New York Times Travel


sábado, 18 de agosto de 2012

The tin crowd: Going underground in the mines of Cornwall

Nigel Thompson discovers goes walking in a tin mine, and discovers fabulous views and good food in Cornwall
By Nigel Thompson

Spectacular: The Levant tin mine, part of Devon and Cornwall's rich mining history
Spectacular: The Levant tin mine, part of Devon and Cornwall´s rich mining history

Radio Cornwall was playing Blue Monday by New Order when I turned on the radio in my hire car. It was certainly Monday morning. But it wasn’t blue in Penzance.
No, it was a grey Monday, with the sheeting kind of rain that only the Atlantic coast can deliver.
With the weather due to clear up in the afternoon there seemed only one way to stay dry until it did. To keep the Eighties music theme alive, I was Going Underground.
Tin mining kept Cornishmen in work, grimly dangerous work mind, for centuries, and it was fascinating to visit the National Trust-run Levant mine (£7 entry) near St Just. The chief attraction is the 1840 steam- powered beam engine used to pump water out of the mine. It’s inside a small engine house perched on the edge of spectacular cliffs.
The mine workings went 2,000ft deep and extended 1.5 miles out under the sea, though, thanks to the impermeable rock, my short underground tour was totally dry. Sadly, Levant is best known for a tragedy in 1919 when 31 miners were killed. It never really recovered and finally closed in 1930.
Just to the north-east is the Geevor mine (£9.95 entry), where I was lured to the cafe by the promise of a home-made pasty. I’ve had better at railway stations, but don’t let that put you off... the mine is still worth seeing.
Aug 18 Cornwall PR view from Tregenna
The view from the Treganna Castle Hotel

My base for this trip to the far west of Cornwall was the Tregenna Castle Hotel, set in 72 acres with an 18-hole golf course, woodland walks and a charming walled sub-tropical garden all set on a hill above the harbour town of St Ives.
Besides 80 rooms, the hotel has an extensive range of self-catering properties, including some eye-catching wooden lodges. I was in the very comfortable Bay View apartment which, very handily, can be entered either through the hotel or its own front door.
There’s a well-equipped kitchen and dining/living area, a double en-suite and twin en-suite. You can sit out on a little balcony and drink in a fine view of St Ives Bay (which was now bathed in sunshine, thankfully) with a cup of the complimentary tea.
Beautiful St Ives
Beautiful St.Ives
The centre of St Ives, which really is a lovely town, is a 20-minute walk, starting with a downhill stroll through a steep woodland path. Arriving at the harbour, happily the best vantage point for a photo was by the Sloop Inn and its perilously drinkable Cornish beer and cider. With better planning I’d have arrived at St Ives’ very own Tate Modern (£6.50 entry) while it was actually open to see if there really could be a collection entitled “Shed”.
On the way back, a fortuitous wrong turn meant I found the Sea Food Cafe on Fore Street, where the fabulous haddock, chips and mushy peas for under a tenner and tap water served in a bottle set me up for the return hoof up the woodland walk.
After a perfectly acceptable full English the next morning I pointed the car towards Land’s End (free but £5 car park fee) for my first ever visit to the most westerly point of mainland England.
I’d been hoping for some edge-of-the-world grandeur but instead there’s a godawful theme park style “attraction” with what sounded like Brian Blessed’s voice booming out some tosh about King Arthur. Land’s End? More like Bland’s End. I took a few pictures and left.
The stunning Minack Theatre at Porthcurno
The stunning Minack Theatre at Porthcurno
However, my next discovery was an utter joy. The Minack Theatre (£4 entry) at Porthcurno is a spectacular open-air theatre built in the 1930s on a rocky granite outcrop over the sea. There are regular productions but even a wander round is very impressive, with a glorious view of Porthcurno’s beaches. It’s like the Caribbean with huge cliffs... utterly amazing.
Close by is the Porthcurno Telegraph Museum (£7.20 entry) which tells you in a hands-on way how submarine cable communications were developed in Victorian times.
I’d planned to stop in nearby Mousehole for a wander but parking in the pretty little port is a challenge, to put it mildly. After a stressful hour I gave up and headed back for a very pleasant dinner of Cornish produce at the Tregenna, plus a sampling of local beer.
I could have driven down to Cornwall but there’s another rather special option... the Night Riviera Sleeper train run by First Great Western. It leaves London Paddington at 23.45 (23.50 on a Sunday) and arrives in Penzance at 08.00 (08.49 on a Monday).
It’s not the most modern of rolling stock but compartments are comfortable, air-conditioned with a TV and the service from the crew of Steve, Anne and Jean was impeccable. The sleeper section has a jolly little bar with friendly host Marion and a clubby atmosphere so you can unwind with a nightcap as the train heads out of London.
It would be fair to say there’s a fair bit of noisy clunking at Exeter... I assume from some kind of carriage shunting, but I nodded off again quickly enough and woke up in time for a nice cuppa and a bacon roll.
The return was just as pleasant. After dropping off my hire car with the friendly chaps at Europcar right by the station, I boarded the 10am Cornishman for London.
It’s very civilised catching up with work as the lush Cornish countryside rushes by (wi-fi would be hugely welcome, though).
But the highlight comes once you cross in to Devon on the 1859 Royal Albert Bridge, a magnificent piece of engineering by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
The high-speed train running right alongside the beach at Dawlish is a genuine thrill, with the carriages so close to the sea you seem to be almost charging through the waves.
It was a memorable way to round off a trip that, as another 80s song goes, was pretty much The Edge of Heaven.

Get there

Rooms at the Tregenna Castle Hotel cost from £165pn for non sea view and £195pn for sea view, dropping to £140 and £170 respectively after September 30. Self catering starts at £700pw on August 25 for 1-bed apartment, dropping to £665pw from September 29. Call:            01736 795254      .
First Great Western advance fares from London to Penzance start at £15 each way, or from £49 for a solo sleeper berth. Call:             08457 000 125      .
Europcar rental from Penzance £18.80 a day based on 7-day prepaid booking in August (Corsa or similar). Website discounts of up to 40% for bookings to the end of August for rentals up to the end of September also available.
Source: Daily Mirror, UK.

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