Polperro and Dartmoor

From Saltash our bus began to climb into the hilly country that follows the Cornish coastline. The green fields were laid out like a patchwork quilt, the sections divided by historic dry stone walls. Sheep and cows grazed contentedly on the lush growth. The roads became narrow and winding, and often quite steep. They were lined on both sides by hedges. In places the cars were forced to pull over as far as possible to the side of the road to allow our large bus to squeeze past. One or two even had to back up as there was just not room for two vehicles in some tight sections of the road.

We came down a steep hill into Looe, a beautiful fishing village, where cottages spread out over the hillsides along both banks and many small boats were moored. A little further on, with the road continuing to present plenty of challenges for a bus on the hills and around the right bends, we pulled into the car park at Polperro. From there it was a 750 metre stroll down to the former fishermen’s cottages that are now a motley collection of shops, cafes, bars and holiday homes. The Polperro fishing community still exists, but today it seems that tourism probably generates much more income than catching fish could ever hope to achieve.

We had a couple of hours here, which everyone enjoyed. It gave us time to wander along the narrow laneways and explore the village on both sides of its harbour. There was also time for our travel companions to finalise their souvenir shopping, as many of them will be flying home by the weekend. And, perhaps most appealing of all, it allowed time for us to savour the culinary delights that rural Cornwall is famous for. So Marg and I sat down to delicious freshly baked scones with home made strawberry jam and clotted cream and a cup of tea. Delicious. And, because I couldn’t resist, I also had a famous Cornish meat and vegetable pastie. It was packed with minced steak, chunks of potato, onion and just the right amount of pepper. It was, without exception, the best pastie I’ve eaten in my life.

After lunch, the bus headed to back into Devon and into the vast Dartmoor National Park. Although there are green pastures here where sheep and cattle graze, much of the national park is rugged moorland, covered with woodlands, streams, bogs, rocky slopes and tors. Small Dartmoor ponies can be seen nibbling on the lush grass from time to time. This rugged landscape was once inhabited by ancient tribespeople of the Bronze Age. Today, there are pockets of civilisation in small villages and occasional scattered cottages. It’s Hound of the Baskervilles country, not the sort of place you would want to be alone on a dark and stormy night. Passing by Princetown, we observed Dartmoor Prison from a distance. It was built a couple of hundred years ago, and once held prisoners captured by Britain during the wars with Napoleon. It also held people convicted of petty crimes during the reign of Queen Victoria and conscientious objectors during World War I. We didn’t stay there long, as a heavy rainstorm began just as we were taking photos, so we were soon back on the bus and moving again.

A final stop before returning to Plymouth was at Postbridge to see a clapper bridge. This is an ancient form of bridge found in the Dartmoor National Park constructed by laying large granite slabs on supporting granite uprights. This particular bridge was built during medieval times, and is still sturdy today, though it can only carry foot traffic. It was apparently built so packhorses could cross the River Dart, carrying tin to the nearby town of Tavistock.

The road continued across the moors, opening out at one point to a spectacular vista of small towns and farmland in the distance, illuminated by bright sunlight in an otherwise grey, stormy sky. We passed through Tavistock, though didn’t stop, and by 4pm we were back at our Plymouth hotel.

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