Leaving Ilfracombe for the day, driving to Camelford and Tintagel.
Today we were going to drive about sixty miles along the Devon coast into Cornwall, about half the distance we drove yesterday, but we would still have to drive back to Ilfracombe by tonight. Once we arrived in Cornwall, we had quite a bit of Arthurian sightseeing/research to do, so it was going to be another full day.
We slept well (mostly from being completely worn out). So well, in fact, that we were unaware of a massive rainstorm in the middle of the night. I sleep very soundly as a general rule anyway, but Minay wakes up easily and she didn’t hear it rain either. We had a very nice breakfast at the Montpelier B&B. I tried a full fry up, minus some of the meaty parts (being a semi-vegetarian – no red meat), and it was very tasty, although I have to admit it did feel a little weird to be eating baked beans and fried tomatoes for breakfast, but the tea was strong, and that counted for a lot. It occurred to me that this was our sixth day in the country, and — aside from the latte at the Welcome Break on our way to Bath from the airport — I hadn’t had any coffee. The tea was so strong I hadn’t even noticed.
Our first stop (provided we could get out of Ilfracombe) would be Camelford. Surprisingly, considering the trouble we had arriving the night before, we got on the road south (A361) fairly easily this time, since it was just a matter of driving down the steep hill our B&B was on, turning left on the main road through the town center (BrE = centre), and following it out of town (where it became A361).
Flio was getting a little low on fuel, so we stopped at an Esso station in Braunton, about five miles south of Ilfracombe, and filled her belly with diesel. She was thirsty. She took 47.5 liters (BrE = litres), or about 12 US gallons. We had driven about 135 miles at this point, so that meant Flio was only getting 11.25 miles per gallon.
(Note: Don’t fly when Iceland has been having volcanic eruptions. A smaller car would have given us better gas mileage. If that comment didn’t make any sense, read about our Eyjafjallajökull experience here.)
Minay navigated us across the River Taw from Braunton, to the A39, where we cut sharply west toward our destination. It showered just a little, very lightly, but it didn’t last long, although we were fairly certain we were going to have a wet day. Here are some of the clouds we faced when we first got on A39.
The rain actually came and went fairly quickly, but the clouds hung around for most of the morning. We were near the Torridge River when we spotted what we thought at first was a single gravestone by the side of the road, so we pulled over to look at it. It turned out to be a road marker (obviously much more useful in the days of horse-drawn coaches and carriages), letting us know that we were at the turnoff for Bideford, and that Bude was 19 miles farther down the road.
Bideford, which is inland, is a port town on the River Torridge. The name derives from the phrase “by the ford,” because there was a ford there before a bridge was built in 1286. Charles Kingsley, author of Westward Ho! lived in the area. The nearby town, Westward Ho! was built after the book was published. It is the only town in the UK which has an exclamation mark in its name. Bude, which is on the coast, is well known for its beaches and surfing. The singer, Tori Amos, has a home and recording studio in Bude. We didn’t stop at either of those places, though, [insert a mental image of a frowny-face here], we just kept driving.
Favorite name of a place we passed but didn’t stop — Woolfardisworthy (South of the A39, between Bideford and Bude). It’s name is pronounced, oddly enough, as Woolsery. Another place (north of Woolfardisworthy, right on the A39), that I am forever grateful we didn’t stop at was The Milky Way Adventure Park. Probably great for kids, though.
Camelford is only about fifteen miles past Bude, and we arrived in the general vicinity of noon. Camelford is a small town, about 2,200 people. Below, you can see the main street.
(I think the street was called Market Place), two lanes, one of them taken up with parked cars. This is very common in parts of England, especially in smaller towns. If you come across another car going in the opposite direction, one of you pulls to the side until the other passes. You take turns, just like you were taught in elementary school (BrE = junior school). You were taught to share and take turns, right?
We found a free car park and did a bit of wandering in town. Here’s Minay making her way back down Market Street. This is one of the milder slopes we were to be on today, as we soon discovered.
She might have few more pictures of Camelford for you in her post next week. Here’s a picture you’ve probably already seen (if you started looking at the blog from the beginning).
We realized we were hungry, when we spotted a pasty shop. We were in Cornwall, so it would have been criminal to not have a Cornish pasty while we were there. They were actually getting ready to close, having sold almost all of their assortment for the day, but we snagged the last cheese and potato pasty they had, still quite warm, and made our way back to Flio (that’s the pasty on her bonnet), sat on a stone wall at the nicely shaded car park, and split the pasty for our lunch. It was delicious and filling, and more than enough to get us further into the day.
Next stop, two miles away, on Slaughter Bridge Road, was the Arthurian Centre. We were a bit disappointed in it, having already spent some time at sites that were very classy, sometimes almost lavish, with attention paid to detail (like the Roman Baths, and Stonehenge, and No. 1 Royal Crescent). The Arthurian Centre seemed a bit rundown and simplistic. The site’s decorations also seemed to be geared toward a much younger generation. See the child’s slide behind their welcome sign?
They had a small museum at the welcome center, with a film about the legends of Arthur, and some displays showing the legend throughout history. Behind the building was a pathway, guided by signage, that led across the same open country inhabited by sheep and cell phone towers.
These sheep are huddled at the base of one of the cell towers, possibly searching for some respite from the sun, which had appeared full force about the time we arrived at Camelford. The white things scattered across the ground in the picture above are bits of wind-blown wool the sheep have shed. A few of the brown chunks are rocks, but the vast majority of them were items that had been sheepishly produced. We trod very carefully through this section, and soon arrived at an open field where some archaeological excavation had been done. It was supposedly the site of the final battle between Arthur and Mordred.
A little farther along the path we came upon a medieval cider press. You can see pictures of it and the battle site (along with some shots of Camelford and our next stop, Tintagel) at Flio’s photo album for May 11th.
We soon reached a wooded area that led us to something called the Arthur Stone, a large (about nine feet long, possibly three feet wide) carved rectangular stone, inscribed in Latin and in Ogam (an Irish-Celtic runelike language). Here’s a picture of it. You can see how worn the carved letters are.
We paused at a bridge overlooking the stone, and stared at it for a minute, trying to read the inscription, but it was a dozen feet or so below us, on the banks of a small stream that I think was part of the River Camel. Very difficult to see much of anything.
Note: In America, we almost always say the name of the river first, like the Mississippi River; but in England it seemed to be the other way around, like the River Avon or the River Thames.
It was very hard to make out the lettering on the stone from twelve feet away, but its translation supposedly says something like “Latinus lies here, son of Ma – (letters worn and missing).” I don’t see what that has to do with a potential historical source for a King Arthur, but people have suggested that some of the missing letters (worn off the 1,500 year old stone) may spell something like magni arturi, i.e., King Arthur. It seemed like a lot of wishful thinking to me, like suddenly finding some bones when your abbey needed the revenue from some additional foot traffic (a la Glastonbury), and declaring they were King Arthur’s and Guinevere’s. Here’s Minay taking the path through the woods near the stone.
Done there, we piled in Flio again, and drove a short distance, about another five miles, to Tintagel Castle, supposedly the birthplace of Arthur. We arrived there, and parked in the castle’s car park a little after 3:00. The car park would only be open until 5:00, so we had to hurry, which we soon discovered wouldn’t be easy. We paid £2.50 to park for two hours, then used our Overseas Visitor Pass to pay our entrance. Without the OVP, entrance to Tintagel would have cost us £11.60 (or $17.63). That was £6.10 for Minay, and £5.50 for me (as a senior) saved.
OVP Update – We bought the OVP passes for £45.20, saved £13.80 at Stonehenge, and now £11.60 at Tintagel (for a total saved so far of £25.40). If we used just £19.80 worth of entrances to English Heritage sites in the next twelve days we would save more than we spent for the passes. Will we do it? Stay tuned.
First, we had to walk down a long steep road to get to the long, very steep, winding path up to the castle ruins. It was pretty amazing up on top, though. Wonderful view of the countryside and the coastline. There are two sections to the ruins, and they are separated by a steep gorge. To get from one to the other (after you’ve climbed up to the top of one set of castle ruins), you have to descend down a set of stairs set into the side of the cliff (very safe, lots of railings), and then cross the gorge on a short footbridge before climbing up an additional set of stairs to the top of the other cliff to see the rest of the ruins. This was probably pretty hairy for Minay because she doesn’t do heights very well, but she did a great job. I was so proud of her.
Tintagel isn’t for the faint of heart (I mean that literally. If you have a heart condition I wouldn’t even attempt it). Likewise, if your knees are shot (like my left one was a few years before I had it replaced), I would plan a day on flatter ground. Here’s a view from one side of the castle to the other.
From the second part of the castle we made it back down to the roadway, but we were whipped, completely exhausted. We spent £3.00 (£1.50 apiece, or $4.56) to get a ride back up to the top of the very tall hill in a Land Rover, operated by an enterprising chap who had apparently noticed how tired most people were when they finished seeing the ruins. He took children and dogs for half-price. We used the excuse (to ourselves) that it was almost 5:00 and the car park was going to close, so we had to retrieve the car or be stuck. It was at least partially true. It was about 4:30 (that’s nearly 5:00, isn’t it?), but I’m sure we would have been able to get Flio out of the lot even if we had been a little late. Here’s the Land Rover waiting for some more suckers, uh customers to queue up (AmE = line up) for a ride to the top.
We managed to make it back to Ilfracombe with very little difficulty, lulling us into a false sense of security, thinking we had finally gotten the hang of navigating over here. Tomorrow morning would shatter that illusion thoroughly, though.
We rested our weary limbs in our room for a while, then ventured out for supper, walking down another steep hill to the harbor, even though we knew it meant we would have to trudge back up eventually. We were on the seacoast, so I was hungry for fish, but we spotted an Italian restaurant, Giovanni & Luca, and supper was advertised at £6.00 apiece, so we shifted our taste buds toward that. The food was delicious, but the £6.00 was for the entrée. Bread and salad were extra. The whole meal, including tip, was £19.10 ($29.03). Live and learn.
To let our supper settle, we took a walk along the beach and watched a beautiful sunset performance. Here’s the pre-show. Check out the photo album for the final bow.
In the near dark we made our way back up long steep hills to our B&B. Here’s Minay, after supper, standing outside. When we said steep hills, we meant it.
Minay read while I checked my e-mail. I had sent several e-mails to B&B’s in Stratford-Upon-Avon (for the nights of the 12th, 13th, and 14th), looking for lodgings for our next home base. We intended to spend some time in Shakespeare country before heading north to the Lake District. I received a reply from Wendy Crean at the Arden Way B&B, as well as a few others. I replied to Wendy, sent her the credit card information she needed, then replied to the other B&B owners thanking them for replying. Our next stop was arranged.
Note of Explanation: I sent e-mails just before we left Bath, to seven different places in Stratford-Upon-Avon, requesting information about availability of rooms for those three nights. These were B&B’s I had already located before we left Houston, and had in my spreadsheet. Six of the seven replied (which I thought was astounding, I expected about half would). Of the six, a couple didn’t have availability. I was able to choose the best deal and arrange for the room, but I also didn’t want to burn any bridges, so I sent a nice note to the others, thanking them and explaining that I had already arranged a room. I would strongly suggest making sure you have a backup plan. Don’t just inquire at one B&B or hotel, then wait for a reply. You may end up scrambling to find a room at the last second. What if there’s a big football match (AmE = soccer game) in town that night, or some other major event or festival? Alternatively, you could use an online service like booking.com or hotels.com to directly book available rooms through their service. We’ll do a post at some point on various services like that.
Once I was finished sending my messages, Minay used my laptop to send an e-mail home to her sister. We’ll post a copy of that soon. We continued to read for a while longer, but we both probably passed out by 10:00, our bodies and brains no longer trying to remind us that it was 4:00 in the afternoon back home.
How do you plan trips/book rooms? Spill your secrets We won’t tell.
Minay’s version of Tuesday, May 11, 2010, will post next week.