Such an auspicious date today! No, not only because of the relatively minor matter of a future king of ‘Britain and the Commonwealth’ being born, but because today is the day I turn 65. Hello-o-o-o-o-o gold card, free ferry trips, lower property taxes, etc. etc!!!!! (Oh, okay, and a very, very tiny hello to looking forward to more kinks and aches and pains and groans, etc.)
Whoever would have thought when I left Britain 40 years ago that I would be back in Britain to celebrate turning 65? Not I! It was purely coincidental, but that's a great birthday present, thank you Bruce!
Rocky had made arrangements for us to go to lunch with friends of his at the Plymouth Yacht Club where we should have had a wonderful view over the Plymouth Sound, except today started off with a bit of a mist that obscured some of the view. Anyway, it was a very pleasant lunch then we went sightseeing around the City. Plymouth's city centre was bombed flat during WWII and has since been re-constructed in a rather bland manner. In fact, the only thing left to see there is the bombed out ruin of St. Andrew's church, which has been left as a memorial in the centre of a roundabout on the main street through Plymouth. Fortunely, however, the old Barbican area, where so much history took place, can still be seen in spite of all the tourist-trinket-traps. There's a tiny Elizabethan house and, of course, the old quays where the pilgrims departed on the 'Mayflower' for the New World in 1650. Apparently, the 'Mayflower Steps' that commemorate the departure is not exactly the spot they left from - it was further back towards the buildings that front the water, but the quay has since been expanded and built up. New Street - which is not very new at all - has many of the oldest buildings in the area, including the Elizabethen House, an old sea-going captain's house, that is very narrow and tall, has a spiral staircase and retains much of its original features. (Those features were undergoing renovations/renewal the day we were there so we could not go in.)
At the Barbican I had what is probably the most decadent thing I have eaten here yet - and I've eaten too much decadent stuff already! I had a Cornish icecream cone that was liberally topped with a glob of real Cornish clotted cream. I'm just glad I'm not staying here for long or I would have had to come back for more!
From the Barbican we went up to the Plymouth Hoe where, in 1588, Sir Francis Drake famously played a game of bowls as he kept an eye on the approaching Spanish Armada until he deemed it was time to join the battle. Tres insouciant of him, I'd say!
Also on the Hoe is the 1759 Smeaton's Tower that was, originally, situated 14 miles out to sea to alert sailors to the infamous Eddystone Rocks. It was replaced by a larger lighthouse in 1882 and moved to the Hoe where it was reassembled.
As a rather lengthy sidebar, one other 'monument' of note (for me) can be seen at the far end of the Hoe - the large concrete bunker-looking building was the rather swish Trust House Forte Mayflower Post Hotel when it started life back in the early 70s and where I was employed for over a year as a 'Hostess'. (Not the kind that springs to mind nowadays.) 48 of us were hired when the hotel was about to open following a lengthy search & recruitment process. We were trained for three months before the hotel opened to work in every department of the hotel: restaurant (silver service & tableside flambes, no less!), bars, reception and supervision of housekeeping) and we were rotated through two or three different departments each day. It was an early experiment by Trust Houses Forte (a huge European chain at the time) in attracting and retaining people for the job by keeping the interest levels high and I loved it. Many women from diverse careers were attracted to the idea and it was great until attrition meant that the kind of training we had benefitted from could not be maintained for new employees. Still, hats off to Trust House Forte for going for it. Now, the building is a rather tired-looking Quality Inn.
From the Hoe we drove over to Devonport Dockyard. This area is the reason the City was bombed to hell in the war, because it was a major Naval base of strategic importance. It has now received a new lease on life, though. The old buildings are being turned into high end condos (it's rumoured Elton John has one) and expensive shops and eateries but it seemed curiously sterile and deserted while we were there. It was worth the stroll though and from there we could see up the River Tamar and towards the old Brunel Bridge and across to Mount Edgcumbe.
That evening we took the tiny passenger ferry boat (masterfully skippered by the ship's dog, Marley, and his crew) over to Mount Edgcumbe on the Cornish side of the River Tamar(The ferry is only 3 or 4 minutes walk from Rocky's place so it was very convenient). The magnificent 18th Century Mount Edgcumbe House suffered bomb damage too, but has been restored and the gardens are gorgeous. Rocky's second daughter, Katie, had a very lavish wedding there a couple of years ago, so I had already seen photos of the place but for this occasion it wasn't the big House itself I was attracted to (besides which it was closed by then) but rather it was the picturesque little pub right on the water where the ferry docks where I wanted to go for dinner that night. When we got there we saw a sign regarding their 'birthday club' that said if you sign up at least two weeks before, they'll give you a bottle of wine with dinner and decorate your table. Too late for that, however, today's the day! But Bruce did some sweet-talking in that Canadian accent that everyone has found so charming here and after we sat down the pub brought a bottle of wine over and three glasses. We each had the 'Carvery' dinner (seems to be the 'Big Thing' for eating , out in Britain - every place that is any place advertises its 'Carvery'). This was a very good one though - another of those light summer dinners with roast beef, roast pork, yorkshire pudding, vegetables, gravy, etc. (I have to leave soon before I'm as round as I am tall!) My dessert was served with a candle on it, and the servers and Bruce and Rocky did the jolly old sing-thing. After dinner we had time to go and stroll some of the gardens of Mount Edgcumbe house, even though the House itself was closed, then we got the last ferry back over to Plymouth.
An absolutely LOVELY birthday - thank you Bruce for making it all happen and thank you Rocky for being such a great host!