Plymouth is primarily known as the place from where the Pilgrim Fathers embarked on their voyage to America, and this year the town is celebrating the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower.
In the eighteenth century Captain James Cook set sail from Plymouth on his three famous voyages, and it is still home to a large naval base and dockyard. An area where boating of every form is enjoyed, the harbour is filled with pleasure boats.
Plymouth Hoe, six klm of the English Channel, has its Southwest corner in Cornwall and its South East in Devon. Overlooking the harbour and dominating the site, Smeaton’s Tower is a red and white-striped lighthouse where if you want to climb the 93 steps you will have amazing views across the Plymouth Sound. Flanked by a row of elegant houses, which includes the local Lord Mayor’s official residence, and one displaying a blue plaque indicating that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes, had lived there.
One of the major attractions on the seafront is the glass fronted National Marine Aquarium that boasts the deepest tank, the Atlantic Ocean, in the UK. The aquarium is on numerous levels in a winding circle so I had to walk up numerous stairs and work my way down. While I was there a lady was giving an informative talk on what we, the visitors could see in the tank. To maximise on a visit, there are also plaques with explanations, and interactive screens, but it is also worth trying to coincide a visit with one of their talks.
Whenever I am by the sea, one of my must-haves is freshly caught fish, preferably fish and chips! Conveniently next door and with a large outdoor seating is the Rockfish Restaurant which promotes itself as only selling sustainable food. As my visit coincided with the crab season (April to November) I picked the dressed crab that comes with unlimited chips. Don’t miss the chance of visiting their toilets for its fun broadcast of a radio shipping forecast.
The quickest way of getting to the various places around the Sound is by ferry in the form of a small, motorised boat. Poppy and I took one to the 17thMount Batten Gun Tower. Groups of young people were scaling a nearby wall while others were being shown how to tie their life-jackets. They were from, I latterly learnt, the Mountbatten Watersports and Activities Centre. A charity led organization that runs a wide range of outdoor activities for both adults and children including some specifically for physically impaired local children. The range of activities includes taster sessions for novices, and has on-site accommodation.
A further ferry ride in the other direction took Poppy and I to the Royal William Yard, home to the largest collection of Grade 1 listed buildings in the UK. The interior of one of these has been transformed into the Ocean Studios, a large workspace on several levels for artists and craftspeople. A coffee/restaurant space on the ground floor has a space for artists’ exhibitions. Other buildings have been transformed, without spoiling their facades, into restaurants. I found my way to Le Vignoble, a wine bar with a difference. It stocks over 300 wines and I was able to buy a card that allowed me for 0.80p a time to have a taster of several different wines. According to owner Yannick, people tend to drink wine that they know where-as here they can sample a selection without paying a fortune. The wines are kept in an enoround, a system that maintains them in perfect condition for twenty-one days. http://www.levignoble.co.uk
During the summer months as well as celebrating the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower, Plymouth holds a variety of festivals. When planning a visit, it is worth checking as to what is on and more importantly where. In August, over several days at the Mountbatten Breakwater, they have a major national firework competition. While I was there, at the Royal William Yard, , there was a music festival as well as a display of Vintage Porche cars.
Near the water the Barbican is an area of narrow cobbled streets and quirky little shops. Among them in Southside Street is another of Plymouth’s major attractions, the home since 1793 for Plymouth Gin. I joined their forty-five minute guided tour. I initially thought it would be similar to gin tours I had experienced before where-as this one turned out to be different and very informative. As well as seeing how gin was made, I and the other people in the group I joined were given various spices to sniff that are used in making gin. We were also advised to check which brand tonic we put with our gin as some are more compatible than others. At the end of the tour our group were invited to their stylish rooftop bar where we were able to taste the 57% proof Naval gin, the normal being 41.2%. Our ticket included a drink or a miniature to take away as well as £1.00 voucher towards buying a bottle.
I stayed at the Moorland Garden Hotel, a short drive from Plymouth. Owned by the parents of Dragon’s Den Deborah Meaden, the hotel is not only dog-friendly but also borders onto the wild open expanse of Dartmoor National Park, a tranquil spot for relaxing which, after all, is what a holiday should be!
I travelled to Plymouth from Paddington Station on GWR (Great Western Railway), which has a restaurant car on some trains where meals are served by uniformed waiters at your table.
For more about Natasha’s visit to Plymouth, go to http://bit.ly/2tak46z