Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Four seasons in one day

We leave London about 9:30 this morning bound for the south west. The traffic in the City is not too bad, given the tube strike. But as we get about a bit, the traffic going in to the City is crawling at probably 5 kph or less. Strange, because it is only the underground services that are affected - the overland trains from the suburbs are still running! However, that traffic was almost ground to a parking lot halt - and it went back for more than 18 miles - we forgot to keep a track in the end!

The weather is deteriorating the further out we get until we are driving through fairly constant rain - but that is OK, as further into the journey - it fines up. The trip to Plymouth from London is 360 kms. We don't get here until 2:15 pm.

First stop is for the loos where there is entertainment for the children in the adjacent park - including the tea cup spinner and miniature trains while for the adults, three of the local inebriated tenors desperately try to sing in tune for all to hear from a shelter!

Leaving the tremulous tenors to their yodelling we make a B-line towards a NAAFI for some liquid refreshment. We purchase our required needs and sit at the embankment to enjoy these wonderful surroundings on such a glorious afternoon. As we sit there comes the sound of a dog barking, which we assume was coming from across the bay? It soon becomes apparent, the frustrated yelping is from a dog on the lower rock platform barking and worrying an algae infested rock! The reason for the canine's anxiety, well, is only known to the...canine? However, the dog's owner has had enough of his pet's petulance; hence, it's a sharp rebuke and the - lead.

Now, the area where we are enjoying our interlude is a large south facing promontory called 'The Hoe'. Just in case any reader has a wandering imagination, the name 'Hoe' is derived from the Anglo-Saxon which means: "a sloping ridge shaped like an inverted foot and heel". However, it is here on The Hoe that Sir Francis Drake had supposedly played a game of bowls while waiting the arrival of the Spanish Armada in 1588. Albeit, this location is indeed a delight, with manicured gardens and lawns. It is also an ideal plinth for the various monuments which add to its appeal.

While I go to locate the information bureau, Maria makes her way up to the Smeaton's Tower where we shall rendezvous. As the information bureau is on the other side of the promontory, and quite a distance, I abandon my search and join Maria at the designated landmark. Smeaton's Tower is a lighthouse from the original designs by an engineer called John Smeaton...well, you can follow the link and fill in the gaps yourself. Fortunately, the lighthouse is open to the public and for the sum of $4 one can climb it's interior. This was an incredible experience, for it must have been constructed for the benefit of short-short arses. The internal spiral staircase is very narrow and leads up to the first of four small rooms: the Storeroom; the Oil Room (where the supply for burning the lantern was kept); the Kitchen; the Bedroom. Each of the rooms are accessed by narrow, steep ladders/stairs and narrower apertures. Atop of this is the Lantern house - oh, there was no toilet or garderobe! However, the 360 degree view from the Lantern's gangway is just spectacular!

After my excursion into the lighthouse, we amble amongst the promenade of monuments which commemorate aspects of Plymoth's history...well, sort of. There is the monument to the Royal Air Force and to the Commonwealth and Allied Forces during WWII. Under the monument lay the ashes of Air Vice Marshal DCT Bennett, who was the Commander of the Pathfinder Force within Bomber Command. There are also memorials to the defeat of the Spanish Armada; the Naval War Monument (which includes a notation of HMAS [...and not 'HMS'] Sydney's engagement with the German Raider, SS Emden, off the Cocos Islands in 1914; the Sir Francis Drake memorial praising his triumphs as Explorer and Navigator.

We decide to drive around to the 'Barbican' to find somewhere to have seafood for dinner. However, our plans are disrupted when Maria notices a Naval cruiser taking 'turn' within the bay. She gets my attention, and as I haste to snap a couple of pictures another Naval vessel enters the bay. Both vessels perform several engagement maneuvers, signal each other and continue in opposite directions....don't ask me, I'm only the photographer.

Leaving The Hoe we drive onwards to the Barbican. Now, the name 'Barbican' was given to the northern and western sides of the old Plymouth Harbour, which survived most of the bombing during the Blitz of 1940. It includes the fort and many buildings of Medieval lineage that have been restored and are used as commercial premises, which adds a certain aire to the surrounding marina.

Anyhow, we eventually arrive at the Barbican, park the vehicle and set of to scrutinise the array of cafes and restaurants. We settle upon a restaurant called 'Seafood and Pasta Bar', after carefully studying the menu on offer. After deciding to dine 'al fresco', we select the following:
Pan fried King Scallops (Michael)
Gravalax and Crayfish Tails (Maria)
Lemon Pan fried Sole with vegetables (Michael)
King Prawns in Garlic and Butter (Maria)
No desserts as the meals were served in healthy portions, and the weather was about to turn.

Tired and satisfied with good food we make our way to our lodgings, the Caledonia Guest House and rest. Ah, did I say rest....? The rain passed, which was then followed by a most glorious sunset - so, donning my hat, jacket and camera I made my way to The Hoe once more. The bay was bathed in a wondrous glow, and out in the harbour were anchored three Naval vessels - even Sir Francis had a glint in his eye!

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