Let's see – where were we? Oh yes, after a lovely weekend with Richard and Kate, we decamped to Plymouth, home of Nicola, Ian and little Charlotte, along with Pepper the tabby cat and Licorice the black Labrador pup. Ian is a professional superyacht captain that we've sailed with numerous times, Nicola Isabel's bestie from university. As always, driving around London was a bit of an adventure, but once in the beautiful English countryside all was well and Plymouth appeared in the windscreen well before dark.
We enjoyed several fun-filled days, getting our dog and cat fix along with Mark losing a tug of war with Licorice which resulted in an impressive injury to the forehead. Never mind, it'll heal and just another reminder of my fun filled life. Onwards to Gweek where we rallied with Isabel's sister, her partner and dad Paul. They've moved to a lovely little estate in beautiful Cornwall, what we reckon is a great upgrade over the frenetic London environment. During the course of the visit we hiked the coast trail at The Lizard where we visited a Royal National Lifeboat Institute station, an impressive facility complete with rescue vessel and a full staff of volunteers. English people have a big nautical culture and they're serious about looking after their mariners. At the end of the hike we treated ourselves to a delicious and totally decadent Cornish cream tea, completely different from a Devon cream tea. You see, in Cornwall the jam goes on before the clotted cream, which as Isabel's pal Dave observed "allows the consumer to continually add more clotted cream to reach the optimal condition". I think that condition is something resembling a near heart attack, as the delicious goo is aptly named and left me thinking about the pushups our hearts must be doing to keep the blood moving around the clots. We should have ordered just one to share, but greed and hunger ruled and we left knowing we would be wearing that snack on our waistlines.
In the course of the next 10 days we enjoyed such classics as fish 'n chips, Cornish pasties, a killer curry, a roast dinner, plenty of marmite on buttered toast, crumpets drenched in butter and jam, and other fattening delights too numerous to recall. Completely disappointed with the beer on tap at the pubs, Mark surveyed bottles and cans of London Porter and Irish Stout available at such reliable venues as Tesco's, Sainsbury's, Waitrose, and Mark's and Spencer's, known to locals as Marks and Sparks. Some excellent examples were found and will get their own post.
Mid-visit Isabel met up for a weekend retreat at a country cottage with Lucy and Cecilia, besties since the age of 8 years old. This provided Mark with the opportunity to drive on tiny country roads barely wide enough for a small car, proving that "it's easier in the dark". Kind of like "it's easier with your eyes closed". Another short visit to Plymouth with a trip to a good chandlery (always looking for boat parts) and a Saturday afternoon at Dynamite Brewing near Falmouth, then finally collecting Isabel at the train station in Penzance.
One of our day trips with Paul found us at Lands End, the Southwestern tip of England. It was a cold but sunny clear day and we could see the Scilly Isles in the distance. A treacherous coastline indeed, and we were left thinking how impressive the scene would be during a Southwesterly gale, with giant waves crashing on the rocks.
Altogether we found Cornwall to be a beautiful place with friendly people. It's not at all multi-ethnic like the larger population centers, but it seems that folks referring to "deepest, darkest Cornwall" is a bit unfair. There are plenty of nice towns with everything one could need, great local seafood and craft beer, and boats boats boats in every small port! The train will get one from Penzance to London and beyond when necessary. The scenery and walking trails are outstanding and a testament to why the countryside is jammed with tourists during the season. Praa Sands is a great beach and Saint Michael's Mount is a heck of a sight.
Our visit to Cornwall finally complete, we made the beautiful drive up to Lymington where we caught the ferry to the Isle of Wight. We drove from Cornwall back through Devon, then Dorset and finally Hampshire. Wow is Dorset beautiful with big terrain, and our drive through the New Forest was lovely. Isabel remembered Lymington from her younger sailing days and as the ferry left the harbor she point out places she had walked and where the family boat had been moored. Arriving at Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, we enjoyed a leisurely drive up to East Cowes where old sailing pals Roger and Carole had moved from San Diego. Thanksgiving dinner was a killer meal at a tiny Italian restaurant a short walk away, then the following day we toured a nautical museum, made a complete circuit of the island complete with pub lunch and a great view of The Needles, ending the day with a visit to Cowes on the chain bridge ferry. The density of nautical gear shops in Cowes reminds one of what a huge sailing culture exists in England.
Departing Saturday morning on the Southhampton ferry, we soon found ourselves visiting The Elephant, the boat yard and marina Isabel's family had kept their boat for many years. A trip to a Force 4 chandlery for more boat parts (is there a recurring theme here?) and tea at the Jolly Sailor pub rounded out the morning. Upon exiting we made a pass through Burlesdon to verify that sailing friends Andrew and Julia's home was still standing, then an hour later we were in the Winchester home of Rob, Emma and dog Pickle. Three of their children are close to leaving home for university and the occasional random teenage offspring appeared (generally at mealtimes) for a visit. Rob and Emma win our award of "parents of the decade". A great weekend in Winchester included a visit to the Christmas market for a mooch around, a cup of warm mead and a great walk along the Chichester coastline. We found the local pub full of Sunday lunch patrons and took our lunch on the patio in a rather chilly and windy environment, a very English thing to do. Stiff upper lip, shut up and eat your sandwich before it blows away. At least the Guinness and Shandies weren't getting hot. Thawing our hands in front of the fireplace was a major upside, and we returned to Winchester feeling victorious!