Saturday, June 16, 2018

Boscastle to Port Isaac - along the coastal path

With Tintagel as our base camp, we first headed about 5 miles north to Boscastle, a tiny port with a natural harbor, set in a gentle valley. The village has winding roads, thatched-roof and white-washed cottages, and an interesting natural harbor.  Be sure to stop at the National Trust visitor's center for information on the many walks you can take from the harbor.  

From the harbor we walked a lovely path that follows along the stream that feeds into the harbor, leads through fields and woods and past several tucked-away churches, then up to the top of the valley and back down to the village.  

We also walked out to a blow hole not far from the harbor but the sea was so calm on that day that there were no waves and so, no blowhole. 

From Boscastle we headed south, past Tintagel, to Port Isaac.

Port Isaac is a fishing village best known now as the film site of the British series Doc Martin staring Martin Clunes. Before it became famous it has been a fishing village since the early fourteenth century. It's naturally sheltered harbor, narrow winding streets, and old white-washed cottages and traditional granite, slate-fronted Cornish houses, make it truly picturesque and film worthy. It is easy to see why it was chosen as the site of the beloved TV series. 

We were there at low tide so most of the boats were out of the harbor. As such, it made for great tide pools. 

While we walked about the village, we saw this notice posted here and there and wondered what was being filmed.

It turns out they were filming a video of a local band called Fisherman's Friends.  This day the filming was taking place a few hundred yards out to sea, not in the village. 

From Port Isaac, we walked the Coastal path south to Port Quinn, a magical near-deserted cove with another rugged natural harbor.

From our guide book: "Local legend tells that the village (Port Quin)  has been abandoned by its population twice in its history. The first time when the pilchard shoals deserted this part of the coast and the second time, in the 19th century, when all the local fishermen were lost at sea in a terrible storm leaving 32 women widowed. The wives of the fisherman stayed for a time but were unable to eke out a living and finally moved away. There is little documentation about the desertion of the village. The villagers may have just moved on to nearby villages when mining and fishing went into decline and some of them may have emigrated to Canada but no ones knows exactly what happened. Local people still refer to Port Quin as "the village that died".

We stayed at the Penallick B & B, about a mile south of Tintagel and only 200 yards off the Coastal path.  It was clean, quiet, friendly, and the perfect home base for three days of walking this beautiful coastline. 

Along the coastal walk between TIntagel and Port Isaac, we saw a number of old slate quarry mines. Slate quarrying began here probably in the late 1400's and the last of the mines closed in 1937.  There are also remains and scars of old tin mines, although most of these are further south along the coast. 

Thirty years ago, my parents spent several weeks, spread out over three trips, walking most of the Cornwall Coastal Trail.  I had heard their stories, over the  years, of the beauty of this land and coast, the quaintness of the villages and ports, and the friendliness of the people of Cornwall. I can now vouch that it is all true.  It really is a spectacular coast line with amazing trails that cover most of the coast.  It is one of our favorite spots in England.  I can't wait to return and explore more of the coastal path. 

P.S. Of the wildlife we saw on the trail, my favorite were the dogs. There were so many happy dogs.  It's truly a walker's and dog lover's paradise. 

P.P.S This is proof that occasionally my husband does take a picture.  Only very occasionally, though.


On the northwest coast of Cornwall there is a small island rock where a path, a small bridge, plus148 steps lead to a wooden door and into castle ruins where legend says is where King Arther was conceived. Walk around this small island and you'll be treated to beautiful sea views of the castle ruins on the headland and island, the sea cliffs on all sides, and the ruins and remains of settlements from the medieval ages.  It's breathtaking!

Legend has it that Tintagel Castle was the site of Arthur's birth in the late fifth century, but there is precious little proof of this. The first mention of Arthur is from Geoffrey of Monmouth, a 12th century Welsh cleric, who gave the earliest account of Arthur's life in his book History of the Kings of Britain. He claimed that he was copying an ancient manuscript he had in his possession, but he appears to have invented most of his story, even though some aspects seem to have existed in early Celtic myth.

What is certain is that there has been a settlement on the island for at least 1300 years and that it has been a trading center at various times through the centuries.  And there are the ruins of a castle, fortress, and settlements that have been there for a millennium.

In the last couple of years there have been interesting finds in the excavations on the island. They support the idea that in the 5th and 6th centuries, the settlements here were part of a well-developed trading network reaching from the Mediterranean to the British Isles. You can read more about the recent archeology here -- it's quite interesting. 

At the highest point of the island stands a stunning 8 foot bronze statue of King Arthur gazing back at the ruins of Tintagel castle. It was installed in 2016 and created by sculptor Rubin Eynon.  I found it stunning and perfect for it's setting. It's is quite a sight to behold.

There are so many spots on the island that are enchanting.  Wooden doors that lead to beautiful vistas, fascinating ruins, cliffside paths, caves, and interesting history. Tintagel is definitely worth a visit.  

Below the ruins of Tintagel Castle, are caves that are believed to be where Merlin, the magician, lived. The caves are accessible from a footpath, but fill with water at high tide. Next to the caves is a beautiful cove with a bit of a beach. It is easy to imagine that this was a small port to many of the trading ships that came to this part of Cornwall over the centuries. 

Tintagel is managed by the English Heritage and there is a well designed visitors center near the cove with all sorts of interesting information on Tintagel and this part of Cornwall through the ages. 

Not far form the little island of Tintagel is the village by the same name. This is the Old Post Office in the village.  It's originally a fourteenth century manor house with a topsy-turvy slate roof, recently restored and now owned by the National Trust. 

For more information on Tintagel:  

The Atlantic Highway

Tintagel Castle

Dark Ages royal palace discovered in Cornwall

Tintagel Old Post Office

Tintagel one-mile loop walk

Monday, June 11, 2018

Lynton, Lynmouth and Exmoor

I had heard about the beauty of Exmoor and the Northwest Devon Coastal Path.  In fact, Lynton and Lynmouth where known by the Victorians as Little Switzerland.  John and I finally had the chance to see it for ourselves. It did remind me a bit of Switzerland -- it certainly has it's own spectacular beauty with hints of alpine charm.  It very quickly became another one of our favorites places in England.  It's one of those places we could happily return to again and again. 

Two villages on the coast, one about 500 feet above the other, Lynmouth is the harbor village below and Lynton is built on the cliff above. They are connected by very steep roads, trails, and fortunately a funicular cliff railway.

Lynton and Lynmouth are also known as the walking capital of Exmoor. One of the most popular walks leads west along the coastal path to the Valley of Rocks with its wonderful scenery and a flock of wild goats.  Even on a lightly misty morning, we were awestruck with the beauty and ruggedness along this path. The path here is quite flat and steady, although the drop down to the sea is steep and not for anyone afraid of heights.   

About a mile from Lynton is a rock formation called "White Lady" whose supposed shape of a woman's face appears in the cracks between the boulders making up Castle Rock (I never could see a face in the formation). From here you can continue west along the spectacular coastal path or there is an easy loop back to the town of Lynton - about a two-mile walk in total.

The other popular walk from Lynmouth is the National Trust path up the river gorge to Watersmeet where the Trust has a shop and a tea room.  This path is one of the loveliest river walks we have found in England. 

The sound of rushing water, chirping birds, and the lush green dotted with bright bursts of wild flowers make this walk breathtaking.  

The path leads to Watersmeet House, a former fishing lodge which dates from approximately 1832. It stands at the bottom of a deep gorge at the confluence of the East Lyn River and Hoar Oak Water. The site has been a tea garden since 1901 and owned by the National Trust since 1996. They have delicious scones here, Devon style, which means you put the clotted cream on first then the strawberry jam.  

One of the reasons we look forward to returning is that Watersmeet House is the starting-off point for some 40 miles of woodland, streamside and seaside walks. We covered just over 12 miles of those trails.  I'd love to walk the rest. 

The East Lyn and the Hoaroak river combine just inland from the harbor at Watersmeet and sweep down the gorge where the National Trust path runs, through the village, to the sea. On August 15, 1952, a terrible flash flood swept down these rivers through village of Lynmouth. Thirty five people died as a a torrent of water and thousands of tons of rock poured off the saturated moorland and into the village destroying homes, bridges, shops and hotels. It was one of the worst flash floods in British history. 

You can still see some scars from the terrible flood and there is a museum in Lynmouth that contains photographs, newspaper reports and a scale model of the village, showing how it looked before the flood. It's well worth a visit. 

We stayed in a lovely Guesthouse, the South View Guest House in Lynton. It was clean, quiet, comfortable, reasonable, with delicious breakfasts and the a delightful host and hostess. 

Our guest house wasn't far from the famous and ingenious cliff railway which connects the two villages.  In 1887, the town's main benefactors Sir George Newnes and Sir Thomas Hewitt began building the funicular cliff railway. It opened in 1890 and is the highest and the steepest totally water powered railway in the world!   

The rail system runs using the weight of water and passengers as a counterbalance. The car at the top has water poured into it's tank (from a nearby stream) making it slightly heavier than the car at the bottom. When the breaks are released on both cars, the weight of the top car combined with with gravity send it down the track pulling the bottom car up the track.  In other words, no other power is used other than the weight of the water and the passengers. I think that is rather ingenious green technology, especially for a 1887 invention that is still working perfectly today. In fact, there has never been an accident on this funicular since it started running!

About 3 miles east of Lynmouth, the Exmoor moorlands begin. That is where we spotted a small heard of "wild" Exmoor ponies. They are wild in the sense that the herds roam freely on the moor, but they all belong to someone. A few years ago people were afraid that the ponies might become extinct so the National Park Authority bought young stock and now owns two herds. 

While we mostly walked the coastal trail and the beautiful Watersmeet  National Trust trail, there are endless walks out on the moorland. We saved those for another day. 

The call of exploring the northwest coastal path of Devon and Cornwall pulled us westward.  Next stop, Tingagel.  

For more information:

Lynmouth circular walk via Watersmeet and Countisbury

Lynton and Lynmouth Wikipedia

Exmoor Ponies

Best walks from Lynton

The Lynmouth flood of 1952