A Cornish Yen

Sunday, May 22, 2011 Road Junkies 0 Comments

CORNWALL, England — Since we still had a couple of days booked in Plymouth (that we would not be spending looking for letterboxes on Dartmoor), today seemed like a good time to explore part of the Cornish coast. Cornwall is the peninsula at the extreme southwestern tip of the island of Great Britain, just to the west of Plymouth.

National Geographic includes the Cornwall coast on its list of Drives of a Lifetime: 500 of the World's Most Spectacular Trips. Since some of our favorite drives are also included on this list, we were very interested in having a look at the Cornish excursion.  Knowing the entire drive was too long, we opted to try some of the areas near Plymouth.

Looe
Our first stop was the fishing village of Looe (loo) on the coast.  In medieval times, there were two villages on opposite banks of the River Looe, now joined as one town.  East Looe is home to the fishing harbor and the main shopping center while West Looe is somewhat quieter and more residential.  The towns are connected by a seven-arched Victorian bridge completed in 1853.

East Looe
We left Looe on Polperro Road in search of the hamlet that inspired National Geographic editors to gush: "Widely considered the most picturesque fishing village in Cornwall, little Polperro is a feast for the eyes."  As we neared the town, we began to see signs advertising the model village of Polperro. "Get a bird's eye view of our little fishing village," the signs proclaimed.  We were beginning to smell something fishy alright, but it was tourists caught in this trap, not halibut and flounder.

By this time we were so near the village, we decided to do a drive through before we moved on down the coast. That's why, when we saw the road diverge, we followed the sign for Village Centre rather than the sign pointing to Polperro Parking.  And that is how we found ourselves on the narrowest and steepest road we have experienced on this journey.


At first the street seemed fairly 'normal' (meaning in Cornwall it had about 1½ lanes), but as we drew into the residential part of town, it narrowed significantly.  We reached a point where no more than an inch of space separated our car from the buildings we drove between.  Utility poles along the "street" were decorated with paint and nicks from previous cars passing this way.


We had lowered the car windows to enable us to put our heads out and better gauge our distance from the obstacles so we could avoid paying Hertz for damage repair. I wasn't even driving and found the situation quite stressful, but Ken kept calm and carried on as if driving on this kind of "street" were a daily occurrence.  When we reached the bottom of this very steep hill, the street ended and our only choice was a right turn.  This landed us smack in the middle of a very narrow pedestrian filled lane.


We were on the receiving end of many scowls and annoyed stares from pedestrians who had to flatten themselves against the wall for us to pass.  "Sorry, we're from Canada," we kept muttering, as we squeezed through, dodging bellies by mere millimeters.  At last, we escaped from the village center.  "Step on it!" I urged Ken as we saw the sign indicating the direction to the next village.

Fowey
Our last stop on this Cornish adventure was the small commercial seaport of Fowey (foy). The town of Fowey climbs up a hill from the water and stretches about a mile along the west bank of the River Fowey to its mouth.  Dating back to 1300, the town of 2,273 boasts many shops and galleries as well as a good number of eating places. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Boat House, a restaurant near the harbor.

We couldn't leave Cornwall without a hike on the South West Coast Path National Trail.  Britain's longest waymarked long-distance footpath, the path stretches 630 miles around the entire coastline of Cornwall and extends into neighboring counties.  The trail originated as a way for the Coast Guard to walk from lighthouse to lighthouse as they patrolled for smugglers.  Since they needed to be able to search every cove and inlet, the path hugs the coastline, affording stunning views.


We spent a couple of hours hiking out and back from Fowey.  No longer used by the Coast Guard, the path is now used exclusively for recreation.  We were impressed to see how many people were hiking this trail on a Sunday afternoon.  And as we've seen elsewhere in Great Britain, many of the hikers were our age and older.  Officials estimate that visitors who come to the area to hike the path pump £300 million into the Cornish economy each year.