SS Great Britain, Bristol


So on the way back from Cornwall in September, we took a slight detour, first to visit Bristol and then to stay over with a friend en route.

My family lived near Bristol when I was between the ages of 2 and 11, but I don’t remember a lot about the actual city, or really got my bearings on other brief visits. We only had a couple of hours to spend there this time so the main attraction was the SS Great Britain.

Miraculously we managed to drive in near Clifton and find a street parking space near the waterside. From there it was a pleasant riverside stroll, past Underfall Yard. Bristol was transformed in 1809 by the opening of the Floating Harbour. Eighty acres of tidal river was impounded to allow visiting ships to remain afloat all the time. Underfall Yard was crucial to the operation and maintenance of the harbour which needed constant dredging of the silt. Over the next two centuries the Harbour grew as a busy port until it closed in 1975. Now the area has been regenerated for leisure, commerce and living spaces.

From the riverside there were great views up to Clifton, with the pastel coloured houses up the hill, towards the suspension bridge, and past vivid canal boats.


Brunel’s  SS Great Britain is one of the most important historic ships in the World. It was restored and opened as a museum in 2005.

When launched in 1843 she was allegedly called the “greatest experiment since the creation!” No-one had before designed so vast a ship or build it of iron. Brunel fitted her with a 1000 hp steam engine, the most powerful yet used at sea. He also gave the ship a screw propeller, the newest invention in maritime technology.


The ocean liner had four decks, a crew of 120 and fitted to accommodate a total of 360 passengers with 1200 tons of cargo and another 1200 tons of fuel.  Like other steamships of the era the Great Britain also had secondary sail power, with one square rigged and five schooner rigged masts. The rigging was iron cable rather than traditional hemp rope.

Initial voyages were from Liverpool to New York but in 1852 the ship started a thirty year career of carrying passengers to Melbourne Australia carrying emigrants following the gold rush trail.


At the museum, you first view the ship displayed in a dry dock which has been sealed by a huge water line glass plate and beneath the plate the air is kept dry by a giant dehumidification plant to ensure the atmosphere preserves the iron hull. Incredible to think you are walking under this historic ship. From the top a thin layer of water makes it look like it’s afloat!


Then through to a museum, which tells the story of the ship over the decades. Finally you are on board! Where it feels like you’ve just stepped back in time!



You can explore the ship at will, peering into cabins, where you may find a passenger suffering from seasickness, or the cook working in the galley! You get to experience the contrast between the crowded bunks of the crew and steerage passengers and the grand entertainment rooms of the upper class passengers!



An excellent museum, well worth a visit! Bristol we will be back!

SS Great Britain, Bristol

South West Coast Path – Porthmeor, Carrick Du and Clodgy Point

South West Coast Path – Porthmeor, Carrick Du and Clodgy Point


G was heading back to the Porthmeor Studios, for instruction in “oils with a palette knife” at the Porthmeor studios. These buildings on the northern side of St Ives, were originally fishermen’s net lofts, fish cellars and salt houses for curing the pilchards which for many centuries provided the towns’ main livelihood. Four cellars are still used by fishermen today. The others are occupied by artists, a tradition which started at the end of the nineteenth century when the railway brought many artists drawn by the famous quality of the light around Penwith. Porthmeor Beach has beautiful stretching sands, and is popular with surfers.

Leaving the artist behind my calling this morning was the coast path towards Zennor. St Ives was shrouded in mist, with a mystical air. Walking past Tate St Ives and the beach, the path is first paved and easy, giving tantilising views of St Ives through the haze. A couple of runners overtake me, but the path is pretty quiet just now.


I head up towards Clodgy Point, clodgy is apparently Cornish for leper, suggesting a site of a leper colony in the past! This promontory like many others in Cornwall has seen its share of shipwrecks.


This areas is part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest with a wide range of unusual wildlife and plants.

The path continues up to Burthallan Cliff climbing steadily. The landscape is markedly different to the coast path south of St Ives. After a night of heavy rains and thunderstorms, the ground is decidedly damp in places, due to the springs running down. However a stone causeway has been laid to help navigate through this landscape that feels remote and wild.


So Beautiful!



By the time I turn round to return the same route, the sun has started to break through the clouds. And some of the wildlife is less concerned about me and my camera, than the crows that keep trying to dive bomb it!


As I head back to St Ives, the views just get more and more stunning




A fantastic walk, and one I’d like to do all the way to Zennor some time. I’m not sure the camera can ever do it justice really and wonder how G has got in with his oil painting. A stroll back into St Ives for some shopping, crab sandwich and cup of tea. Nice.



South West Coast Path – Porthmeor, Carrick Du and Clodgy Point

Porthleven, Mullion Cove and Helston



Theory 1 – from the Cornish words “porth” meaning port and “leven” meaning smooth.
Theory 2. – from “porth” meaning port and “Elvan” from St Elvan the 5th century saint who landed on these shores to spread the word of Christianity. (There was originally a settlement nearby called St Elvan)


A rather grey day, but we decided to head for Porthleven which is the most Southerly working port in mainland Britain, positioned between the Lizard Peninsula and Marazion near St Michael’s Mount. The harbour is unusual in that it opened directly south west into the prevailing winds, as a safe haven for ships getting into difficulties near the Lizard.


An act of parliament was signed by King George III in 1811 “for constructing a harbour in Mounts Bay in the county of Cornwall” The construction of the harbour was a tremendous and dangerous engineering achievement and took 14 years, using prisoners from the Napoleonic War. The granite pier and quays were complete by 1825 and the inner harbour completed in 1858. The huge timbers that seal the inner harbour closed, in the event of storms are still in use today.

The Bickford Smith Institute next to the pier and harbour entrance is a splendid local landmark with its seventy foot high clock tower. It was donated to the town by former MP, Mr Bickford Smith in 1884.

On the day we were there the conditions were clearly perfect for surfing, as there was a steady stream of wet suited bodies appearing, running for the beach, across the treacherous looking rocks and joining the queues in the rolling waves. It’s a particularly challenging area for surfing, attracting many top level surfers.



Back in February 2014 during the ferocious storms, you probably wouldn’t have wanted to be on this beach. Scientists from Plymouth University found the waves were some of the most powerful ever recorded on Earth. The huge breakers up to 26 feet tall caused the cliffs to shake more than any others ever recorded and 1350 cubic metres of cliff face disappeared.


When the tide is out, a three mile long shingle and sand beach is exposed towards Loe Bar and the Penrose Estate. We took a stroll round both sides of the harbour. On the right is the Old Lifeboat House, now a studio and exhibition space. The two cannon standing either side of the harbour, come from the frigate HMS Anson, which was wrecked on nearby Loe Bar in 1807. They were once fired on the Napoleon’s navy during the battle of Brest. A morning coffee sat outside and the sun even came out. A lovely place, no doubt we will return!


From Porthleven we drove on to Mullion Cove, now owned by the National Trust. This tiny picturesque harbour was originally built in the 1890’s and still shelters a small fishing fleet from powerful westerly storms.



Just up from the harbour is The Chocolate Factory and craft centre, worth a stop off for some shopping!

After a quick drive to the top of a hill with a view for our picnic lunch, we finished our day in Helston, where the rain clouds were finally amassing.  This bustling market town has a mixture of Georgian and Victorian architecture with a fine monument built in 1834 of Humphry Millet Grylls, a local bank and solicitor whose actions kept the local tin mine open, saving 1200 jobs. We visited the fascinating Helston Folk Museum which is housed in a very long building, the former Market House and Drill Hall. The Market originally had two separate market halls, one for butter and eggs, and one for meat, you can still see the original sloping granite floors. The museum was extended into the Drill Hall in 1999 and a mezzanine gallery was added. It really seemed to go on for ever! At the end of the museum a class of school children in old fashioned clothes were being taught their lessons in the Victorian manner!


When we finally left the maze of the museum and made our way to the car, the heavens finally opened. We’d had a fantastic day, so really couldn’t complain!


Porthleven, Mullion Cove and Helston

Porthcurno, telegraphs and sharks?

On the Monday afternoon we headed back to Porthcurno. We had previously visited the amazing Minack Theatre perched up on the cliff.


Today we were heading for the telegraph museum. While G had a quick nap in the car, I took a stroll down to the beach. Porthcurno beach and bay, enclosed by the Logan Rock headland is a stunning stretch of golden sands, which has been listed as one of the top ten beaches in the world! Not exactly tropical weather today but still beautiful.


At the beach you can see the Cable Hut/House the last point before the cables go under the sea. In fact you can still see one of the thick cables. So what were these cables? And why was this site so important? We went into the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum to find out how this spot in Cornwall became the most important communications site in Britain.


The first cable under the Atlantic Ocean was laid in 1866 by the SS Great Eastern and in Cornwall the first submarine telegraph cables were landed here in Porthcurno in 1870, part of an early international link from the UK to India (then a British colony). In 1872 the Eastern Telegraph Company Limited was formed which took over the operation of the cables and built a cable office in the Porthcurno Valley. Between the wars, the office operated as many as 14 cables for a time, the largest submarine cable station in the world, with the capacity to received and transmit up to a two million words a day. The telegraph message (though primitive in today’s technical world) transformed global communications! Before telegraphs, the quickest way to communicate with another continent was sending a letter by ship!

From the 1850s until well into the 20th century, British submarine cable systems dominated the world. In 1896 there were thirty cable laying ships in the world and 24 of them were owned by British companies!

By World War 2, the office at Porthcurno had become a crucial communication centre and to improve the security of the site, a network of tunnels were built to shelter the essential telegraph equipment from enemy fire.

It’s a fascinating place to visit with plenty of hands-on exhibits (morse code practice anyone?) and lots of information about the people who worked here and at sea laying the cables.


It’s fascinating history, of course. But surely in this world of global satellites, we no longer need to lay cables under the sea? You might think so, but actually our internet today still relies on those underground cables. In fact 99% of all international data is transmitted by submarine communications cables, hundreds of thousands of miles long. Laying these cables is a complex expensive business! Thwarted rather by sharks, who happen to like gnawing on those cables so that companies such as Google, need to shield their cables in shark proof wire wrappers! Ouch.

Telegraphy (from Greek: τῆλε têle, “at a distance” and γράφειν gráphein, “to write”) is the long-distance transmission of textual or symbolic (as opposed to verbal or audio) messages

Porthcurno, telegraphs and sharks?

Walking – Lelant to St Ives, on the path of the saints

So G was off to St Ives for an art class as part of the wonderful annual St Ives Art Festival. So I decided not to be put off by the unpromising drizzle but get on the train to Lelant Saltings so I can walk back along the beautiful South West Coast path. This section is also part of St Michael’s way, a twenty mile route from Lelant to Marazion and the iconic St Michael’s Mount island. This route is the only footpath in Britain that is part of a designated European Cultural Path . It is part of a network of pilgrim routes that lead to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain, an important site of Christian pilgrimage. No pilgrims today, just me in my walking boots getting of the train! There are some amazingly tropical looking gardens along the lane.


Lelant Saltings is the location of the park and train ride service into busy St Ives. Lelant, often called Uny Lelant after its Saint Uny, lies on the west side of the Hayle Estuary which is managed by the RSPB as a nature reserve. It is thought that Saint Uny and Saint Herygh (patron of St Erth) were brothers of St La, patron of St Ives who was an Irish princess in the 5th/6th century who evangalised this part of Cornwall.


The road sign shows the way to the church in both English and Cornish. Cornish evolved from the Common Brittonic spoken throughout England and Wales during the Iron age and Roman period. The language had almost died out but a revival started in 1904 has meant that the language is again being learned in Cornwall, and the number of native speakers increasing!

The medieval Church of St Uny’s is built entirely from granite.


In a corner of the extensive graveyard stands another little chapel. This one was a primitive Methodist chapel built in 1879 and used until the early 1900s. There are plans to make this into a Heritage Centre manned by volunteers.


A path between the two churches, takes you down to the sea, between dunes and a golf course. The tide was in so I took the coast path to the edge of the golf course and through scrubland with fine views of the sandy beaches


The overnight rain, and warm humid air make it feel a little like walking through a tropical forest. The path never veers far from the train line, with frequent trains running through.


The Autumn leaves are already starting to turn, while blackberries are in full fruit and crocosmia have colonised the cliff edges. Fronds of bracken are turning brown and crisp and fuscia’s drip damp flowers at the side of the path



It’s a beautiful walk, if rather undulating and tiring especially before Carbis Bay. Carbis Bay is a lovely little place, and our holiday home is just up the hill but I keep on walking. The walk into St Ives from here is much easier, and after navigating a load of slow walking American tourists, I’m soon there, ready to sample a lamb pasty and meet up with Greg at the car.


I love these little turnstones that rush around the rocks and quayside steps in search of food!


A lovely walk, and the rain even stayed off!

Walking – Lelant to St Ives, on the path of the saints

Mousehole – Spanish raids, plague and a lifeboat disaster





We took an afternoon drive to Mousehole. When we visited last year, it was rather a dismal day, so we were looking forward to seeing this pretty place with the sun on it. Today it’s a gorgeous little fishing harbour with a higgledy piggledy cottages clinging round the circular sheltered harbour, with cafes and art galleries.

Mousehole was once known ast Porth Enys meaning port of the island and from the 13th Century it was the main port in Mounts Bay. The origins of the name are unknown, but may be derived from the Cornish word Moeshayle meaning “young woman’s brook”. Others argue it is just named after the round tiny harbour or a nearby sea cave resembling a mouse hole!

In the 16th century Mousehole (pronounced Mouzel) together with Marazion was still one of the principal ports. In 1595 the Battle Of Cornwall raid on Mounts Bay by the Spaniard Carlos De Amesquita, with 400 men and four galley ships, obliterated Mousehole (along with Penzance, Newlyn and Paul). In Mousehole the only building to survive the destruction was the Keigwin Arms, a local pub (now a private residence bearing a plaque to Squire Jenkyn Keigwin who was killed there  23 July 1595)

In 1667 the Great Plague reached Cornwall. Tucked away in one of the side streets by a shop, is a fine example of a plague stone. This stone with a cup shaped intentation was used by infected households to leave money soaked in vinegar in attempt to pay for supplies, without infecting the person delivering them!


On 19 December 1981, the Penlee lifeboat station in Mousehole was called to assist with a rescue of the Union Star vessel after its engines failed in heavy seas. The lifeboat the Solomon Browne, a wooden 47-foot Watson class boat built in 1960 with eight volunteer lifeboatmen went to the aid of the ship through 60ft breakers. A message came back that four passengers had been rescued and pulled aboard the Solomon Browne, but that was the last heard from either vessel. Sixteen people lost their lives including eight lifeboatmen.

The day after the disaster enough people from Mousehole volunteered, to be able to form a new lifeboat crew.  In 1983 a new “Penlee” lifeboat station was built along the coast at Newlyn. The old station site is now a memorial and garden to those brave men. A harsh reminder of the power and fury of the sea.

Since 1963 Mousehole has had a fine display of Christmas lights at the harbour, a tradition started by artist Joan Gilcrest, and becoming increasingly elaborate each year. In 1981 the Christmas lights had been lit two days before the storm, by lifeboatman Charlie Greenhaugh. After his death is widow asked for them to be repaired and relit. Since then they have been restored but are dimmed on the anniversary of the tragedy for an hour of remembrance.

At fair Mount’s Bay, on that Christmas week
Was such a raging storm, no man could speak
That lifeboat thundered through an angry sea
Was called Solomon Browne and her company

With courage, it was called

On our heroes brave and bold
With courage, it was cold
On board that night

Now the stricken coaster called the Union Star
Her maiden voyage, she never thought that far
With Captain Moreton and his four man crew
A woman to save and her daughters two

Now, never had a lifeboat fought in vain
She could have made a dash for port but she tried again
All sixteen perished in that mighty wave
It tossed them overboard into a watery grave

With courage, it was called
On our heroes brave and bold
With courage, it was cold
On board that night

Solomon Browne lyrics by Seth Lakeman




Mousehole – Spanish raids, plague and a lifeboat disaster

Tiverton – escaping the luddites



A member of any of the bands of English workers who destroyed machinery, especially in cotton and woollen mills, which they believed was threatening their jobs (1811–16)

derogatory A person opposed to increased industrialization or new technology.

‘a small-minded Luddite resisting progress’



From Street we drove on to another town that historically had the wool trade at its heart, Tiverton (previously Twford) in Devon which stands at the confluence of the rivers Exe and Lowman. The town grew rapidly in the 16th and 17th centuries and many wealthy wool merchants added to the town’s heritage including John Greenway who added a chapels and almshouses in Gold Street and Peter Blundell who bequeathed funds and land to form Blundell’s School.


During the industrial revolution, the town declined somewhat. The saviour of Tiverton turned out to be industrialist John Heathcoat who bought an empty woollen mill on the banks of the River Ex. John Heathcoat (1783-1861 was apprenticed to a frame maker and became a talented designer.  He invented a machine capable of reproducing the best pillow made lace. When the luddites destroyed 55 machines and shot a factory guard in his factories in Loughborough, Heathcoat decided he had had enough and he moved his entire lacemaking operations to Tiverton. As a wealthy and successful businessman, he no doubt took a carriage to move himself and his chattels from Loughborough to Tiverton. However around 500 of his workers walked the 200 mile journey on foot, probably along Fosse Way, the old Roman road to join his new operations in Devon. Recently a group of walkers recreated that long walk to a new life. Heathcoat let the 500 workers teach the locals the trade, until there were 1500 workers by 1822. By the time he died in 1861, a fifth of the town’s population worked at the factory. Today Heathcoat Fabrics specialise in the production of specialist clothing – or as they put it, “engineered textile solutions” and their customers include the aeronautical industry and the military.

I’m sure the innovative Mr Heathcoat would approve.


So what of the luddites, the meaning of the term has altered somewhat over the years – an interesting article about luddites modern or otherwise here

So when we arrived in Tiverton, we were not yet permitted in the museum due to “Health and Safety” – so we instead made our way to find the canal. This turned out to be at the top of a steep hill (Canal Hill, this must be the right way!). The oldest canal (with locks) in the country is the Exeter Canal built in 1566. To avoid the perilous waters between the Bristol and English channels, a grand plan was dreamed up to connect the two waters by Inland waterways. The Grand Western Canal would join up the Exeter canal with the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal. The 11 mile section from Tiverton  to Lowdwells was completed in 1810. Due to John Renni’s surveying skills the water level on this section is completely uninterrupted with no locks or lifts. After many delays the Great Western Canal was extended a further 13.5 miles from Lowdwells to Taunton. Sadly the growth of the railways meant the end of the canal boom, and the completion of the scheme was halted. By 1876 the Tiverton Railway branch line had become part of the great Western Railway, which ran until the Beeching cuts in 1967.

Today the canal has one of the last horse drawn barges in the UK. The beautiful 75 seater canal boat, the Tivertonian now carries tourists up and down the peaceful canal.


Back at the Museum we were finally allowed in, and all very interesting it was too. And the largest object at the museum – the former Great Western Railway Locomotive 1442 aka the Tivvy Bumper which retired from service in 1965! G enjoyed putting on his engine driver hat and having a fiddle with the controls!

Next stop for a lunch break was nearby National Trust property Knightshayes Court. This 19th century manor house was built for Sir John Heathcoat Amory, the grandson of John Heathcoat. Heathcoat Amory commissioned the house from the fashionable and brilliant William Burges, and from the impressive rooms you can view the town of Tiverton where it all started!










Tiverton – escaping the luddites