Dwight 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.

Castles of Cornwall series, #21,432: St Mawes

24 October 2009, we've got The Lizard in the rearview mirror, en route to the hinterlands of Devon, but, before we've got half started out, here we are, sitting on a small ferryboat in Falmouth Harbor. We've come to visit the twin Tudor artillery forts -- Pendennis and St Mawes Castles -- built in the 1540s to protect the Carrick Roads, the vast estuary of the river Fal that, we're told, could have provided invaders a secure base from which to commit exceptional atrocities throughout the southwestern region.

Unsettling at first, our fellow passenger there. We're crossing from Falmouth, on a brisk day, in a few minutes, to St Mawes on the eastern shore.

Leaving Falmouth behind on a grim day. Falmouth deserves better, but that's all I've got from out here. (There was a sunny blue spot in the sky, but that was a few days ago.)

St Mawes across the harbor, the castle in the foreground

That's our boat, glad to be off it for a while -- choppy seas, windy spray, creepy kid statue reading a book, and what not.

Quayside St Mawes

The St Mawes Castle and, in the distance across the way, Pendennis Castle looming over the western shore. Both well-placed, since the range of 16th century artillery was just about halfway across the harbor, so between them they could dissuade visitors if necessary.

St Mawes Castle is sort of a castle, but really it's just a big gun platform, with indoor and outdoor artillery decks to cover the whole neighborhood. Pendennis is across the way on the right.

The front door across the moat, with old drawbridge ports and typically symbolic Tudor crests and carvings.

This is all English Heritage now and nicely made up -- it's beautiful in its own way, and it recreates the sense of 16th century military defenses. Right down to the audio guide with its phony Tudor commander showing you from room to room in an informative "Yo me hearties!" manner whilst recreating the sighting of Spanish ships on the horizon at the same time. "Excuse me, I've got to be off! Walk on into the next room and I'll join you there."

We're starting our audio tour. We got separated straightaway because Kristin doesn't like to follow the numbers.

Through the captain's chambers and guardrooms and out onto the main gun deck. There are meant to be remarkable Tudor engravings on the walls, but you can't see much of that from this distance.

Half the way up the stairway to the next gun deck, the Tudor Loo. (Just in case, as you're passing from one artillery platform to the next, nature might intervene.).

I may have been daydreaming or reflecting on embarrassments from childhood, but I was in this room for several minutes before I realized that these weren't fellow tourists catching a break in the audio tour.

These guys are what gave it away for me. In the UK, tourists don't normally carry guns at tourist attractions. (Unlike you know where.)

From the top deck of the old castle. By the 18th century, most of the big guns were placed out on the outer batteries instead of inside the towers, and eventually the ammunition stores were moved out to the bunker on the lower left so that the garrison's leisure time would not be disturbed by a mishap.

The "saluting battery" is meant to fire off salutes to visiting dignitaries and spark up the main holiday celebrations (like mountaintop bonfires in Switzerland on 1 August).

The main gun platform in the front bastion -- the artillery piece on the right is meant to be something special; the one on the left is like dozens of others sprinkled all over the site like candycorn.

The forward and west bastions and the main gun tower, with the lookout tower perched up at the top of it

Same, from down below at the gunpowder magazine built into the rock in 1854.

Kristin taking an important call. ("The Spaniards have been sighted.")

Out front of the "Grand Sea Battery" there's the "Tudor Blockhouse", perhaps the earliest of Henry VIII's emplacements here in the 1530s, matched by another across the water at Pendennis.

Room for only four guns here and no defense at all; it's easy to see why the castle up the hill was next on the Corps of Engineers' checklist.

View out of the Tudor Blockhouse

Whoops! Wait. All right, it's okay to pass. (We've been reading too much about Israeli checkpoints in the news.)

Evidently the Spanish did come near enough to have a look round (they marauded along the coast several times in the 1590s). The fort at St Mawes seems never to have got the respect it deserved, because though the seaward gun emplacements were formidable for protecting the Roads, from the landward side it would have been a cakewalk had the bad guys just come ashore elsewhere and snuck in by bribing the lady at the front desk.

In its compact purposefulness and superb museum presentation, this is a very beautiful and instructive historical site.

That said, it's time to go see St Mawes' more famous cousin, Pendennis Castle.

Assiduously at her book. We've just realized that, if we really want to look in at every charity second-hand shop in downtown Falmouth, we won't have time to visit Pendennis Castle on this trip after all. Oh well. Next time.

A cheerful, drizzly farewell to St Mawes as we hurry out of artillery range. (St Mawes Castle went out of military service in 1956.)

Downtown Falmouth. I'm just strolling round a bit with my camera, getting a sense of the place, whilst Kristin's in all the charity second-hand shops, going from one to another, looking for bargains.

The only bargain I got was an excellent Cornish pasty at a shop just behind me in this photo. Then we left Falmouth, without seeing Pendennis after all, and headed for Devon. We're on the hunt for the Beera Farm, down a one-lane road with hedgerows nine feet high over the river Tamar near Tavistock. (At least, since they're one-lane roads, we don't fret anymore that we're on the wrong side of them.)

We made it to Beera Farm. Waking up to sheep the next morning. (Kristin loves nothing so much as grazing sheep.) (Except marmots) (And kitty-cats, of course)

Pubcrawling in Cornwall and Devon, 2009

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

Devon and Cornwall, 2009

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Devon and Cornwall, 2003