An unremarkable week broken only by two events. It snowed on Thursday but only lightly; and we bought a tent. It is a Vau-de 3-man igloo design with an exterior frame. We bought it from the outdoor shop in Warminster for £195-00.
FOOTNOTE: On January 16th, 2021, almost exactly thirty years after we bought it, this superb tent (which we nicknamed Vern for reasons which will become apparent later in 1991) was used for the last time. Having been pitched in Britain, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, India, China and Indonesia, along with countless times in Australia and New Zealand, Vern was slept in for the final time in the Te Moana Gorge on the South Island of New Zealand. The tent’s fabric, weakened by years of ultraviolet light, was no longer waterproof and was torn in several places. But two of Vern’s original guy-ropes live on: attached to my current tent…which doesn’t have a nickname!
After breakfast we checked out of the hotel and left Plymouth. We drove up onto Dartmoor and as we got higher a dense fog closed in around us. Nothing could be seen of the surrounding land but the ethereal shapes of sheep and a few strange-looking Dartmoor ponies were visible in the damp gloom.
All morning we drove around the moors and once the fog lifted the true and dissolute beauty of the land was revealed. Bleak scrubby hills were cut by steep rocky streams and everywhere were bogs and hollows. The colours were muted and cold: browns, greys and greens beneath the leaden sky.
Eventually we ended up at the village of Chagford where Linda had stayed with Helen and Brian [Linda’s parents who’d visited Britain in 1990] during the summer. We took the road beyond the village which led up to a small lake. We left the car and went for a walk savouring the fresh cold air full of the smell of leaves, earth and water.
Back at Chagford we had lunch in a pub then followed a maze of narrow sunken roads down to Exeter. We filled in the afternoon at the movies seeing the ridiculous horror film Arachnophobia then set off home.
We were up early and had breakfast in the company of the owners’ two Springer Spaniels.
It was a beautiful fine day as we drove out of Plymouth and south over the calm waters of the Tamar River. After about an hour of driving we stopped at a tiny cove where a few tiny houses clung to the rocky cliffs above the beach. We had a drink in the pub there then carried on down to Lizard Point which is the geographical, if not official, southern-most point in England. The cliffs dropped sheer to a narrow beach washed by the cold blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the wind was sharp and clean.
From Lizard Point it was only a short drive to Land’s End where we discovered the most revolting example of English tackiness and exploitation imaginable. We had to pay two quid each to actually get to the peninsula at the top of which, a monstrosity of a theme park has been built. We wasted no time beside the garish white buildings and made our way down to the rugged promontory jutting out into the sea. The cliffs here were even more spectacular than Lizard Point and we found a sheltered spot amongst the rocks where we sat and watched the seagulls wheeling on the rough-edged wind while the waves crashed against the last piece of England. Up at the top of the cliffs a person was charging seven pounds to have your photo taken at Land’s End so we made our own little sign out of a small piece of cardboard and took our own photos.
When we left Land’s End we drove up the western coast through tiny villages, along rock-walled roads and past the stark remains of old tin mines and smelters which were dotted everywhere. St Ives was picturesque but touristy so after a short walk around and a snack we headed back to Plymouth.
After relaxing for a while we showered and dressed then walked down to the part of town known as the Barbican. We found a pub that Tina had recommended called Bottoms Up and had a couple of drinks there then went for dinner at a Spanish restaurant.
I knocked off at 3 pm and went home to get ready to head off down to Plymouth for the weekend. We got on the road at 4:15 and drove over the hill to the A303.
It took us just over three hours to drive down to Plymouth and on arrival we picked out a B&B called the Caledonia Guest House and booked in. Once we had taken our gear inside and settled in we went down to the centre of town and found the picture theatre. We saw Mel Gibson in the disappointing movie Air America. After the movie we found a pub and had a couple of quiet drinks then went back to the hotel.
The Caledonia Guest House is still there today. These quaint Georgian houses were the sort of places that age-of-sail naval officers would stay in when they were ashore during the Napoleonic Wars.
After five months of political manoeuvring, veiled threats, and military muscle-flexing, the combined Allied armies massed in Saudi Arabia attacked Iraq: the first move in the dislodgement of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.¹
¹The First Gulf War was fought between August 1990 and February 1991. This phase of the operation was called Operation Desert Storm.
Footnote: It is one of the great incongruities of travel (and, indeed, life itself) that major world events, when seen from the distance of the future, simply become history. During our travels we witnessed first-hand the Lockerbie bombing of a Pan AM aircraft, the Hillsborough stadium disaster, fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War, the fall of Margaret Thatcher, the release of Nelson Mandela and the Rwanda massacres. All of these were major news events at the time; now they are simply events from history.
I spent both days up at Tucks Farm¹ building a new lambing enclosure. I picked up £70 for my trouble including petrol costs. As I travelled up and down on both days I listened to Johnny Clegg and Savuka’s² brilliant album called Third World Child.
¹Tucks Farm, at Calne, near Swindon, was where I was to work as a lambing shepherd later in the year. The farm owners had employed me to build a sheep yard for use during the lambing.
²Having travelled in Africa, and intending to return later in 1991, we loved music about that continent. Johnny Clegg and Savuka were a Belgium-based band from South Africa whose songs were redolent of life in Africa. This is Scatterlings of Africa from the album Third World Child.