DAY 6: LAND’S END/CLOVELLY

Day 5 - 2-w1000-h1000

Up early with a heavy head, we board the huge train that we had got off yesterday – the London train – in an irritating morning drizzle, to travel the one final stop down to the end of the country.

We walk through Penzance to pick-up a rental car. I talk vaguely of pirates and light English operettas.

As I am an appalling driver, nervous and myopic, the keys are handed to Passepartout.

After a frustratingly long time being talked to about everything and, particularly, nothing by the genial West Country lady behind the desk (“I liked it,” says Passepartout. “It’s like the slow way of life on the islands in Greece.”) we set off.

Passepartout taking her very first roundabout the wrong way.

After several other heart-in-mouth moments as she grapples with the driving on the left concept, and with probably a score of old men in leather driving gloves and checked flat caps left behind us, driven into ditches, we reach Land’s End.

It is a fairly depressing place and not helped by the angled rain now driving into our faces.

The rain relents long enough to pose for pictures under the end of the country sign.

We eye the tacky kids’ entertainments (“4D!”) and takeaway cafeterias with suspicion. But here we are, and, obviously, there’s only one possible place to go from here. As the sign tells us, John o’Groats is 874 miles away.

We’d better get started.

We follow the route of our old friend the South West Coast path. This time in the opposite direction, east, along the south of Cornwall.

Stopping to look at the church of St Michael’s Mount, and race across the causeway before the tide Day 6 -2-w1000-h1000turns the mount back into an island.

We had previously been on some holiday-makers trek to Mont Saint Michel in Normandy – the almost identical twin across the English Channel.

The Brits, this time at least, should feel proud they haven’t cashed in with restaurants and souvenir shops as much as the French have on their ecclesiastical lump of land.

A handbrake turn and we head up to the north coast.

Running along the Betjeman-loved golden, unpeopled bays and shadowy cliffs, we spot seals languishing in a calm, sunny sheltered enclave – just round the corner from a threshing, gurgling area known as Hell’s Mouth. High cliffs and the booming sounds of waves in the hollows below us.

Cornwall throws up these quite incredible, multifarious scenes, and the Greek seems to have fallen very much in love with it.

Okay, so the people who live here, in the teeth of these battering gales, must always talk a little too loudly when they get inside. They must always lean at a certain angle.

But the jutting cliffs and rocks and the sea and surf breaking in, it really is just like the beginning of the world.

I stand in front of – hiding – some of the heartbreaking sad handwritten “gone but not forgotten” signs. And I realise that I’ve taken Passepartout to another popular suicide spot.

We continue north, hitting the superhighway in this part of the world: the minuscule A30.

Day 6 - 5-w1000-h1000

Passepartout has, just about, mastered the roundabout (“they don’t have many of these in Greece!” she says, happily sailing over another one).

But we soon fall off route and find ourselves passing through Tavistock (a quick, unsure, history lesson as we pass the statue of naval, and home town, hero Francis Drake, and I talk unsurely of finishing games of bowls and Spanish Armadas.)

We call in at a large, old coaching tavern on the side of the road, the Highwayman Inn, and feel like we’ve entered a very strange world indeed.

Dark, stone and wood, and run by two old hippies – seeming acid casualties from the 70s. It could be the most unusual pub in Britain.

Every part of the ancient building is surreally decorated. A shipwrecked ship in one bar, a huge coach and horses in another. Gargoyles, statues, carvings and a thousand lamps and trinkets.

The longer you look, the more bizarre objects become apparent, appearing out of the walls and the gloom. It is, of course, utterly haunted, with a seat reserved for the ghost of an old sea captain called Grenville. The regulars having chats with him on the way to the Gents.

We carry on over wild, austere Dartmoor, find the A30, lose it again and end up in the small town of Tiverton.

Passing the pretty market square I spot ‘Mallards’ tea rooms – lace net curtains, white table cloths, horse brasses and handwritten menu cards – and insist Passepartout has a cream tea.

Not that I’ve had many in my life that I can think of – but it seems the correct thing to have on this British tour of British things. And ‘Mallards’ the perfect place have it.

A face is pulled in the confusion as Passepartout believes she will be given tea with cream in it, but, when served, the scones and jam prove popular with the Greek and she listens with unnecessary intent as she’s given a lecture by the owner on how, now we’re in Devon, you must put the jam on top of the cream rather than the other way round as in Cornwall.

Passepartout nervously, dutifully, complies with these scone rules – and everything is very genteel and English and civilised.

The local radio is on low in the background. The radio presenter with the customary smooth voice oozing through his smile. A Janet or a Dave always “live on line 2″ talking about problems with the new pedestrianisation of the High Street.

Before leaving ‘Mallards’ I take a visit to the lavatories.

I find a wizened, spindly, moustached man in a white short sleeve shirt trying with great effort to pull his stuck, quite enormous wife, up off the toilet.

She cheerfully smiles and waves at me as he puffs and lurches her unsuccessfully off the seat. “Won’t be a minute!” she trills.

I tell Passepartout to keep a look out for a tree I can go behind once we set off.

A big angry looking man with red freckled arms and a face like a boiled prawn stands at the counter taking up space. I can’t get by.

“Sorry,” I say, making a sort of strangled effort voice “Could I… Could I just slip by there?”

He shuffles from one foot to the other, looking down counting his change, but doesn’t really make any room whatsoever.

“Thanks,” I say as I squeeze by, balls brushing his backside, table top slicing into my thigh.

“Why did I say thanks?” I reflect to Passepartout as we get out side, annoyed with myself. As we get into the car, parked by the clock tower on the green. My ludicrous politeness finally capping the whole, very English, scene.

*

A student that Passepartout teaches Greek to back in London had recommended Clovelly as a place we must see in Devon. So we go off map even further in search of this supposed shangri-la that I have to admit never having heard of.

Once we get there, having passed the miles of English hedgerows and down tiny lanes, with running hedges and fences and stiles and crossing cows, I admit it was worth the detour.

A steep drop of a road into a horseshoe harbour at the bottom, cottages lining the sides. No cars are allowed on the cobbled road. Instead we see goods – and people – travelling up and down on sledges, watched by impassive donkeys.

Day 6 -8-w1000-h1000

It is late and I get the feeling we have got lucky as this place must be crawling with tourists in the day – a place this good doesn’t go by unnoticed – but for us there are just a few souls around and the dark curl of smoke from one of the cottage chimneys sitting on the polished-silver twilight sky.

We take away a view unchanged for centuries as we leave to find our parked car and try – and fail – to find the A30 once more.

Plans to get out of Devon have to be cancelled as night covers us quickly and instead we find a great-looking old hotel to stay in the middle of nowhere.

Characterful and completely English-looking, I point out the thatched roof and – not having seen or heard of thatched roofs before but knowing very well the name Thatcher – the Greek pulls a repulsed face as we head in for the night’s hospitality, under the clearest night imaginable.

A sky marbled with stars.