The silence earlier this week was caused by an unannounced outbreak of holidays. I didn’t feel that it was a good idea to announce online that my house would be vacant, and I took a very welcome break from using a computer at all.
I finished work on Friday, and then had Saturday free. This was a good idea, because the number of things that have to be done in the last week before a holiday tends to leave the unwary exhausted! So I wandered around like a ghost under grey skies. I hadn’t actually even decided for certain that I would go away. But the conviction grew during Saturday, and I packed my bags, filled up the car, and located my lists of “things to take” and “things in the house to check are closed/unplugged/etc”.
On Sunday morning I was up at a sensible time — no dawn starts for me! — and I hit the road about 8:30. Destination … St Austell in Cornwall!
I drove down the A12 to London, and then around the top of the M25 London Orbital motorway. The traffic was light, and I reached the junction with the M4 motorway, near Heathrow, after a couple of hours. Then westward, westward, as the sprawl of London fell away and the chalk hills of the downs began to rise on either side.
I stopped at Membury service station, just east of Swindon, where I once had a summer job in 1980. It was a hole then, and it is still a hole now! Then on again, past Swindon. Soon there were signs for Bath, and the Roman baths, which I have never seen. It’s a long old trip from Ipswich, but one day I must do that.
Then the great descent towards Bristol, through a cutting in the hill, and I gained my first sight of the Severn. Soon I turned off, onto the M5, and headed south. I stopped at Sedgemoor services and refueled again. Then on, through Somerset, along roads that were not entirely uncluttered with holiday-makers, over the bridge over the River Axe, to Exeter.
At Exeter I turned off onto the A30, which runs the length of Devon and Cornwall, up hill and down dale. These days it is mostly a dual carriageway, which makes it easier. Soon the road rose, up onto the moors, which looked as desolate as ever. A sign appeared for Jamaica Inn, the old smugglers’ hideout on Bodmin Moor. This is in the centre of the county, but in truth is only a dozen miles from the coast, by the bridleways that were known to local folk. Those paths saw much use during the Napoleonic wars, when the government duties on wine and spirits were last at the foolish heights they are today.
Finally I reached the St Austell turn off. A narrow road threaded up through the village of Bugle, all granite stone houses and walls and narrow streets, up to the top of the hills where the china clay used to be mined and a great spoil heap still stands. Threading through the lanes, I came over the ridge and St Austell bay opened up before me, with an immense view of sea and headlands. My hotel was the St Austell Premier Inn, which stands at Carclaze, just at the head of the road. It was 2pm, so I had made very good time over the 350 miles.
The rest of the day I spent pottering about. I went down to Charlestown, the tiny old port of St Austell, where the china clay used to be loaded and tourism is now the main thing. It was grey, but very warm and muggy, even up on the heights at Carclaze. Indeed I had to change room at 10:30 at night, because my room was at 24C! Another room looked over the car park, and had a breeze, and was 19C, and there I stayed.
On Monday morning I telephoned various relatives to announce my arrival. It can be slightly dicey making your presence known. Sometimes the relatives see a visiting stranger as a useful source of labour, to get jobs done! But not so this time.
In the morning I drove into St Austell, and parked in the new multi-storey car park. This replaced an appalling specimen of 60’s brutalist concrete architecture, which is now gone to its inevitable, rotted concrete, reward. St Austell town centre itself is only a shadow of the thriving town that I remember from my childhood. I could, indeed, find nothing that I wished to buy.
The afternoon was spent with relatives, just talking. They were interested to see the Eusebius book. The weather was improving, and the sun breaking through. I then went down to Charlestown again, where I had dinner and wandered around. I also drove down to Carlyon Bay, which is the posh end of St Austell. Everywhere I saw the blue hydrangeas — indeed I was told that they grow like weeds there! My main purpose was to identify the dismal hotel in which I stayed once, in October, for a funeral, so that I would know never to stay there again. It was the Cliff Head Hotel, and it looked even more run-down to me than I remembered. But as I drove back, to my astonishment I saw that mist was gathering on the high ground, up around the spoil heaps and Carclaze. So it proved; warm air below, and sunshine, and mist and fog a mile away up on the heights. Apparently this happens regularly.
In the morning there was bright, hot, sunshine. Back in Ipswich it was cold and grey, I learned, so this news delighted me! I had arranged to meet with an elderly aunt, and take her out for the day. She chose to go to Mevagissey. We drove down there, detouring to look at some fields that my grandfather once rented, and a lane in which stood a cottage where my aunt was born, well before WW2.
Mevagissey was a delight. It was also flat, which was important for the frail old lady whom I was with. We parked in the large car-park, and walked into the town and soon found ourselves on the harbour. The sun beat down, and the smell of the sea was in our faces. We sat there on a bench for some time — long enough for my arms to prickle and warn of impending sun-burn! A man drove up on a little blue motorcycle with boxes on the back and, as people do in those parts, got talking to my aunt. He was off to go fishing in a little boat that was tied up in the harbour.
After more walking around, my aunt stopped at an ice-cream shop where she knew one of the ladies, and asked her where we should eat. She recommended “number 5, market square” as the best place to eat, and there we went. And it was! My aunt had a jacket potato, and I had a ploughman’s lunch. The furniture was good solid wood, we were served quickly but not rushed, and everything was nice but not pricey. After that, we drove back. Again in the evening I went down to Charlestown, and what a difference the sun made!
On the second day, I went to see another relative, to talk about an aunt who had made a will which was giving concern to those who might end up as executors. A local financial advisor has been appointed co-executor, and nobody knew who he was, or on what terms. There is, of course, very little that can be done with my more mulish relatives, but after much discussion I formed the opinion that what had been done was sensible in principle, and that the family should be able to involve the financial services regulator if anything amiss transpired. The main problem, really, was that in making her will, my aunt had been secretive about the details of the executorship which had worried the others who would have to do it all.
After all that business — and some third degree from the lady responsible! — I again took the same aunt out for the day. We drove down the road from St Austell to Lostwithiel, and down to Looe. The road meandered down the country lanes, and past a sign for “Herodsfoot”. Some of the place names in Cornwall are a delight, all by themselves!
Looe is more down-market, as evidenced by the number of people sat on benches smoking and indeed tatooed individuals sitting on the (packed) beach smoking. But we enjoyed ourselves. Lunch was at a converted pub called the Golden Guinea, where the girls were extremely kind and thoughtful to my old aunt. Food there was just as good as at Mevagissey, and in some respects better.
Again in the evening I went down to Charlestown. The sea was as flat as a millpond. One of the tall ships had gone out, and was loitering about, offloading people onto a launch and taking on supplies of various sorts.
In the morning, the weather had gone grey, which reconciled me to going home, although I learned that later on it got hot again. The same trip back, in reverse, took a little longer, and I got home about 3pm.
And now I’m back home, and it’s cold and grey out there! But I shall be going back to St Austell again, when I get the chance!