Thursday, December 08, 2011

St. Michael's Mount: Castles, Cockles, and More

We joined forces with Mike's friend Keeble who I had the pleasure of meeting back in the Ashikaga, Japan days. And then it was road trip time.

Jammie Dodgers really are Jamtastic.

For Mike, St. Michael's Mount was one of those tourist locations that you live close to but never get around to checking out. Basically it is a castle sitting atop a little island. It has a great view and a lot of good history.

There was a beach, but the wind was cold enough that people set up these little shelters while they laid in the sand. I'm so glad we decided not to go surfing. Hehe

On a couple of occasions I tried to do that thing where you take a picture mid jump and it looks super cool. Mike managed to always take the picture too early though, so I have several of these "me taking a dump" shots in lovely settings.

One thing that was really cool about this place was the walk to the castle. There was a man-made stone walkway that was barely above water. I had a bit of a walking on the ocean feeling after getting a little ways from shore.

This was low tide, so now it just looks like a big mud pit.

There were lots of weird plants around that really looked out of place on dry land.

Mike and Keeble exploring up a storm.

The black field with the white cross is the flag of Cornwall.

While the outside of the place looked awesome, the inside was less compelling at times. Coats of arms, sets of armor, and other pretty standard fare covered many of the interior walls.

The history of St. Michael's Mount was way cooler. According to the website, in 1588 the mount was where the first "beacon was lit to warn of the arrival of the Spanish Armada".

Even earlier than that, the fortress was under siege during the Wars of the Roses. I recently watched the crap out of The Tudors on Netflix and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It gave me a deeper understanding of British history than I had accumulated in my life previously(although it's probably a bit embellished for TV). Some completely awesome characters belonged to the Tudor dynasty such as Henry VIII, Mary I(aka Bloody Mary), and Elizabeth I. In summary the Wars of the Roses were fought between the houses of Lancaster and York over the throne. Their symbols were the red and white rose, respectively. When Henry Tudor scratched his way to the top and married Elizabeth of York from the opposing house, he created the House of Tudor which ruled for 117 years. Because of this the badge for the house became a double rose, combining the symbols of the two previous houses. Pretty cool.

The Tudor rose has been used as the "traditional floral heraldic emblem of England" ever since. Bang.

Former Nazi foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop is rumored to having wished to retire at St. Michael's Mount after wrapping up world domination, and the castle can be seen in 1983 James Bond film Never Say Never Again. What the heck else could you ask for?

There were some interesting pieces of art here and there as well.

Drinking enough wine to then make a scale model of your own house from the corks is the sort of multi-layered accomplishment that really impresses people.

A little chapel in the compound had a couple of my favorite pieces.

I'd like to entitle this work either: "St. Michael says "BOOM"" or "Demons be Trippin'".

I'm not sure this picture does it justice, but this was my favorite thing in the whole place.

The Lantern Cross

This fifteenth-century cross is believed to have been made for the Mount. The good condition of the carvings suggest it was kept indoors, perhaps in the Lady Chapel(now the Blue Drawing Room). It was moved to the balustrade outside the Church door in the nineteenth century, where it stood until 2008.

It is carved from a single piece of stone, probably from Padstow. The pinnacles date from a nineteenth century restoration.

A king, probably Edward the Confessor, who is said to have founded the monastery here (before it was given to Mont St. Michel). He is wearing a crown, and holds a staff and charter or book.

We were finishing up a very thorough tour of this great place, and I'm thinking it's time to check out the gift shops we ignored on the way in, or take a little rest and do some people watching. One of my gallant guides asks a random employee what time it is, and we all started jogging to the exit. Why I couldn't tell you.

Well that awesome walk way we used to cross the bay the first time is above a mud pit at low tide, and completely under the damn ocean at high tide. And the ocean clock was ticking. There were other ways to get back to shore, but they all cost money. And money is for beer. The water wasn't such a big problem when we began our return trip, but before it was over I had to take off my shoes and socks and roll up my pant legs to avoid a squishy afternoon. It's amazing to me how fast the water rises.

The whole thing turned into this epic tourist evacuation, with parents carrying children. Towards the end the waves made keeping my feet on the slippery stones much more difficult. Once we were safely ashore, we turned and watched people deal with the rising water. The last stragglers pretty much had to swim.

Even the damn roof moss here was cool. Bright orange!

View michales mount in a larger map
Next we drove across the thin tip of the island and walked along the pier in touristy St. Ives.

There were lots of seafoods available, and I saw cockles for sale, which I had to try. Not much different than really tiny clams. They seemed to be about half sand though. They were so sandy I was forced to donate them to Keeble, who didn't seem to mind one bit.

Here's a better understanding of the wide range of pasty flavors available.

We ended the night at this super old school pub back in Callington. It was a lot like I imagined a neighborhood pub would be like. Everyone seemed real familiar with each other, and we were the only two under probably mid-fifties. The owner of the places was serving us drinks, and it seemed half the reason he opened the place was so that he would have people to drink with. He was really slurry, but he would constantly refer to the both of us as "my sons" which I can't relate how much I loved. There was a lot of old school Cornish accent happening here which I hadn't heard much of previously. If there's ever been a form of English that I understood less clearly than Japanese, this was it.

So we were having a few and talking about something that I'm sure was profound when closing time approached. Rather than announce "last call" or do something else to induce us to leave, they simply turned most of the lights out and locked the doors, continuing in pretty much the same fashion otherwise. Mike explained that this was pretty standard in small towns, that at official closing time they would have a little "lock in", and that was enough to satisfy the local authorities that they were closed. Closed or not, sitting in close to darkness with a bunch of drunk old locals was plenty uncomfortable, and we soon walked on home.

Monday, September 05, 2011


When I returned back from my Euro-trip in late August, I began an internship and three classes in my marketing research program. I went from Mr. Freetime to candidate for busiest man in the world overnight. That's my current life update, and also my excuse for being so slow posting everything. This trip was completely awesome and I will properly document it if it kills me.

I don't think I even realized Plymouth was in the area until we drove past it. Even then it didn't interest me until Mike explained it was that Plymouth. The one the Mayflower left from and then named a rock after. Then I was very much excited to check it out. I think Mike instantly regretted telling me. He was initially interested in doing outdoorsy things like surfing and camping. Well it was chilly and rainy a good portion of the time and we ended up doing touristy things and having a good time on the town instead. It all worked out in the end.

Our morning began at Mike's parents' lovely home. Their neighborhood was really idyllic, little streets with little shops. A really old stone church. A couple of old timey pubs. If I was rich I would have seasonal homes in the coolest places ever. This is the view from their back porch.

And then we drove to Plymouth. While Mike lives in Cornwall county, Plymouth lies just over the border in the county of Devon. I think Devonshire tea is the only instance I've heard this name before, but it was a really scenic place with a lot of fun history.

Plymouth Barbican on the waterfront was where our journey began.

The Mayflower Steps is the traditional leaving point of the Pilgrims on their most excellent voyage. The English are not a people in fear of misnomers, though, as this is likely not really the true historical spot they left from nor are there any steps. Good story anyway.

This area really identifies with its dairy products, so when I saw the classic ice cream truck I was already in. Then I saw that a little twist was available: for an additional 30p I could have my ice cream topped with clotted cream. As I mentioned a couple posts earlier, clotted cream is a butter like spread. So I'm conversing with Mike about whether getting butter smeared all over ice cream is something a human should really do, when a nearby person overhears our conversation and interjects. That nearby person just so happened to be Spangles the Clown! Spangles removes his bright red nose and begins what is hands down the most serious conversation anyone has ever had with a clown. He explains all about the ice cream, even going as far as asking the storekeep what brand of clotted cream they are serving. Talk about random.

Yes I am a weirdo, and yes I googled Spangles, and yes he has a website. It's right here. Don't judge me. His homepage informs that he possesses £10 million Public Liability Insurance. If I was a terminally ill child and had to make a wish, it would be: to be involved in some sort of incident with a British clown that causes £10 million worth of damage. That is all.

At this point I am pretty much committed. So against my better judgement I purchase a good sized ice cream cone with butter all over it.

The butter and the ice cream were nearly the same color, making each bite a surprise. It was actually quite good.

We did plenty of walking in this nice little area. There were lots of little bakeries and shops. That little smokestack looking guy in the middle is the Plymouth Gin Distillery. Heck yes I went in there.

The distillery had a tour of the facility available but it cost some forgotten amount more than free, which I disapproved of highly. It's interesting to me how decisions are made in different places about pricing. In the US a tour of a factory, brewery, or any other place where they make things you can buy is always always free in my experience. The place is going to be one big advertisement for whatever it is they are selling. Not a complaint by any means, but an observation. They did have a cool little area in the store where they talked about the history of Plymouth Gin. A couple of the stories were pretty damn awesome.
New Drinks were invented for this new style gin, notably by the British in India who created the Gin and Tonic when they mixed their daily dose of quinine, given to prevent malaria, with soda, ice, and gin. When the servants of the Raj came home they brought the taste for this exotic combination with them.

Plymouth Gin is still made at Naval Strength - 57% abv or 100 English Proof; as such because if gin is spilt on gunpowder at this strength, the powder would still light, a throwback to the days when the gin and gunpowder were stored side by side. Proof is a system of measuring alcohol invented by the Royal Navy originating from testing sailor's daily rations. A mixture of gunpowder and alcohol would be placed on deck and lit. If it burnt with a clear blue flame this was 'proof' that no water had been added. Eventually 'proof' was defined as 100 degrees.

I had no choice to but to buy some combustible Naval Strength gin. And that's the story of why you don't charge for tours.

It's hard to look tough while sipping tea and eating scones, but I did my very best. I once again had to borrow a jacket. I have some sort of mental block preventing me from packing anything other than short sleeved shirts when I travel.

Chips were an often talked about part of our collective diet. The funny part is Mike is deathly scared of eating fish, so we only ever got the chips. These were small, limp, and wet, exactly how Mike liked them. They tasted fine but an emergency trip to the restroom never seemed long afterward. Mike lamented that American style "fries" were infringing on the chip's rightful place in English society.

Said emergency "toilets". They really were "clean". I feel that in this "situation" that quotation marks are "unnecessary".

We met the parents later that evening for dinner. When I heard we were going to have Mexican food my first thoughts were not pleasant ones. It ended up being great though. I hope I'm not turning into a snob.

The local specialty drink was scrumpy. Once that word hit my lips I could not stop saying it. Scrumpy. Magical. Scrumping means to forage or steal fruit from the countryside. Mike's stepdad mentioned that he used to do it back in the day.

A sign for another local cider made by the same company.

Mike's fam has a British Bulldog. It was a great dog but the poor thing was dumb as a post. It spent so much time up at night barking at shadows and potted plants that they had to fit it with a shock collar. I don't remember his name, I alternated between calling him Scrumpy, Scrum, or the more respectful Mr. Scrumperton.