Category Archives: Falmouth

Watery birthday, Part I

What do you get a man who already owns pretty much everything he needs and wants? If you’re my parents, and you’re shopping for my husband’s birthday present, you buy a gift certificate that can be applied towards an inflatable canoe. That may sound like a slightly unusual purchase, but it is something that Sasha has been wanting for quite a while now.

2014-07-27 14.34.21Before I arrived in Falmouth, Sasha used to do a bit of surfing, but the early mornings, cold water, and shortage of big waves cumulatively diminished his interest in the sport. He continued to periodically don a wetsuit and go for a snorkel, but his days of cruising over the water’s surface appeared to be over.

When I moved here with my kayak, I anticipated that we would frequently head out into the bay or paddle up one of the many nearby creeks and rivers. However, I failed to appreciate just how exhausting it would be to even contemplate carrying my kayak down two flights of stairs, through a parking lot, down the street, through the Falmouth Watersports Centre’s boat storage lot, and to the ramp where we could actually put the craft into the water. I am ashamed to say that neither of us has taken it out since I moved here in early 2010–though we’ve frequently discussed the need to buy a water vehicle that Sasha could take out alongside me in my kayak, or that the two of us could power together.

As I recall, Sasha first thought of buying an inflatable watercraft several years ago after he saw a photo of the Molokini:

This transparent kayak–which costs a whopping $1800–is not inflatable, but it did lead Sasha to discover a range of boats that are both see-through and affordable–such as National Geographic’s Eco-explorer Boat. Once he realized that we could own a craft that was easy to both store and transport, and that wouldn’t break the bank, it was only a matter of time before one came into our lives.

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So it was that we recently found ourselves paddling through Falmouth Harbour on an overcast but unusually warm and humid late July day. We’re lucky that we’d had such a tremendous run of hot weather, because it meant that the Cornish waters were not nearly as chilly as normal. You tend to drip water all over yourself while paddling, but this felt refreshing rather than frigid.

At least, that’s how the water felt at first, when it was just coming off our paddles. We weren’t too far away from the loading ramp when Sasha commented on how there was a lot of moisture around his feet and under his seat. He was sitting at the back of the canoe, and is heavier than I am, so at first I assumed that all my splashes were running backwards and accumulating at his end of the boat. Soon enough, however, he reported that the water was nearing his lap; not long after, I began to feel a pool forming around my own chair.

It was at this point that Sasha casually mentioned a hole in the back of the boat. Initially, I thought he meant a puncture, but it turned out that he was referring to a valve like this:

Image courtesy of Carmo

He hadn’t been able to find the plug for the valve, so he’d just assumed that it functioned as a sort of drain for any water that happened to get in the canoe while we were out on the water. Sasha may be an expert in biology, but a physicist he is not. Luckily, the kayak was inflated in such a way that it couldn’t sink even if fully filled with water, since the sides and top were isolated from the main body. Thus, while we continued to sit ever lower in the water–and struggle ever harder against the waves buffeting our bow–we were never in danger of having to swim to shore.

Happily, we were not too far from a floating pontoon dock erected by the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club. We pulled over, dislodging the juvenile gulls that had been sitting there begging for food and generating copious amounts of guano. I could have done without stepping onto the poo-covered surface, but needs must. We dumped out our watery cargo, plugged the hole, and set off once again. 2014-07-27 14.02.46


I’d originally thought we might go all the way to the docks down by the Penryn Bridge, but the tide was too low for us to get that far; that entire area becomes quite an extensive mud flat when the water isn’t moving inland. Instead, we made an exaggerated U-turn near Mylor Creek and the Truro River, where we could see beached boats of varying ages, along with a wide variety of waterbirds.

There hadn’t been much wind during our outward journey, and what breeze was present had been in our faces. This gave me the mistaken impression that we would have an easier time paddling home than we’d had when going towards Penryn. However, I soon noticed that I seemed to be working awfully hard to make only tiny increments of progress; further, although we hadn’t needed any breaks during the first half of our journey, we had to take several on the way back. Clearly, though we’d been going against the wind on our trip out, we had been going with the tide; when we turned around, the piddling breeze at our backs did virtually nothing to assist us in our battle against the current.

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Feeling happy to have reached the safety, and relative dryness, of shore

And so it was that we novices learned one of the most fundamental rules of coastal watersporting: One must always check the tide times, and plan accordingly. Alternatively, one could avoid tides altogether by going inland and paddling on a lake, which is what I always used to do. In any case, though the maiden voyage of our inflatable craft was certainly eventful, we ultimately escaped relatively unscathed (save for a few sore muscles).

It didn’t take much time to fill the canoe with air or to deflate it once we returned home, and it was easy to carry it next door to the access ramp–where we were ignored by the Harbor Master and therefore managed to avoid a £5 fee. With the exception of our life vests (purchased separately), all our supplies fit into a single, sturdy carrier bag–which means we can easily throw the kit into our car and look for navigable waters elsewhere.

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All in all, I’d say that Captain Birthday Boy was pleased with his gift.



Where to eat in (or near) Falmouth: Potager Garden

As of this summer, I will have lived in Falmouth for five (!) years. Despite this, there are still nearby places that I’ve not had a chance to explore, and, in some cases, that I haven’t even heard of. Until recently, this was true of Potager Garden and Glasshouse Cafe, a venue located in Constantine, about six miles from my apartment. It only popped onto my radar after some of my closest friends held a farewell party there a couple months ago. Unfortunately, I had to miss the party because I was stranded in the Isles of Scilly. Luckily, however, I had a second chance to visit Potager last week during the geography department education away day.

A view of the grounds, with the glasshouse cafe in the background

Potager is normally only open from Friday to Sunday, but they agreed to open just for us on a Monday. We had the entire place to ourselves, which was amazing. Judging from how many of my friends routinely visit Potager with their families (especially those including young children), I get the sense that the venue is usually pretty busy and probably filled with the sound of frolicking kiddies. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but for a group of people who had just wrapped up the most hectic week of the academic year, it was extremely pleasant to retreat to the countryside and enjoy the sounds of silence, punctuated only by an occasional bird vocalization.

Cranesbills growing outside the greenhouse
Cranesbills growing outside the greenhouse

Potager’s menu is all-vegetarian, and uses items sourced locally. In fact, there is a large chicken run in the front yard, as well as an extensive veggie patch, so I assume that eggs and at least some of the produce are obtained right next to the cafe. The restaurant is well known for its frittatas, hummus, salads, and elderflower cake–all of which were on offer for our crowd. I had spoken to the chef prior to our arrival and arranged for our academics to choose from one of two dining options: a mezze platter with granary bread, salads, hummus, and olives, or a frittata, also served with hummus and salad. I chose the latter and, as you can see, my serving was absolutely enormous:

When I ordered the fritatta, I was expecting something made predominantly of eggs; instead, I got a gigantic wedge of boiled potatoes, held together with egg. It tasted great, but was much more filling than I needed given all the other food on my plate! 

We’d been in the middle of a serious discussion when the food was delivered, but everyone quickly fell silent as they concentrated on the much more important task of eating delicious food.

picnic table edit
It’s hard work to make sure the University of Exeter’s geography department is so excellent. We couldn’t have achieved as much as we did without such excellent brain-fuel.

Prior to lunch, we’d held a group discussion at the picnic table out in front of the cafe, and we’d also split up into pairs or small groups and distributed ourselves in various picturesque locations throughout the garden. After our meal, we explored further seating options: the dangerously warm, and therefore somnolent, greenhouse–which was outfitted not just with plants but also with picnic tables, an art installation, and a ping-pong table–and also the outdoor table in between the two large greenhouses. Unfortunately, it began to rain while we were seated in the latter of these two locations, so we had to retreat indoors once again for the remainder of our meeting.

statue edit
One of the pieces of art sprinkled throughout the greenhouse

After we’d had a bit of time to digest our massive meals, we were served incredibly generous portions of dessert–the seasonally appropriate elderflower and almond cake, topped with a lovely lemony icing. I had absolutely no room for more food, but the Potager folks were kind enough to wrap up my slice so that I could take it home and eat it for breakfast the next day (I’m not sure that’s quite the timing they had in mind, but it worked for me).

All too soon, our meeting came to an end and we had to pile into our van to drive back to campus. This was when we encountered the only real drawback to Potager: the fact that it is located in a fairly remote location accessible only by narrow, windy Cornish lanes. I have to give credit to our director of education for avoiding making me carsick; however, he was assisted in this achievement by a farmer who pulled out in front of us on an incredibly slow tractor hauling a huge load of hay bales. We passed several places where the farmer could have pulled over and let us (and the growing line of traffic behind us) go past, but he opted not to. It was an excruciatingly slow journey, inspiring a cheer of relief when we arrived at a junction at which the farmer turned left, while we turned right.

swing portrait edit
The Potager grounds feature not only a swing but also several hammocks–the perfect place to relax and digest a homemade vegetarian meal

Luckily, the traffic jam wasn’t quite enough to cast a shadow over our otherwise pleasant experience at Potager. It was a beautiful place with incredible food, and all at an unbelievable price (in a good way). Hopefully our amazing run of good weather will continue so that visitors can experience the delights of dining there al fresco; even if it rains, though, there is plenty of indoor seating available so that Potager can be enjoyed come rain or shine.


Spa day!

Back when I was a university student, I used to think that life was pretty hectic at the end of the year. There was all that studying to do, all those exams to take, all that packing, and, of course, summer employment to find. Until this year, I didn’t really have any appreciation of just how incredibly stressful things were for all the other people involved in the end-of-semester routine–the academics who had to grade a mountain of papers in very little time, and the administrators who had the monumental task of turning a collection of grades from individual assignments into final averages for each course, across the year, and–for graduates–across the entire academic career.

Thanks to the fact that I was one of those overworked administrators this year, my schedule over the last couple months has been absolutely crazy. I’ve been arriving early, leaving late, working through lunch, sometimes getting to the end of the day and realizing I hadn’t even made time to take a “comfort break.” Towards the end, I also started waking up in the middle of the night, pondering how best to tick off all the things on my to-do list. Needless to say, this left me feeling a bit weary.

To give myself a light at the end of the tunnel, I booked myself a spa outing on the Saturday after the last day of term. Originally, I was just going to go for a couple of beauty/relaxation treatments and then return home, but then I realized that the date of my outing coincided with the first full day of the Falmouth Sea Shanty Festival. I couldn’t bear to return home to a long evening (and night) of boisterous maritime music right on my doorstep, so I also reserved a room at the historic Falmouth Hotel. Decadent? Yes–but also delightful.

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The vegetarian grill

In a way, the celebrations actually began the night before, with an end-of-year BBQ arranged by the geographers in our college. We all chipped in a few quid and brought our own main dish, and the organizers went out and purchased all the rest. It was an amazing feeling, after so many weeks of preparation, to finally click the button that released all the grades to the students, then walk outside to a beautiful Cornish spring evening, drink a freshly made mojito, gorge on a juicy burger, and then finish it all off with some homemade cupcakes and chat with colleagues.

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Our sun-drenched patio, through the haze of smoke wafting up from the grills

The next day, I slept in until 8 AM (pretty impressive for me), ran errands at a leisurely pace, and then made my way to St. Michael’s Hotel and Spa. It’s only about a fifteen-minute walk from my apartment, but although I regularly walk past the hotel, I’d never actually been in. Unsurprisingly, given both the location and the time of year, there was a wedding party lounging in the front garden upon my arrival, and I felt a bit awkward strolling up in my casual attire and backpack. It is quite a nice hotel, and I certainly didn’t match the look of the other clientele. Luckily, there is a separate entrance for people who have come to use the spa/pool/gym facilities, so I was able to duck out of the way and make sure I didn’t accidentally photobomb the bride and groom.

St. Michael's entrance
Right this way for rest and relaxation!

I had scheduled both a Swedish massage and a manicure, but I wasn’t sure about the order in which they were going to be given. Part of me wanted the manicure first since I knew the massage would leave me in a stupor, but part of me wanted the massage first so that I wouldn’t be totally groggy when it came time to walk up the street to my evening accommodations.

It turns out that my “beauty specialist” (Carly) had planned for the latter option. I started with a full hour of massage on my back, shoulders, legs, and arms. It’s always amazing to me how quickly the time can fly when you are getting a massage. An hour of any other activity–grade entry, for instance, just to use a recent relevant example–can drag on seemingly forever, and yet a massage seems to be over in the blink of an eye. I could feel Carly locate and attack several knots–mostly in the shoulder area, and likely stemming from the hours of computer time I’ve put in over the past several weeks. There was one point, between her work on my left and right legs, when I actually began to fall asleep just in the amount of time it took Carly to go fetch a new bottle of massage oil. Clearly, I was exhausted.

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Lubed legs post-massage

The hour was over all too soon, and I was led out into the waiting area to pick my nail polish and allow Carly to prepare the treatment room for Round 2. I looked for a color that was attractive and elegant without being too loud or over-the-top; eventually, I settled for a sparkly gold. It wasn’t until Carly was about to apply the polish that I realized it was not dissimilar to the hue I purchased for my junior prom, for which I wore a (matching) glittery gold dress. Time has obviously not affected my fashion sense too much (for better or worse).

Unlike the massage, the manicure provided ample opportunity for me to chat with Carly, which was a little awkward. She was very nice, but I was still a bit dazed from the massage and was therefore struggling to have any coherent thoughts. We did, however, manage to discuss the ins and outs of beauty school (I find it amazing that each student is expected to learn things as diverse as manicuring and massaging, rather than specializing in one particular area), the purposes of the various things that she was doing to my hands, and also the fact that one of the folks in the wedding party upstairs had set fire to the banquet table during dinner.

Painted nails
Gold and sparkly

My nails looked quite lovely when Carly had finished, but they were still in a delicate state. I was escorted to the Relaxation Room and advised to wait at least ten minutes before touching anything; at that point, all of the varnish and protective coats should be dry, allowing me to pick up my bags and head off. Unfortunately, as is typically the case when I paint my nails, I managed to brush one finger against something within about two minutes of completing the manicure; this left me with nine beautiful nails and one with a little scar. *sigh*

relaxation room
The “Relaxation Room” at St. Michael’s

Waiting in the Relaxation Room was a bit weird because I couldn’t really do anything. I wanted to look at my phone but couldn’t yank it out of my bag. I wanted to read a book or magazine, but couldn’t pick one up. I wanted a drink of water, but couldn’t figure out how to extract my bottle from my backpack. Luckily, my ten minutes of waiting passed about as quickly as my 60 minutes of massage, and I was soon able to head out into the absolutely stunning evening.

Falmouth Hotel
The grand old lady of Falmouth’s waterfront strip

I made my way up the road to Falmouth Hotel, which I’ve only visited once before. That previous trip was associated with an education away day, and involved one of the hotel’s meeting rooms; I’d never previously been upstairs to one of the guest rooms. My room was a tiny little space on the top floor, with a window overlooking the back garden. It was oriented in the general direction of my apartment and, to my horror, I could actually hear the sounds of sea shanties wafting in on the breeze! Luckily, the noise wasn’t overwhelming, and I was able to drown it out with a bit of music from my MP3 player.

Once ensconced, I immediately set about the very important task of giving myself a facial–one of those girly activities that is much easier to accomplish either when the menfolk aren’t at home, or when you are away from the menfolk. My typical “treatment” involves a series of three different masks, and as each one worked its magic, I sat in the wide window seat, basking in the sun, listening to music, and playing word games on my phone. Much better than worrying about students’ grades.

After all of that was done, I took a quick shower to rid myself of the excessive amounts of massage oil still glistening on my skin; actually, I was so well lubricated that I’m amazed I’d been able to sit down anywhere without sliding off the seat. Feeling limber and refreshed, I headed back downstairs to take a stroll along the seafront. On the way, I paused to admire the dramatic lighting in the main stairway of the hotel:

The simultaneously spiraling lights and staircase made me think of DNA

The evening had gotten much cooler, but it was still really lovely. There wasn’t much of a breeze, and the water was incredibly calm; rather than hearing the waves rushing towards the sand, I could only detect the faint sound of them lapping ever so softly at the edge of the beach. By that point in the evening, many people had headed back inside, so I pretty much had the sidewalk to myself.

Pendennis Point sunset–one of the best views in town

I headed down towards the Swanpool Nature Reserve so I could sit on my favorite bench and take in my favorite scenery. I love walking around at twilight, which I have always found to be a magical time of day. It is nice to live in a place where it is safe to do so, and where you can enjoy such a gorgeous landscape when you do. I sat for a while, listening to music and watching the quaking-grass shiver in the light breeze that was just beginning to roll in off the water. Beautiful.

quaking grass
Quaking-grass waving gently in the golden sun

Before it could get too cold or too dark, I eventually left my perch and headed back towards the hotel, where I sat in the lobby for a while to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi. When I’d had enough of being beaten at word games by my friends and family (how rude of them!), I headed upstairs for a blissfully calm and quiet night of sleep.

I’m going to need a few more relaxing weekends to fully recharge after this crazy semester, but my spa day certainly went a long way towards getting the process started. Perhaps I should treat myself more often. =)