Saturday, 15 August 2009

Random impressions of Cambridge people

"Tragic life stories" was the sombre heading of one book selection in WH Smiths on Saturday 15th August. However, this was totally counterbalanced by:

The blind spectator joyfully improvising Jazz songs with the delighted black guitarist street player near the market square.

Iron, the handyman, resting on a bench by the river intently watching a duck being plagued by a pike.

The way people stopped on the bridge near the Green Dragon pub in Chesterton to gaze at the water and boats.

Hanging baskets bursting with flowers outside the Green Dragon.

The friendly welcome and brilliant conversation with Dino and his brother at Dino's Hair Salon in Chesterton, when I entered for a hair cut at the spur of the moment, despite it being nearly closing time on a long Satruday afternoon.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

An Exceptional Service

Five nights at The Haven, run by Michael and Lorna Marsh, revealed why they had been accorded the only AA Four Star rating for a B&B in Truro. It was the fantastic personal service that made one feel home from home, instead of just as paying customers in lodgings.

Friendly and accommodating when needed, they were unobtrusive and left you to your own devices when you you were OK on your own.

The single long breakfast table was a case in point. Over our stay, guests naturally introduced each other and, more often than not, had inclusive conversations. Mohammed Afasi a General Manager from Egypt on training, Maureen the concert goer, Dorothea and Guenther touring the Southwest and Dave on Bang & Olafson business were some of the lives that touched one another.

Having run other businesses in the region for many years, Michael and Lorna's exceptional skills have been honed to a very high level.

We were lucky to visit them early in their first year of business and achieve a booking at short notice. As their well earned reputation spreads, you are advised to book well in advance in future.

Perranporth beach and the coralling of swimmers.

At low tide, when we arrived, Perranporth had a fantastic sandy beach with picturesque cliffs.

The hordes arrived with their windbreaks and deck chairs, towels and kites and filled the space immediately below the town. They rapidly gave way to the large empty sandy beach. There was one exception – a ribbon of swimmers and surfers that stretched from won to shore until they were bunched together at the water's edge in a 50m wide stretch between flags.

A watchful Lifeguard Landrover/jeep would occasionally dash out to one side with a loud wailing siren that echoed across the whole beach and blast out a warning about the danger of riptides on either side of the safe zones.The noise pollution grated on the ear, even though the riptides were apparent when viewing the sea from the cliffs.

We walked along the white mineral sand until the next lifeguarded section with its flags and occasional sirens at Perran Sands, viewing the eroded cliffs with barnacles and mussels clinging to their bases.

We returned along the cliff path with the occasional para glider hovering above us. Arriving back in Truro at 4:30h, we splashed out on our last luxurious Cornish Cream Tea in the Victorian Tearooms, situated in the old Coinage Hall, with friendly staff and serene surroundings.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

A negative bus journey and the kindness of strangers.(Cornwall by public transport V).

A sorry journey

Our last day was a trip to the lovely beach at Perranporth and the journey there was an example of the worst service that we had experienced in our whole holiday.

It began with attempting to buy our ticket on the No 403 Summercourt Travel bus from Truro, Victoria Square, at 10:45h on Friday 7th August. The return fare was £5.60 for 2. When I tried to pay with a £10 note I received the curt reply “no Change, only exact fare.” No further explanation, no apologies for inconvenience.

So we scrimped our remaining change together – and fortunately made the fare and boarded.
One stop on, another passenger with no change received the same curt, unsympathetic treatment. Since he had no change – he had to miss the bus, to his vented frustration and the driver's rude verbal riposte. A later passenger also nearly had to get off – were it not for the kindness of a stranger (see below).

At another stop a lady and her daughter boarded and asked about the service – The drivers comment - which had also been given to other alighting passengers - was “we don't travel very often” . So the lady and her daughter got off again to wait for the next bus. Note that “not very often” was actually an hourly service until early evening around 5pm.

Three potential customers were lost on that journey and others alienated.

Now, to be fair, we all have off days and this might have been an exceptionally bad one for the driver. However, the whole travel experience left such a bad taste in our mouths, that we resolved to make the return journey with the Greyhound 587 in the afternoon, despite needing to buy another ticket.

So what have been done differently? An apology and an explanation – plus an indication of alternatives; a more accurate explanation of the journey times, these small things would have made a big difference in the customers perception. The traveller might need the bus, but the bus also needs the passengers.

The kindness of strangers

Two youths, strangers to each other, boarded the bus. The first, a young woman, again did not have the right change when getting on and was in danger of having to get off. The following youth seeing her predicament, generously and unselfconsciously bought her a ticket - unconditionally (i.e. without trying a follow on chat up!). This was followed by her initially reluctant but then gracious acceptance.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Truro to St Mawes by boat - giant ships to Victorian stained glass (Cornwall by Public Transport IV)

Thursday, we tried out the Enterprise Ferry to St Mawes as a mode of public transport. The river at Truro is tidal. As it was low tide and there was not enough water to board a ferry, we were bussed (unusually by Taxi) to Malpas and boarded there.

The trip to St Mawes was particularly interesting as the river was sufficiently deep further downstream with a depth of at least 70 feet (20meters), to allow sea going ships to moor there, either whilst mothballed or awaiting new cargo. Examples were container ships and two major car transporters – enormous vessels!

Britain's first Mussel farm was also on the river and at Trelissig, there was the chain driven car ferry providing a convenient river crossing.

St Mawes is an idyllic, pittoresque town, with a small castle, that survives on tourism. The small church of St Mawes was built in its present form in 1882 and has beautiful stained glass windows that are shown in detail in the slideshow see link above).

We did travel across to Falmouth afterwards, using another ferry company but included in our return ticket. We were not impressed and pitied the cruise ship passengers disembarking there from the Aida.

However, we did find a haven for a cup of tea and an excellent courgette and lime cake. The Vegetarian Cafe “Pea Souk” is owned, managed, cooked and baked for by “Cordon Vert Trained and Qualified” Nicola Willis. Once lured out of her shell, it transpired that she came from Cambridge originally!

The return trip to Truro by Enterprise ferry took us right to the town on the high tide, arriving in a gentle evening light.

During the day, our B&B hosts at the Haven had laid the foundation for their future greenhouse in cement – a full day's work! Lorna, often seen gardening in the evenings, turns out to be a champion cement mixer & preparer, based on the years of past experience in professional home improvement.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Visit to the Eden Project (Cornwall using public transport III)

Todays cooked breakfast on request was scrambled egg with mushroom. It tasted good but created culinary dissatisfaction in The Haven's Proprietor/Chef, Michael, due to the slight discolouring of the scrambled eggs! His mind was feverishly hatching alternative strategies for tomorrow.

A brisk walk to the Railway station and we were able to by a return ticket to the Eden Project, including bus from station in St Austell to the Eden Project and entry. The train left Truro at 10:19h and the connections were seamless on the way out.

The Eden Project is situated in a former quarry and is sufficiently large to accommodate thousands of visitors. Most people are familiar with the images of the geodesic domes of the Mediterranean and the tropical habitats. We discovered that a far greater area is taken up by the external “Biome” with diverse, interesting, informative and above all colourful plants as you will see from the slideshow.

We also enjoyed the sculptures and artwork that was scattered amongst the plants, from the giant bee and the WEEE Man to the totem pole collection in the tropical Biome. In the latter, the almost unbearable heat was alleviated by a stop in a “cooling room” and by standing at the exit where a substantial breeze gave welcome relief.

The return journey included a half hour wait for the train – and that slightly self righteous feeling that, because we had traveled by public transport, we had followed some of the environmental principles that are fundamental to the Eden Project.

A last tip if you need to eat in Truro – try “The French Bistro” on Bridge Street. I had a fantastic Walnut, apple and Roquefort salad and enjoyed a substantial proportion of Jane's Toulouse sausage and pepper casserole. The Chef prepares the food to a very high standard! Look out for their forthcoming blog at

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Truro Cathedral and Victoria Gardens (Cornwall by public transport II)

The one temptation when not having to make your own breakfast is – to have a full cooked English Breakfast. And I succumbed – Michael Walsh at the Haven providing the excellent meal.
Suitably fortified, it was out into the drizzle and into the safety of Truro Cathedral. This cathedral was the first new one to be built in the UK since Salisbury in the 13th century. Truro's construction began at the end of the 19th Century when Cornwall finally enthroned its first own bishop.

The challenge of low light photography in the building kept us entertained till lunchtime – the italianate tiling is worth looking out for, the multilevel aisles unusual and the windows form the largest collection of Victorian stained glass in Britain!

The drizzle still came in waves as we lunched in the aptly named "Lunch". Food was accompanied by a stimulating discussion with a young Yorkshire couple she was an English teacher, he a Physics one. Our topics ranged from hi-tech swimwear, via old English battle sagas and fell running, to the Philip K Dick's novel "Do androids dream of electric sheep".

The centre sights soon exhausted, we meandered up to the outskirts of town where we found well kept allotments and the other highlight of the day, Victoria Gardens - as you can see from the slideshow.

Dinner was at Il Gatto Nero - tasty pizza's, once the service managed to get around to us.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Cornwall by Public Transport I

Last minute e-mails and post done, we set off on foot to the bus stop in Milton, for a holiday in Cornwall. We would try to use public transport.

First, onto the Citi 2 for remarkably fast run into Cambridge at 12:15 and a thank you to the cheery driver. The Citi 1 arrived for the next leg, but when the massive queue rushed to board, an experienced Jane spotted the empty Citi 3 behind it which sped us to the station.

With time on hand before the 13:15 to London Kings Cross, M&S was raided for sandwiches and drinks. The non-stop London run was familiar and passed pleasantly in the sunshine till Ally Pally and the Emirates Stadium heralded an imminent arrival in London.

The Underground at King's Cross seems to perpetually shift whenever I visit! We jumped onto a recently arrived Circle line train to head for Paddington, only to get off at Edgeware road where it terminated, one tantalising stop before Paddington itself.

The 15:06 sleek Intercity 225 of eight coaches was packed – we had not been able to get an earlier train because they had all been booked by last Saturday. Fortunately we not only had reserved seats, we were able to find and claim them, others were not so lucky. it's departure was delayed by 10 minutes as the driver was himself delayed from a previous train.

And so we rode into the increasingly gray skies. Despite passengers gushing off at stations on the way, their numbers were constantly replenished. Because of the train being overfull the carriage ends were blocked with the unfortunate third class placings - standing room with loads of luggage for the price of a full ticket. A side effect was to activate the pressure pads controlling the doors, which banged open and shut in repetitive and irritating beat.

The sea! Great excitement as we left Exeter and the sea lapped right up to the embankment, with the occasional spray from the choppy waters crashing against the curved walls of the sea defences. A flock of older ladies settled temporarily in neighbouring seats, twittering amongst themselves and to anyone who would listen, before departing at Newton Abbot.

The clouds descended further and by Liskeard, our delay had increased to 25 minutes as we were held up my slower trains ahead of us. We were relieved to finally arrive at Truro at 20:25 and walked to our B&B, The Haven.

And a welcome haven it was! with Michael & Lorna Marsh giving us a warm reception, rustling up some scrambled eggs and beans on toast and tea to replenish our energy. The Haven is situated in Truro Vean Terrace and the towers of the Cathedral could be seen nearby from the room's window.

We had landed at last.