SECRET CORNWALL: SALTASH, TORPOINT AND THE RAME PENINSULA
Visit Saltash, Torpoint and the Rame Peninsula to go off the beaten track to explore the lesser known areas of Cornwall
IAN WILKINSON explores one of the lesser known areas of Cornwall - Saltash and the Rame Peninsula
Considering its close proximity to the largest city on the south coast of England, the Rame Peninsula is relatively undiscovered. Certainly it escapes the attention of the vast majority of visitors who stream over the Tamar Bridge each summer en route to some of our county's better publicised resorts. Even Plymothians, who are but a stone's throw from Cremyll, the gateway to Rame, don't seem to flock there in great numbers, except perhaps on warm, sunny weekends when a convenient ferry from the Mayflower Steps drops sun-seekers directly on to the attractive beach at Cawsand.
Despite its ancient Devon connections, this peninsula is most definitely Cornish
Perhaps that is why the area has always been known as Cornwall's forgotten corner. And, oddly enough, some of it was not even in Cornwall until relatively recently, since for centuries Maker parish and the land to the west of Plymouth Sound, including the Edgcumbe Estate, Millbrook and the village of Kingsand, was part of Devon, only returning to Cornwall by Act of Parliament in 1844.
Despite its ancient Devon connections, this peninsula is most definitely Cornish. It would be hard to find two coastal villages more so than Kingsand and Cawsand, hard to find a headland, black, brooding and spectacular, that more epitomises the Cornish coast than Rame Head, and hard to believe that the beautiful golden sands of Whitsand Bay could be anywhere else but Cornwall. The peninsula's isolation has protected it from the excesses of tourism, from ugly modern developments, and from the ravages of the motorcar. It is largely unspoilt, with some wonderful natural attractions and it is perfect for a weekend break!
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About town in this part of south-east Cornwall means either Saltash or Torpoint. Saltash, by far the larger of the two, is a major gateway into Cornwall, being at the western end of the two great bridges that span the Tamar. Brunel's magnificent rail bridge, the Royal Albert, celebrates 150 years this year and it's still a thrill to board a train in Plymouth and travel in style, just as the Victorians would have done, into Cornwall. The adjacent modern road bridge lacks some of the romance of its neighbour but it is an elegant structure in its own right. Widened a couple of years ago by the simple expedient of bolting an additional lane on either side, the southern outer lane is now reserved for cyclists and pedestrians. The views are superb, if a little scary.
Saltash itself has a long main street with a good selection of shops and at its eastern end Lower Fore Street descends steeply to the waterfront. Dominated by the granite piers of the rail bridge this is a lively area with three waterside taverns, a riverside walk with a children's playground and a rather nice mural depicting the history of the town.
A couple of miles downstream, Torpoint is another gateway town dominated at its seaward end by the Torpoint Ferry and inland by the massive Royal Navy training establishment, HMS Raleigh. Shopping here is rather more limited than in Saltash but you can still buy most of life's essentials in the small shops just above the ferry slipway in Fore Street.
Three things to take home
A piece of art work. The Morley Contemporary Art Gallery at Polbathic near Torpoint exhibits and sells paintings and sculptures by local artists. The gallery holds a stock of these pieces, which can be purchased there and then. The Panache Gallery in Kingsand also has a good selection of local artists' work.
An exotic plant. Mount Edgcumbe Country Park cultivates thousands of native and sub-tropical plants and cuttings from some of these can be purchased from the small shop adjacent to the main gateway in Cremyll. The camellias in particular are very beautiful.
A book. In 1985 local historian Tony Carne wrote the definitive local guide to the area. Entitled Cornwall's Forgotten Corner (ISBN 0 946143 13 7), it is a mine of information, with chapters on the individual parishes and some general information on sea angling and birdwatching. It is not always easy to find but I have often seen it for sale in some of the small shops in Rame and occasionally in the pubs and is well worth the effort in tracking down.
Restaurants are few and far between in this area, but the Whitsand Bay, Liscawn and Cawsand Bay hotels all have restaurants open to non-residents. Many of the pubs in Rame also serve food, ranging from the humble bar snack to something approaching fine dining. Of course a visit to Matt Corner's View Restaurant in Millbrook should definitely be on the menu.
Things to do
Mount Edgcumbe is an interesting property with world-class gardens. With 800 acres of formal gardens, themed gardens, beautiful lawns, cliff-top walks, woods, architectural follies and views out to sea, it makes for a wonderful few hours. If you go in March or early April, the national camellia collection is in full bloom and there are guided tours by the head gardener. Admission to the gardens is free.The National Trust's property, Antony House, near Torpoint is also worth visiting, it contains some fine paintings and has delightful gardens.
Why not catch a ferry?
Both the Torpoint ferry and the Cremyll ferry offer wonderful views of the Tamar. The Torpoint ferry is free for pedestrians and from the upper decks you can see the dockyards and warships on the Devonport side and views of Torpoint, Wilcove and The Hamoaze on the other. The Cremyll ferry is for pedestrians and connects Stonehouse to Cremyll. For a modest fare you can see the finest view possible of the Royal William Yard, together with luxury yachts in the marina and views of Mount Edgcumbe on the Cornish side.
Walk this way
The Cornish section of the South West Coast Path begins at Cremyll and follows the peninsula's coastline to Whitsand Bay and beyond. Rame Head and Whitsand are spectacular and the black cliffs contrast brilliantly with wide-open sky and sparkling sea. My favourite stretch is from Cremyll to Kingsand. This beautiful and relatively easy walk takes an hour and a half. There's a great pub at each end -the Edgcumbe Arms in Cremyll and the Rising Sun in Kingsand!
Saltash Tourist Information
01752 844846 /www.saltash.gov.uk
Plymouth Tourist Information
01752 306330 /www.visitplymouth.co.uk