No matter how much I love travelling on my own, sometimes it can get lonely with no one to share the experiences with. This is what led me into the path of Haggis Adventures. They run small bus tours throughout Britain and Ireland, and in 2012, I embarked on their five day Cornwall Crusader. This tour takes in the beautiful south west corner of England, taking you from busy London, all the way down to Newquay and Land’s End.
Day One: Druids or aliens?
The tour started on a beautiful summer’s day in London at the end of July. Having been woken up during the night by not one, but TWO, fire alarms, I was feeling a mite weary. Let me quickly point out that 1) you do not put anything metal inside a microwave and 2) putting a toaster on its highest setting will not make your bread toast faster. It will only reduce your piece of bread to charcoal while at the same time managing to peeve off everyone in a full hostel! Lesson over.
Anyway, having blearily checked out I struggled with my pack to the rendezvous point. I don’t know if everyone does this, but I do. When meeting my tour group, I instantly start sizing them up to see who could potentially become a travel buddy. At this time in my life I was living in Paris and working as a tour guide for Fat Tire Bike Tours and City Segway Tours. I was feeling a little lonely and longing for people who I could converse easily with. So, finding myself in a city full of people who I could converse with without accidentally calling them a gherkin or eating what I thought was beef but turned out to be tongue was really lifting my spirits. So, I embarked on “find a friend!”
When travelling, I have found that I have met the most extraordinary people who I am proud to call friend. Whether it was just spending an evening together at a restaurant on the Thames with someone I had met an hour beforehand and eating the most amazing meal with the French waiter trying to get us drunk on apple schnapps. Or going for dumplings in Beijing, accidentally ordering 100 and forming a friendship which is still alive and kicking. My point is, when you are in your element, there is a very high chance that you will meet people who share the same values or want adventure or are also living away from home, and you form this most amazing connection that I can guarantee you in nothing like friendships formed at home. I don’t speak with anyone from my high school friends list and there are only a few people on my Facebook ‘friends’ list who I would call actual friends. The people who I hold dear are scattered far and wide across this beautiful earth and we don’t need to see each other everyday to reaffirm our friendship.
Anyway! Back to the Cornwall Crusader! (You’ll find that sentence a lot more interesting if you do it in a voice reminiscent of the old classic black and white, naval sea voyage, swash-buckling voice.)
After leaving the smoke of London behind, our first stop on this tour was Stonehenge. My mind was full of my father’s tales of Stonehenge when he did his months-long tour of Europe back in the day that Russia was still the USSR. During his visit, he could walk up to the stones, touch them, walk amongst them. These days you’re relegated to walking around the henge on a track behind a fence that’s about 20 or so meters away at its closest point. No matter how dorky you think it makes you look, grab the audio guide and listen to the soft British tones telling you about the Druids and the theories surrounding its use and how it came to be. Our colourful and completely delightful guide Hana, who looks like something out of the fifties, believes that it was put their by aliens. Each to their own I suppose.
A quick hop, skip, and a jump along the motorway we were in Salisbury to visit the Cathedral and home of one of 13 original copies of Magna Carta. Cue swoon at historical and cultural significance. Issued in June 1215 by King John, the Magna Carta was to prevent civil war and guaranteed England’s subjects certain rights, including the right that justice cannot be bought and/or sold. In other words, the right to a fair trial. This piece of paper was the beginning of the rights of citizens which now stretches across the world and I couldn’t believe that I was seeing it! If you can, speak with one of the people who diligently watch over the Magna Carta. They are a vast source of information on this most important artefact and more than willing to tell you all about it!
After a quick stop at Poundland (check it out if you can, anything and everything you could possibly want for a pound,) a deliciously English meal at a pub, and then it was on to Cheddar Gorge. Being a non-lover of Cheese, I went straight for the fudge. I left a little poorer and fatter. Oh well – I was on holiday!
Day Two: Watch out for the horses, they bite.
Dartmoor and Bodmin National Park is calling!
After walking to the top of the moor, we took a short drive, in which two of my travel buddies fell asleep in the most unflattering positions, and I, of course, took a photo, we arrived in sunny, warm Newquay. We stayed in a great hostel that had a kick-ass common area, with yummy food and cold drinks, overlooking the bay. All the group got together and had dinner out of styrofoam looking at the beach where we would have our early morning surfing lesson the next day. Thinking of the wetsuit that I would have to squeeze myself into the next day, the seagulls received most of my chips.
Day Three: A theatre by the sea.
Surfing baby! Let’s just say that I need to practice a little more and leave it at that? Flossing sand from your teeth is quite difficult.
Moving on from the morning, we visited the Minack Theatre, built by Rowena Cade. As a lover of theatre who would spend my last 20 quid on the worst seat in a theatre in London just to see a show, this was the most amazing experience for me. Looking out over the big, blue ocean, the tiered seating rises up out of the cliff with past plays and their year of performance carved into the hot stone. It would be hard pressed to find such a monument which pays homage to nature, man, and culture and the arts than this.
On my previous tour with Haggis Adventures, we travelled to the northern most point of the Outer Hebrides. As our tour guide Alan said, “next stop – Iceland.” So it was such a thrill to find myself at Land’s end. A completely different experience. For one thing, there was no one but us, a couple of families and the wind in Scotland. At Land’s End, you couldn’t move for the bus loads of tourists all getting their picture taken at the overpriced sign. Kitsch shops popping up everywhere selling everything from stale cornish pasties to snow globes. To avoid this horrid display of crassness, take a walk along the path which follows the cliff line and take it all in.
Towards the end of the day we saw St. Michaels Mont, had a well deserved cider by the sea before retiring to the hostel for delicious burgers and a well earned sleep.
Day Four: the legend of King Arthur.
Put your walking boots on and fill up your water bottle for day four of the Cornwall Crusader! This day was the day we walked to Tintagel Castle, the birthplace of King Arthur. I was so glad that it was part of my job to ride about 10 kilometres a day, otherwise I wouldn’t have made it. As I walked throughout the ruins, I was remembering the stories of King Arthur and the knights of the round table. Of gallantry and good deeds. It was hard to imagine the great stories happening in the place I was standing.
One yummy Cornish Pasty later we arrived in Bath for the final night of our tour. Travelling to Bath was the reason I chose to go on to this tour and I couldn’t hold in my excitement at being there. I was like a kid in a candy store. The history, architecture, and its literary significance was drawing me there and I wished to soak up as much of all of it as I possibly could in the short time we were there.
That night, after some fish and chips, the girls and I went on a comedy tour of Bath lead by a man in a purple blazer carrying purple balloons. I laughed so hard my ribs ached and I saw the city of Bath in all its glory at dusk.
Day Five: Don’t drink the water.
The first stop on our tour of well-being was to the Roman Baths to take the natural water, with a bit of a history lesson along the way. There’s a very big museum which plots the history of the Roman Baths, bringing modern technology and historic pieces to life. If you’re someone who finds the history pill difficult to swallow, this museum will score big with you. For me, I can easily spend a day in a single museum looking over the pieces while still not managing to see everything.
When you come to the end of the Roman Baths museum, you have the option of tasting the waters. Believed to have health benefits, people would come from far and wide to take advantage of them. Eager to see if these waters would improve my health, I took the little paper cup, filled it with the warmish, mineral infused water, and took my fill. Instantly, it formed a congealed mass in my stomach that threatened to be re-introduced to the open air. Walking through Bath towards the Jane Austen Centre & Regency Tea Room for high tea, the feeling only became worse. Ugh – how could people drink this swill?! It wasn’t until I was happily ensconced in at a table in the window with a plate full of scones and a steaming cup of tea in front of me that I could begin to trust my stomach again. Two scones, two cups of tea and regency themed stationary and music under my arm, I was feeling myself again.
We did a quick stop at Lacock to see the beautiful houses, which have starred in many regency films throughout the years and are still occupied by people today. The only draw back to living in a place? You can’t drive your car around town. But looking around and not seeing three cars parked outside one house, or a spider web of power poles marking the landscape, this made me think that that was a very small price to pay to live in a place like this.
A quick stop to see the Avebury Stone Circle, Manor house and garden then is was back to London for the end of the tour. We arrived back into the big smoke in the midst of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of my Cornwall Crusader with Haggis Adventures. I would recommend them to anyone who wants a fun, interesting tour throughout Britain and Ireland. Haggis is a tour, but not as you know it. No flag on a stick or scheduled shopping stops. It’s experience, it’s excitement, it’s Haggis.