Starting mileage: 15973 km
Day started: 10:00
Day ended: 22:00
A leisurely day of cruising along the East Cornwall’s fragmented coast.
Our first stop, Looe, turned out to host today a festival of Cornish food; needless to say, we came out of the festival tent with bags full of produce. We found many well-known producers here: Rodda’s, Cornish Orchards, Cornish Sea Salt Co. and something new: delicious seaweeds from The Cornish Seaweed Company. English food has gone light years from its stereotype, and we keep discovering new tastes and aromas on this journey. Cornwall, with its near tropical climate, produces pretty much everything the heart and stomach desires, from teas and fine wines to clotted cream, cheese and brilliant seafood.
Looe is the first in a series of fishing harbours which can only be described as ‘picturesque’: tight clusters of old fishermen cottages, nestling in the deep canyons carved by swift rivers in granite hills. On the harbour pier we tried a bit of crabbing: another English pastime we’ve seen everyone do around these parts. We had no proper bait, so I sacrificed a bit of my cheese&onion pasty from the festival. The crabs, being Cornish, stormed the pasty and our toy fishing line (£1 in a seaside kiosk) in droves.
Incidentally, the main road to Looe was closed down due to a landslide; both earlier and later on, we saw many such landslides affecting our journey. The wettest Spring on record soaked the ground and made travelling dangerous again.
We stopped at Talland Bay, one of hundreds of tiny granite coves dotting this coast. Note: don’t try to park at the hotel, there’s a perfectly decent and large car park by the beach. A cafe by the park brews Origin Coffee (best roastery in Cornwall) and serves organic ice cream.
At low tide, the dramatic rocks around Talland are a paradise of rock-pooling, with colonies of sea anemones, winkles and limpets carpeting the stone; a wall of red slate, heaved up from the sea, separates the bay into two smaller coves, easily accessible at low tide.
In Talland we saw still more signs warning about the Weever Fish: a menace we weren’t aware of at all; these tiny fish bury themselves in the sand, leaving only pointy, stinging fins. The sting can apparently be very painful.
I first became aware of the village of Polperro when I was checking the map of the area; the name intrigued me, but I had no idea what to expect when we got there. A clue to the Polperro’s popularity was an enormous car park on the edge of the village, full of cars and coaches.
Polperro, it turns out, is almost a kind of theme park, except it’s 100% authentic: a perfect medieval fishing village. There is a long and winding walk from the car park to the harbour (you can take a £1 milk float disguised as a tram) which is lined with tacky tourist shops, fudge vendors, ice cream stalls and chippies; even that part is pretty, however, the area around the harbour itself is almost unbearably attractive. Tight, narrow lanes, white-washed fishing cottages, authentic inns where you can still hear the fishermen gather by pints of local ale telling tall tales (one overheard that evening was about a French racing pigeon found inside a shark).
Having filled our eyes with the beauty of the place, and our stomachs with ale and fudge, we went down the incredibly winding and narrow local roads towards a place where our GPS claimed was a ferry across River Fowey. The roads grew narrower, the woods deeper, and our hopes fewer, when suddenly the forest wall opened to reveal a grand estuary, a large town on the other side, a ferry and a huge cargo ship loading something off a railway pier: the sign proudly announced the Ancient Harbour of Fowey.
We didn’t have time to stop at Fowey, although it looked nice enough. Off we went towards St. Austell (of the brewery fame) and beyond, to the camping site near Veryan.
There were odd, tall hills looming on the horizon over St. Austell, white as if snow-capped, with one conical peak rising like a Mount Fuji over it all. The hills are artificial; these are the Cornish Alps: the remains of the immense china clay (kaolinite) beds, mined for centuries; every ton of clay produced five tons of waste, and with the Cornish beds amounting at some point for fifty percent of world’s production, there was a lot of waste. Enough to create man-made, snow-white mountains of it.
Unlike the tin mines, the clay pits continue to be worked and provide employment for thousands of local workmen. It was the clay we saw loaded on the ship in Fowey, and later processed and stored in huge hangar-like warehouses which lined the road we drove towards the campsite.
The Veryan campsite is very much nondescript – large and crowded field for big caravans and motorhomes; we chose it mainly because we needed to use its Wi-Fi. It was £18 per night with hookup, and the Wi-Fi was £2 extra.