Category Archives: Cornwall

St Austell

Mechasaur, under creative commons, by madnzany. Click for link.

Mechasaur, under creative commons, by madnzany. Click for link.

St Austell is the Cornish town that modern tourism hasn’t caught up to yet. As the county’s most populous town (slightly bigger than the bustling hub of Truro), St Austell lacks the amenities, the charm and the location to make it any sort of destination other than for the locals: rather than quaint old fishing ports there’s mountainous china clay works; rather than main roads from all angles like Truro, there’s the one tortuous main road into and out of town. Rather than charming cobbled back streets, there’s concrete façades and construction work; rather than a prime location on the river or the sea, St Austell languishes, letting the likes of Fowey and Mevagissey and various big name attractions soak up the holiday crowds; rather than exciting nightlife or cafe culture, there’s the Ozzell Bowl. There’s little to venture into the town centre for: unless you’re after charity shops.

There really is a lot of construction work about. St Austell is ploughing on with a £75million regeneration project, which is part way completed: the new White River cinema is open (the first purpose built picture palace in the county for 60 years), and there’s evening a Frankie & Benny’s opening soon; it’s all happening. As yet though, the town is all near-brutalist structures and grey, Cornish rain-lashed concrete developments surrounding the vast, ground-zero-esque building site in the centre of town. It’s to the existing town centre that we repair however, and skilfully evading hordes of chuggers and mobile phone salespeople, we make our way around.

There’s plenty of bargains to be had here, if you’re in the right mood. Under the covered walk is a PDSA, Scope and British Heart Foundation. On a grey day to match the surroundings, I left with, well, not very much – just a DVD of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. There’s a touch of the same syndrome that affects many little towns with little to do: plenty of DVDs to be watched, because there’s nothing else to do.

There’s also a YMCA around, and a nice Oxfam with plenty of books and one of the olde-timey signs. That leaves a Cornwall Hospice (there’s hundreds of these around – I spotted two on they way to the town, in Par and Holmbush) and A Mt Edgecumbe Hospice, a new one on me. A nice selection of Beatrix Potters.

Though it’s not really an attractive town, and given the local attractions, not somewhere I (in my London-centric ways) would ever choose to live; for a poke around it’s quite good. There’s a little market and a semi-famous church, and it’s close to plenty of nice things. Best of all, you can have a good scour around the charity shops, as there’s plenty to be had.

Find: St Austell @ Google Maps
Consume with: Burger and something cheap from the Wetherspoons is as far as I got.
Visit: The Lost Gardens of Heligan, near Mevagissey is absolutely lovely, but do get to Charlestown’s big ships.
Overall rating: three cheapo box sets

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Filed under 3/5, Cornwall

Falmouth

 

Herring gull, by andyrob under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Herring gull, by andyrob under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Originally known as Pennycomequick (maybe as a companion to the nearby Come-To-Good), Falmouth is quite the historic town. Part of the third deepest natural harbour system in the world (After Sydney and Milford Haven, apparently), the town is at the mouth of the river Fal, and a long way down South West in Cornwall. Famous for its military association (right back to Henry VIII) and as the preferred starting point for round-the-world types like Ellen MacArthur, Robin Knox-Johnston and Sir Francis Chichester, Falmouth is nothing if not the maritime town, and this is notable in every way throughout.

 

It actually makes for a very nice town: the new dockside developments are all very wooden and fresh-looking, and after a quick detour into Trago Mills,  a delicious fish and chips lunch was consumed – in fact, one of the best I’ve had. We ate overlooking the battleship in the harbour, and sat, and gossiped in the sun: it’s a lovely place for that.

And then onwards, to the charity shops. Falmouth the commercial centre is really arranged along two lengthy main drags. From the chippie, we make our way along Arwenack Street, which in turn becomes Church Street, then Market Street. This winding, cobbled street is the heart of the quaint old town: all the shops you’d like to see are hear, and few more cute ones beside. Proceeding away from the harbour, you first come to the pairing of the Cornwall Hospice and National Animal Welfare Trust. The former is a nice enough shop with an upstairs section, but the latter is a cluttered, interesting, junky delight. 

Then onwards to British Heart Foundation – a word to the wise, if you’re after a coffee by this time, Costa has the best seats I’ve seen in a coffee shop, maybe ever. Lodged into the rugged crenellations of the sea wall, these tables overlook the harbour directly, over two levels. Definitely worth a stop. Onwards then, to Oxfam and Cancer Research at the foot of the High Street. Once you’ve looked at these though, take a left along Webber Street to the broad conjunction of Killigrew Street and Berkeley Vale. Here you’ll find the grand post office, located through the back of  a coffee shop, and a variety of more everyday shops (no White Stuffs here, no chain coffee) – you’ll find a Cornwall Hospice up here (according to Google Maps, at least) and a Salvation Army – we didn’t make it this far, time being against us.

Falmouth was a thoroughly pleasant place to spend a quiet, sunny, holiday afternoon. There’s plenty to satisfy the shopper, the lounger, the bargain hunter, the viewfinder, and plenty of other holidaymaking ilks besides.

Find: Falmouth on Google Maps
Consume with: Chips and coffee – as above.
Visit: Henry VIII’s Pendennis Castle overlooks the town and the beaches, and is open through English Heritage.
Overall rating: five ghoulish celebrity autobiographies

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Filed under 5/5, Cornwall

Truro

 

Truro_S09044, from Ennor (unwell-resting)s photostream, under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Truro_S09044, from Ennor (unwell-resting)'s photostream, under Creative Commons. Click pic for link.

Truro’s famous neo-gothic cathedral rises above this medieval city a little like the Emerald City over Oz; a 250 foot jewel rising over the old county town, and Britain’s most southerly city. John Loughborough Pearson’s triple-spired Victorian edifice looms large over the town but the kink in its design belies the fact that Truro is much older than the cathedral and the designers had to fit the church to the town, and not vice versa. The ramshackle spread of Truro’s streets makes reveals the medieval structure of the town and as such, it’s quite a charming place to visit.

 

As the big town of Cornwall, it’s also a heaving mess of people on this sunny Easter holiday weekday. I can’t imagine it of a weekend – chances are I’d be less keen, having inherited a charming misanthropy from my father. But, it’s a pleasant diversion from the dusty wastelands of most of the Cornwall that the brochures don’t show you, so I’ll poke around further.

The plan of Truro has changed dramatically since Google’s satellite imagery was last updated. Gone are the huge building sites, replaced with the biggest Marks & Sparks you ever saw and a host of other large scale shops and eateries. The plaza in front is now the central part of this new development, and it’s an attractive arena with an outdoor market to complement the indoor pannier market. You can cut through the pannier market to the older, smaller town centre section of Boscawen Street, and between the two you have all the chain stores you’d hope for in a town of Truro’s size (probably more, even).

It’s worth having a poke through the side streets though, because it’s here that you’ll find the little retailers and cafes that make Truro actually quite pleasant. There’s a few crafty jewellery types (crafty in the make-their-own-wares sort of way, not suspicious) and handmade toy shops, that sort of thing. There’s also our lovely charity shops, and many of them – too many to give a run down of pro’s and cons, I think. I failed to make suitable notes, sadly.

At the top of Pydar Street we have British Heart Foundation and a teeny Cats Protection League. There’s a couple of shop-laden snickets through to The Leats, and at this end of town (mostly around River Street, heading back towards Boscawen) you’ll find the Cornwall Hospice, Cancer ResearchSave The Children, Barnado’sAge Concern and CLIC Sargent Hospice. That leaves Children’s Hospice South West, and finally an Oxfam that proved a significant iPhone/GPS fail. But, worth it, because it was a nice shop over the bridge.

That’s not a lot of information, true, but Truro wins on quantity rather than quality. If you want a pushchair, or a particular necklace, or a particular book, chances are you’ll find it somewhere in Truro, just be the law of odds. Plus, it’s an attractive enough town with its neo-gothic/middle ages mash-up architecture in abundance and plenty of things to do.

Find: Truro @ Google Maps
Consume with: something chocolate based in Thorntons Cafe, perhaps?
Visit: Has to be the cathedral.
Overall Rating: four convenient pushchairs

   

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Filed under 4/5, Cornwall

Looe

 

Sailing Boats at Looe, from jonl1973s photostream under a creative commons licence. Click pic for link.

Sailing Boats at Looe, from jonl1973's photostream under a creative commons licence. Click pic for link.

Besides the obvious juvenile hilarity in the name of the town, there’s little that’s not chocolate-box-Cornish-seaside-town in Looe. This little picturesque village is, along with Polperro, the jewel in the tourist crown of Eastern Cornwall. It’s everything you’d imagine from the region: quaint, tightly packed and cobbled streets, with overhanging houses, a quayside filled with crab-fishing children, ice cream stalls, cream teas, boats in the harbour.

 

We pitched up on one sunny afternoon in the Easter holidays. Fore Street was teeming with European teenagers and holidaying Britons, all bewildered by the unseasonal warmth and determined to make the most of it. The coach trips were also in town: we stopped for an excellent cream tea in Caffe Fleur, and most of the tea room was taken up by jovial seniors on a day out. More power to them, I say.

You can rest assured that Looe remains bustling throughout an extended season then, with school holidays and granny holidays ongoing from Easter to October. Nevertheless, the town has descended too far into a tourist trap: it’s undeniably quaint, and every tourist shop is balanced by a cute boutique, or museum, or secondhand bookshop. Or, most pertinently, a charity shop. 

Charity shops only balance out a couple of bucket-and-spade boutiques, being only a couple in number: the ubiquitous Cancer Research, and a regionally-ubiquitous Cornwall Hospice. That’s all there is, the first a generously-proportioned shop which yielded up a dress (not for me, obviously), the latter a smaller but well-stocked and busy affair, from which I left with an FF Bruce popular theology book.

Really, despite the name of this blog, charity shops aren’t the real reason to visit Looe. You visit Looe to take the little ferry across from East Looe to West Looe (the first boat trip I ever took, at age 7, was on a boat named Simon, on this very journey); you visit Looe to sit overlooking the beach cradling a passionfruit ice cream (with fudge stick instead of flake); you visit Looe to scoff a cream tea with pensioners commenting on the jam; you visit Looe to mooch through the maze of undulating streets purchasing local-themed food and gifts. You visit Looe to have a lovely time, and a lovely time you have.

Find: Looe on Google Maps
Transport: Looe station is between Plymouth and Par – you might have to change at Plymouth.
Consume with: we had an excellent cream tea in Caffe Fleur, Fore Street.
Visit: get a boat ride, hit the beach, or get out to Polperro or Fowey.
Overall Rating: three trinkets with shells on.

  

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Filed under 3/5, Cornwall