Tuesday, 6 May 2008

I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral

Saturday morning dawned and it was time to set off on our longest trip to date (apart of course from our journey to get to the UK). We had packed lunches and snack, and Meg made bacon and egg muffins for breakfast before we hit the road at 7:20am. Traffic was reasonable on the M25 and (once we got to it after a small detour) the M4 so we were making excellent time. On the radio, even if you are listening to a CD the radio cuts in to give you traffic reports then takes you back to where you were at the end, we heard that there had been a single vehicle accident inbounds to London on the M4. Sure enough, after a couple of junctions there was no more traffic on the other side of the motorway. Just as we were passing Reading we came upon a multitude of police cars and traffic banked up for a couple of miles, but no sign of any accident. Perhaps by then they had moved it, but had we been stuck in the gridlock on the other side we would have been very frustrated.

Once again we made it out to Bristol, in sight of the Severn Bridge across the river to Wales. Once again we turned left, this time to head down the M5 toward Plymouth and Exeter. One day we will pay the £5.30 toll to cross the bridge, in the meantime we get to take a look at another country. Both Brock and Meg begged Wayne to stop, one to go to Bristol Zoo, the other to go to Walmart, but he obstinately kept driving knowing that there was still quite a distance to travel. One of the fascinating things about travelling through England, and especially when we got to Cornwall, is the fascinating names of towns and villages. We passed the turnings for Weston-super-Mare and Dog Village before heading on to the A30, then it was towns like Moretonhampstead, South Zeal, Broadwoodwidger, Lifton Down, Lostwitheil, and the largest mountain in the region, Brown Willy.

At this point we turned off the A30 heading toward St Austell and the boys were intrigued. “How far are we from Penzance?” Brock asked. Meg and Wayne told him that they were still quite a way, because they were actually going somewhere else just at the moment. In the end, they refused to divulge where they were headed until they reached the Eden Project (www.edenproject.com). The Eden Project was established as one of the Landmark Millennium Projects to mark the year 2000 in the UK. They took an exhausted, deep, steep-sided clay pit 60m deep, the area of 35 football pitches, with no soil, 15 metres below the water table and built a garden featuring a huge diversity of plants from all over the world. Because the normal conditions for many of these plants is in climactic conditions different to those found in South West England, huge biomes were built to house many of the plants, mimicking Tropical and Mediterranean climates. It is an amazing place, enormous in scale and mindbogglingly realistic in the way that it presents so many of the plants, as Meg and Wayne could testify, having spent time in places like New Guinea and Malaysia respectively.

We spent a couple of hours looking around the entire project and particularly looking through the biomes. It was amazing just how hot and humid it was in the tropical biome. Some of this is controlled by the construction that surrounds the area, some of it by the plants that are grown there, some of it by the water that flows through the biome. We saw crops like rice, bananas, mango, cocoa, coffee and hundreds of different palms. The humidity was, at times, oppressive although the temperature never got as high as it might have in Queensland, but it was interesting to see how much all of us had acclimatised so that we felt it much more than we might have 3 months ago. After taking a ride in a tractor-pulled train carriage back to the top of the site we decided to move on.

Getting back on to the A30 we continued down into Cornwall, passing the turns to the evocative sounding St Columb Major, Castle-an-dinas, St Dennis (patron saint, we decided, of turtle neck sweaters and loafers), Quoit, Inches, Zelah, Goonhavern, Perranzabuloe, Sevenmilestone, Goon Gumpas, Nancekuke, Higher Penponds, Towednack and Cripplesease. One of the other interesting things that occupied us on the road was the number of Wind Farms we spotted (www.res-ltd.com/wind-farms/wf-4burrows.htm). We would emerge over a hill and there, just off the road, would be a group of intimidatingly large windmills. We have come across these before. There is one just to the side of the M25 near Kings Langley, and another by the side of the M4 at Reading, but these were in groups of 15 or 16 and they made an impressive sight, all turning in the breeze. Really that should be all but one, for at each Wind Farm that we passed there was always one that was not turning. 6 of the countries major wind farms occur in Cornwall, we discovered later, next time we go back we shall have to see if we can spot the others.

Once more the boys began asking us how long it would be before we got to Penzance, and once more we told them that we weren’t going there just yet. This time we had an even better reason, we had been told that the hostel that we were going to stay in was not open to new arrivals between 2pm and 5pm. We had some time to kill, so we headed past the turns into Penzance itself and made for Land’s End (www.cornwall-online.co.uk/attractions/lands-end/Welcome.html). This is the most westerly tip of the southern mainland of Great Britain and the furthest point west in England. Consequently it is used as one end of the, by now, traditional journeys the length of Britain. People run, cycle, walk, walk backwards, and any number of other strange methods of travel between Land’s End and John O’Groats (the most north-easterly settlement in mainland Britain, and 854 miles away as the crow flies). We passed all sorts of people as we drove, and also, about a mile out from Land’s End itself, the church at St Sennen. All of us marvelled at the fact that there had been a church on the site since 520AD, although much of the present building was [only] built in the thirteenth century. Cornwall was one of the counties most resistant to the reformation of the Church in the 16th century (hence so many of the St Something-or-others which form many of the town and village names in the area). Meg also pointed out the predominance of Methodist churches in the county, which no doubt relates to the fact that the Pilgrim Fathers voyage to America left from Plymouth (not that far away).

When we arrived at Land’s End we were greeted by a significant drop in the temperature since we had last left the confines of the car, and an increase in the amount of wind (which explained the presence of the wind farms and had nothing to do with Quinn’s consumption of baked beans). Brock also spotted a rabbit just metres away from the car park, sitting happily munching on grass while watching us with big wary eyes. Sadly, the focus on Land’s End has led to it becoming a bit of a tourist trap meaning that you had to pay to have certain photos on the most strategic points taken. Because it was Saturday afternoon, however, most of the shops in the shopping mall had closed, and even Meg wasn’t overly disappointed at this. We were fortunate that it was a relatively calm day, so the Atlantic was not producing enormous waves, and Meg and Wayne pointed out the way to the USA, just across the waters (and only a little more than 3000 miles away). We walked around the headland, admiring the view, before heading back to the car, this time bound for Penzance.

We parked outside the Blue Dolphin Backpackers Hostel (www.pzbackpack.com) and went inside to organise our rooms and drop off our possessions. After a nice chat with the duty manager (a South African, who was fascinated when he found out we were Australians who had actually moved to live in the UK, consequently, whenever he saw us there were questions he wanted to ask) we walked back out and down to the waterfront (about 400 metres) to look for somewhere to have dinner. After rejecting numerous pubs, cafes and restaurants because they were too expensive we went back a block and found a lovely little cafĂ© which specialised in fish and chips. We sat down for a meal of chips with various mains. More exciting was the desert. We had heard about this while living in Australia. My understanding was that the idea had originally begun in Scotland, but that it had been taken up in some parts of England. However, we hadn’t expected to find Deep Fried Mars Bars here in Penzance, Cornwall. Everyone at least had a taste, with the conclusion that we wouldn’t want to eat them all the time, but that it was an interesting culinary experiment.

As we walked back along the waterfront of Penzance, looking out on to Mount’s Bay we were amazed at the beach (although I am sure some Australians would see that description as somewhat ironic). Wayne had experienced previously that English beaches were largely rocks and pebbles rather than sand. What was more unexpected here was the blackness of what sand there was. You might see this in the photo. After walking for a few minutes Brock spotted something moving out in the water. It was a seal, just sitting about 10 metres out, just under the water, every now and then sticking his nose up for air. Brock and Quinn ran down on to the beach to get a closer look, and to collect stones for Meg, but the seal didn’t seem to want to come in any closer. Eventually, the boys came back up again and we went back to the hostel, putting the stones in the car as we went. Wayne and Meg read and watched television for a while, before heading off to bed. Brock and Quinn stayed up longer, chatting to the other backpackers, in particular some girls from Sweden and Switzerland, before they retired for the night after what had been a long but fabulous day.

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