Starting mileage: 16096 km
Day started: 12:00
Day ended: 21:00
There is so much to see in Cornwall that one must take somewhat of a taoist approach: search without searching, go forward and discover what’s along the road.
It was that way we discovered, while heading towards Gorran down the usual narrow roads of rural Cornwall, the Lego-like Caerhays Castle and the Porthluney Beach, a broad, sandy and sunny beach on the grounds of estate.
After a brief stop there we tumbled on to Gorran Haven: another fishing village in a picturesque cove, with one more sandy beach, with an old boating pier, bordered by tall granite promontories on both sides – the larger one to the north called the Chapel Point.
But Chapel Point and Gorran Haven still wasn’t our main target of the morning. That lay about half a mile further south, beyond the small National Trust car park: the majestic, long Vault Beach, and the mighty 400-ft tall Dodman. Reaching Dodman meant we have completed the Spanish Ladies route, albeit the wrong way around.
Spanish Ladies is one of the oldest and most popular sea shanties; it tells a story of a ship probing its way up the Channel from Spain, and the key verse goes like this:
The first land we sighted was call-ed the Dodman,
Next Rame Head off Plymouth, Start, Portland and Wight
We sailed by Beachy, by Fairlight and Dungeness
And then we bore up for the South Foreland light.
South Foreland is a famed lighthouse off Dover, where we hope to depart from at the end of this circumnavigation.
From Dodman we had great views into the sea, watching the shipping from Plymouth; a navy ship on the horizon pounded its guns in slow rhythm, and a pair of gannets swooped in the distance. Adult gannets are fantastic birds to watch in flight, easy to spot, slender and elegant like albatrosses.
Off we went from the beaches of East Cornwall, past a well-stocked farm shop and the ‘ancient village’ of Tregony, along the River Fal, to one of the many vast garden estates common in this part of the country (many are in National Trust’s care, most are still in hands of original owners; you can visit a lot of them if gardens are your thing) – Tregothnan. This particular estate’s claim to fame is England’s only tea plantation; the gardens themselves are open to visitors once a month, other than that you have to make do with a stop at the Woodsman’s Cabin, a small shop near the entrance where you can buy one of several local teas (we went after Earl Grey and Manuka) and a jar of Kea Plum Jam: a jam made of a variety of plums that can be found only on this one estate in the world.
It was getting late, so we “sped” (as much as the car can which is between 30 and 50 mph) past Cornwall’s only (and UK’s southernmost) city Truro, up the crowded A380, heading straight into the heart of the Pit Country.
I admit to having little idea of how West Cornwall mines might look like. I thought they’d be hard to spot, would take a while to get to. Instead, we became immediately aware of where we are; the huge pit chimneys and pump engine buildings lined the horizon like lighthouses, and on every roundabout one of the exits led to a heritage pit site. Even the campsite we stayed at had a big stack looming right above it.
The Poldown is one of the inexplicable cluster of three good campsites along one road in the middle of a countryside. It’s small, cosy, very well laid out – almost like camping in somebody’s backyard – with all the mod-cons possible, clean facilities, and even free wi-fi. The owners were very accommodating, and more than helpful with getting our van out of a ditch it fell into right outside their house.