For the 3 and a 1/2 years that my boyfriend and I have been together, I’ve heard a lot about where he came. I’ve heard him wax nostalgic over the beauty of his native Southwest England, clotted cream, Woolworth’s, custard, pasties and all manner of British things, but I’ve not heard him say many positive things about his hometown of Plymouth. Mostly he’s talked about the rampant crime, disrespectful and rebellious youth, overly fast-paced lifestyle, terrible traffic, etc. So, imagine my surprise when, upon visiting said infernal city, I found instead a breathtakingly beautiful one.
We have been planning a Fall trip to the U.S. (his first) for almost a year now. We had a really busy summer so the last thing I imagined is that we would try to squeeze in a trip to England in the one free week we had before our big American tour. But, that’s exactly what we did. Monday morning saw us driving away from the grey fog of Central Brittany towards the coast.
We had just enough time for a quick tour of Roscoff before getting on the ferry…
I learned that he had not been exaggerating about the vertigo and nausea that this perilous crossing can induce. But, five hours later, we were relatively unscathed as Plymouth loomed into sight on the horizon. As we crawled closer and the shapes began to emerge, I was blown away by what I saw: a big city tucked into the shelter of a beautiful bay, with the expanse of the shimmering Atlantic ocean at its front, the sprawl of the moors at its back, Mount Edgcumbe and the Cornwall coast to it’s left and the Devon coast to its right.
By the time we reached the ferry port and drove our car past customs, a beautiful sunset had lit up the sky.
We passed quickly through the city center and headed out to the coastal countryside to his mom’s house for a reunion with his family (my first time meeting them!) and a much-needed good night’s sleep.
The next day we woke up early and set out for a tour of the city . There’s nothing like being shown around a city by a native. I loved all of the anecdotes, and randomly bumping into people he knew.
Our first stop once we got off the water taxi was the Mayflower steps, where the Pilgrims set off from to land in America.
From there we meandered our way through the Barbican, a port-side neighborhood with lots of rustic charm.
For lunch we stopped off for a famous Ivor Dewdney pasty. A pasty is a Cornish meat pie that is wildly popular in the Southwest, and according to my boyfriend, Ivor Dewdney is the best.
After lunch, we headed over to the Hoe, a vast and sprawling verdant neighborhood right on the water’s edge.
But, it’s not all rainbows and roses in Plymouth. Despite the beautiful geographical location and quaint neighborhoods like the Hoe and the Barbican, it was a city heavily bombed during World War II, and thus some of its beauty has suffered. Much like Brest and Lorient, many of those voids were rebuilt in that terrible 50’s, 60’s style mock Bauhaus architecture which just hasn’t aged well. And like all big cities, it has its safe neighborhoods and its sketchy neighborhoods. But all in all, it’s gorgeous.
On our second day, we fulfilled a long-awaited childhood dream of mine inspired by Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters when we visited the English moors.
Dartmoor is just a short 30 minute drive from the Plymouth city center, but it feels like a world away.
The moors were better than I could have ever imagined. The grass is springy and soft like a dream and so so green, the rivers have the clearest, sweetest water and the cows and sheep and horses run wild. Beautiful, ancient stone formations dot the hills that roll as far into the distance as you can see.
The animals on the moors are even happier than the Breton ones, if that’s possible.
After all that running around on the moors, we had a big appetite. Toby decided that I must try a traditional English Roast dinner, known as a carvery when you get it at a pub.
While Toby has made me many an English roast dinner before, it has never been on this scale. This was like Thanksgiving on steroids. So many things to choose from! 4 meats: Gammon, Ham, Turkey and Beef. 3 types of gravy, mint sauce, parsley cream sauce, cranberry sauce, assorted mustards, and the sides…apple sauce, stuffing, carrots, peas, cauliflower, mashed potato, roast potato, leeks, onions, and yorkshire puddings bigger than your head. I loaded up my plate, putting the smallest amount of everything, because of course I had to try it all. I finished it all off with a smattering of beef gravy, but somehow, according to Toby, I did it wrong. The gravy is supposed to be “the background” whatever that means. Oh well, I’ll never be English and I’ll never be French, but I’m getting used that that.
Even with the most minuscule amount of each thing, I really had to battle to finish it all. And yes, I did have to finish my plate, even though it have me a stomach ache for the rest of the day, because I’m stubborn and I abhor wasting food. As I sat there in the pub booth, moaning in pain, it suddenly made complete sense to me why Toby had never been enthralled by the idea of Thanksgiving. They have it every Sunday in England! And you can have it everyday for 6 pounds in a pub…
We headed back to Toby’s mom’s house for a long walk on the beach to help me digest.
All too soon our short trip was at an end and we were boarding the night ferry back to Brittany. Back to responsibilities and packing, before we’re off again to the USA.
A bientôt Plymouth, je t’adore…