Portloe

Atop the cliffs of the Roseland Peninsula, I sit on the ledge with the wind in my hair and  the Celtic Sea below me. Had I taken a few hefty steps back in time to let’s say the mid 1800s, I would have peered and spied upon smugglers at work. And wondered if I might claim a share of their loot of French brandy. That is the kind of contraband these smugglers – who doubled up as fishermen –  stored in the cellars of their farmhouses in the village of Portloe.

The scene was serious here on the Roseland Peninsula so much so that Customs had to maintain a strict watch here. I like the ring of the name Portloe which seems to have been a variation of the Cornish word, Port Logh, meaning ‘cove pool’. When you climb down the steep cliffs and reach the valleys, you see the protected cove that gave it its name and you will see how it is one of the most charming villages in Cornwall. Once a busy pilchard fishing village, it has now been reduced to a quiet one where just about three boats work the seas, returning with a haul of crabs and lobster.

We sat in the old Lugger Inn for a while before we set out on the coastal walk to Portholland. The bummer is that we did not complete the walk because we were a bit late for it, so we quit after halfway up (even this took the better part of an hour with some steep stretches thrown in). Someday we shall do the entire stretch and more.

But the walk just gives and gives.

If you are singing aloud thinking there is no one to hear your hollering, apart from the husband who signed up for it when he married you, look out for the old lady sitting quietly around the bend on a bench hidden from plain sight by overgrown foliage.

Besides the occasional old lady, we saw a man fishing from his perch upon one of the cliffs that meet the shore at some point, and possibly his partner resting on the rocks above him. It made for a peaceful picture.

You can well imagine then that Portloe remains one of my favourite hideouts in Cornwall. I visit it often in my mind’s eye when I crave for the sight of those blue waters, the feel of the wind in my hair and some solitude. For there, you can wander lonely as a cloud.

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The protected cove in the village
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The thoughtful man in the cove
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If you are not staying at the Lugger Inn, do drop by for a coffee or even a lovely high tea with Champagne. But that view makes anything taste like Champagne. Even cappuccino.
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In his elements. Going down steep edges of cliffs.
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The beautiful stone cottages of Portloe. Give me a room in one of them and I will never want for anything again.

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Flowery meadows
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Those blue and yellow-paned cottages can be rented for holidays

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Views on the coastal walk
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I would go for such an epitaph. Would you?
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The mermaid keeps a watch upon the shore

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Where to Stay: 

Lugger Inn (www.luggerhotel.co.uk). A room at this 17th century inn will cost you upwards of £147 per night. But it has gorgeous views and a restaurant where you can tuck into the local produce.

Cove Cottage. You can book this beautiful cottage with the blue panes by the harbour through Cornwalls Cottages (www.cornwallscottages.co.uk). Prices start at roughly £110 per night for the three-bedroom cottage. But they are booked chock-a-block, so consider booking in advance. The early bird here catches the proverbial worm and what a worm this is.

What to do:

Circular walk from Pendower Beach to Veryan. The story goes that you will pass a spot in Narehead where lived a fisherman, not quite happy in his marriage. Once a week he used to lower his boat into the waters to visit his wife in Veryan and take her a booty of fish.

Walk the coastal path to the cove at Portholland.

Circular walk from Narehead to Portloe. On the path you will spot a Cold War nuclear bunker and a reef called The Whelps because many a ship met its untimely end there.

Giants and Saints of St. Michael’s Mount

On an April noon when an army of clouds invaded the blue sky and cast a black and silver sheen upon the landscape, we arrived in Marazion. Captivated by its name the first time I visited it about four years ago, I fell in love with the ancient market town. You will see why, by and by.

Before I gather steam, here’s a brief note. If you are in Mousehole, Marazion is just a few miles away. Marazion has a ringside view of a fairy-tale island that juts out of the Celtic Sea – St. Michael’s Mount (the silhouetted rocky outcrop you see above). The tidal island is a sister counterpart of St. Mont Michel in France. In the 11th century, it had even been ceded to the Benedictine order of St. Mont Michel till in the 14th century it became the property of an abbess in Middlesex.

Many moons ago, a giant by the name of Cormoran (you will remember Robert Galbraith’s gruff detective has the same moniker) lived upon the island. When he got hungry, the cattle of Marazion were his meal. He was 18 ft. tall and his girth spanned a humble figure of three yards, so crossing the causeway was no big feat for our beef-loving giant. He became a blasted curse upon the town. Who should pop up to be the hero of this town? Jack the Giant-Killer of our childhood stories. He is Cornish, yessir, and he lived in Marazion. Our notable Jack not only killed the giant, but he also went on to slay many more giants, was appointed a Knight of the Round Table by King Arthur.

Now ye of deep faith, you might want to put St. Michael’s Mount on your list of pilgrimage. Sailors on the sea from the 5th century have maintained that a saint appeared on the island to guide them to safety from alluring mermaids and storms. This was the patron saint of fishermen, the archangel St Michael, who is supposed to have delivered a few miracles during the 13th century.

I crossed over the causeway four years ago, leaving behind Adi in the car at Marazion to sleep off his tiredness for a good hour or so. The tide was low and I felt like I was in a dream, walking across the granite cobbles of the causeway, as the waters swirled in and out in a hypnotic rhythm to a fairy-tale castle upon a tidal island. Bells tolled in the old priory and apart from the cawing of a few seagulls, the island was deserted. The castle loomed high above the few stone cottages, home to the staff who work in the castle. Entry to the castle however was closed because it was a Saturday. I spent my time treading through the alleys in the island, exploring the charm of the cottages clustered around it, sitting on the pier and watching boats passing by. Also, I did not have the privilege of meeting either the giant or the saint. My wuss-y heart, I fear, would not have been able to bear the glorious sight of either.

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The tidal island. You cannot spot the causeway because it was high tide at the time the photo was taken.
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This is how the man-made granite causeway looks during low tide. A photo from four years ago when I crossed it to explore St. Michael’s Mount.
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Worker’s cottages and the castle on St. Michael’s Mount

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Nazi foreign minister Ribbentrop had plans to live on the island after German plans for the conquest of Britain were successful. He was a frequent visitor to Cornwall.
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The castle has been the home to the St. Aubyn family since the 1650s. One of the Lords of St. Levan, descendants of the St. Aubyn family, donated it to the National Trust in 1954 but it shall be the family seat for a period of 999 years.
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Into the ancient market town of Marazion
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The town hall (with the red pipings) of Marghasyewe, as the town was deemed in Cornish 

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On a nippy noon step into the King’s Arms for a pint of Cornish ale
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And a pile of onion rings. All eyes were on our table.
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Spot the cocker spaniel?
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Let me make it easier. Now do you see the cute spaniel watching life go by beneath him?

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Getting to St. Michael’s Mount:

Barring Saturday, it is open all other days. Cross the causeway on foot during low tide or take a boat from Marazion to the island for the fares of £2.00 for adults and £1.00 for children.

Entering the Castle: 

Tickets cost 9.50 quid for an adult, garden entry is priced at 7. A combined ticket costs 14 quid. If you are a National Trust member, you get in free. Timings: 10.30am-5pm.

Where to Stay:

The Godolphin Arms (www.godolphinarms.co.uk) offer standard double rooms at about £160 per night on bed & breakfast basis. Some offer spectacular views of St. Michael’s Mount.

Rosario (www.rosario-marazion.co.uk), a bed & breakfast in Marazion, with views of the sea too, offers more modest prices at £90 per night.

Sea, Salts and Sail in Mousehole

In the fishing village of Mousehole in West Cornwall which falls understandably within the Cornish area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) zone, a maritime festival takes place every two years from which I have culled the title for this post. A photographer called Paul Massey (poor thing shares his name with an English criminal gunned down in 2015) describes it as an incomparable experience. He notes: ‘To watch as the harbour slowly fills with wooden boats is almost akin to time travel. It reminds me of the old sepia postcards showing the Mousehole fleet of fishing luggers lying abreast, hauling canvas and pulling on cordage. The sights, sounds, and smells all mingling to evoke a very different and romantic era. It is a photographer’s dream. When the boats leave to race in the Bay, with St Michael’s Mount in the near distance, it sends a shock of excitement through even the most hardened land lubber.’

As we entered the village I wondered if foxes strutted about its narrow streets. One of the house owners is supposed to have sighted a fox cub family and named her cottage accordingly. Cottages built with local granite huddled around the alleys. Flowery gardens and rustic garden sheds popped up alongside, and to my delight, pasty shops and galleries too. One of the shops sold candles which promised to make your room smell of the sea. Then came the part of looking at the price tag which succeeded in making the whiff a shade less potent.

Families sunned themselves on the beach and children went about their serious tasks of building sand castles while girls with pigtails were told off by their fathers in a serious grown-up voice about something or the other – no baby talk here. The village seemed to be protected from the onslaught of the sea by two sturdy breakwaters that popped up on the harbour as a clutch of boats floated upon shallow waters that gleamed in jewel tones of turquoise.

Mousehole – pronounced ‘Mowzel’ please – with the distinct lack of crowds made us feel like it was our personal romping grounds. Did the poet Dylan Thomas comment therefore that it was the loveliest English village? I am sure the Cornish might have had a thing or two to say about being called English.

But do not be fooled by its present unassuming self. Mousehole was once a port of distinction along with nearby Marazion. This was until the 16th century when a marauding band of 400 Spanish men razed the village to the ground – the backdrop to this was the Anglo-Spanish war of 1585-1604. Only one house remained standing and that was the pub, the former Keigwin Arms, which remains but is no longer a pub. On it is a plaque that informs you that ‘Squire Jenkyn Keigwin was killed here 23rd July 1595 defending this house against the Spaniards.’

Now if you are into Stargazy Pie, that Cornish dish which has seven fish heads poking their heads out of the crust to say hello to the eater, this is its birthplace. Every year on December 23, an enormous Stargazy Pie is baked to honour the memory of a local resident, Tom Bawcock, who braved the stormy seas and rescued the village from famine by returning with a haul of seven kinds of fish. Below you shall find examples of its charm.

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Breakwater security

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Looks like we have a Daphne du Maurier fan in the house
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Mr. Personality
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Whitewashed cottages of Mousehole. I have a decided weakness for the colour scheme.

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Lichen-coated harbour of Mousehole

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Gulls ponder upon the unfairness of life as people with pasties pass by

Slow Monday

Getting back home never fails to cheer me up. We have been away for 10 days and no matter how beautiful the holiday was, the cream teas luscious, the pasties tummy enlarging, and the fish and chips oily and sinful, but the comforts of home are matter for verse. Only if I start writing verse, it would veer into nonsense verse.

Monday has been creeping along at a snail’s pace but in an interesting way. What could have happened in the matter of half a day, right?

To start with, I have realised that Northampton postmen are a class apart. I sent a postcard to the lovely Cheila because she started a postcard/letter exchange idea with other bloggers. This was more than a couple of weeks ago, so I have been wondering while even on holiday about why it had not reached her. But it did not – so much so that Cheila even promised to stalk her postman. I certainly hope, dear girl, that it is a matter not acted upon, because when I got back home yesterday evening I had the answer.

The postcard had been posted back to me.

The postman had decided to choose the ‘From’ bit to act upon.

That apart, I had a long chat with the rental agency guy, D, with whom I deposit the car keys every Monday morning after we return home from a holiday. We rent cars, yes. Usually Adi chats with him and I deliver them with no extra chatter. This time however it I who was the chosen one for an insight into his engaging personality. It turns out he has slight Asperger’s syndrome – a lifelong syndrome which affects people by burdening them with overwhelming anxiety about communicating with the world at large. He likes to spend time by himself and shuns women because in the past his girlfriends have had him followed. “Women do not get me,” he said. The heart-felt thoughts of any single man.

Instead he spends his time getting his elbows ripped apart while riding his BMX bikes, fanatically games away his time on the X-box (I have to declare myself a badger-some wife who has managed to part Adi from his, so it lies gently weeping beneath our telly) and deejaying apart from being a cool dad to his two teenage girls. Then we had some more conversation about how we all choose our paths in life, how it is best to do what you want than giving into the paths set out by others and how it is cool to have white hair. I have some cropping up and Adi takes great pride in plucking them out. I have put a stop to his gleeful past-time though.

Random conversations pep up any day for me. Random insights into people and their ways of thinking. Random bits of information. Like how Bournemouth is ‘God’s Waiting Room’ because people like to retire there.

Anyway, as we drove back home yesterday, the skies were festooned with clouds. The cloud chaser in me had a rollicking time. This is how.

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The last stretch of yellow and patterned green fields somewhere in Cornwall
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Tamar Bridge as we left Cornwall behind and entered Devon
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The countryside in Somerset
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Fields of Somerset
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Into Cheddar, a village where cheddar cheese is made. Watch out for Cheddar Gorge, which is the largest natural gorge in Britain, and which I have been wanting to climb for some time. 
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What do we see as we enter the village but a tractor rally.
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Forgive the smudges on the windscreen — the midges had a field day smashing themselves against it. But oh look at the towering cliffs above Cheddar.
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If you are somewhere in Somerset, do not miss out on this.
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Rock climbing 
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While others were exploring the gorges, we decided to return another day because we had a long way to go home. Plus there were no parking spots left for us.
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Colours of the country
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Fields of Wraxall in North Somerset
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Clouds and church spires through the sunroof
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Trees, with leaves sprouting on them, raise their gnarled heads as we chase clouds above the houses of Bristol.
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Wandering into the Cotswolds
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Because Adi had wanted to go into the Kemble Aerodrome for some time now
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A historic airport in Gloucestershire where some aircrafts apart, children and men race bikes 
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A last look at one of the smallest airports in the country

 

On Not Meeting Demelza in Poldark Country

No, not even Ross. Rather reality crept in upon me as I took nimble steps down to ruins of tin mines perched upon the rugged cliffs of the Cornish landscape, the inky-turquoise waters of the Celtic Sea crashed dashed against granite rocks and frothed below a strong afternoon sun. Paths ribboned around the cliffs, some muddy and slithery enough to make me take a step back, and, hold the husband back too. “If you are going, leave the car keys behind,” I said into the quiet of the noon. Unfeeling? Tough luck. You have got to figure out ways of dealing with stubbornness.

So you swoon over Ross Poldark, that well-toned torso in the buff, the scarred cheek beneath the tricorn hat and the smouldering good looks, but Winston Graham’s world does not even begin to touch upon the dangers which tin miners faced every day of their lives when they went about work. You see, what I have shown photographs of, above and below, are remnants of engine houses. The miners used to travel down shafts and go into a labyrinth of subterranean tunnels that ran below the sea for miles. Ponies were also sent down those shafts to work for months below in those tunnels. As they worked on extracting metal from the seams along the coastline, the sea pounded away above their heads.

There were dreadful accidents. Men used to work within the shafts, perched upon ledges as they worked man-worked engines to deliver their fellow workers to the tunnels. When an iron cap or bolt did not work right, entire pillars of men were mangled and crushed to death. Certainly not cheery, but the realities of life and how they have changed with time. You wonder if people still lead such lives, fraught with danger, in a bid to garner their daily pieces of bread.

We spent hours charting paths up and down the cliffs, exploring the disused tin engine houses and remnants of labyrinthine structures where arsenic was solidified and cooled into crystals. Yet we were in the midst of our explorations beneath a chirpy sun and blue skies – just close your eyes and lend your imagination to the same landscape under stormy skies and a gale-swept turbulent sea. That is the terribly truth of tin mining which is now conserved in these UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There were once 3,000 tin mines strewn around the coast.

I would say give it a go. It is the real story behind Poldark’s world.

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We walked down a narrow path to the bluff. From that big boulder jutting out above the bluff is a view of Botallack mines (it has been featured in Poldark). On both sides of the path are steep falls into the rocks below. It is a little alarming as you see that path from above the bluff, but as you scramble down, you realise that the trail is not as fatal as it looks.
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Before we climb up the cliffs and go down to the Botallack tin engine houses.
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Tall and Taller.
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Making our way down to the engine houses of Botallack. In the old days they used to have ladders that would take the miners to the engine house at the very bottom of the cliffs. We had no way of going down there. 
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Dramatic views around the Botallack ruins.
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Paths that suddenly taper off, hugging cliffs and snaking around them.
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Like that…
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Levant mines
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Fragrant gorse and mine remnants sticking out into the firmament.
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The tin miners who worked at Levant in the 19th century.
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Botallack in tatters
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Pendeen Lighthouse that tin miners must have seen as they went about their rigours.
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Towanroath Engine House in St. Agnes. Adi tripped down the slopes off the charted paths, and I had to follow, till I stopped short in dismay. Running down ’em slopes carpeted with heather and prickly bushes is not a plum idea. Period.
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The 19th century Towanroath Engine House is perched right above the Celtic Sea.
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Ponies around Land’s End
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Conversations with curious listeners
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Disused tin mines at Porkellis.
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The Celtic Sea beneath a mellow sun as it starts its journey into the horizon after an full day of shining strong above us.

Which Tin Mines to Explore: Head to the tin mines of Botallack, Levant and Geevor around Land’s End and the ones along the stretch of St. Agnes. Poldark Mine is the only one that takes you underground but the mine was re-dubbing taking advantage of the novels and the telly series. Botallack is the most dramatic of the lot.

Where to Stay: Book former lighthouse keepers’ cottages at Pendeen Lighthouse through Rural Retreats (www.ruralretreats.co.uk).

What to Do: Long rambles around the tin mines. The thing to remember is this: Do not go tumbling into the granite rocks below. Some paths are dangerous. We took some of them so I would not say wuss out completely. But do take a call and keep a check upon those adventurous genes in places where you do not feel quite so sure of making it back. You also have to keep this in mind that in this part of mining country, you do not have to make an effort. Drama will come your way.

Dons of Padstow

The gulls rule Padstow. Well, they rule the roost in most coastal villages, but in this north Cornish town they stomp across the road, stake their claim upon neglected morsels of food and they stand right above your head, swooping up and down till they have almost lifted off scalps, or some chips, please. I saw one gull fearlessly walk up to a man who was eating his fish and chips with the family by a chippy and make a go for some unforgotten chips lying on the ground. That brave man took him on. He cast gimlet eyes upon that gull, reached his foot out and stepped it firmly upon the chips. The gull turned around and strutted away across the road to the quay as nonchalantly as if he had never wanted it in the first go.

The other don of the fishing port of Padstow is Rick Stein. You know, the affable celebrity chef on telly who goes around cooking curries in India and tossing up spicy shrimps in Malaysia. Having read his memoir, Under a Mackerel Sky, I knew that he had started a mobile disco in Padstow, but walking into the streets of the port town, I realised that its nickname of ‘Padstein’ is well earned. It started from the parking lot that was packed to the gills. Right on it stood Stein’s chippy that had long queues of hungry people, waiting to attack their dose of fish and chips on a day of sunshine peppered up with rain clouds.

We were walking around in town and staring greedily at the pasty shops where massive pasties winked at us, waiting to be devoured. But no sir, Stein’s chippy it was because men could be overheard telling their sons to hold onto that ravenous appetite. It is a pity that we have but one stomach – it often makes me think that if there were a lottery held for extra stomachs, I would be right up front. Then there could be Both pasties and fish & chips for lunch.

We ended up at the Rick Stein chippy where the queue for a sit-down lunch was long enough to send us scuttling for takeaway boxes guzzled down by the quay. We joined the ranks of other fish & chips lovers, sat on the road by the car park, and were joined by two attentive gulls. Every time I turned my eyes warily behind me to check on their progress, they squawked in response, ‘Pass on some, you greedy buggers.’ Unfortunately for them, our booty was too delicious to part with. Plus I do not know if Stein would approve sharing his food with gulls. Also, you know this that feeding them is simply not a good idea.

If you have quiet villages in Cornwall, you have fishing port towns too like Padstow which are bustling with life, buskers and little girls with ringlets dancing to their crooning, yellow trawlers whisking you across to villages across the waters, bookshops selling beautiful tomes, antique stores and vintage decor stores, ice cream vans because people are always eating on holiday. Fish & chips over? Time for some Kelly’s full-fat ice creams.

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The attentive two
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The car park and the barn on the right where Stein’s chippy is

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The deli where everything screams to be owned
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Padstow has been a bustling fishing port since the times of Elizabeth I. I wonder about her reaction if she had seen it today. You think she would have plumped up her massive hooped skirts and sat down for fish and chips by the waters, braving the gulls?
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That Doom Bar, the sandbank that is, has caused some 600-odd shipwrecks for more than 200 years. The legend goes that a merry mermaid, who liked watching the vessels coming in and leaving Padstow, was shot by a sailor. She cursed the harbour with desolation as a result of which a storm is supposed to have materialised and the sandbank thrown up subsequently. Across it is the Rock, a village that is a favourite with the London crowd.
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Padstow’s delightful harbour
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Crabbing
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‘Ferries to the Rock,’ he boomed into the beautiful noon
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Along the Doom Bar
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Doggie haven. Dog stalking became easier with all shapes and sizes to choose from. Golden retrievers are my favoured kind.
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The man and Padstow
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When Maximus, the English Setter, slobbered all over Adi’s trousers.

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An overview of Padstow. In the distance you can see the red air ambulance which is called in during emergencies in Cornwall.

How to Get There:

It takes around 5 hours to get to Padstow from London. Take the M4 to Bristol, head south on the M5 to Exeter and then follow the A-roads to Cornwall. Of course, you own a GPS, so I shall not blather on.

Where to Stay:

The Old Ship Hotel (www.oldshiphotel-padstow.co.uk) is an old, listed property to which most people also flock for some pub grub. Book way ahead for your summer holidays.

Rick Stein’s Café (www.rickstein.com) which apart from offering lovely breakfasts also offers rooms which you would be loathe to leave. They have been designed by Jill Stein,

Where to Eat:

Prawn on the Lawn (www.prawnonthelawn.com)Seafood that is as fresh as fresh gets in this fishmonger and restaurant which gets its catch from boats that ply the waters around Devon and Cornwall. Along with starters and mains, you would pay around £35 per person.However, if you choose items such as Prawns on the Lawn Fruit de Mer it would cost you £70 straightaway.

Rick Stein’s Chippy (www.rickstein.com) overlooking the Camel Estuary offers fairly reasonable fish and chips which is priced at roughly £7 per person.

What to Do:

National Lobster Hatchery for an idea about the conservation of fishing traditions in Cornwall.

Take the ferry to Rock.

Hire a bike and cycle along the Camel Trail which runs for 5 miles along a disused railway track. Great for bird watchers because the Pinkson Creek that you pass by is a favourite with curlews and egrets among other species of birds.

 

Meeting Alastair in Polruan

I am a glutton, yes, as all of you know by now, and unashamedly so. But the lead photo is naught to do with my glutton genes. The point of the photo is that apart from emphasising our love for fish and chips on holidays (let’s get fat fast), in the background is Alastair.

After our walk in the Cornish Woods we fell upon our plates with ravenous appetites, eyes goggling at the sight of food. Hours of walking through the woods and sudden steep stretches can do that to you. A middle-aged man with a shock of white hair entered the pub through its dwarfish door and asked for a half-pint of ale. Thereafter his natter did not cease. The barmaid lent her ears till she naturally had to serve other customers. At this point he turned around, spoke a few words to a girl in a pram, then turned our way and asked, “Have you guys come down from London?” That was the beginning.

These are the encounters that make a trip worth its salt. Do you know what I mean? Of course, you do. We are all social beings. Somewhere deep inside, even the most introverted individual likes to meet people. This yearning is engraved into the human genome, irrespective of caste, creed, age, gender. That apart, meeting new individuals is our window into a different kind of life; it may often be the life we aspire to.

Alastair gave me hope, that dreams do come true. But you cannot sit back, lie on your couch, and have visions of this glory that should have been yours. You work towards it. Listen to his story?

Alastair spent a fair part of his childhood visiting Cornwall with his parents. He roamed the world, said he never found anything like Cornwall.

A London worker, he came to Polruan one day, three years ago, and started looking for bed & breakfast accommodations. Found none, slept on a bench overnight with his rucksack and liked the look of the village so that he met an estate agent to scout for a cottage to buy. He found one at the top of the pub we were sitting in, that is the Russell Inn, and he staked his claim on it. But that is never enough, as we all know. We have got to go through the miserable practicalities of life such as waiting, negotiating, and the works. The estate agent would give him a call if it worked out.

He returned to daily routine in London and thought nothing would come of it. Two weeks had passed when he got a call from the estate agent, asking him to pop down to Polruan, sign some papers and take the cottage off his hands. That is how Alastair found himself back in the village with two bags and a rucksack. He lay down his sleeping bag on the floor of his new home because he had nothing apart from those few bags and slept. He woke up to a new life of a small pension, but it was also the life he had yearned for during his growing-up years.

Then Alastair muttered a few dozen ‘sorry’s’ for interrupting our meal (what would the Englishman be without them) and asked us to return for a pint with him at the pub. “I live up this hill,” he added. I do not know if we will end up sharing more conversations over a pint, yet for those few moments Alastair gave us a window into a future which seems achievable.

When you walk into Polruan, you see why Alastair fell for it. We did as easily.

Cornish fishing villages are a cut above anything you’ve seen. This particular one is stationed by the river Fowey with one road leading in and out of the village, names like ‘The Singing Kettle’, ‘Lugger Inn’ and ‘The Winkle Picker’ winking back at you. There are two pubs in the village – the 19th century Russell Inn (where we sat) and the old Lugger Inn. The Winkle Picker is a convenience store-cum-post-office that gets its name from its previous owners. The two misses were called Joan Winkle and Joanne Pickering, so you have that cute outpost on the quay.

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Curled-up ferns in Lanteglos-by-Fowey. The final leg of the walk, before we reached Polruan.
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A 14th-century church that loomed up above us at the end of the walk
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Lanteglos Church with many Victorian graves, those of soldiers who died during WWI and of some who died of sweating sickness in the 15th century.
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Solemn sheep-y stares
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Other variety of solemn stares
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Patched network of Cornish country. The grey clouds dispersed and gave way to blue skies as we entered Polruan.
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The one village street that leads in and out of Polruan.
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Russell Inn, one of the two pubs in the village.
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The other pub in the village
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Polruan harbour

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Boat repairs in motion

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How to Get There: Get to Fowey and take a 5-minute ferry to Polruan.

Where to Stay: At the top of the village, is a Polruan Holidays campsite (www.polruanholidays.co.uk) with 40 pitching spots. The view from the campsite: Stunning.

If not that, go for Hormond House (www.hormondhouse.com) where they have just three rooms, so book ahead?

What to Do:

St. Saviours Chapel, an 8th century church.

Brazen Island, an isolated rock.

Ferryside (Daphne du Maurier’s home) and Bodinnick.

The Hall Walk in the heart of Daphne du Maurier country takes you through Bodinnick, Lanteglos-by-Fowey and Polruan.

A Walk in the Cornish Woods

I am knackered and I have a suspicion. I am on my way to turning into a hefty Cornish cow. A thought fuelled by a steady two-day diet of scones, pasties, tarts, full-fat ice creams, butter biscuits and onion rings. Is it possible that the waistband of the jeans can scream out for temperance within a short span of time? These are grave times.

The scoffing has been going especially strong after steep climbs through woods in the heart of Daphne du Maurier country. Our walk started in the fishing village of Bodinnick where the author of Rebecca lived with her mother and sisters – after they had left behind their home in London. Ferryside is a pretty cottage, blue pipings framing its doors and windows. What a view young Daphne must have had. The turquoise waters of the river that acquire emerald tones even when the skies are overcast. Daphne’s son lives in Ferryside. I did have thoughts of knocking upon his door – suitably alarming Adi who since then started thinking about paths to take on the return and how not to walk past the cottage again.

A two-second ferry from Fowey took us into Bodinnick where we climbed steep roads past Daphne’s cottage, and then a row of rustic white, blue and yellow cottages, the doors of which had Easter egg wreaths in keeping with the seasonal cheer.

During walks in the English countryside, you inevitably get directions that ask you to proceed past old school houses, and that right lane there past the pub, then a kissing gate in the field and further in continue through the church gates. Or cross Two-Turn Lane past the sheep that guards the gate into its grassy knoll of heaven… you get the drift. The directions are as old-fashioned as the villages you find yourself in. Like a time bubble. Once you make it past these stellar signposts into the woods, you strike gold. If you have not made it to those landmarks, my friend, you are doing it all wrong. You are probably in another country.

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Fowey

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The inn that Daphne du Maurier must have seen when she came into the village in the 1920s to move into her new home.
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The climb gets steep in Bodinnick once you are off the ferry

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Views from the woods above Bodinnick
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Abandoned water mills near Polruan

I shall have to continue this into the next post because I can barely keep my eyes open. But I have to say this that the skies outside at this time of the night are speckled with stars. The early morning glum clouds gave way during the course of the noon to a clear firmament so spotless that the stars have declared that the inky dome is theirs. Life should be just so. Lived beneath vast swathes of sky unfettered by the trammel of city lights, busy dreams and the worry of tomorrow.

 

Frisky Border Collies and Cornish Byres

The weekend has started on a yellow note in the early hours of the morning. Getting up at 4am and witnessing dawn is Early for me. My father would faint (with delight) if he saw such changes in a daughter who has always nursed a penchant for sleeping like Kumbhakarna. Who might you ask, with a frown? K is a rakshasa straight out of the Indian epic Ramayana. If you have not heard of him, he is part of a saga that runs through the ream of bedtime stories reserved for every Indian child. A rakshasa is a man-eater. What I have in common with K, I am relieved to say, is just a passion for sleep. He used to shut eye for 6 months at a stretch – nothing could rouse him – and the legend will have you know that his snores could send tremors through the belly of the earth. When he did wake up, K would devour every living creature within his line of vision.

Post sessions of heavy partying on Saturday nights in Delhi, I would wake up on Sunday well past midday. I was the only young individual in an old building, its exteriors peeling off with the years since partition when the landlord’s family had moved in as refugees. The other occupants were a family of three on another level. The latter colluded with my parents (when they would visit me from Calcutta) to get me married off. A girl in her mid-20s living on her own and single is the neighbour’s alarm. The wife would often bang on my door to deliver the food she had cooked (which was extremely sweet but a bit of a test for someone nursing a ferocious hangover almost every weekend). This was followed by incessant banging on the door by the cleaning lady. She indulged in it with as impressive a ferocity as the hangover and, Saroja, I am convinced, enjoyed this routine. So there I was, your quintessential Kumbhakarna.

That is but the long and short of it.

Back to my lush surroundings in the Cornish wooded valley of Lostwithiel where we are staying for the long weekend, with a few extra days bunged in. I stood with my back to the door of our byre – old English for cowshed – busy loading up the fridge with our haul of groceries, when a huff and a puff and then patters on the flagstone floors startled me into a low scream. I almost felt back upon an enthusiastic border collie called Meg.

We had just arrived at the byre, a converted detached accommodation at a farm.

The strange dog turned over. I decided to do what I do when a four-legged boy/girl does that. Administer vigorous belly rubs till she had stopped whining and cooing, ‘Ooh yeah, don’t stop!’

A bit abrupt but the succulent chicken kebabs barbecued by Adi have just arrived on the table and I think I shall have to abandon this incessant chatter. Bless Adi for saving you from all of that.

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Rapeseed fields in the Cotswolds as dawn breaks over a silent countryside. Courtesy: Aditya Varma
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Searching for the byre in Lostwithiel
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Wooded valleys of Lostwithiel
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Our nest for the next week
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Snuggling can be a serious preoccupation
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Cream tea put out thoughtfully by Ed and his wife
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Clotted cream without blackberry & strawberry preserves made in-house? Good heavens!
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Meg and Gizzie (the Jack Russell terrier in the foreground) 
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Adi’s smoky, spicy handiwork for this nippy evening along with some jacket potatoes. Bliss.

Till tomorrow then, toodles.

Biryani and Postcards

What a strange combination. I am not asking you to chop postcards into biryani. Though I quite appreciate paper in my mouth. As a child I used to tear paper, make little balls and pop them into my mouth. Then chew, chew, chew. Did you too? I cannot judge as you can well figure out.

Wednesday has rolled in with the promise of a long Easter weekend. Yippee. We have extended it by a few more days and the mission is to soak up the sun in Cornwall. That is our favourite haunt in the country. Cornflower blue seas, full-fat ice creams, fish & chips, amphitheatres overlooking the sea, caves and cliffs, how can you not fall in love with that kind of a holiday? What are your plans for Easter?

Before I start with the (slightly lengthy) process of biryani making and listing out the ingredients, I want to thank you all, dear readers, because you make this journey of living full of fun and frolic. I look forward to it every day and enjoy my random conversations with you. When I am 80 (if I get there), all this will count in making a toothless me grin. This biryani is my way of saying thank you. If you put yourself through the process of making your own biryani spice mix, cook it and dish it out to your family, you might just get shut eyes and mmm sounds.

I also wanted to send out extra love and thanks to KristynAngelaV and Michaela who nominated me for blog awards which I had already participated in. Nonetheless it makes my day to be thought of by any one of you. These girls have lovely blogs, so please take a look at them?

Now, to get down to biryani brass tacks. It is a slow-cooked aromatic rice dish from India. As you know India is not exactly small, plus its various regions have diverse styles of cooking, which makes it like a treasure house of delicious recipes. The biryani itself has some 20 avataars. My favourite one is the style that belongs to my city of Calcutta.

In an area called Metiabruz there, the 10th (and also last) nawab of the former princely state of Oudh/Awadh arrived in 1865, freshly stripped off his royal privileges by the British. With him travelled his retinue. But of course. This nawab, Wajid Ali Shah, was conscious of his image and he wanted to feed them well. Yet it was difficult on the stipend he received from the British. His Awadhi style of biryani was cooked using potatoes to add volume to the rice dish – which would also supplement the absence of enough meat.

Potatoes at the time were a delicacy because the British were growing the crop in Dehradun. For Bengalis, potatoes (or alu as we lovingly refer to them) are a staple that will not be left out from most dishes, no sir. You will possibly not have biryani anywhere else with potatoes in it.

This particular biryani reminds of the wonderful Arsalan, an eatery in Calcutta that dishes out the best biryanis and Mughlai dishes you will ever sink your teeth into. If you are in Calcutta next time, or for the first time, you know where to head.

Calcutta Chicken Biryani

Serves: 4

Chicken thighs              700-800gm

Basmati rice                   400gm

Large potatoes               2

Hard-boiled egg             4

Beresta (fried sliced red onions, using 3 medium ones)

Plain yogurt (beaten)     3-4 tbsp

Ginger-garlic paste        1 tbsp

Lime juice 1 tbsp

Red chilli powder           1 tsp

White pepper powder   1/2 tsp

Biryani masala                1 1/2 tbsp (Dry roast each of these spices separately on a medium flame and grind them into a fine powder – 10 pods of cardamom, 10-12 pieces of clove, 3″ cinnamon stick, 2 bay leaves, 2 nutmeg, 5 mace, 1 1/2 tbsp of caraway seeds)

Cloves                               5-6

Green cardamom          5-6 pods

Alubukhara/dried plum 2-3

Milk powder                   2 tbsp

Kewra water                  1 tbsp

Rose water                     1/2 tbsp

Few strands of saffron (soaked in 2 tbsp warm milk)

Milk                                  1 cup

Salt, to taste

Ghee                                  3 tbsp

Cooking oil (mustard/ rapeseed) 3-4 tbsp

Initial Preps

  • Marinate chicken with salt, ginger-garlic paste, yogurt, chilli powder, white pepper powder, 1 tbsp biryani masala, 1/2 tbsp kewra water and 1 tbsp cooking oil for about 2 hours. For even better flavours, marinate overnight.
  • Peel potatoes and cut them into halves. Coat with salt and turmeric. Boil them till they are half-cooked.
  • Smear boiled eggs with salt and turmeric powder. Shallow fry them in 1-2 tbsp of oil.
  • Heat 1 tbsp oil in a big pan over medium flame and cook the marinated chicken in it with half the beresta. Cook till oil separates from the mixture. Add approximately 1 1/2 cups of hot water, cover with a lid and let the chicken cook. As the chicken becomes tender, remove it from the pan and keep it aside. In the meanwhile, reduce the gravy to about 3/4 cup measure.
  • Wash and soak the rice in cold water for at least 10 mins. Boil it with 2 1/2 tsp salt, green cardamom and cloves. Cook the rice till it is half done and then drain the water and discard the spices.

The Final and Easy Instalment

  • Grease a heavy bottomed pan (with a narrow-ish mouth and a lid that fits well) with 1/2 tbsp ghee. Pour the chicken gravy into it, add lime juice, dried plums, remaining biryani masala, 1 tbsp ghee, 1/2 cup milk, chicken pieces and mix well. Then place potatoes over the chicken and sprinkle the remaining beresta.
  • Now spread half of the rice over it. At this point you can add 1/2 tsp turmeric powder blended into 2 tbsp milk (if you want to add colour to you rice). Pour in saffron milk, rose water, kewra water, milk powder and remaining ghee over the rice.
  • Finally, top up with the leftover rice and milk. Bung in the eggs. Cover the pan and put it on medium flame for 6-8 minutes. Lower the flame and let it be for 30-35 minutes till the rice is properly cooked. Check for liquid at the bottom. If that extra liquid has almost dried up, your biryani is ready.

Ta daa. Now all you gotta do is gobble it up.

Below are the postcards from my big box of them.

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Was he the strongest man on earth? He would never say no to biryani surely.
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French Advertising Poster for the grand fete of Paris in 1893.
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Le Pantheon, Paris.
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La Belle Epoque. The French brand of nostalgia.
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An 1897 portrait of Le Comte Robert de Montesquiou, a French dandy and poet, by Italian portrait painter Giovanni Boldini. An author described him: “Tall, black-haired, rouged, Kaiser-moustached, he cackled and screamed in weird attitudes, giggling in high soprano, hiding his little black teeth behind an exquisitely gloved hand—the poseur absolute. Montesquiou’s homosexual tendencies were patently obvious, but he may in fact have lived a chaste life. He had no affairs with women, although in 1876 he reportedly once slept with the great actress Sarah Bernhardt, after which he vomited for twenty-four hours. (She remained a great friend.)”
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Oil painting of a Parisienne beauty by French painter Jean Beraud. At Place de la Concorde.