Tate to Eden
Friday 11 to Monday 14 May 2001
A couple of months ago a long weekend away in Cornwall for some sun, sea and scenery and the Tate St Ives, and the new Eden Project just outside St Austell, felt like a good idea.
Several friends opted in so it turned into Greenwich Cyclists first weekend away.
Tate St Ives is right in the middle of that town and not a whole day visit. The Eden Project is several miles out of St Austell, they recommend a whole day there.
I decided to get the train to St Ives first, do the Tate then ride the 45 miles to St Austell. Coast to Cornish coast....with hills.
St Ives seemed a great place to stay on Friday night. St Austell less so for Saturday. I gambled on Mevagissey for Saturday night. Looked great on the map.
Suddenly there were 10 of us interested. Some decided to get the Thursday night sleeper down from Paddington, the rest to get the early Friday morning train. We all arranged to meet at the Tate at 3pm and 7pm that Friday. Some decided to go back to London on Sunday after the Eden day. The rest of us decided to take Monday off too.
We split the work. I planned the route and the venues. Elaine took on the trains, Jaqueline booked the b&bs.
The trains were a nightmare. First Great Western could not sell us Apex cheaper advance tickets until Railtrack told them that they were not mending the line. After trying every day for weeks, tickets were finally released on the Tuesday before our Thursday night train. B&Bs were then grabbed at once via useful websites. And of course each train only took six bikes.....
Six of us met to get the Thursday 11.30pm Paddington sleeper. Good value at £45 apex return. The big goods van could have taken 20, not 6, bikes. Time for a couple of beers in the station bar. Lea peddled down the platform at speed as the guard slammed the last door. We scooped her and bike aboard. Shed finished her stand-up comedy stint in Clapham only 30 minutes before. The sleeper cabins were a treat. Two bunk beds with crisp sheets, a huge wash basin with loads of hot water..all new and shiny. Squeaky clean loos just down the corridor.
Friday. Odd to be rattling along whilst half asleep. Great to be served tea, biscuits and orange juice at 7.30am. We got out at St Erth, 4 miles from St Ives. It wasnt worth changing trains.
Cornwall felt small, hot and humid and very very green. Brilliant. And the ride into St Ives was a treat. So quiet and sunny. There was nowhere open so we found a pub right by the harbour. Lovely to swim and we waited for the 9am cooked breakfasts outside in the hot sun. We asked the boy not to put the umbrellas over our tables.....we wanted the sun. The gulls, he explained. They were huge.
Then we checked into Seagulls...our b&b at £23 each. Classic quirky seaside quest-house with plastic flowers, eccentric diy en-suite conversions and 20 yards from the Tate back wall high over the town with great views on both bays. St Ives is split in half by a steep peninsula called The Island.
The Tate. Opened 1993. I was disappointed at the crazy entrance layout, the filthy balcony cafe and the smallness of it all. Partly serves me right, I dont like Naum Garbo and there was lots of his wires on display. Some blazing Patrick Herons lifted me. (Anthony Gormleys Critical Mass opens in June.....and Field too). Its not the important outpost I expected, and they hadnt told the front desk to expect us but they eventually found the note and we got our good group discounts. The Barbara Hepworth studio and garden 5 minutes walk away was lovely though. Super sculpture and plants that really put St Ives into context for me - and sadly moving too, she died as a result of a living-room fire there.
The sunny surfy beach right under the Tate. A cold swim. Two more of us arrived at 2.30pm. The mist came down fast and sealsuited surfers appeared out of it. The last 2 of us had missed their train. They arrived after the Tate closed.
We explored the rest of St Ives...not as bad arty spoilt as Id expected. Lovely place.
Just by the harbour in front of us a family of four emerged from a chip shop. Dad in front followed single file by mum and two kids. Food on polystyrene trays......a white flash....huge gull fell out the sky to hit Dads outstretched hand with big yellow beak. Cod and chips went skidding down the road. 10 gulls swallowed the lot in seconds. Dad red and speechless with indignant rage, kids sniggering quietly.
It was the pub at 8pm and, after much group angst and indecision that nearly got tiresome, we decided on a place to eat where the very fresh cod was huge.
After a good cooked breakfast, Saturday morning was misty and messy. Wed planned on a 10am start for the ride to Mevagissey. Our late couple though begged for Tate time, so an 11am start was settled on. Mistake. At that meet they announced their intention to get the train some of the way to avoid a few hills. Against my better judgement, I agreed to meet them at Portreath, 10 miles up the coast. We left late at 11.30am as the sun bust through. Mobile phone numbers were exchanged.
It was a lovely 12 mile ride up the coast to Portreath via Hayle. The road hugged the top of the huge cliffs. White egret on the mud of the Hale estuary. Wi../ridesld flowers everywhere. The long curved swoop down into Portreat was wonderful with huge views of bay and sea. The place itself was sadly dominated by a carpark. We stopped and snacked and were luckily caught by the lost two. Their train had broken down.
I had hoped to ride the old minerals tramway line from Portreath south-east across the hills to Bissoe and Devoram but foot-and-mouth closures meant we kept to country lanes instead. Hardly any traffic anywhere.
The countryside was beautiful, hedged lanes full of wild flowers, loads of sunshine, no sign of foot and mouth (it was all in Devon and Cornwall had more tourists than for years at Easter as a result), great vistas and views of the coral green sea everywhere.
../rides Redruth was a mess of one-way systems and hard to navigate through, but no more towns after that. The Carnon Valley was amazingly green and deceptively flat. We left the river at Greenwith Common, crossed the A39 and climbed a massive hill up to Come to Good. Huge descent down the B3289.
Wed decided not to lunch until wed done well over half the ride.
The King William chain ferry goes over the Fal estuary by the Tressilick Gardens and saves a 20 mile less interesting detour. A very long descent from the plateau takes you down to the beautifully quiet river. 50p for bikes. Innocent fun with car in tiny ferry queue.....10 bikes politely behind three cars. New car parks behind us on do not park here bend and expects us all to move. I cant park here, he wails. Reverse then, we unisoned. Flustered grinding of gears. This was the Roseland peninsula, worth a special visit. Last ferry 8.20pm in summer.
A huge hill out had us all walking straight up from virtually sea level to 400 feet. The very pretty and appetising pub in Philleigh didnt open until 6pm. It was 5pm...we went on to the Polsue Manor Hotel. Very expensive dinner was much later but we filled our bottles and enjoyed the garden.
Many were now tired. Up at Ruan High Lanes, on top of the plateau a fit looking bloke on a mountain bike met us (one of very few bikes we saw all trip) and said we were 4 hours away from Mevagissey. The doubters believed him and visibly sank.
The last 5 miles overTippetts Shop and Tubbs Mill followed tiny lanes with no traffic at all.
An hour later we were swooping round a fast descent into double-harboured Mevagissey. A really lovely working place.
Some of us were staying at the top of next hill out, some half a mile past there at Portmellon in the Rising Sun pub. We got there and speed showered just in time to order their reasonable pub food.
We took 8.5 hours to do the 45 miles. The hills. Someones trip computer said wed been moving for 6 hours. Much of that was on foot up hills.
It was a lovely but hard ride, but we all did it and felt good for that.
The sea was lashing the walls of Portmellon all night.
Sunday: After another big breakfast we met at 10am for the 7 mile ride to the Eden Project.
The ride to St Austell was easy up the river valley. We stumbled across a Tourist Information Office in a portacabin behind a petrol station at the edge of town and bought our 10 fast-track tickets. Staff didnt know group discount rules. We then made the mistake of following the road signs there that took us up the awful new ring roads built to access the site. Long straight slog up what felt like a deserted motorway hill.
Up into china clay country. The first you see is this vast hole in the ground....with those now familiar geodesic greenhouses in one corner.
The uncovered bike parking is high inside the rim of the volcano and looked unused. Vast car and coach parks. Help desk had no trace of my prebooking email.
First impressions lasted......the planting is of course sparse and will take some years to mature, but its not the sustainable slightly alternative Kew Gardens of the 21st century by a great architect that the clever marketing led me to expect and drove me to visit. It feel like a depressingly car-oriented tacky theme park with lots of fast food and drink outlets, loads of greenery but no theme. Except taking the grey pound. Two huge walk through plastic-houses..one tropical, one temperate. Most of the little labelling there was crass and patronising and uninformed. ("Cocoa is an important crop in West Africa"). I got the impression that most visitors would come away not knowing anything about the origin of the huge hole in the ground or about Nicholas Grimshaw the architect or about the huge range of plants they had seen. If there is serious research going on behind the scenes, its very very secret.
Hugely impressive structure, poor content. Deju vu. Dome from dome.
(See also the Millennium Seed Bank at Kew Gardens Wakehurst Place outstation....you can see the researchers at their benches. In fact, a much better visit).
We adamnevedit for about 5 hours and agreed £10 was a lot for a ticket.
On the way out we asked a helpful ranger in Aussie bush hat whether there was a better way back to St Austell. He got us all excited about the special bike route...that we found was closed because of foot and mouth.
A couple of us headed sadly back to St Austell for the train home....too soon to go.
Four of us headed into town for a cream tea. Ill not mention the fact that all was closed and they hit MacDonalds. Unforgiveable.
A couple of us decided to go straight back to Mevagissey and by shere luck (we asked a woman on a bike) found a really excellent brand new Sustrans bike path through pretty woods and a fine bog to the coast 4 miles away. An old mineral harbour and lovely village of Pentewan...and a swim.
Back to Mevagissey where we all met up again, to an excellent pub, then a really good value meal there, then bed.
Monday, last day, the very odd breakfast waiter again....lots of sun: four of us decided to head for St Austell station with a small detour to tvs Lost Gardens of Heligan. The other four decided to do a circular tour of about 16 miles to St Austell via 3 good looking beaches. The hill out of Portmellon went up at 20% to 350 feet, and down again. Gorn Haven was a jewel and a surprise, a tiny harbour with small sand beach with village behind. At 11am we had shared a cream tea with coffee in a suntrap back garden that felt like Greece.
There was nothing at pretty Hemmick Beach but sea and sand and one cottage. The hill down was so steep we got off and walked.
Up and over again to Porthuney Cove with its Caerhays Castle. Wide sandy beach with good breaking waves. Long swim here. The beachside cafe was ok for lunch but churlish about filling bottles. "We sell water". Only surly service all trip.
Two of us split off for the 4.30pm train.
And then there were two. We stayed on the beach before the 10 windey miles to St Austell station via Gorran High Lanes and St Ewe. We called in at Heligan for tea but didnt go into the grounds. Home made Wooden
Then on to Polgoath and the oddly named village of London Apprentice before the flat valley into St Austell.
At St Austell we met J who missed her earlier train, punctured with no pump and had to walk 4 miles. The only puncture of the trip. The fifth unbooked bike got on the 6.30pm train easily.
Loads of river, sea and estuary views for the next 2 hours...treat of a train journey.
Paddington arrived on queue at 11.35pm, and it was soon time for work the next morning.
S: a lovely stretched weekend in good company. Sleeper train a treat that gave us another day. The rolling hills made for good riding...but some were tough. The sea was clean, cold and beautiful.
W: Tate St Ives and Eden Project disappointed, the rest though was wonderful and more than made up for that. Great to see both those places though.
O: Must visit again.
T: that old group dynamic compromising thing again. Train booking was a pain, the rest easy. Its the indecision over things like where to eat at night that can bug me. Just do it.
OS Landranger maps 203 and 204.