Cornwall: Driving

I feel as though I should address the driving situation, even though I barely got any pictures, because I was usually too busy navigating.    I should first say that there are a lot of roundabouts in England.    So a lot of navigating involves spotting the warning signs so you can tell the driver which exit of the roundabout to take.    And in the larger roundabouts, that involves telling them which lane to get into.

So, around London are motorways, and they’re pretty similar to any highway you’d experience in the US.    Where things get interesting is outside of the cities.    Notice the road above.   See how the hedges come up pretty much to the edge of the road?    First point: these hedges are not short.    They’re easily ten foot tall in places.    Second point: this is an A road.    This is the main drag in a lot of places.    Cornwall has a few stretches of what they call dual carriageway roads, which is what a lot of the main routes around here that aren’t interstates look like.    But the A roads with some regularity will cross single lane bridges, or features that you just don’t find in major roads here the States.    County roads, sure.    But definitely not a numbered road that lots of people use to get from point A to point B.

Here’s another typical view.   See the trees.   See how close they are to the road?    If you look really close, you’ll also see that they eventually form a tunnel over the road.     That’s another thing that doesn’t happen over here – we lop trees off at the road line.   It’s not pretty, but you have to, especially since I live in snow country, and you need to remove that danger from overhanging the road.

One thing I noticed a day or so into the trip is that I was almost always leaning inward.    I was in the seat I’m very comfortable in if I’m driving the car.    But when you’re not the one doing the driving, and you know you have no control, and the spacing is so much different than what you’re used to, it’s definitely a unique experience.   I apologized up front, because I knew there were going to be a few times when instinct would over ride the fact that I knew we wouldn’t actually hit a hedge, and I’d end up ducking, or making some sort of surprised/horrified noise.

So, I’d say don’t drive in England if you’re not a confident driver.     My sister is used to LA traffic, and it was definitely a learning curve for her.    I think if you like driving, you’ll end up having fun, but if you’re not the kind of person that enjoys driving, you will make yourself miserable.    England has great public transport, so take advantage of that instead.

Cornwall, Day 10: The Lost Gardens of Heligan – The Other Gardens














Heligan isn’t just the kitchen gardens – it was an estate, so has plenty of ornamental gardens, and wild space.   There’s a section called the Jungle that’s stuck inside a steep walled valley, so it’s got a warmer microclimate than the gardens near the house.    During Victorian times, it was planted with tree ferns and other exotics brought in by plant hunters.    Quite a bit of that was still intact when the gardens were restored.   One of the more amusing plants down there is the giant rhubarb – you can see it above in the picture with my mother and sister, for scale.

You can easily spend a day at Heligan and not see everything.   It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip.

Cornwall, Day 10: The Lost Gardens of Heligan – The Productive Gardens



















The Lost Gardens of Heligan were another one of my must sees in Cornwall, after I’d run into a couple television shows about the gardens.   The very basic back story: the garden staff all volunteered to go off and fight in WWI, and unfortunately, as in many other places, they didn’t come back.     Fast forward to the 1990s, and a group decided to restore the gardens.    There are before and after pictures all over the place, and it really is staggering how much work they’ve done.

The other cool thing about this place is that it’s a working walled kitchen garden.    These are associated with the great houses, where they came up with ways to keep the families in fresh produce for the whole year.    There are neat little features like pineapple houses, and larger green houses for citrus trees or peaches.     Again, having seen a television show about restoring one, I was really interested to actually see one in action.

Cornwall, Day 9: Cotehele










Cotehele was the home of the Earls of Mount Edgecumbe back to Tudor times, but they eventually built a much nicer home, and Cotehele became a dumping ground of old furniture and knick knacks.    That’s the beauty of Cotehele.    All of the rooms still have walls covered in tapestries (which means they keep the inside dim,  and why you won’t get pictures inside to do the place justice).     The cottage owners recommended we visit here particularly, and we were really glad we did – it’s a really special place.

Part of that specialness is getting there.    You need to travel through at least a mile of single lane country road.   The kind that has ten foot hedgerows right up against both sides, and barely any laybys.    It was a miracle we didn’t encounter anyone on that road.     And I’m extremely proud of my sister for managing to drive it without having a heart attack.

But back to Cotehele – the gardens are extensive.    There’s a valley garden running down towards the Tamar River, and back gardens near the kitchen garden and a productive orchard.

In the area, also managed by the National Trust, are a mill complex and a discovery center down the Tamar with a restored barge and other things to explore.    It’s a really neat property to explore – I really wish I could return there.

Cornwall, Day 7: Lanhydrock















The next day was actually forecasted for rain (as opposed to the days where it was supposed to be sunny and still rained), so we figured it was a good day to head to one of the stately homes.     We ended up at Lanhydrock (along with pretty much everyone else in the area, but I digress).

We joined the Royal Oak Society, which is an American organization aligned with the National Trust.    It basically gave us an year’s membership.    In this case, it’s mostly stately homes (ones that are in repair rather than ruined), but they also have a lot of beaches and other natural sites, where you can get free parking with the membership.    (Which we did not do, because the weather wasn’t so good.)

But back to the house: it dates back to Jacobean times, but because of a fire, it was refitted in Victorian times.    The nursery was really neat, and you get to walk through the servant areas – the kitchen was really cool.   So many rooms!   (There was quite a bit about the family was well, which was pretty sad, as they died out, mostly due to WWI.)

We actually walked through the gardens first, as the rain had stopped for a bit.     There are pretty extensive grounds, and some really pretty gardens.   I wish I could have been there when it was sunnier and walked around a little more, but what we did see was pretty cool.

Cornwall, Day 6: Tintagel











With the weather improving, our first trip out in Cornwall was to Tintagel Castle, the legendary birthplace of King Arthur.  The castle is on what is now an island, but was once linked to the mainland.     Notice the insane amounts of stairs involved with visiting the site.      There were also wind warnings the day we were there.     They’d actually had to do tests before they could decide if they were going to open that day.      Apparently it wasn’t hurricane force winds out there, but it sure felt like it.

The site probably dates back to Romano-British times, but it’s mainly associated with a late medieval castle built by the first Earl of Cornwall (one of the sons of King John).    It’s actually a pretty daft place to build a castle (part of the reason it’s now in ruins), and they don’t really know why he built there.   It’s quite likely it was to associate himself with the Arthurian legends and prove his legitimacy to rule.

It is a very impressive site to visit.   (It’s English Heritage, so covered by the Overseas Visitor’s Pass).     The town itself isn’t much to look at.    The Old Post Office is managed by the National Trust, and has some interesting artifacts in it (worth a look if you’re a member), and we did stop and have a cream tea at a local pub (which also had wifi, which was good for us, as our cottage did not).

Cornwall, Day 5






So the biggest part of our trip was to Cornwall, which my mother’s choice for her birthday trip, as she’s pretty much always wanted to visit there.     We rented a cottage for a week.     We ended up going with a place in Callington, which is near the border with Devon, and is pretty much on Bodmin Moor.    Turns out we were on the side of Kit Hill, which is the tallest place in the area, and was once extensively mined.     The owner mentioned that the property is dead on top of a mine shaft.    (There was also an Iron Age hill for nearby, as well as a couple of mining artifacts like an arsenic chimney.)

The cottage itself dates back to the 15th century – the oldest portion is what is now the two bedrooms and the bathroom, and those rooms still have random, tiny windows in them.     At one point, what is now the kitchen and living room were added on (you can tell they were just tacked onto the side of the house, as there are windows pointing into the kitchen.)     Three families would have lived in the cottage at that point, with the kitchen/living room being the posh section, as it has two rooms.    The fourth picture is between the kitchen and living room, and you can see how thick the walls are.   (The current owners added that fireplace, as well as a dining room conservatory that links the living room to the bedrooms.)

Outside, the current owners have made a charming garden (which we didn’t get as much use of as we would have liked, as the weather wasn’t great the week we were there).     The two front rooms of the cottage overlook the garden, and the views of the Tamar Valley.     In the first and sixth picture above, you can see the garden wall.    That dates back to the 13th century, and was the boundary of a royal game park.    It’s much taller on the other side, to keep the deer in, but is short on this side so if they happen to get out, they could jump back over.

We really loved having the cottage.    It was so nice to have an actual ‘home’ to return to each day.     The owners were lovely.    They had a cream tea waiting for us when we arrived, and had us over on Thursday night for traditional Cornish pasties and a pavlova.     (Eileen is a fantastic cook.    Her scones were the best we had in Cornwall and Devon.)

The first full day we were there, the weather was completely wretched, so we stayed inside.   (We’d also done a ton of walking in London, so it was nice to have a break.)     We’d stocked up at the local Tescos, and Bill had given us a ton of veggies from the garden, so we were well fed, and well rested from that first day.