We’re staying two nights in Plymouth, a very important port city in British history. This morning we drove down to the historic Barbican area, near Sutton Harbour, and boarded a boat for a one hour trip to Saltash in Cornwall. It was from here that the Pilgrim fathers sailed for America in the Mayflower in 1620. Unfortunately the Mayflower Steps are getting a facelift in preparation for the 400th anniversary of that event and were covered in scaffolding today. Our bus dropped us at the boat dock, then went on its way to meet us in Saltash in an hour’s time. The harbour is well protected from stormy seas by a large breakwater, designed by one of Britain’s leading engineers of the Industrial Revolution, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. More of him later.

The River Plym and the River Tamar both flow into the sea at Plymouth, which is in Devon. Much of our boat cruise took us along the Tamar, which, I assume, was probably the river that inspired the naming of the Tamar River in Tasmania. On our starboard side was the county of Devon, and on our port side was the county of Cornwall. The two counties share a long maritime heritage. Cruising along the Devon shoreline it was apparent that many ships had begun important sea voyages here. Some places were marked by monuments commemorating the brave feats of sailors in days gone by. There were fortified walls and artillery placements, suggesting that during war, a port city such as Plymouth would have been a prime enemy target. I imagine the waterfront was heavily defended during World War II.

British sea captain, Sir Francis Drake, a favourite of Elizabeth I, was reputedly playing lawn bowls on Plymouth Hoe, the high ground that runs along the sea front, when news reached him of a pending attack by the Spanish Armada. Rumour has it that Drake replied that there was time for him to finish his game of bowls before he dealt with the Spaniards. Who knows whether or not any element of this story is true. Plymouth seems determined to have us believe that it was indeed true, if the contents of the souvenir shops are anything to judge by.

Our cruise took us past large warehouses from a previous century, though looking as though they might be still in use today. This was a reminder that Plymouth was no doubt also a commercial trading and shipping hub where ships brought exotic goods to Britain from faraway lands, and from where manufactured goods were shipped out to all corners of the British Empire.

Beyond the commercial shipping, we came to the Royal Navy shipyards. Some Navy ships are here for repairs or modifications. Sometimes Navy ships are built here. Also Navy submarines.

The weather out on the water was changing. Our cruise had begun in blue skies, but very quickly black clouds had moved in. The temperature dropped and it began to rain quite heavily. Thankfully we found some shelter and waited there for the rain to pass, which it eventually did.

Coming into Saltash, our boat passed underneath a spectacular railway bridge over the Tamar, built during the Industrial Revolution by Brunel, whose statue on the lawn in Saltash gazes out over the engineering marvel he created. Also standing out on the Saltash shoreline is a pub, completely covered in the Union Jack. Apparently the pub’s owner once flew a British flag from the front of the building. Local officials warned him against this, as it contravened an archaic law. Incensed, he removed the flag and replaced it with a painted Union Jack that spans an entire wall.

We left our boat and rejoined our travel companions on the bus. We left Saltash, heading for the Cornish fishing village of Polperro.

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