Thursday, 9th September was to be the high point – literally and figuratively – of my time in Cornwall, fulfilling a lifetime ambition. Two months previously I had booked a helicopter flight to the island of St Mary’s, on the Scillies. As I checked over its arrangements on the Wednesday evening, I had had a shock, which I should have anticipated, given the weather. All helicopter flights that day had been cancelled, because of fog both at Penzance and on the Scilly Isles. I was also beginning to worry seriously about what I would do there once arrived, given the forecast of about 80% rain on St Mary’s for much of Thursday.
However, having also checked my right to a full refund, when I woke up on the day I found myself really hoping the company would cancel, given that weather forecast. It was also very misty in Penzance.
Dead-on 9.00 the company called me. They weren’t yet cancelling but were running huge delays, so [since I was booked on a day trip, not going over to stay] they were offering me the choice of rebooking, free of penalty, or receiving a full refund. I accepted the latter, obviously, and felt hugely relieved, my disappointment having already been overcome the evening before. I would have to fly in a helicopter for the first (and probably only) time in my life on some other occasion.
What to do instead? I could have occupied myself in my room, knitting, reading, listening to the radio, but they didn’t seem like ideal holiday pass-times. I decided to take a risk with the weather (not forecast to be quite so bad on the mainland) and to go to Godolphin (National Trust), to spend time indoors in the large house there. It didn’t need pre-booking.
The surface of the sea in the harbour was like a mirror as I passed, but sadly it was not possible to stop to take a photo.
It turned out to me much less house than I thought, so it was as well that the weather also turned out to be much better than forecast. At the exit of the car park was a notice board suggested various walks in the wider estate, so I decided to start out on the orange walk before making for the house and its grounds.
But I turned back when it started to drizzle, not least because I wasn’t really properly shod or dressed for a damp, muddy walk. (The drizzle soon stopped, fortunately.)
Checking in to the charging part of the property, I was given a ticket for the house for 1 o’clock, an hour off. Coffee (studying the plan – yes, I like plans and maps),
and a wander round the more formal grounds filled in the time nicely.
I knew I had been to Godolphin House in 1973, (though I could remember almost nothing of the visit), with some of my non-participant helper colleagues on the International Musicians Seminar, so I was somewhat surprised to learn from the welcoming guide that the Trust only took the house over in 2000. I checked out with her – yes, the previous owner, painter Mary Schofield, née Lanyon, did show people round sometimes. My memory also told me that the house was bigger when I visited – the Wikipedia article says that it was once much larger, but does not say when it was reduced.
The guide explained that the house was only open for visits like this when it was not let out as a holiday ‘cottage’, details here. Going round the house I was reminded by its style how some of us had rented my local NT ‘cottage’ Lytes Cary, for music-making holidays in 2013 and 2014.
When I came to this final room, called the King’s Room I believe, I thought how wonderful it would be for music-making with friends. It displayed large paintings by West Country painter, Robert Organ, a friend of John Schofield, (Mary’s son presumably).
30 minutes and the house was thoroughly ‘done’. The exit from the one-way system was into the King’s Garden, where I sat for a few minutes, just enjoying the quiet, and contemplating what to do next.
I returned to my car, and asked my satnav what attractions there were in the vicinity. ‘Helston Railway ‘ it replied. Super! Take me there, James, I commanded. After a few minutes it led me to a firmly closed gateway to what appeared to be a private property. I could not get an internet signal to find out more about the attraction. OK, thought I, I’ll go to Helston itself (car and I were several miles away) and find out more.
With a signal in the Lidl customer car park on the outskirts of the town, I found out that Thursday was one of the three days each week the volunteer-run railway was, um, running, and that I had in fact been very near to it at those gates.
But they were miles back, through narrow country lanes, and time was rolling on, so no way was I returning. I decided instead to go to the coast, to Porthleven just 2 miles away. It was heaving with people, but fortunately I found somewhere to park right by the harbour, allowed just 30 minutes. Given the crowds, I reckoned that was all I’d want.
These photos reveal neither the great crowds of people nor the touristy souvenir and other shops trying to tempt them, apparently successfully. I walked firstly along the left hand quay.
Returning along that quay, I waited a while to clear this view, over my right shoulder, of as many people as possible.
‘Bal Maidens’ were those women and girls who broke up the metal ores, after their menfolk had mined them.
When I walked along the right-hand quay I was not tempted to take pictures, as the crowds were really heavily gathered there, around the many tourist shops and cafés. The road rose sharply, and I took this looking back.
Past the last houses there was path off to the left, and I found myself once more on the South-West Coast Path. Indeed, technically, I had been on it all the time.
Perhaps it was as well that there was nowhere to sit, because it was time to turn back and recover my car from its 30 minutes’ permitted time.
My final picture was a zoom in on this building, which I have since discovered is the Bickford-Smith Institute, which opened in 1884 as a gift from a former MP.
I confess to having been 10 minutes late back to my car, but that is how long it took to be served with an ice cream. As can be seen from the photos, the sun was out when I arrived, but it had gone by then, and as I drove back to Penzance, there was sea mist rolling inland.
So many possibilities for Friday, my final full day: including a walk in the Lizard area; further exploration of the Tin (= north Penwith) Coast; the Penlee Art Gallery; or a drive well north to Lanhydrock (to follow up Captain Thomas Agar-Robartes MP, of the memorial hall in Luxulyan).