Saturday, April 12, 2008

Wot we did on our holidays.

I'd rather hoped for a nice round figure, but as we turned into our gate from the lane the mile-ometer read an undistinguished 602.7 miles. Now, almost as much as a palindrome I like a good hearty number - preferably a large one. (Most satisfying watching the miles clock up, a good way of whiling away those motorway hours - and possibly my only numeric preoccupation.) Actually if I deduct the circuit of Wadebridge on the way to Padstow and the twice-round-the-roundabout in Bristol detour en route to Costco then I think we would have been close to achieving my neat and tidy goal. Ditto if I added the miles done in our host's car on Friday as we meandered through Cornish lanes then I might have achieved a glowing 700 miles for the round trip.

Whatever. This week has been a case of 'places to go, people to see'.

We've got the route to the south west down to a fine art; taking the wiggling road through south Shropshire and the orchards of Hereford and on to Worcester where we join the M5. Something horrendous had closed the motorway and we were diverted onto lesser roads adding nearly 2 hours to our journey. (Time enough to complete a comprehensive survey of the roadsides, gutters and gullies of the Tewksbury area anyway.)

It took us 7½ hours to reach Padstow and an indulgent meal at Rick Stein's 'The Seafood Restaurant' was our reward on arrival. As the name suggests, fish and seafood dominate the menu - in much the same way as the man himself seems to dominate the town. For starters we chose crab and scallops, which I followed with Dover sole in a buttery sauce. Alan had fish and chips. Fantastic, fresh, cooked to perfection and beautifully presented and served - we had an excellent meal. The restaurant is newly refurbished - its clean contemporary lines would not look out of place in an urban setting. We stayed that night in Mr Stein's hotel above the restaurant - our room seemed a day's march from reception, along winding corridors, round corners and up flights of stairs. No surprise here, we invariably get the most distant room and usually one with a view over the air conditioning units. On this occasion we could see the harbour too. Bonus.

The following morning we headed south to St Austell and the Eden Project. We'd been before when it was still under construction - the first time I've ever paid to look round what was essentially a construction site. And now, with the build finished and the site planted - impressive or what? Full marks for the most imaginative use of a sterile china clay pit - well done Tim Smit and team. We steamed gently in the humidity of the Tropics Biome, glad of its warmth on what was a bleak day outside. We followed the path through rain forest plants up into the mists. Birds warbled up in the tree canopy and the occasional small and feral child shrieked like a howler monkey. Most atmospheric. The Warm Temperate Biome was cooler and this, after the oppressive humidity of the Tropics, was quite a relief. It was familiar too, here the smell of maquis and over there, familiar Mediterranean plants. Intermittent squalls of rain made looking round the outdoor planting a bit of a hit and miss affair - I'd certainly like to go back and see those in more detail.
The Eden Project's remit is educational:

'Eden is all about man's relationship with and dependence upon plants. Much of our food, our clothes, our shelter and our medicines come from the plant world. Without plants there would be no oxygen for us to breathe, no life on earth.

The Eden Project is a showcase for all the questions and many of the answers. But Eden is not a worthy, over-serious, guilt-ridden place; nor does it preach. It is about education and communication of the major environmental issues of the day, always presented in an engaging, involving, even humorous way.'

Yep, I'd agree with that.

We finally made our way east to Plymouth to stay for a couple of nights with friends in the Tamar Valley. Leaving the thunderous A38 behind we wound our way down narrow, steep sided lanes to the silver slick of the river. The Valley is sheltered and damp and has a microclimate that in the past supported a thriving horticultural industry the remains of which can be seen today in the area's flora. Daffodil bulbs were tossed to the field edges when the land was pressed into use for food production and now flower where they landed with a bump in the hedgerows. Florists' greenery - silvery Eucalyptus and wavy leaved Pittosporum are incongruous bedfellows amongst our more familiar native plants.

Gorgeously shaded dank lanes are lined with primrose and violet bedded in mossy nests midst sappy grass. Ferns, Toadflax and Penny Royal hang in cracks and crevices of lichened walls. The delicate Stitchwort has just started to flower, Lady's Smock too. Red Campion will be next in spring's unfolding. It's spring. It's e e cumming's 'in just spring when the world is mud luscious....'

It's cold though and driving rain leaves us loath to linger out of doors. At our destination we take shelter in a large greenhouse where peach and apricot have already flowered and tiny green fruit are clustered on the branches.

We pass through Devon, Somerset, Worcestershire and Herefordshire and cross the invisible border between Shropshire and Wales before arriving home in the small mountain kingdom of Trelystan. We have watched the season wind backwards on our journey. Leaves unfurled in the soft south-west have curled themselves ever tighter as we drove up-country. We've a way to go yet. It will happen. In a way we'll be getting two bites of springtime.

And what's more - it's good to be home.


snailbeachshepherdess said...

welcome back..glad you had a good time..we were wandering around Long Mountain yesterday ...just mooching looking for For Sale see what's about .....just above your turning ...welshpoolside ....that wall of primroses! wow! and even more wow!!

Nikki-ann said...

Sounds like quite a trip :) I'm glad you had a good time.

kissa said...

Padstow is such a lovely little harbour. We have never eaten or stayed with Rick but then have lived in Kernow for many a year which is probably why! Eden and the Tamar Valley all good stuff. Glad you had a good trip down to my bit of England.

Milla said...

I love Cornwall and know Rick Stein's fish and chippery if not his restaurant (never seem to have the money and not the children!) Saw Eden about 5 or 6 years ago when it was quite new and would love to go back.

Faith said...

Your meal at Rick's sounded scrumptious and just what I would have chosen. We enjoyed Eden bang on two years ago almost on our honeymoon - brought it back. Glad you had a good time.

Cowgirl said...

Loved your holiday blog! Am very jealous of you're being able to visit Rick Stein's place - think he's a pet although can't eat seafood so he'd probably despise me.... glad you got the view of the harbour too.... wow, so his place is all contemporary - somehow I'd thought it'd be cottagey.... lovely blog!

joco said...

You paint with words...

elizabethm said...

I've just come back from a few days in Devon and would have loved to carry on to Cornwall. Isn't the Eden project impressive? It's not a garden, which is my passion, but it is a vision which i really admire

occasional northerner said...

I'm a bit of an Eden Project sceptic, but I think Heligan is great. Different I suppose.