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

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

Travel – Street, Somerset – the right shoes..




There can’t be many shoppers in Britain who haven’t heard of Clarks shoes. There is a Clarks shop in most high streets. And Street in Somerset, an important area of sheep farming, is where it all began. In the village of Street, James Clark was working at the tannery owned by his brother Cyrus when he had a brainwave to use up the offcuts and castoffs from the sheepskin rugs.  He had invented the sheepskin slipper or as it was known , the Brown Petersburg. By 1842 1000 pairs a month, of the hand stitched slippers month were being sold, and the Clark Brothers won two awards at the Great Exhibition in 1851. When recession hit in 1863 the brothers James and Cyrus stepped down and James’s youngest son William took over. William modernised the manufacturing process by bringing in the Singer sewing machine and the factory system, C&J Clark was soon revitalised and in 1883 the first shoe to fit the shape of the foot was launched. From there they took one big step forward!

Today Clarks make most of their shoes overseas. Closing their factories in the UK was essential for them to be able to compete in a global market. Their head office though is still in Street, near Glastonbury. In 1993 the old factory buildings were converted into Clarks Village probably the first purpose built factory outlet village in the UK, where you can buy Clark’s shoes and a whole lot more!

We took advantage of some bargains and then headed off to our Premier Inn, a stopover on the way to Cornwall.

Right next to the Premier Inn is another fascinating building. The Red Brick Building was once a tannery. In 1870’s a new partnership between James Clark and his son William and John Morland, James’s son in law, was formed bringing new capital into the building. The firm Clark son and Morland (later Morlands) went into production with 65 employees. In 1906 Morland introduced sheepskin motor rugs and footmuffs for passengers in motor cars. During the second world war Morlands made flying boots for the Air Ministry and skins for other firms to make into flying clothing. In the post war years, Morlands became Glastonbury’s largest employer. However eventually the company was unable to compete and the building finally fell into disuse.

In 2008 it was saved from demolition from a group of young people with a vision, and the Red Brick Building Centre Community Benefit society was formed in August 2009. Thanks to a community share offer, loans and grants, the Red Brick Building has started to come back into use in the community. There is still a huge way to go though, due to the sheer scope and size of the building.

In 2013 the building opened for business providing studios, exhibition and event space, hot desks, workspace, a community garden, radio station and – of most interest to two hungry travellers – a restaurant. The Bocobar run by local restauranteurs, provided us with a very good supper !

“Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world”. Marilyn Monroe








Travel – Street, Somerset – the right shoes..

Travel – Carew, Pembrokshire – castle and tidal mill


Next stop was Carew. Carew has been an important site for thousands of years. You can still see Iron age defensive ditches in the green of the Castle green

Carew Castle stands on a limestone bank overlooking the inlet to the tidal estuary of Milford Haven. The Normans came to Pembrokeshire in the 11th century and the king’s representative Gerald de Windsor, flattened the old defences and built a new castle on Norman lines with a timber motte and brick bailey. He had secured his power by marriage to local beauty, Princess Nest (sometimes nicknamed Helen of Wales), daughter of Rhys Ap Twedwr the last Celtic king of Dehaubarth.


Princess Nest had already been a hostage in the court of William II, and when only 14 she had caught the eye of William’s brother Henry (later to become King Henry I). Henry was known for his womanising and Princess Nest gave birth to his son in 1103.

Constantly under threat of attack from the Welsh, Gerald built Carew Castle and another at Cilgerran where Nest and her children later lived. Princess Nest bore Gerald at least five children.

Alas as the story goes, when Welsh prince of Powys, Owain, heard of Princess Nest and her beauty, he invited himself to the castle to meet her (his second cousin). He then became infatuated with her, and returned with a group of men to attack the castle. In the confusion Gerald escaped down a privy hole, while the Princess and two of her children were captured and the castle sacked and plundered. It is not know if she was taken willingly, but she had two children with Owain before she was eventually returned to her husband. Nest’s ghost is said to haunt the atmospheric castle at night.

Gerald’s son William took the name “De Carew” and added an enclosure with stone walls incorporating the original keep. The Castle was improved in the 13th century by Sir Nicholas de Carew who added drum towers, guard walks, arrow slits , battlements and a portcullis. Around 1480 Sir Rhys ap Thomas, a supporter of Henry VII started to convert the castle into a home worthy of an influential Tudor  gentleman.

Further remodelling was carried out by Sir John Perrot, said to be the illegitimate son of Henry VIII who was granted Carew by Queen Mary. However he did not get to enjoy his improvements, being later arrested on a charge of treason to Queen Elizabeth and confined to the Tower of London where he died, apparently of natural causes, before his expected pardon. Poison was suspected! I don’t suppose he was popular in Carew either, John Perret’s improvements included re-routing roads, moving the village and evicting tenants whose farms spoiled his view!

From 1686 the Castle was abandoned and lay in ruins. Stone was taken and reused in local houses and farm buildings. The romantic ruin, was immortalised by painters such as JMW Turner

While we walked round the site, there were a load of school children being taught Tudor games! The South West Tower is closed to the public to protect the bats that live there. More than half of all the species of British bats have been recorded here including the rare greater horseshoe bat. Owls also nest in the ruin.

There was also an exhibition of sculptures on Healing stones, in a bluestone circle. These lovely Presili bluestones were the same as the ones used to build Stonehenge.



Across the water you can see and visit Carew Tide Mill which stands at the south end of a causeway across the Carew River, a tidal inlet. The mill building dates from the early 19th century. However there is evidence of a mill of some kind existing as early as 1542. In 1558 John Barlett leased a mill for 10 sovereigns per year. The mill pond fills through the open flood gates as the tide comes in, driving two undershot water wheels.


The mill is a three storey stone building with an attic and slate roof. On the ground floor is machinery from lifting the sluice gates and the running stones, the floor above houses six pairs of millstones, three driven by each water wheel. It also houses the machine for cleaning the grain, and flour dresser. The train hoppers are on the bin floor above. A sack hoist was used to lift grain to the attic


There used to be a tide mill close to where I live, and the skeleton remains of the buildings of the Tidemills village can be seen among the wild flowers. When you look at the pictures of the mill it’s hard to imagine it all as a working mill. Here it Carew you can see a complete mill building, and from walking round it was easier to understand how it all worked. A really interesting place to visit.

One more thing of a  note, in the village is an important example of an 11th century memorial Celtic cross, commemorating King Maredudd ab Edwin of Deheubarth.

An ancient and interesting place that has seen its fair share of turmoil!

Do I belong to some ancient race
I like to walk in ancient places
These are things that I can understand
Well, I don’t believe in your modern way
Don’t care about the things you say
Your policies have failed the test of time
‘Cause you sold them down the river-o


Lyrics by the Levellers



Travel – Carew, Pembrokshire – castle and tidal mill