St. Levan, donated it to the National Trust in 1954 but it remains the family seat for a period of 999 years.
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Now walk into the ancient market town of Marazion.
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The town hall (with the red pipings) of Marghasyewe, as the town was deemed in the Cornish language.
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Narrow winding streets in Marazion.
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On a nippy noon, step into the King’s Arms for a pint of good Cornish ale.
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And a pile of onion rings. All eyes were on our table.
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Spot the cocker spaniel?
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Let me make it easier. Now do you see the cute spaniel watching life go by beneath him?

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Getting to St. Michael’s Mount:

Barring Saturday, it is open all other days. Cross the causeway on foot during low tide or take a boat from Marazion to the island for the fares of £2.00 for adults and £1.00 for children.

Entering the Castle: 

Tickets cost 9.50 quid for an adult, garden entry is priced at 7. A combined ticket costs 14 quid. If you are a National Trust member, you get in free. Timings: 10.30am-5pm.

Where to Stay:

The Godolphin Arms (www.godolphinarms.co.uk) offer standard double rooms at about £160 per night on bed & breakfast basis. Some offer spectacular views of St. Michael’s Mount.

Rosario (www.rosario-marazion.co.uk), a bed & breakfast in Marazion, with views of the sea too, offers more modest prices at £90 per night.

Sea, Salts and Sail in Mousehole

In the fishing village of Mousehole in West Cornwall, which falls understandably within the Cornish area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) zone, a maritime festival takes place every two years from which I have culled the title for this post. A photographer called Paul Massey (poor thing shares his name with an English criminal gunned down in 2015) describes it as an incomparable experience. He notes: “To watch as the harbour slowly fills with wooden boats is almost akin to time travel. It reminds me of the old sepia postcards showing the Mousehole fleet of fishing luggers lying abreast, hauling canvas and pulling on cordage. The sights, sounds, and smells all mingling to evoke a very different and romantic era. It is a photographer’s dream. When the boats leave to race in the Bay, with St Michael’s Mount in the near distance, it sends a shock of excitement through even the most hardened land lubber.”

As we entered the village, I wondered if foxes strutted about its narrow streets. One of the house owners is supposed to have sighted a fox cub family and named her cottage accordingly. Cottages made of the local Lamorna granite huddled around the alleys. Flowery gardens and rustic garden sheds popped up alongside, and to my delight, some pasty shops and galleries too. One of the decor shops sold candles which promised to make your room smell of the sea. I must declare that I was transported in a whiff. Then came the part of looking at the price tag which succeeded in making the whiff a little (only a little) less potent.

Families sunned themselves on the beach and children went about their serious tasks of building sand castles, while little girls with pigtails were told off by their fathers in a serious grown-up voice about something or the other – no baby talk here. The village seemed to be protected from the onslaught of the sea by the two sturdy breakwaters that popped up right on the harbour as a small clutch of boats floated upon the shallow turquoise blue waters.

Mousehole – pronounced ‘Mowzel’ please – with the distinct lack of crowds made us feel like it was our personal romping grounds. Did the poet Dylan Thomas feel the same and comment therefore that it was the loveliest English village? I am sure the Cornish might have had a thing or two to say about being deemed English though.

But do not be fooled by its present unassuming self. Mousehole was once a port of distinction along with nearby Marazion (a post on this pretty village shall be up soon). This was until the 16th century when a marauding band of 400 Spanish men razed the village to the ground – the backdrop to this was the Anglo-Spanish war of 1585-1604. Only one house remained standing and that was the pub, the former Keigwin Arms, which remains there till today but is no longer a pub. On it is a plaque that informs you that ‘Squire Jenkyn Keigwin was killed here 23rd July 1595 defending this house against the Spaniards.’

Now if you are into Stargazy Pie, that Cornish dish which has seven fish heads poking their heads out of the crust to say hello to the eater, this is its birthplace. Every year on December 23, an enormous Stargazy Pie is baked to honour the memory of a local resident, Tom Bawcock, who braved the stormy seas and rescued the village from famine by returning with a haul of seven kinds of fish. Below you shall find examples of its charm. I have resisted from listing out cottages because the prices might give you an attack of the nerves.

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Breakwater security
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You see what I mean, right?
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Foxy Foxy Affair
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A typical cottage entrance
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Garden sheds of Mousehole 
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Looks like we have a Daphne du Maurier fan in the house.
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Mr. Personality
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Whitewashed cottages of Mousehole. I have a decided weakness for the colour scheme.
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Where ducks roam on facades.
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Hot pasties and crabs are up for grabs in the sloping alleys of the village.
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Pretty cottages are strewn around the alleys.
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A quiet noon by the lichen-coated harbour of Mousehole

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Gulls ponder upon the unfairness of life as people with pasties pass them by.

Slow Monday

Getting back home never fails to cheer me up. We have been away for 10 days and no matter how beautiful the holiday was, the cream teas luscious, the pasties tummy enlarging, and the fish and chips oily and sinful, but the comforts of home are matter for verse. Only if I start writing verse, it would veer into nonsense verse.

Monday has been creeping along at a snail’s pace but in an interesting way. What could have happened in the matter of half a day, right?

To start with, I have realised that Northampton postmen are a class apart. I sent a postcard to the lovely Cheila because she started a postcard/letter exchange idea with other bloggers. This was more than a couple of weeks ago, so I have been wondering while even on holiday about why it had not reached her. But it did not – so much so that Cheila had even promised to stalk her postman. I certainly hope, dear girl, that it is a matter not acted upon, because when I got back home yesterday evening I had the answer.

The postcard had been posted back to me.

The postman had decided to choose the ‘From’ bit to act upon. Get that.

That apart, I had a long chat with the rental agency guy, D, with whom I deposit the car keys every Monday morning after we return home from a holiday. We rent cars, yes. Usually Adi chats with him and I deliver them with no extra chatter. This time however it was I who had an insight into his engaging personality. It turns out he has slight Asperger’s syndrome – a lifelong syndrome which affects people by burdening them with overwhelming anxiety about communicating with the world at large. He likes to spend time by himself and shuns women, because in the past his girlfriends have had him followed to check on him (this made me smile because jealousy is a trait we women share but possibly we all do not give into it to such extreme measures). “Women do not get me,” he said. The heart-felt thoughts of any single man.

Instead he spends his time getting his elbows ripped apart while riding his BMX bikes, fanatically games away his time on the X-box (I have to declare myself a badger-some wife who has managed to part Adi from his, so it lies gently weeping beneath our telly) and deejaying apart from being a cool dad to his two teenage girls. Then we had some more conversation about how we all choose our paths in life, how it is best to do what you want than giving into the paths set out by others and how it is cool to have white hair. I have some cropping up and Adi takes great pride in plucking them out. I have put a stop to his gleeful past-time though of late.

Random conversations pep up any day for me. Random insights into people and their ways of thinking. Random bits of information. Like how Bournemouth is ‘God’s Waiting Room’ because people like to retire there.

As we drove back home yesterday, the skies were festooned with clouds. The cloud chaser in me, as you well know, had a rollicking time. This is how.

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The last stretch of yellow and patterned green fields somewhere in Cornwall.
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Tamar Bridge as we left Cornwall behind and entered Devon.
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Countryside in Somerset
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Bottle green fields of Somerset
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Into Cheddar, a village where cheddar cheese is made. The cheese apart, watch out for Cheddar Gorge which is the largest natural gorge in Britain and which I have been wanting to climb for some time. 
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What do we see as we enter the village but a tractor rally.
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Forgive the smudges on the windscreen? The midges had a field time smashing themselves against it. Who were we top deny them such pleasures? But look at the towering cliffs above Cheddar.
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If you are somewhere in Somerset, do not miss out on this.
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Rock climbing 
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While others were exploring the gorges, we decided to return another day because we had a long way to go home. Plus there were no parking spots left for us.
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Colours of the country
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Fields of Wraxall in North Somerset.
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Clouds and church spires through the sunroof
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Trees, with leaves sprouting on them, raise their gnarled heads as we chase clouds above the houses of Bristol.
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Wandering into the Cotswolds
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Because Adi wanted to go into Kemble Aerodrome.
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This is a historic airport in Gloucestershire where now some aircrafts aside, children and men race their bikes while others fly their own light aircrafts from here.
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A last look at one of the smallest airports in the country.

 

On Not Meeting Demelza in Poldark Country

No, not even Ross. Rather reality crept in upon me as I took nimble steps down to ruins of tin mines perched upon the rugged cliffs of the Cornish landscape, the inky-turquoise waters of the Celtic Sea crashed dashed against granite rocks and frothed below a strong afternoon sun. Paths ribboned around the cliffs, some muddy and slithery enough to make me take a step back, and, hold the husband back too. “If you are going, leave the car keys behind,” I said into the quiet of the noon. Unfeeling? Tough luck. You have got to figure out ways of dealing with stubbornness.

So you swoon over Ross Poldark, that well-toned torso in the buff, the scarred cheek beneath the tricorn hat and the smouldering good looks, but Winston Graham’s world does not even begin to touch upon the dangers which tin miners faced every day of their lives when they went about work. You see, what I have shown photographs of, above and below, are remnants of engine houses. The miners used to travel down shafts and go into a labyrinth of subterranean tunnels that ran below the sea for miles. Ponies were also sent down those shafts to work for months below in those tunnels. As they worked on extracting metal from the seams along the coastline, the sea pounded away above their heads.

There were dreadful accidents. Men used to work within the shafts, perched upon ledges as they worked man-worked engines to deliver their fellow workers to the tunnels. When an iron cap or bolt did not work right, entire pillars of men were mangled and crushed to death. Certainly not cheery, but the realities of life and how they have changed with time. You wonder if people still lead such lives, fraught with danger, in a bid to garner their daily pieces of bread.

We spent hours charting paths up and down the cliffs, exploring the disused tin engine houses and remnants of labyrinthine structures where arsenic was solidified and cooled into crystals. Yet we were in the midst of our explorations beneath a chirpy sun and blue skies – just close your eyes and lend your imagination to the same landscape under stormy skies and a gale-swept turbulent sea. That is the terribly truth of tin mining which is now conserved in these UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There were once 3,000 tin mines strewn around the coast.

I would say give it a go. It is the real story behind Poldark’s world.

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We walked down a narrow path to the bluff. From that big boulder jutting out above the bluff is a view of Botallack mines (it has been featured in Poldark). On both sides of the path are steep falls into the rocks below. It is a little alarming as you see that path from above the bluff, but as you scramble down, you realise that the trail is not as fatal as it looks.
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Before we climb up the cliffs and go down to the Botallack tin engine houses.
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Tall and Taller.
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Making our way down to the engine houses of Botallack. In the old days they used to have ladders that would take the miners to the engine house at the very bottom of the cliffs. We had no way of going down there. 
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Dramatic views around the Botallack ruins.
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Paths that suddenly taper off, hugging cliffs and snaking around them.
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Like that…
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Levant mines
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Fragrant gorse and mine remnants sticking out into the firmament.
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The tin miners who worked at Levant in the 19th century.
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Botallack in tatters
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Pendeen Lighthouse that tin miners must have seen as they went about their rigours.
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Towanroath Engine House in St. Agnes. Adi tripped down the slopes off the charted paths, and I had to follow, till I stopped short in dismay. Running down ’em slopes carpeted with heather and prickly bushes is not a plum idea. Period.
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The 19th century Towanroath Engine House is perched right above the Celtic Sea.
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Ponies around Land’s End
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Conversations with curious listeners
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Disused tin mines at Porkellis.
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The Celtic Sea beneath a mellow sun as it starts its journey into the horizon after an full day of shining strong above us.

Which Tin Mines to Explore: Head to the tin mines of Botallack, Levant and Geevor around Land’s End and the ones along the stretch of St. Agnes. Poldark Mine is the only one that takes you underground but the mine was re-dubbing taking advantage of the novels and the telly series. Botallack is the most dramatic of the lot.

Where to Stay: Book former lighthouse keepers’ cottages at Pendeen Lighthouse through Rural Retreats (www.ruralretreats.co.uk).

What to Do: Long rambles around the tin mines. The thing to remember is this: Do not go tumbling into the granite rocks below. Some paths are dangerous. We took some of them so I would not say wuss out completely. But do take a call and keep a check upon those adventurous genes in places where you do not feel quite so sure of making it back. You also have to keep this in mind that in this part of mining country, you do not have to make an effort. Drama will come your way.