Plymouth to Fowey, via Looe

Day 94  Sun 2nd July:  There are very few rules in this challenge. I know this because they are my own rules. If I don’t like them, I can change them. I am accountable only to me. The rules are in my head, nothing written down. The main point goes something like this: Each and every one of the current 237 RNLI Lifeboat Stations must be visited by cycling around the coast of Britain and Ireland. With over 5,000 miles of roads linking the first 178 Stations now cycled I remain determined to complete the challenge. However, you might have noticed that the “unbroken chain of links from one station to another, travelling clockwise around the coast”  can only apply to the mainland of England, Wales and Scotland. To reach the other twenty islands that host a current RNLI Station, from the second largest (Ireland) to the smallest so far (Bara, Outer Hebrides),  it seemed not unreasonable to call upon the services of Caledonian Macbrayne Ferries, Northlink Ferries, Wightlink Ferries and (later) Stena Line and (hopefully sooner, for the Channel Islands and Scilly Isles) FlyBro Air Tours. But what about the many passenger/foot ferries across river estuaries? To use or not to use?  They are fun. Often free. This is a Coastal cycle ride. Without them, I would regularly have to travel many, many more miles inland and back again. As much as I love cycling, I would like, one day to finish this rather long ride. That’s why, today I shall be using two more ferries to cross two big rivers. The first, less than half a mile from the restart point outside Plymouth RNLI Station (many thanks to CabBro Taxis of Gunnislake, a first rate service which included pick-up, delivery to free B&B in the stunning Tamar Valley, fantastic dinner, comfy bed, hearty breakfast and return trip to the precise spot where I dismounted Fondo yesterday) takes me across the mouth of the Tamar, from Devon to Cornwall.

Cornish observation No.1 –  As noticed way back on Day 3, then heading in a north-easterly direction with the sea on my left and the wind on my face, it is just as hilly as Devon.   No.2 – Now, heading west, still with the sea on my left and the wind on my face, I am reminded that Cornwall is virtually an island, surrounded by sea to the south, north and west and the river Tamar to the east, connected to just one other county for barely a mile, on a hill at Shoreston Farm, over 200 metres above sea level. The last three miles of the county boundary follow the course of Marsland Water all the way down to Bude Bay. You could swim or paddle all the way around Cornwall but for one mile of squelching across a big, boggy hill.

Meanwhile, after an hour and a half of short, sharp climbs, cobweb clearing hilltop views and exhilarating (terrifying) descents through dark, wet, tree-tunnel ravines, where the tarmac is still hidden under the nicely composting leaves and twigs from last autumn (Note: next time – carry grappling irons, wear spiked shoes and change to studded tyres) I found myself relying heavily on the excellent new brake pads (thanks Mike@Strada bikes Bristol) on the run in to Looe.  The Lifeboat Station was very easy to locate in this beautiful, compact harbour town, with very little flat land between the two steep sides of the river. The lifeboat slipway must be the shortest in the country. At high tide, the water comes right up to the boathouse doors. A ‘shout’ at the top of a spring tide must see a pretty quick launch, with the water almost lapping the sponsons of the two Inshore Lifeboats. There is definitely a jolly atmosphere in this busy little place. I’m not sure if it was the sunny spell, warm welcome, hot sausage rolls or just the cheery, good humour of the people of Looe. Perhaps it is in their genes.

1868  A race was held between lifeboats from Cadgwith, Lizard, Mullion, Penzance, Sennen Cove, Looe, Fowey and Porthleven.  The race was won by the Looe lifeboat.

1901  On 7 December the lifeboat assisted the vessel Gipsy of Nantes.  Fourteen crew were taken on board the lifeboat and the remaining five got into the ship’s boat and was taken in tow.  With the help of a tug all landed safely at Looe.  Three kittens were also saved.

1902  The French Government awarded a Gold Medal, 2nd class to Coxswain Edward Toms and Silver Medal, 2nd class, to each of the crew for the service to the Gipsy.

1930  Station closed in July.    1992  station re-opens.   2003  New B & D class boathouse and slipway completed at a cost of £763,297.

Many thanks to Ian and Carol Foster, RNLI volunteers on duty at Looe ILB Station, for the kind words of encouragement, mug of tea and Ian’s very professional photo shoot!

And so to Fowey. After the even steeper than usual climb out of Looe, up West Looe Hill the route was more of the same. That’s not to say boring or negative in any sense. More of the same can be really good and today it was. The route did not disappoint. On the final descent to the Bodinnick Ferry, the wind eased, the temperature rose and the already gorgeous views somehow continued to impress more at every turn. Across the deep, dark, still waters of the River Fowey to the next rendezvous with CabBro Taxis for another full-works booking. Time first to treat my driver, tonight’s host and brother Phil to a luxury ice cream to remember (it’s ok, that’s not three people. I’m not that generous. Contrary to rumours regarding his many skills and talents, Phil really is just one person).  If you ever find yourself in Fowey on a hot day with enough time to spare and plenty of cash in your pocket I strongly recommend a visit to the Ferry End Ice Cream Parlour. The Patron, Simon Sassoon, a not too distant relative of the late Vidal Sassoon (I kid you not, he introduced himself) is a hoot. Never before have I witnessed such salesmanship nor seen or heard such enthusiasm for ice cream. Simon had “just come up with an amazing new concept…” and proceeded to demonstrate, at length, his new way of cramming, whist subtly blending flavours, a great deal of Marshfield ice cream into a cone “Instead of two separate balls of different flavours stuck on top, you get the harmonic, blended flavours throughout..”  This, combined with the sound of Joe Sample’s jazz piano in the background was real entertainment. I had to admit, this was possibly the nicest and certainly the heaviest ice cream cone I have eaten. Simon asked for suggestions for a name for his new product. I clumsily suggested “Cool Jazz Licks“.  As Mr Sassoon deftly added the coiffure’s final touch with the edge of his scoop, he raised one eyebrow, half smiled and looked me square in the eye, whispering “I think I like that.”

Time to move on. This being a Sunday afternoon, I shall not be visiting the Fowey ALB Station today. On returning to this precise location tomorrow, the planned Monday morning visit should be a great way to start the day.

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