The Pirates of Pendennis

SH-Cornish pastyEvery year, Edie Wolfe takes a vacation with her younger sister, Rosamund. Most of the time, they rent a cottage on one of the Champlain Islands or travel up to Montreal, Quebec.

But this year, they decided to treat themselves to a long vacation in England. They’ve been talking about doing this for years.

Of course, Edie is writing emails home and sending pictures to her family and friends.

I thought you would enjoy reading them too.

I hope you enjoy today’s Carding Chronicle. Please share it with your friends.

Carding is a fictional town in Vermont that’s celebrated in four novels (so far). You can find links to them all after Edie’s description of her travels in England.

This week, Edie and Rosie are enjoying themselves in Falmouth in Cornwall.

Hello folks,

Rosie and I are now in Cornwall, in the city of Falmouth so named because it sits on the mouth of the River Fal.

I think I’m in love. Living in Vermont gives one a fine appreciation for land that rises and falls (see below) and the flattest thing in this charming place is the river. Or maybe the main thoroughfare which goes by the name of High Street or Market Street or Church Street, depending what part of it you’re walking on.

Falmouth landscape
View of Falmouth, England rising from its main thoroughfare, High Street.

It was rather rainy the day we arrived so we decided to make it a museum day. Falmouth is the home of the wonderful National Maritime Museum which details the amazing history of the port and has a Pirate School for kids.

Piracy in this part of the world is not the stuff of legend, it’s the stuff of reality. Piracy was big business here for decades, especially during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The long arm of her navy did not extend this far west so the men (and some women) who called Falmouth home took what they wanted, when they wanted, and where they wanted.

And yes, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that Elizabeth (and her minions) looked the other way quite a lot because many of the victimized ships were Spanish.

Aye, there’s the rub.

Pirates may be regarded as either thieves or entrepreneurs, depending on what side of the mainmast you’re standing. If you were a Spaniard during the Tudor era, you’d describe the pirates of Falmouth as bloodthirsty thieves. But if you were the British Royal Navy, you’d be glad of them because you benefited from the pirates’ boat-building skills. They were innovators in the craft, and as their knowledge spread through the Elizabethan world, the British navy’s ships (and their sailors) became the masters of the world.

(There’s a superb book about the history of Falmouth and the origins of its piracy called the Levelling Sea by Philip Marsden—highly recommended.)

This is a good example of something my father used to say: “At the base of every fortune is a crime.”

Pendennis Castle
Pendennis Castle, Falmouth, England

After our trip to the museum, the winds changed so that we could hike up to Pendennis Castle. Built by King Henry VIII, Pendennis is situated on a high bluff right at the mouth of the Fal and the view from up there is stunning. (see below)

Harbor from Pendennis Castle
View of the Fal River as it meets the sea from Pendennis Castle in Falmouth, England

This spot has been used and abandoned more than a few times, including during World War II. It is now maintained by the good folks of English Heritage. We roamed all over the inside and outside of Pendennis (those stone spiraling staircases gave me pause because they’re so narrow and steep), and then settled in with the crowd to enjoy two men who showed off the boom and bang (and it is LOUD) of the guns and cannons used during the Tudor period.

Yeah, the kids loved it.

I think I could spend a lifetime here in Cornwall and never have enough hours in the day to thoroughly enjoy everything this special place has to offer. Because it reaches so far out into the sea, Cornwall benefits more from the Gulf Stream than any other place in England. That means you can grow just about anything here and they’ve got the gardens to prove it.

Camellias at Trelisik
Dogwoods at Trellisick Garden in Cornwall

We’ve been to three of them: the idyllic Trebah, the subtropical Trelissick (Lowarth Trelesyk in the Cornish language), and the amazing Eden Project.

Our AirBnB host here in Falmouth is Kevin Bishop, and he was kind enough to introduce us to his parents, Janet and Brian, who brought us to Trebah. There’s a great winding path up, down and around the slope that takes you to the sea. The gardens are full of rhododendrons, waterfalls, monkey puzzle trees, and incredible plantings.

One of the great differences between what I think of as American gardening and British gardening is the English use of shrubs and trees which, to my eyes, makes a far more interesting landscape. I know I couldn’t possibly grow most of what we’re enjoying here but I can sense more shrubs in my future once I’m back home in Carding.

The Eden Project is as much a wonder to visit as it is a wonderful story. In 1995, this spot in St. Austell was a clay pit, rather desolate and played out. But Tim Smit and a team of invaluable friends and advisors had an idea that grew out of their work together in the Lost Gardens of Heligan. Smit and company had been so inspired by Heligan, they wanted to continue their work and build an ecological showcase that not only brought people and botanicals together, it would be proof that reclamation and recovery of the land and soil is possible.

Biodomes-Eden Project
Biodomes at the Eden Project, St. Austell, Cornwall

There are a lot of lessons to be learned here.

Eden opened in March of 2001 and by June of that year, over a million people had visited. Since then, this spot has grown in size and in the number of avenues visitors can explore. You can stay here, go to school here to earn a degree in sustainability or work as an apprentice among many other options.

Heather in bloom at Eden Project
Heather in bloom on the walkway to the biodomes at the Eden Project, St. Austell, Cornwall. And yes, it smells heavenly.

The centerpiece of the project are the two enormous biomes (pictured above) that rise from the earth. From a distance, they look like mounds of soap bubbles. One of them—the Rainforest Biome—houses the largest “rainforest in capitivity,” as the Edenites say, while the second—the Mediterranean biome—displays an amazing variety of plants that like hot, dry weather from cacti to cork trees and the grasses of Australia to tulips.

Bee sculpture-Eden Project
Huge wooden bee sculpture outside the biodomes at the Eden Project, St. Austell, Cornwall

What an amazing place!

Dragon at Eden Project
A friendly dragon at the Eden Project, St. Austell, Cornwall

Back in Falmouth, we took the recommendation of our host and spent the day on a cruise from the Prince of Wales dock up the river  to the ancient city of Truro. These Enterprise boats function as hop-on, hop-off trips so we hopped off to visit Trelissick Gardens.

Falmouth from river Fal
View of Falmouth from an Enterprise boat, Cornwall.

Okay, I’m running out of adjectives to describe the gardens here—wide sweeps of lawn with a view to the River Fal and the sea beyond, stone-sided paths guarded by trees and trees and trees of all varieties, riotous color among the shrubs, a beautiful house that’s being restored by the National Trust…and…and… (see below)

House at Trelisik
Conservatory of the house at Trelissick Gardens, currently being renovated by the National Trust, Cornwall, England.


Rosie and I were in raptures.

And then there was the easygoing trip back to Falmouth by boat where we treated ourselves to a supper of Cornish pasties (pronounced pass-teas) at an Oggy Oggy.

Oggy Oggy is a chain of restaurants in this part of the world that specialize in pasties. Gawd they were good.

By the way, no one’s quite sure where the term “oggy oggy” comes from. Some believe it’s a Cornish word or phrase meaning pasty while others believe it comes from a common cheer that you hear at soccer games where one side yells “oggy, oggy, oggy” and the other side replies “oy oy.”

Nope, doesn’t make any sense to me either.

Kevin has been a great guide to Falmouth and Cornwall. He was born in this city and it is easy to see how much he loves this enchanting place. We spent the better part of a day with him as he introduced us to rugby (more interesting than I ever expected) and then took us over to the north coast of Cornwall where we walked Gwithian Beach. You can see Godrevy Lighthouse from here. If you’ve ever read Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, this is the spot that inspired her.

Rugby game-Penzance
A rugby match in Penzance, Cornwall. The home town team, the Pirates, won.
Gwithian Beach
Gwithian Beach on the north coast of Cornwall.

Yeah, I’m totally in love, can you tell?

Unfortunately, our week here is coming to and end. But Rosie and I have already promised ourselves to come back.

Oh, one more note before I close—if you think that Americans love their dogs, you’ve never been to England. Canines rule here. (See below.)

Love until next time,

Brits and their dogs
The British people are totally in love with their dogs. This was not the only canine we saw being wheeled about in a pram.

You can visit Carding any time in my novels, The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Lights in Water, Dancing, is now available for your reading pleasure.

You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday morning without any further effort on your part.

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