October took us to the extreme south west tip of the country for eight concerts in Cornwall and Somerset. It was our first trip to this area and we were particularly keen to see Land’s End, since we had been up in John O’Groats in April, and it felt like a good thing to do. This trip took us 12 days to complete, and we drove some 1,950 miles in our Tour Bus! Phew!
After a 12 hour drive to get down to Bridgwater Bay, we arrived just in time for Storm Callum to greet us. Wet and very windy at times, especially at night. But after a few days it moved on and the weather was glorious. At Penzance Harbour, it was so windy that the parking ticket we had bought blew away as we put in on the dashboard, and was gone forever……so we had to buy another!
I’m reading “Birthstone” by D.M. Thomas at the moment. There’s a line in it that says: “St Michael’s Mount, a blur in the grey bay, held no angel this morning, not even a fallen one.” So perhaps this is quite an apt photo!
After breakfasting in Bridgwater, we headed off to do some sight-seeing in Land’s End and Lizard Point. Although it was very windy and a bit wet, it was quite warm.
We then headed north, over to St Ives via St Just and Pendeen. Although it was windy and wet, there were plenty of surfers in Porthmeor Beach.
We had a walk around St Ives, along Porthmeor Beach and into the town, ending up at the harbour. We got lost!!! We were completely confused by the layout. It felt like we’d only walked a few hundred metres, but where we started was nowhere to be seen! The harbour and beach are only separated by a thin peninsula (see Google Maps, above). At the harbour there were seals swimming very close up, and the pavements had lots of birds (Little Ringed Plovers, I think) running around, very tame. Another very windy night, rocking our Tour Bus around.
On Saturday (after a long hunt for lost van keys – eventually found in a trouser pocket in a bag!), we headed over towards our first gig in Ponsanooth, just south of Truro. Not before our sat nav took us to the wrong location and we had our first taste of the very, very narrow country lanes with very high hedges on both sides (and stone walls inside them!). There were no passing places. At one point and elderly woman was driving towards us. She immediately stopped and reversed (very skilfully) for maybe half a mile! Eventually turning into a driveway of a cottage. (Perhaps she started from here?! She could have been reversing back there all day if there’d been more traffic! It must be very difficult when the roads are busy in the summer.)
Ponsanooth Hall was beautiful. It had been refurbished after a serious fire ten years ago. It was like playing in a church. The acoustics were lovely. We were received by a very warm, friendly and enthusiastic audience (an encore was duly supplied!). A great start to our eight gig tour.
On Sunday morning, we woke up to blue skies and glorious sunshine! We headed back to have a proper look at St Ives. Its a beautiful wee town. Lots of narrow streets and very hilly.
Our second gig of the tour was in the village of Grampound, halfway between Truro and St Austell. A beautiful village and a very large hall (and sports facility). We were welcomed by Simon , who had made a really nice curry for us.
Amazingly, audience members Simon & Leander requested one of my original tunes – “Gemma“, before the gig!!! That’s never happened before. They were to come to one of our other gigs the next week too. The whole audience were very friendly and enthusiastic (encore duly supplied!).
Our third gig was about 130 miles north into Somerset, so we spent most of the day getting there. The weather had turned a bit dreich again. The gig was in the very beautiful village of Stocklinch near Ilminster. It is unusual to play on a Monday night, but the couple organising it were going to France the next day, and it was the only day they could fit it into our schedule.
The name Stocklinch comes from old English “stoc” which means “place” and it lies on the lower slopes of “the linches“, the hills that give it its name. The church of St Mary Magdalene, close to the hall has stood there for 700 years.
It was a beautiful hall – a former school. We were greeted with great hospitality from Robin & Cris, and Russell. A full house! A very, very warm, enthusiastic audience (encore duly supplied!). Not only were we plied with a very large amount of cheese, bread & wine at the end of the gig, but we spent the night in a brewery!!! Fantastic!
We had Tuesday off – so more sightseeing! After a hearty cooked breakfast in Morrisons at Bridgwater (it’s tough at the top!), we decided to head towards Minehead on the north coast, stopping off first of all to see the medieval village of Dunster, set in the foothills of the Exmoor National Park and dominated by Dunster Castle.
We headed on to Minehead to look at the West Somerset Railway.
Its a country branch line of the old Great Western Railway, running old steam trains (and old diesel trains) from Minehead to Bishops Lydeard.
You can watch a video clip we took of these trains in action, on our Instagram site:
Last night we stayed in a brewery…..tonight we were to stay in….. “Dead Woman’s Ditch“!!! A local beauty spot in the Quantock Hills near Minehead.
On the plus side, we woke up to see wild ponies up close!
We headed on towards Burnham-on-Sea for a lunch stop, and saw signs for Berrow beach car park. The road took us nearer and nearer the sea, until we discovered that the car park was actually the beach! Great place to stop, although the mud can be dangerous.
Our gig that night (the third of eight) was in Burrowbridge Coronation Hall near Bridgwater. The village is overlooked by a 24m high small hill called Burrow Mump with the 18th century ruined church of St Michael on the top.
We were welcomed by Mike and Christine. Mike had made a really delicious curry for us and the hall trustees. Very nice, indeed!
As I unpacked my tenor sax, I noticed that something was wrong. The spring for my G# lever had broken! I managed to do a temporary repair with rubber bands – but its very difficult to play it like that. Especially low C#, low B, low Bb, and G#. My pinkie had to manoeuvre over, around, under and on the rubber bands! Luckily though, a woman (Sue Dyer) came up in the break and gave me the phone number of a woodwind repairer in Taunton (just 10 minutes away). I phoned her first thing in the morning and she was very happy to see me straight away and fix it there and then whilst I watched. Brilliant! She was very good indeed! Her name’s Gill Baker. I thoroughly recommend her! Thank you Gill!!! And thank you Sue!!!
We had the next day (Thursday) off, so after my saxophone had been repaired, we did some more sightseeing. Firstly, Tintagel on the north coast. Tintagel Castle is steeped in legend and mystery and is said to be the birthplace of King Arthur. Merlin’s Cave is there also. The castle also features in the tale of Tristan and Isolde. Unfortunately, the castle was closed when we were there, and we weren’t really taken with the rest of the village (a bit “theme-parky” for us).
We headed down to Port Isaac, somewhere I have wanted to see for a while, as it is the setting for the fictional “Portwenn” in the TV drama “Doc Martin“, starring Martin Clunes! It’s a beautiful fishing village with lots of narrow streets. It remains unspoilt, despite being the location of a very popular TV series.
As I was taking photographs, a woman was walking towards me eating an ice cream cone, suddenly a seagull grabbed it from her and flew away with the whole thing!
We headed on to Crowdy Reservoir on the edge of Bodmin Moor. More wild ponies here.
Back to work, with a gig on Friday night in Mawgan Porth. But not before some more sightseeing! Another place I really wanted to see was Padstow. Not just because I had heard that it was a nice fishing village, but also because it’s the home of chef and TV presenter Rick Stein, who I admire a lot.
As I said, Padstow is the home of Rick Stein. He does have quite a few businesses there. Mostly seafood-based (his speciality). Apparently, some people call it “Padstein“! However, they are all very nice looking, and very classy. The quality seems very high indeed too. (And the prices aren’t ridiculous.) I’d much rather this, than dozens of the usual burger and cafe chains. At least it makes Padstow unique. He must bring a lot of business and tourism into the village. And he is from there, after all. He always comes across as a really nice guy on the television. Here’s some of his places (plaices?!!!)
We wanted to see Newquay too, and since it was only a few miles away, we paid it a flying visit. Like St Ives, Newquay is another great surfing centre.
Our gig that night was at nearby Mawgan Porth.
Unfortunately, the audience here was small. But we thoroughly enjoyed our gig here, not least because Simon & Leander who came to see us in Grampound (and requested “Gemma“), were there. Simon had brought me a present. A lamp he had made out of a (real) clarinet! I absolutely love it! It now has pride of place in my living room. What a fantastic gift to receive! A great way to remember this trip too.
On Saturday, we headed back up north for our last 3 gigs. We had look at Blue Anchor near Watchet on the north coast. The steam railway passes through here with its beautifully preserved train station and level crossing. There’s some video of a steam train leaving the station on our Instagram site. This link will show it:
We headed on to our next gig at Stogumber, taking a quick look at the train station there (which is about a mile away from the village!). As we were having a cup of tea there, a steam train pulled into the station and a bi-plane flew overhead. It felt like we had gone back in time!
Stogumber is a picturesque but thriving village set in a valley between the Quantock and Brendon Hills in West Somerset. With a population of approximately 600 people. The countryside around it is stunning.
It was a very enjoyable gig (with delicious baked potatoes and chili in the interval!). Another enthusiastic and appreciative audience.
Our sat nav took us to the hall through some very, very narrow lanes with high hedges! Luckily, nothing was coming the other way this time!
Sunday was our last day in the south west, and we had two gigs! The first was in Ansford, Castle Cary at Caryford Community Hall. It is a large and very beautiful hall – its feels a bit like a church inside. The back wall is all glass (a great view from the stage of beautiful countryside). The hall is in a beautiful setting too, with large grounds all around it. We were welcomed by Liz and her husband with a delicious lunch of bread and some really nice cheeses (some local ones).
A very nice and appreciative audience turned up to make this a very enjoyable afternoon concert.
Its unusual for us to do an afternoon gig (in daylight!) outside of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It was a nice change.
We quickly headed on to our final gig of the tour in North Petherton, about an hour’s drive away, eating a sandwich on the way. I was worried about whether my lip and embouchure muscles would last for two gigs in one day (especially as both of the last venues were very large, and I play acoustically, without a microphone), but it was fine, thankfully.
North Petherton is just off the M5 near Bridgwater. Another large hall. We were made to feel very welcome on our arrival at this hall too. They hadn’t put anything on like this before, so they were a little nervous. A reasonable number turned up to see us play and they were, again, very appreciative. It was particlularly nice to meet the two Mikes (Tompsett & Whitaker), jazz aficionados, both. A ploughman’s supper was served in the interval – for which we were very grateful!
An exhausting day, facing a 10 hour drive home the next day. What a fantastic trip! We met lots of really nice people, had some very enjoyable gigs, saw some amazing scenery and places…..and I got a clarinet lamp made for me by Simon Phillips! Wonderful.
Words & photos by Ian Millar © 2018