Jewel of the West, Pearl of the Orient (if you are in St Just) and darker than the blackest hole of Calcutta’s fetid sewer. However, there is a light to guide the weary traveller and the foot sore pilgrim. The station cafe serves a bacon sandwich the likes of which would turn an orthodox Jew into a slabbering, salivating apostate quicker than George Osborne shouts ‘welfare cuts’. So, suitably loaded with pork based victuals, we await the 1023 to Paddington.
Loading two bikes should not present too many problems.
Loading two heavily laden bikes with the handling characteristics of a hysterical toddler with ADHD and a caffeine habit, is another matter. We are in danger of holding up the train and thus causing First Great Western’s timetable to go into meltdown. The ‘Dispatch Team’ (one bloke with a white paddle, a grievance and a whistle) begin to wobble, fearing for his job no doubt if FGW’s management learn of late departures. And they will, because they are watching. There is a bloke in an office in Bristol sitting at a bank of screens monitoring every train dispatch from every corner of FGWs system. He saw us getting on at Redruth and with finger hovering over the ‘fire’ button of his weapon system, was ready for any tardiness. Luckily for us he dropped his cheese butty just as the train was leaving and so, momentarily distracted, we escaped his wrath. He has a calendar on his desk, but it only has one year: 1984.
The trip up to Plymouth was gloriously uneventful, if slow. I believe there are such things as ‘high speed trains’ up country. I believe there is discussion about building more high speed lines to connect the metropolis of London to ‘sorted’ Mancunia via Brummegen. I will also believe in fairies if it ever takes less than two and half hours from Penzance to Plymouth on the ‘drekly’ line. Never mind. I suspect that if a Cornishman does anything quickly it’s only to rubbish the quality of a Devonian cream tea.
Did I say it was raining in Redruth when we left? Mind you, you could have guessed it really. This is the default meteorological condition in Fore Street. There could be sunshine and tea treats in St Ives but the glowering granite bank of Carn Brea gathers the clouds up on its shoulders like little children who then need a pee over Camborne and Redruth. Anyway, those clouds followed us to Plymouth so that we completed the journey in liquid form. At one point on the train I heard children, which prompted a flash back to a train to Preston and poo. Not my poo of course. However, and to our immense relief, these children were well trained. I did not even smell a fart.
The Copthorne is our first hotel of many and is only a short 5 minute bike ride from the Station. And so to rest, to check last minute equipment needs. Note to cyclists: you know what ‘butt cream’ is for but refrain from asking your companion if they have their butt cream while walking into the corridor of a hotel in earshot of the cleaning staff. They might get the wrong impression and may not be able to sleep at night.
0700: A seagull awakes me, singing like cat trying a gregorian chant at 78 rpm•. Its friend joins in. Otherwise it is very quiet considering we are in the city centre. I can just about hear the gentle hum of tyre on tarmac as the odd car drives by. Only just. The hotel is next to a Sainsbury’s car park and I would expect a cacophony, but no. Plymouth is as quiet as a mid week church. There is a fan in the ceiling that has been on all night. Reminds me of the opening scene in Apocalypse Now but without the drinking, underpants and sweat. It, too, hums gently as the blades travel in a weary circle above our heads. The next sound I hear is an extended fart in what I think is in the key of A sharp major, a bit like a trombone tuning up. it should really be accompanied by a clash of cymbals. Sean sleeps the sleep of the contented.
Today we head for France. The ferry leaves at 1500 from what I believe used to be Millbay Docks. I think the area is being ‘gentrified’, a euphemism for cleaning out working people whose only possessions are pots for pissing in and replacing them with slightly more wealthy white collar working people who have two pots for pissing in, both of which were financed by Northern Rock or RBS and are in negative equity, and if interest rates rise would need to be sold. You would then see pissing pots being sold in the pannier market for ‘affordable’ prices to Rich London Plutocrats who think Millbay would be a great place to base their mistresses. Thus the cycle of prostitution in Millbay would be complete. Plymouthian streetwalkers being replaced by the uber rich’s tarts in fur. This is a metaphor for modern Britain; we replace long established, if old fashioned, dirty work with nouveau riche foreign parvenues providing services. The only difference is a thin veneer of respectability and Russian blood money. I could of course be making this up, but we’ll see.
Breakfast will be big. A plate the size of the Harvest Moon. I ordered free range corn fed chicken eggs; freshly cured, smoked pig; croissants; flatulence free beans, coffee in a bucket and fifi trixie-belle to serve it.
The ship is the ‘Armorique’ which in Breton means “of the coast”. I’d rather it remains ‘of the sea’ as in my experience ships and coasts make uneasy bedfellows, a bit like a turd and your custard: to be kept separate. The captain, I’m assured, is not Italian and always keeps the bow doors shut. See what I did there? Two oblique Maritime disaster references for the price of one. Mind you the Armorique, when launched, was originally named differently. If you look closely at the present name on the stern, the blue letters on a white background ‘Armorique’, one can see a faint trace of the old name: ‘Le Titanic’. Sense of humour, the French. There is a fake iceberg anchored off Drake’s Island just for effect. It is made of the frozen tears of Plymouthians’ dashed hopes and regrets they were not born in Kernow, after all a ‘Dewdney’ is not a ‘Philps’. Anyway, the sailing is at 1500, so we’d better be ready. Bon Voyage!
*sigh, I guess I have to explain to the ‘youth’ that 78 refers to the speed of vinyl, or was it hard plastic like bacolite, record turntables.
“Isn’t it nice to be cycling without having to wear our wet weather gear”.
The morning sunshine was indeed warm in Plymouth as we made our way among the throng on Armada way towards the Post Office. The first task was to pick up Euros before another visit to Evans cycles for last minute ‘stuff’.
Yes, it was good not to have to wear the high viz jackets. Nicer still would be if we had them with us. Before leaving the hotel room we had both looked around just in case we left anything behind. I even remarked that this was something I am wont to do. Satisfied that all kit was safely stowed we checked out. Except it wasn’t. Two wet weather high viz jackets were safe in the wardrobe rather than on our bikes. So, back I went while Sean continued to get his Euros.
Another fine mess avoided.
So, then off to Rocksalt for Breakfast. As mentioned Millbay is being gentrified and this little gem of a cafe, bistro, restaurant is a real find. There really was only one choice on the menu – the full Rocksalt English.
Two sausages, made with the finest pork from hand reared pigs.
One egg, kissed by a maiden as it was laid to ensure its nutrient value.
One slice of toast, grilled to perfection fit for a Greek God.
Tomato. Just. Heavenly.
Slice of black pudding made from the blood of the sacred cows of Valhalla.
Black striped Char grilled bacon whose smoke infused flavour knows no equal.
Beans individually picked and sorted, marinated in a rich tomato sauce for 24 hours.
A succulent almost sweet mushroom.
The salt was served in a scallop shell. To serve it, a mussel shell to scoop the grains onto the tomato.
There are better breakfasts. But none you will find this side of existence.
A couple of hours later we are sat outside the port o’ call cafe with a mug of tea overlooking Millbay harbour. The Armorique sailed into view to dock and unload. That was our cue to go. Just before we got up, a lady sat at the table next to us and enquired as to where we were going. It turns out she was also waiting for her husband. He duly arrived. The lady informed him of our plan, he turned towards us with a bit of gapless toothy grin. His hair was a grey bird’s nest. The bird was still in it. As he stood, he wobbled slightly. He was thinking of saying something but there was a disconnect between thought and speech, so he thought some more, thought about it again and obviously decided that talking was beyond him.
Right next door to the Port o’ call cafe is a pub. I think this is a clue as to this gentleman’s current predicament viz a viz talking. He mumbled something to his wife (?) and they both left. About ten feet away was a car. I somehow had the feeling that he was heading for it. Sure enough the wobble took him towards it, keys produced, both got in a drove away. I don’t think he got it out of first gear as he proceeded down Millbay road at walking pace. This was very probably a common occurrence. I fleetingly thought about undertaking my civic duty and calling the police, but in astonishment I had singularly failed to note registration number or make of car.
If you watched Spotlight this evening and a news item was about a car running amok on the pavement on West Hoe Road, you heard it here first folks.
We left for the ferry in the opposite direction, posed for pictures taken by Steve from the safety of his balcony, and queued to embark. We only had to wait for about 20 minutes in the sunshine and chatted to a couple on a tandem who were heading for the Dordogne, camping on their way down.
Compared to flying, catching a ferry is a complete joy. No security checks; no taking off of shoes, belts or pride. No orifices were searched, fingered or otherwise interfered with. No unpacking of bags, bottles or breaches of etiquette. No bomb jokes, queues or tantrums. Bikes were easily secured by helpful crew thus facilitating the early vending of chilled beer on the top deck in the sun.
So far, this cycling lark is a ‘piece of piss’, as they say in Germany. Tonight is Roscoff, arrival is about 2130 UK time. The hotel is about a 10 minute cycle maximum. So, early to bed before our Grand Depart to St Brieuc 67 miles away.
A bientot !
Nows there is a place one does not expect to mention on a journey in France.
We arrive at the Hotel Regina in Roscoff at the same time time as several cyclists and an Italian couple on a BMW motorcycle we met on the Ferry. Its strange how we all have booked the same place for this night’s sojourn. With bikes safely locked and stowed in the cellar, and accompanied by the high pitched notes of swifts on the wing, we decide to go for a short walk into ‘centre ville’ and a nightcap. At the Cafe Ty Pierre we order two ‘pressions’ and sit outside to watch the world. It is 16 degrees and very pleasant.
At the next table sit two gentlemen smoking and enjoying a drink. As I am in France I fancy a cigarette and so purchase a pack of Lucky Strikes from behind the bar. This pack of 20 should last the whole trip. The bar does not sell matches or lighters. This is like buying pasty but without the meat. I then ask the man sat at the next table for a light, and in good english he obliges. It is then he asks where we are from.
Not only does he know Cornwall, but he tells us his story of when as a young man he cycled to Cornwall and ended up in Galway. He fondly remembers St Austell and being taken in and dried off. Camping in Cornwall when it rains is hard, but the reception he got from the locals as they looked after him has left a lasting impression. So, there we have it, to hear a good word said about St Austell, you have to come to France. Oh the irony!