Lizard LighthouseDwight Peck's personal website

Cornwall and Devon in the autumn

Whenever things start to pile up and get on top of you, it's time to take some time off and go to Cornwall.

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

We're off to see The Lizard!

21 October 2009: Another handy EasyJet to Bristol and a comfy hired Vauxhall for a few hours down the M5, on the wrong side of the road, and around the Dartmoor, and here we are! In Ruan Minor! It appears on many maps! But not all!

This is the New Thatch B&B in Ruan Minor on the Lizard Peninsula. Another testimony if one were needed to Kristin's inspired skill at finding the right places to book over the Internet.

The New Thatch was a shed in 1800 (when the town seems to have been a barnyard), but it's been improved over the years, most recently by our hosts Tim and Moira, who arranged things charmingly and lay on an excellent breakfast made from local products. One of the most interesting features of the place is the informally-bound history of the house and village that our hosts have researched with the careful eye of a trained historian.

We're off to view the village of Ruan Minor before dinner (please note that this is not the village of Ruan Major).

Lovely; we're nearly finished viewing it now.

St Ruan, with many variants of his name, may have been a 6th century chap who was invulnerable to wolves, and may have rid Cornwall of wolves, and may in fact have been a werewolf. Those may be mutually exclusive traditions. His biography is clouded by the fact that a medieval scribe seems to have transposed his name with another saint's and now we've only got the other guy's life (except for the part about the wolves). That said, Tavistock got hold of his "relics" in 981 and remained the centre of his cult for years and years, despite Glastonbury's claim that they had the real relics.

Saints' relics were a very competitive market in those days. Like NFL franchises now.

Nonetheless, St Ruan has always been identified with The Lizard peninsula at the southwest end of Cornwall, just eastward along the way from Land's End and Penzance. It's actually the peninsula itself that we've come to see, not so much the Saint.

The Saint's stepped out for a moment anyway, so we'll get on with our reconnaissance of the town.

And there it is -- the Spar market, with friendly managers, and a road that plummets over a cliff down to Cadgwith on the sea. There's no restaurant in Ruan Minor and virtually no parking in Cadgwith, so our host is pleased to provide a flashlight for getting down to the pub with, and hopefully back.

That's Cadgwith down there -- it's nearly time for dinner.

The road winds steeply down to the cove, where the Cadgwith Cove Inn, on the right, provided real ales, decent pub fare, and a friendly atmosphere for three nights in a row. That's nearly all I ask out of life. Even lumbering back up the road after dinner with a flashlight can be kind of fun (depending upon a number of variables).

A Coastal Walk -- Cadgwith to The Lizard Point and a bit

We're back. It's the next day, the Cadgwith Cove Inn is on the right, and we're bound for the Southwest Coast Path for an afternoon's hike. In fact, we're ON the Southwest Coast Path, which runs right through town.

Ask yourself if you'd ever play chicken on a one-lane road with a truck packed with propane tanks.

Cadgwith is a working fishing village, lots and lots of atmosphere - crowded into an extremely small space on the coast. Actually, these days, the boats of about a dozen fishermen are working lobster and crab pots mostly, with some longnet fishing for monkfish, cod, squid, etc., etc.

Last night's pub dinner at the Cadgwith Cove Inn, just up the way, was worth mentioning in dispatches (I just did). For tonight, as our coastal hike picks up momentum, Kristin's just booked us into the other eaterie in town. Sadly, as we were the only clients who'd reserved, they canceled and conserved their strengths for another night. We went happily back to the Inn.

Cadgwith Cove per se

"The Stick", a finger of rock in the centre of Cadgwith Cove

The Cadgwith fishing boats and the inn, with Ruan Minor a ways up the hill. Cadgwith was the location for a well-regarded 2004 film directed by Charles Dance, Ladies in Lavender, starring Judi Dench and Maggie Smith.

The Stick at Cadgwith, from the SW Coast Path. We're about to get on our way!

We're headed southward along the eastern side of the Lizard Peninsula to . . . Lizard Point. And Lizard Village. For some years we've been strolling along the SW Coast Path on the other side of Cornwall, and now it's time to get started on the southern side.

We're passing many of the familiar sorts of Cornish coastal attractions. This one is quaintly known as "The Devil's Frying Pan" (on the northern Cornish coast, it would probably be "Merlin's Frying Pan").

It's late October so the shadows are already getting a bit long looking westward, as Kristin looks eastward - for the stragglers.

Carn Barrow: a stagnant pool, apparently originally a quarry for "hornblende schist", and a good place for a photo op.

Kristin's got down there, and I've got the photo. Now what?

With 3-meter hedgerows and brambles all round, it's not obvious how to get out of there.

Ah, I'd almost given up -- here comes Kristin around from the other direction.

An anticipatory look southward towards Lizard Point, more or less our turnaround point for today.

"Merlin's Cave". Sorry, "The Devil's Cave". (I made that up. It's called Polbarrow.)

Church Cove along the way. Lizard Village is actually not far inland from here, nor is the eponymous church, but we are continuing along the coast path for a while. That building, if I read the map properly, is called "The Pilchard Palace". Everybody lived off pilchard, or sardine, fishing here before the industry collapsed in the 1880s. Like the cod in Newfoundland; only earlier.

Kristin is walking along "really extreme (hyper-basic) geology and a pretty amazing flora" here, in our friend David Stroud's words -- the pecular geology is otherwise found on the Shetland island of Unst, thus at the northernmost and southernmost points in the British Isles (some kind of igneous stuff, apparently, schist as it were, and gneiss, and serpentine of local arts-and-crafts fame -- the lot of it 400 million years old and carted in tectonically from way south of the Equator).

The Lizard Lifeboat Station (1961), at the top of the cliffs. An obvious logistical problem.

Here's the solution. Someone's winching himself up the track now, in fact. The boat from this station has saved 100 lives so far (all the lifeboat stations along the coast rack up their lifetime scores in, yes, lifetimes saved).

At the Bass Point Coastwatch Station, an info sign informs us of the important work being done here and invites donations into the little box.

Seconds after we'd dropped some change into the box, someone shouted down, "Thank you!" as if from the skies. The coastwatchers are volunteers who keep track of passing sea traffic and, evidently, keep a record of solitary walkers along the cliff path as well. And thank the passersby who've got a few coins for the cause.

The Lizard Lighthouse awaits us whitely.

Mecca for Marconi-spotters. This signal station, dating from 1872, passed ship-to-shore semaphore signals to and from shipping traffic in the English Channel and communicated them onward by telegraph as a paid service for ship owners in London. Not good enough.

In January 1901 Guglielmo Marconi got his first over-the-horizon wireless signals from the Isle of Wight right here. We've been collecting Marconi sightings like Munro peaks, and we've bagged Fogo Island in Newfoundland and Rathlin Island in Northern Island so far, so this is a pretty emotional moment for us. This is Marconi's own workshop.

The Lizard Lighthouse on the far side of Housel Bay.

The hotel at Housel Bay (1894), Kristin fighting back the temptation to stop in for a cream tea.

Bumble Rock poised out there like a can-opener, awaiting befuddled ship captains when it's foggy.

A typical coastpath walk, a 40- or 60-meter drop and climb up again every time you need to cross a creek

Secluded beach on Housel Bay

Bumble Rock. The famous "Lion's Den" is out there, too, a sea cave whose roof collapsed in 1847, but we passed right by it in utter ignorance that it was there to be seen, since we usually read the guidebooks after, not before, our hikes.

The Lizard Lighthouse

Cream Tea! There's no fighting it anymore. Lizard Point evidently has its own cream tea facilities.

Kristin has darted ahead of us, drawn by the promise of a cream tea, and we're tagging along, weaving about amongst visitors in heavy overcoats and big hats walking up and down with cameras to and from the carpark.

Cream tea with a scone (a black coffee for me) at the café on the left, lots of artisanal carvings of the local serpentine stone in the gift shop and other emporia nearby. Serpentine-carving is THE artistic craft contribution that The Lizard peninsula offers to the world: what's serpentine? Wiki says it's a "common rock-forming hydrous magnesium iron phyllosilicate ((Mg, Fe)3Si2O5(OH)4) minerals; they may contain minor amounts of other elements including chromium, manganese, cobalt and nickel." So that's serpentine then.

For that matter, what's a cream tea? Wiki again: "tea taken with a combination of scones, clotted cream (or in some instances whipped cream), and jam. Cream teas are offered for sale in tea rooms throughout Great Britain (especially the South West of England) and rest of the Commonwealth, or wherever someone wants to give an impression of British influence." I'm okay with the coffee; preferably instant.

The western side of Lizard Point, Polpeor Cove, and the old lifeboat station down the road from the cream tea purveyors. The station was in service from 1859 to 1961, when the new station (above) was built. Score: 562 lives saved.

That's "Man of War" out there, apparently. It appears that every rock on the coast has a name, but few so pretentious as that one. Except "Shag Rock" just inshore from it.

Another offshore rock. That's why there've been so many lighthouse and lifeboat stations along the coast here -- people kept running into these things whilst daydreaming at the helm, or in a storm, etc. In fact, until modern times, one of the principal sources of income in this region, besides pilchards and smuggling, was "wrecking" -- which consisted of shining false lights out to sea to lure passing ships onto the rocks and then dashing down to grab the cargos, and probably not a few wallets, sodden cash, credit cards, rings and brooches, etc.

In one of the stories we read about on the historical panels placed roundabout, the wreckers salvaged a herd of livestock off a grounded ship, but couldn't get them up the cliffs, so they had to carve them up and eat them down on the beach. Something like that.

A moment of bitter second-thoughts. That scone did look pretty good.

Dangerous offshore rocks. Can't something be done about these things, before somebody gets hurt?

Looking towards Kynance -- the weather's building up behind us so we'll leave this part for tomorrow. We're at Venton Hill Point and preparing to turn inland to Lizard Village, whence we'll scurry overland to Ruan Minor before the rain catches us up.

Lizard Village, very nice. The Top House pub here is famous, but the photo didn't turn out well. Here's a good place, BTW, to get your scrumpy and mead.

And across the street, your Real Cornish Ice Cream. This photo was taken from the bus stop where, the following day, the bus never appeared and we had to call a taxi. That's all still to come.

Forever I've been promised a genuine Cornish pasty, as famously imitated in Wisconsin USA, and Ann's Pasty Shop seems to be the world's Ur-Pasty Shop. But there's no time to pause now, we're racing an incoming rain event -- we stopped in the next afternoon (waiting for our taxi), but Ann had already sold out her pasties for the day.

Kristin's walking on a "double hedge", a form of primordial elevated walkway over the muddy fields built up over many centuries by adding stone walls and vegetation as needed.

Here's the rain. And there's the Grade Church, a 13th century edifice rebuilt in 1862 after the local rainstorms had beaten the original into submission.

Kristin rounding the last bend to the New Thatch cottage in Ruan Minor.

Back to the New Thatch as the rain lets up, and the sun peeks out

Credits: A lot of the local lore recounted here comes from Robin Bates and Bill Scolding, Five Walks from The Lizard (Cornwall County Council, 2001).

Pubcrawling in Cornwall and Devon, 2009
Cadgwith Cove to Lizard Point
Mullion to Lizard Village
St Mawes Castle, Falmouth
Cotehele, Buckland Abbey
Polperro coastal hike
Brent Tor, Lydford Gorge, Devon
Exeter and Cardiff before the plane

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 18 November 2009, revised 24 April 2013.

Devon and Cornwall, 2009

Devon and Cornwall, 2006

Devon and Cornwall, 2004

Devon and Cornwall, 2003