Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Roadwork Summer Holiday 2011:- Part Five. (Last bit!)

Truth be told, for the rest of the trip we didn’t really do a great deal. And it was all the better for it. You see, when you start writing a travelogue type affair it’s always good to make sure there’s enough of interest to flesh it out. Well, if you’re looking for drama and intrigue, I won’t waste any more of your time; you've been quite patient enough.

If you’re ready to drink in the atmosphere, though, of a relaxing camping holiday amid beautiful scenery, with the emphasis on zoning out of the real world and just soaking in the ambience; read on.

Nicola and I are currently working on getting a house of our own together, somewhere in the Essex countryside but not too far from the sea. We’d die if we were too far from the sea, it’s a dependency you develop when you grow up at the seaside; if there isn’t a sniff of salt on the air you start to hyperventilate and lose your grip.

It’s a measure of our desire to nest-build that we like our holiday accommodation to be as homely as possible, and this extends to our tent. Last year we came to this same campsite but brought a different tent with us, a thing called a Wynnster Shrike 6, a sort of giant dome tent that allegedly had space for six. It didn’t, but it did have space for Nicola and I to spread out and the absolute luxury of being able to stand up while getting dressed.

The big problem with that sort of tent was its lightness of build. It was waterproof, but it sure as hell wasn’t weatherproof. I say wasn’t, because it is deceased; it is an ex-tent. Bayside Farm is devilishly exposed to the elements; that gorgeous panoramic sea view comes at the cost of there being absolutely no shield from the wind, and at night it can be extremely gusty, particularly in the late season.

Last year we visited in October and the days were broadly quite sunny, but after dark it could be horrible. We had several sleepless nights with the wind whipping the guy-ropes against the canvas and the dome above us twisting and oscillating wildly. We were only moments away, we feared, from the inevitable sound of tearing fabric. Game over.

We foresaw the future, but the helped us out by waiting for the most convenient possible moment before it failed. It had been a particularly rough night we awoke to find everything just as it should have been, and continued as if it were a normal day. We carried out our morning ablutions and were getting in the car to leave for somewhere when Nicola observed;

“Should it be sagging like that?”

No. It shouldn’t. Peering around the back of the tent revealed a long rip from one of the pegging loops, running along the fabric a good few feet or so. It continued to tear as we watched, until soon the entire tent was rent asunder.

It was a good job it had waited and failed catastrophically only now, had it been another five minutes later we would have returned in the evening to find our possessions scattered around the campsite and a tangle of torn nylon where our tent had been.

We ended up spending our last night in the car, and when we returned home we threw the Shrike 6 away. I’d bought it dirt cheap in the first place, and so it didn’t owe us anything. It gave us an excuse, too, to save up for the tent we’ve always wanted.

The new tent is made by Kampa, a locally based concern and it’s named the Frinton 4, which sounds like an Essex terrorist group, but is actually an extremely well made four man frame tent, with a big lounge area at the front and two sleeping compartments at the back. We set it up to be as practical as possible, one of the sleeping compartments were given over to storage so the bedroom was clear, just sleeping bags and roll mats. There is also built in storage for lightweight things like maps and teabags.

We have a roll-top table that lives in the front area with a pair of gas stoves on it, we need two because of how we make our coffee. Neither Nicola nor I can survive for very long without a caffeine infusion, and get ours using a stove-top vacuum coffee maker stuffed full of compacted coffee grounds. The second stove is there to provide hot water, which we use to dilute the coffee to something that doesn’t strip the enamel from our teeth.

We have a barbecue, too; a compact affair with its own carrying bag, just about big enough to prepare steak for two. Morrisons supermarket, we have discovered, do an excellent line in peppered steak, tender and abrim with peppery goodness.
Today we would have a chance to show all this infrastructure off to the family. 

Friday morning was spent in Looe, milling about, visiting the abundant tourist shops and eating ice-cream. We visited a tiny gallery where a weathered gentleman spent all day, every day, painting little thumbnails of Cornish scenes, and the shop was filled with examples of his work and that of others. Perhaps he had suddenly had a rush of self-deprecation, because he had been through the shop slashing prices right left and centre. We fell in love with a watercolour of Looe bridge and harbour, and paid just £25 for what would be our first piece of co-owned art.

For the early afternoon, we met with my Mum and Dad, Sister and Leigh, her Fiancé. He was raised in just up the coast in Plymouth, and is no stranger to these parts so his broad accent fitted right in. We dined handsomely on fish and chips at Kellys in Looe, which was expensive but the portions were huge. Furthermore, it tasted particularly good because my parents picked up the bill.

We left town immediately after lunch and returned to the tent to get on with some urgent sunbathing, laying on the tartan travel rug that sits on the Rovers’ parcel shelf and lends it such an air of pensioner chic. My parents came and joined us a few hours later. They said pleasant things about the tent, and shared our joy about the beautiful view we had across the bay and towards Looe Island. Much coffee was taken, and there were cream cakes, too. 

This just added to a spectacularly lethargic afternoon, made even more so after our visitors departure, when we got the red wine out. Cornish Vineyards actually produce wine that’s far better than you might give it credit for. Looe Island Red is one such beverage, and makes a perfect accompaniment for an evening of relaxation, watching the sun sink slowly out of sight behind the headland.

The rest of the holiday pretty much followed this blueprint. This was not a vacation where we particularly intended to achieve anything, we’d done Geevor Tin mine and the Eden Project, there were endless towns we could explore, and attractions we could visit, but we elected to studiously ignore any of them.

I wonder if this is a subconscious thing, where I’m trying at all costs to be different to my parents? There is some weight to this possibility; even the first couple of days we spent in Cornwall where we were camping in St Ives with Mum and Dad reminded us of the simple fact that their holidays aren’t really holidays at all.

Even the journey down had to have its own objectives which would be ticked off the agenda one by one as the miles passed. It was only when I launched into a fully fledged tizzy that Mum was finally dissuaded from worshipping at the altar of Marks and Spencers en route to the campsite; I’d already scored a personal victory by not indulging Dad in his wishes to stop on Dartmoor on the way down; this would have added a clear hour to the journey and achieved nothing, but it’s something Dad has to do.

Dad can’t go near Cornwall without making a pilgrimage to that expansive and barren moor, where sheep roam free and the very worst of Britains law-breakers find themselves banged up in Broadmoor Gaol. I can’t blame him; the landscape with its ever-changing colour thanks to heather, gorse and bracken that turns from purple to brown, the quietness and feeling of isolation, the occasional rocky escarpments that stand like ancient monuments; it’s a place of astonishing beauty. But everything at its right time.

Dartmoor isn’t a place you visit on your way somewhere. Like you can’t enjoy foie gras as a snack while you wait for a train, a jogger would be mad to fill his bottle with Dom Pérignon and a quick shag doesn’t have the same feeling of occasion as a morning spent making love; all of these take time if you want to enjoy them properly.

For Nicola and I, the fishing village of Polperro falls into a similar category, and here we went on Friday. Like Dartmoor, it sits there for year after year, you know it’ll always be there, you know that even if you don’t see it for tens of years, the chances are you can go back and it’ll be broadly the same.

But, because we see it as some kind of idealistic mecca, we want to go there. We don’t achieve anything while we’re there, other than just the feeling of being there. It’s a pretty village, Americans would call it quaint (actually, they’d probably say the same thing about Luton) as it’s full of steep, narrow streets and whitewashed terraced cottages, there’s a harbour where brightly coloured fishing boats bob up and down and, of course, cream teas are readily available. Actually, it’s lovely, anachronistic, maybe, but the very definition of what an English seaside village should be.

You can’t drive into Polperro, you’re forced to dismount in the town car park and walk the rest of the way. There is an amusingly small-scale bus service at hand, using converted electric milk floats, and they only charge a few shillings. It’s probably worth taking just for novelty value, but we opted to walk for the whole, undiluted experience.

You pass a number of tiny shops, who’s merchandise ranges from the obviously tourist-baiting, to the admittedly indispensable beer merchant. But when you make it to the harbour, you forget about the whole idea of holidaymakers being drained of every loose quid with Polperro tea towels, Cornish Pasty shaped fridge magnets (I have no need for one of these, I bought one last year) or decorative tins of. delicious local fudge.

The harbour is still a going concern, fishing boats land their catch on a daily basis, but it’s a far smaller operation than in Looe, where the fish trade is the entire life blood of the town. Polperro is largely propped up financially by tourism, so a number of the boats here offer day trips and ferry voyages further up the coast. It’s a bloody nice place to be, and extremely photogenic.

We walked out beyond the harbour and onto the headland, following the slippery, precipitous path to the old lookout building, now managed by the national trust. From this vantage point the village is as picture postcard perfect as any in the British Isles. The deep aquamarine water shimmers, the houses on the surrounding hills look to have been sprinkled rather than built. It’s as Cornish as it gets, and this is reinforced by the house prices we saw in the local estate agents. Nicola and I sadly resigned to crossing a character cottage in Polperro off our list; it would have been a bitch of a daily commute anyway.

Last year we had visited Polperro by foot, a long, fairly arduous walk along the clifftop from Looe. It had taken a good few hours and the weather had taken a turn for the worse half way, by the time we reached the village we were pretty well sodden. Still, we got there, and enjoyed a nice pasty by the harbour, and made the executive decision to take the bus home. This was a terrific plan because it meant freeing up a couple of hours, so we decided to go to a pub to celebrate.

The Crumplehorn Inn, at the very extremity of the village is a beautiful, ivy clad pub built from an old watermill, whose wheel turns languidly as you sit with your refreshing pint in the beer garden. I had a pint of St Austell Tribute, and Nicola was drawn to the sculpted tap through which issued the cider known as Rattler.

Nicola is little; beautifully proportioned, svelte, trim and elegant, but little. On a nearly empty stomach, after a long walk, the impact that the Rattler had on her was profound. Not spinning in circles and wobbling uncontrollably, but pleasantly dizzy and light-headed. She wouldn’t have even considered driving, for example. Rattler is good stuff, and violently effective without being as dangerous as some of the more robust scrumpy ciders out there. Disturbingly easy-drinking, too.

Today, she would return for another helping, in more prepared circumstances. Of course, we had both had a Rattler in St Ives at the beginning of the week, and over the last year it’s been hard to avoid the stuff; they sell it in bottles in Wetherspoons pubs to eighteen year olds country wide. Cornish Rattler is not exactly a secret. It is nice, though, and it seemed fitting to celebrate another year together by raising a glass in the same glorious surroundings.

It was a terrific way to end the day; all that was left was to journey back to the campsite and get some fine cuts of meat smouldering on the barbecue. No wine tonight, instead we cracked open a bottle of Lostwithiel Brewery’s excellent Lostwithiale; another local beer we discovered last year and had shared a craving for ever since. If I’m creating the impression that we’re a pair of soaks who can’t think of anything but where our next drink is coming from, then you’re only part right.

And thus endeth our summer holiday. Next day we set out on the return journey, this time by way of Dartmoor. We didn’t stop, just cruised sedately along the undulating lanes, taking in the scenery and drinking the oxygen rich air through the open windows.

Again, the Rover was utterly faultless, save for an occasional grinding from the drivers side front brake; a slightly sticking calliper, a bit of stuck grit? Nothing significant.

It would have been a perfect journey, save for the activities of a total prick on the A303, near Sparkford. In fact, Mr Dodge Nitro driving prick, if you're reading, this goes out to you:

When you suddenly appeared in my rear view mirror, you were doing a thing called "tailgating". I was in the outside lane doing 80, I had nowhere to go, the inside lane being full of caravans and artics. I thought my gesture of adding another 5, and then 10mph to my already illegal pace was very acommodating of me, yet you still chose to follow me so closely I could have turned in my seat and tickled you under the chin.

When we went our separate ways half a mile or so later, at the Sparkford roundabout, I can only assume that the beep of your horn and that hand mime depicting some kind of masturbatury antics were intended to draw attention to your interest in self abuse.

I hope you lose your hands in a threshing machine, rendering you unable to enjoy such hobbies.

And your car's shit.

It’s the sort of thing that really gets on my wick, and sadly happens most if you drive older cars, like I do. If you’re in anything on an old-style plate, you become part of an underclass. You don’t have the same rights to be on the road as the guy in the recent SUV. Or so it seems.

You’re only as good as your most recent action. I guess this is true; and it gives people carte blanche to judge you on first impressions, or your conduct in the last few minutes. Going by this dictum the guy in the Nitro was an unremitting dickhead, I had no evidence at all that he didn’t drive like that all the time. And, judged on his propensity for swearing at the slightest provocation, I deduce him to be a hot-headed, impatient, impolite waste of space.

Problem is, he likely as not sees me as a dithering Rover driver. Well, if cruising at para-legal speeds on the dual carriageway is dithering, then I’m guilty as charged. Like it or not, it’s an image I have to get comfortable with. The elderly Rover is a signature of the old giffer. I probably read the Daily Mail and have an advanced collection of walking sticks, beige slacks and cardigans.

Don’t care. In my air-conditioned V6 bubble, with Massive Attack playing, my Girlfriend slumbering beside me and memories of a wonderful holiday fresh in my mind, I couldn’t give a squirrels balls what anybody else thinks. It has been awesome.

It’s always awesome. 

(The end)