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bill h's "Adventures in Europe"

A King, a Doctor and a Jail

UNITED KINGDOM | Saturday, 15 October 2016 | Views [263]

Spent the day driving to the Cornwall area in southeastern England -- if you look for it on a map, its the foot and toe part of England.  

Arrived earlier than planned so decided to head off to Tintagel Castle for a couple of hours.  In the mythology of ancient England, Tintagel Castle is put forth as the birthplace of the legendary King Arthur of the Round Table -- problem is, there are no records that he even existed.  Tintagel Castle, however, does exist, even though it's in ruins, but what a magnificent ruins!  

You do have to work for the "priviledge" of visiting it though -- starting off with a half mile hike down a steep paved path to almost the water's edge -- my knees were screaming by the time I got to the bottom (and I was thinking, the return is back uphill -- great!)  Then it's up a dirt path and some easy steps to the crossing poiint.

Perched high on the coastal cliffs, it's more about the setting and the scenery than the castle stones.  Originally built on a headland (a high cliff that juts out into the sea, surrounded on three sides by water) -- over hundreds of years wind, waves and landsides have turned it into an island, reachable only across a wooden bridge and up a series of narrow, steep, stone steps etched into the side of the hill.  The ninety to one hundred steps are about twelve to fourteen inches tall, fourteen inches deep and maybe three feet wide -- you haul yourself up with the help of a wooden handrail -- but it's the coming down on your return where it gets scary -- not for the faint-hearted!  People take it real slow and I wouldn't be surprised if some did it sitting down -- the person descending in front of me was almost in tears by the time she got to the bottom (why some people don't get 'what goes up must come down' I don't understand).

The castle is mostly in ruins, with some of it having fallen into the sea over the years, but using your imagination you can still picture what it must have been like in its prime.  Originally the site of a much smaller Norman hill fort, the hilltop covers an area of approximately two hundred yards long by a hundred and fifty yards wide with two hundred foot sheer granite cliffs on all sides and raging surf pounding the cliff bases -- pretty spectacular.  Other than the stones of the buildings, the top is mostly just a sea of green grass and exposed slate outcrops -- really pretty dramatic. This place easily qualifies as a fairly tale castle!

The next day it was off to Port Issac -- one of the "must-see" places on my list of things to do in England.  A picturesque, Cornish fishing village that tumbles down a hillside into the ocean with narrow cobblestoned lanes, white-washed cottages and a medieval harbor, it serves as the setting for an English comedy/drama television series I was introduced to a while back, "Doc Martin".

On a bright sunny day with puffy white clouds drifting overhead, even with the place swarming with tourists, you could cut the atmosphere "with a knife"!  It was a lot of fun and I was very happy that I was able to get to visit it.  Of course, I went around to all of the buildings shown in the show and walked the same lanes and alleys as the actors.  Lunch was a bag of homemade fudge (from the "chemist's" shop -- in reality a "sweets" shop) eaten as I wandered from place to place.  It was amazing that the "feel'" of the place was almost exactly as it's portrayed in the tv show.  Even with the tourists, it didn't feel "touristy" but more like a real fishing village.  Visited a number of other nearby fishing villages (not tv sets) and the feel in all of them was identical -- kind of the type of places that time has passed by, totally mellow.

Last stop in the Cornwall area was of a totally different sort -- the brooding and dark Dartmoor Prison.  Situated on the moors in a dreary, desolate, remote area of Cornwall, the prison was used to house French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars and American prisoners during the War of 1812.  It was a dark, rainy day that fit in perfectly with the foreboding dark grey stone walls/building blackened with dirt and dead moss -- they couldn't have nade a movie set any more realistic!  Back then, anyone sent to this place must have felt their "heart drop" when they first set eyes on it -- it's just creepy.  Reality is, it's still a working prison today -- must be depressing to be in there.  They have a pretty decent museum chronicling the history of the place with actual restraints, weapons, photos, etc....  It was interesting.....

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