Cornwall: Old Stones, Fish & Chips and a Castle

Posted on July 28, 2007 by Holly Hayes
Part of: Graduate School in Oxford

Sunday morning we had a decent breakfast in our Exeter B&B, where we sat next to a 60s-ish couple and their granddaughter. They were very chatty and immediately asked where we were from upon hearing our accents. They are from Dallas and their kids live in England; their cute little granddaughter had an English accent.

Immediately after breakfast we set out on the road again, continuing west towards Penzance. The drive was about two hours plus a couple short stops along the way.

cornwall map
Here's most of Cornwall (click to enlarge) - Penzance is just left of center on the south coast.

About halfway there, we made a short detour off the highway to visit some ancient standing stones. They are called "The Hurlers," which doesn't mean they puke all the time; the name comes from a local legend that they were men turned into stone for playing the Celtic game of hurling on Sunday.

the hurlers, cornwall

The Hurlers consist of three stone circles, laid out in a line on a windswept moor between two hills. They date from c.1500 BCE. The landscape was rugged and pretty and would have been an excellent place for a walk if we had more time.

the hurlers, cornwall

the hurlers halt
"The Hurlers Halt," a little sandwich and snack shop in the neighboring village of Minions.

I stopped into the Hurlers Halt to use the bathroom, which was very nice. There were no other customers in sight and the proprietors, an older man and his wife, greeted me so eagerly when I came in that we bought a flapjack (sweet oaty bar) and drinks from them before we left.

We chatted with them about how business was way down due to the terrible weather, but they were very English about it - "Oh well, there's nothing we can do about it and it won't last forever." The flapjack turned out to be inedible, but the Diet Coke was cold and we were glad to have supported them.

From there we continued down single-lane country roads for a few more miles until we rejoined the highway. Along the way we greeted woolly passerby...


...and got to see a couple more old stones. The first one (below) is an ancient standing stone that was Christianized long ago by carving a cross in the top. I hadn't seen anything like that before and thought it was pretty nifty.

christianized standing stone christianized standing stone

Then just a little further down the road was King Doniert's Stone (below). It actually consists of two stones, which are remains of memorial crosses for a Celtic king who died by drowning in 875. That is seriously old, especially for a Christian monument this far north.

king doniert's stone king doniert's stone

We arrived in Penzance around 1:00 and found our way to the Chiverton House B&B with no problem, thanks to David's sat-nav device. That thing comes in so handy for getting into and out of towns. We were warmly welcomed by Alan at the B&B and shown to our little room, which was again on the top floor. We really liked this place - it was really clean and had nice, earth-tone decor.

street with our b&b, penzance chiverton house b&b, penzance
The street of our B&B and our bedroom.

We immediately turned on the TV, which we would never do otherwise, but the Formula One German Grand Prix was starting! The weather there was even worse than Cornwall, so the start was complete chaos with cars sliding off everywhere. It was great. We watched about a half-hour of it and relaxed before heading out to explore Penzance.

boardwalk, penzance
Main boardwalk, with Egyptian-theme flags for some reason.

We had both expected Penzance to be a lot smaller and quainter than it was, so that was a bit of a disappointment. But the main reason I chose it was as a good base for exploring Cornwall and our B&B was nice (and cheap!), so it was no biggie.

The really unfortunate part, though, was the weather. It didn't rain constantly at least, but it was so dark and grey that nothing looked pretty and we had no hope of taking very good pictures.

fresh fish and chips, penzance

On the bright side, Penzance is a very active fishing harbor and therefore fresh seafood abounds. We had a fantastic lunch of fish and chips at outdoor tables overlooking the sea. The fish was caught that very day, and it was so fresh and delicious.

After walking all the way down the boardwalk and back, we'd seen all we needed to of Penzance and decided to drive out of town to the main local attraction: St. Michael's Mount. This is where it was really disappointing not to have good photography weather, as it was a very cool place.

st michael's mount

St. Michael's Mount is a rocky outcrop 5 miles south of Penzance, which can be reached by a causeway only during low tide (you can take a little boat in high tide).

st michael's mount

In 495 AD, someone saw a vision of St. Michael the Archangel on the rock and built a church dedicated to him. The church later became a Celtic monastery, then a Benedictine monastery, and then a castle. It was used to store arms for the Royalist forces during the Civil War and then it became the private residence of the St. Aubyn family, who still live in part of the castle.

Interestingly, St. Michael's Mount is very similar to the bigger and more famous Mont St-Michel across the Channel in France. Both were founded after visions of St. Michael, are only approachable by a tidal causeway, and were later used as castles.

walking to st michael's mount
We arrived at low tide, so we got to walk across the causeway.

causeway to st michael's mount
Tide pools alongside the causeway.

At the base of the Mount is a small village where a few people live and there are ticket offices, shops and ice cream parlors. We arrived only an hour before closing (5:30pm) and him-hawed a bit about whether to come back tomorrow, but in the end decided to go while we were there. It turned out to be plenty of time.

view from st michael's mount
View of the causeway and harbor from the top.

st michael's mount
The castle at the top.

st michael's mount
Entrance to the castle.

blue drawing room refectory, st michael's mount
The Blue Drawing Room (left) and the Refectory, which was built for monks but now used as a dining room by the lord and lady who live there.

gardens at st michael's mount
On the back of the Mount, there were dizzying views down to the sea and over the incredible gardens that include lots of tropical plants.

church at st michael's mount church at st michael's mount
Outside of the church at the top. This was a place of pilgrimage in medieval times because of the vision of St. Michael, and some still make pilgrimages here.

church at st michael's mount
Inside the church.

Back across the causeway, we wandered around the village of Marazion looking for a good Cornish cream tea, but to no avail. A "cream tea" isn't tea with cream, as one might think - it's scones with clotted cream (cream churned until it is almost butter) and jam as an accompaniment to tea. There were plenty of tea rooms advertising cream teas, but in the UK almost nothing is open on Sunday night.

So folded our weary legs back in the car and drove back to our place in Penzance, then set out down the boardwalk again to look for dinner. We ended up at a Chinese place that was very tasty and had a view over the ocean, then went next door for Cornish clotted cream ice cream. Clotted cream is the glory of the West Country (which includes Devon and Cornwall) and it is absolutely everywhere. I had apple and clotted cream ice cream, which tasted like apple pie filling with incredibly creamy ice cream on top. De-licious.