Monday, 31 December 2001

A Cornish Adventure

DAY ONE

    Five o'clock in the morning. Five o'clock in the morning I got up to do this. I must have either been completely mad, or looking forward to a great holiday.
    After kissing goodbye to Shane (my dog), my taxi took me to my departure point in Norwich, where I had to meet the coach at 6:30am. I hadn't been in Norwich that early since the previous November, and my adventure in Bruges.

    As soon as I arrived, I could tell that something wasn't quite right. The driver of our coach seemed a little confused, like he didn't know what he was doing. He told me to leave my case on the pavement, and to find a seat on the coach. Odd, I thought. Normally on these organized coach trips, you are allocated a seat number. This has alot to do with the health and safety laws and all that.
    So, having found a seat at the back of the bus, we made our way to King's Lynn, to pick up the final passengers. Then we were on our merry way.
    Our next destination was due to be the town of Peterborough, where, at the services station, there would be a change of driver. However, there was a moment when it seemed like we wouldn't even be getting to Peterborough. The driver made several wrong turnings. For some reason, we were headed towards Leicester. Oh well, at least we were headed for somewhere that had a Premiership football team.
    Anyway, if it wasn't for the intervention of one of our well traveled passengers, we would have never made it to Peterborough. Pointing the driver in the right direction, we were soon headed for Peterborough, and our change of driver.

    Things with this first driver seemed wrong from the start. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure he's a very capable fellow, but I always thought that when you started one of these organized tours, your driver, or whoever, gave you some sort of directions, telling you about the seat belts, emergency exits, that sort of thing. We didn't get any of this until we had left Peterborough with Dennis, our new driver.
    Thankfully, Dennis seemed to know what he was doing. Giving us our directions, for the use of the seat belts, the location of the emergency exits, he then told us what route, down various motorways, we would be taking, and telling us of our scheduled stops.
    Then, it began. The aforementioned well traveled passenger, along with his wife, began to shake his head. It was obvious they were paid-up members of the
"you-don't-want-to-do-it-like-that" society. The man leapt up out of his seat. "May I suggest an alternative route." Bounding down to the front of the coach, he pointed out the errors in Dennis' ways. But try as he might, Dennis wouldn't budge. He told the man that his route was the most direct route to Cornwall. His reply -"it may be the most direct, but it's not the fastest." Now, I know I'm not an experienced driver, but this last statement defies logic a little.

    So we continued on our merry way, making several stops at various services stations. This allowed us to stretch our legs, grab something to eat, and in my case, to check my e-mails a couple of times.
    During our journey, Dennis attempted to entertain us, telling us stories, and a few jokes. However, these jokes mainly consisted of how fat his wife was, the sort of thing that went out years ago. If he had continued, I'm sure he would have started on some mother-in-law jokes. Thankfully, he didn't.
    Our last stop before we reached our hotel was not a normal services stop, but at the world famous Jamaica Inn. While I admit there was not much here that inspired me, the best thing was the incredible view over Bodmin Moor. I wished there and then I had my camera with me. It would have made a great photo.

    After what seemed like an age, we arrived at our hotel in Newquay at about 6:30pm, and we finally got to meet our tour representative, a cheerful fellow by the name of Jolyon (if you want to know how to pronounce his name, just think of mine.) Our hotel, The Woodlands Hotel, was formerly known as The Hotel Minto. Wasn't there a breath-freshening sweet of this name? Hotel Trebor Extra Strong Mint perhaps? It could have been worse I suppose. The hotel over the road was called the Hotel Palma Nova, and the one next door, the Hotel California.
    Grabbing my room key, I was directed into what seemed like a basement, two flights of stairs down from the main floor. Unlocking the door, I found that I was slightly wrong. I wasn't in the basement, but in something that resembled a shoe box of sorts. Sitting down on the toilet, I could have probably placed my feet in the shower cubicle. I know I had requested a single room, but if I had brought my cat, Sam, along with me, I wouldn't have been able to get a good swing in.

    Each time I am away from home, the first thing I always check on is the view from my hotel window. This was by far the best part of the day so far. The view, of a river that only achieved a certain level when the tide was in, with a further backdrop of rolling Cornish hills, was truly astounding. I could have sat there for hours just looking at this.
    But I had other things to do. Making my way up to the bar, I ordered a glass of lager, and sat myself down, in an attempt to get to know some of my fellow passengers. This I did a little, although all they seemed to do was complain about Dennis' jokes.
    I wasn't really that hungry, so, skipping dinner, I decided to take a stroll around the part of Newquay I would be calling home for the next couple of days. With a map I had downloaded from the Internet, I made my way to the cliff top, and soon found myself overlooking Fistral Beach, and doing something no one else in this generation of my family had done - looked at the Atlantic Ocean.
    After years of walking along Cromer Beach, Fistral Beach was truly stunning sight. I could see straight away why this was a favourite tourist attraction. It wasn't long before I found the steps down, and was walking along the golden sand.
    After a road trip lasting over twelve hours, this was just the thing I needed. Just watching the calmness of the water relaxed me. Walking along Fistral beach, towards the opposite end, I walked up another set of steps, and explored more of the town.
    This was definitely the surfing capital of the west coast. The town was full of surfer dudes! However, I failed to ask if they thought Newquay "reeked of awesomeness". I'm sure someone will call me soon and tell me.
    Returning to the hotel about 9:30pm, I found that I had missed the beginning of the evening's entertainment, "The Pete Dudley Sound". Well, all I can say is, this isn't the sort of sound I'm looking for. I'm sure Mr. Dudley is a nice enough man, but he's not really my cup of tea. With his backing tape and his accordion, Mr. Dudley entertained us with several songs, and several...ahem...jokes. These jokes seemed to go down a storm with Dennis. Here's an example ; "My mother-in-law is so fat, to get her some knicker elastic, we 'ave to go to one o' them bungee jumping places." It didn't get any better.
    Needing several more lagers to dull the senses, I noticed that it was near eleven. Damn, I thought. I had missed the Big Brother nominations. That would have been a hell of a lot more entertaining than Mr. Dudley. Going back to my room, I dusted the Cornish sand from my shoes, and journeyed to the land of nod.

DAY TWO

    This was the big one. The reason I had come down to Cornwall. The Eden Project biosphere. The sad thing was that I would only be getting about two and a half hours here.
    Breakfast was first though, and, you guessed it, something went wrong. Tell me people, what would you think of a hotel that ran out of teaspoons? Luckily, I'm not a big breakfast eater.
    I returned to my room, fished out my camera, and got a photo of the stunning view. I also made my way down the steps from my terrace, and discovered that there was a swimming pool and bowling green there as well! A pity about the sorry state they were in though. Given the shoe box of a bathroom I had, a soak in the pool would have been great.
    At 9:30am, we began our journey. I had been offered a trip to the Lost Gardens of Helligan, but that didn't really interest me. All I wanted to see was the Eden Project.
    On our way, Jolyon told us of our destination. The whole project had cost a staggering £85 million, but when you consider that I had heard only good things about it, it had been considered money well spent.
    However, Jolyon did warn us about one thing - we were not to call the massive greenhouses "domes". They were "bi-omes", the official line being that there was only one dome in Britain, and that was a complete failure. These "bi-omes" were not.
    After a journey of about forty minutes, we soon got our first sight of The Eden Project. The pictures I had seen on television and in the newspapers did not do this place justice. Just by looking at it from this angle you could tell it was a wonder of modern engineering. I had never seen anything like this before, and it would probably be a few years before I saw anything like it again.
    Being an organized tour, we quickly got through the fast-track entrance, and I was soon inside. There was quite a long walk down into the old china clay crater, and as I got closer and closer to the actual bi-omes themselves, the more impressed I became.
    Jolyon had advised us to enter the Mediterranean bi-ome first, as that would be the best way to acclimatize us to the Tropical bi-ome. So, taking his advice, I headed for the smaller of the two structures.
    As soon as I entered, I could tell that all of this lottery money had been well spent. This was definitely a worthy cause. I could go on here about all the different kinds of plants I saw, but I'm sure that there are many of you who aren't really interested in that sort of thing.
    I spent about thirty minutes in that little part of the Mediterranean, before walking through the joining building into a small part of the rain forest. Jolyon was right. It was really scorching in there, and it was somewhat amusing to see the people peel off various sweaters and coats as they went along.
    The Tropical bi-ome, meant to signify the climate of parts of South America and Africa, and was the larger of the two structures. This was quite probably the hottest place I had ever been, even hotter than the greenhouse at the garden centre on a July day.
    The best part of this had to be the waterfall, which started at the top of the bi-ome, running all the way down to the bottom. A crowd was always standing by the waterfall, because of the spray of water that was coming off, making this, by far, the coolest part of the bi-ome.
    To be honest, I could have probably spent the rest of the day in this particular bi-ome. I have no idea exactly how long I spent there, but looking at my watch, I saw that time was against me.
    After grabbing a light lunch in one of the three cafes, I made my way to the gift shop. Nothing special here, although I did buy a small Coast Redwood tree here. At full maturity, they can reach a height of 300 feet. I'm undecided what I'm going to do with it at the moment, but I do have visions of people moving into my house in a few years faced with the massive problem of a 300 foot tall tree in the middle of the back lawn!

    The next trip was meant to be to the Lost Gardens of Helligan. As this didn't really interest me, a few of us were dropped off at the nearby town of St. Austell. In short, this town reminded me a bit of Norwich. The only thing of note I did here was finally managing to get a new copy of Metallica's "black album" on CD, having worn out my two previous copies on tape, as well as getting Kid Rock's "Devil Without a Cause" CD.

    We returned to our hotel about 5:45pm, and before dinner, I decided to get a bit of a rest in my room. As I sat down on my bed, I got to see the extent of the hotel's cleaning service, or rather, lack thereof. Some sand had fallen off my shoe onto the carpet from the previous night's walk, and it was still there. Perhaps the hotel did not own a Hoover. A quick wash followed, and after dinner, I embarked on another journey.

    With camera in hand, I then made my return to Fistral beach. Again, I was awed by what I was seeing. The slowly setting sun made for a truly stunning sight. I clicked off a few shots for the old photo album, and perhaps for the new web site as well.
    I returned to the hotel, and with lager in hand, I looked forward to the evening's entertainment. The poster in reception promised a feast of Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and something called Caribbean Time.
    The entertainment was due to start at 8:30pm, but, well you guessed it. The man, whose name I forgot, came out dressed as himself, and starting up his backing tape, racked off such classics as Green Door and Achy Breaky Heart. The thing that bothered me though was the fact that he constantly seemed to be looking at the ceiling. I began to wonder if his song sheets were pasted up there or something.
    After about 45 minutes, there was an intermission, and then the second act came out. Cool! Buddy Holly lives! Well, if you believed this was Buddy Holly, think again. It was the same fella, now in suit and neck tie and a pair of glasses. He even tried to act like Buddy Holly! He looked more like Buddy Holly's father. If it wasn't for the fact that there was beer there, I probably would have left long ago.
    The beer was not enough to keep me going when the next act arrived. Yep, you guessed it, the same man dressed in a flared white jump-suit and black side-burns. This was it for me. I didn't care if there was beer there. I was off to my room.
    Thankfully, my room was far enough away from the bar that I didn't hear anything, so I didn't have to put up with Caribbean Time. Taking a quick look out across the dry river, I went to sleep.

DAY THREE

    After packing and breakfast the next morning, we left the hotel for the return
journey at 9:30am, this time in our proper seats. Our journey was pretty uneventful. Dennis thanked us for traveling with him.
    When we reached Peterborough, we had another change of driver, and guess what? This man was more used to driving on the continent, and he really only spent about fifteen days a year driving in Britain. He knew his way to King's Lynn, but towards Norwich, he was lost. Again, one of the willing passengers help with directions, although I must admit, I was sorely tempted to give him directions straight to my front door. I would have saved some money on the taxi fare.
    Another 12 hour journey from west to east, and I arrived home.
   
    In conclusion, the best part of the trip had to be The Eden Project, although two-and-a-half hours wasn't really enough time, and many of us told Jolyon this. The project itself is a tremendous place, but at the moment, as it has only really been open about three months, the plants aren't really established, and some of the exhibits aren't completed yet. However, give it five years or so, and I'm sure that the men and women who came up with the grand design will be more than pleased with their work.