A Visit to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard: HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the Mary Rose, a perfect time capsule that transports us into another world

On a recent trip to Portsmouth, we were absorbed into the lives of the great ships there, and their rich histories. The Mary Rose Museum shone out for us with its immersive experience and its astonishing recovery of details of the sailors’ lives back in 1545.

View of Portsmouth Gunwharf Quays Marine from the HMS Warrior

But HMS Warrior and HMS Victory also enthralled us as we explored both ships, full of wonder at the insights flooding in on us (in the metaphorical sense only!).

HMS Victory

The audio tour of the HMS Victory helped us to relive the dramatic and heartrending moments of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s fatal injury, his journey to the surgeon’s quarters and his final hours, with his loyal second-in-command Captain Hardy.

HMS Victory

The audio narration and dramatic re-enactment engaged us on every level, enabling us to imagine the feelings, sights, sounds and smells of that experience, along with all the emotions of horror and disgust and tragedy and to guess at how the news of victory may have provided some compensation to Nelson for the imminent loss of his life.

Underneath HMS Victory in the dry dock
Underneath the bow of HMS Victory

HMS Warrior, a magnificent Victorian armoured ship in immaculate condition ‘never fired a gun in anger’. Built in 1860 it ran on half sail half steam.

On board HMS Warrior

Now, with Living History actors on board playing the part of the original sailors we felt a real sense of how it must have been to spend time on board as a member of the crew.

HMS Warrior

Beyond these two wonderful ships, the Mary Rose Museum filled us with awe. Sunk in the Solent in 1545, and raised over four centuries later, the Mary Rose and her story exerts a curious power over us: her many artefacts recovered along with the mortal remains of 129 crew, this exhibition was a truly amazing experience for us. The number of people originally on board at the time of the tragedy is not known for sure and it varies between 500 and 700. It is thought the shop was overloaded, and this may have been one of the factors causing it to sink. The number of survivors is also thought to have been between 35 and 40. They would have chanced to be in the right place on the ship at the right time to escape and be rescued by small boats sent out to save them. Many others were trapped by the “anti-boarding nets” stretched over the decks to prevent the enemy swarming on board. The ship sunk very quickly, and half of it ended up deep in silt so it was preserved.

Now, the recovered part of the timber hull is held in a state of perfect equilibrium, so the timbers no longer need to be sprayed with water or viewed through portholes. Instead, thanks to a fine balance of atmosphere and temperature and a series of air-lock doors, we may gaze at the recovered hull in its entirety, at every deck level.

Most poignant of all are the many objects and possessions of the sailors and the remarkable amount of details about several individuals on board: the Master Gunner, the Master Carpenter, the Pursar, the Archer, the Surgeon – their lives, medical histories and personal items.

I am in awe of the skill, ingenuity and expertise of the archaeologists, the divers, the forensic anthropologists and other scientists and all those who made this exhibition possible, for us to see and imagine and empathise with those many hundreds of people who lost their lives that day in 1545.

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A Poignant Story from Charlestown, St Austell Cornwall

We recently visited Charlestown, a beautiful little Cornish seaport, which opened up several stories for me. Not only did we explore the moving and compelling tales of numerous historical shipwrecks and recovered artefacts  in the Shipwreck Treasure Museum: but also I learned the poignant story of the man who created, designed and built Charlestown: Charles Rashleigh.

Along with the history of Charles Rashleigh’s rise and fall, we have numerous heartrending accounts of shipwrecks in the museum. As we wander through the museum gazing at the recovered treasures and reading of the sea tragedies  we may reflect once again on the high risks humans take, for the chance of adventure and the dream of making their fortune. Some succeed; others perish. In no other sphere of human aspiration can we best reflect upon fate than in the realm of sea voyages. The sea remains powerful, mysterious, cruel and merciless: yet a source of unending wonder and attraction.

Charlestown Harbour  St Austell Cornwall

Charles started building the seaport in 1790. It was completed by 1804 and  has changed little since: now it is popular among film location scouts and has appeared as a film location on several occasions.

Views of Charlestown Harbour

The poignancy of Charles’s story lies in the fact that he created Charlestown out of his own personal wealth and was a hugely gifted man, for the port was highly successful: yet in later life he formed an attachment to 2 young men, Joseph Dingle and Joseph Daniel, who betrayed him and brought him to bankruptcy.  The whole story is told in the book ‘Charlestown: a guide to Charlestown and the Shipwreck Treasure Museum’ by Richard and Bridget Larn.

A Walk Around Port Isaac on the Cornish Coast, from One Headland to Another

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Our Relentless Drive for Pursuit of Happiness Through Products – and the One Saving Grace

Happiness. An endless sandy beach, blissful sunshine, a turquoise sea spangled with silver, cocktails, a balmy breeze and… happiness? contentment? inner peace?

I was inspired to write this post by Andy Mort who runs Haven.

Andy occasionally sends out thought-provoking and discerning emails to his subscribers and I particularly agreed with him about the slippery soap that is our pursuit of happiness.

The pursuit of happiness puts me in mind of a brilliant book I read called “Finding Sanctuary” by Abbot Christopher Jamieson. In this book he talks about how we wear numerous masks during our lives, and in pursuit of happiness we constantly seek products which the advertising industry tells us are going to make us happy. We long for peace and a state of calm and inner contentment, and we seek it through more products, such as holidays. In fact we can never escape from the compulsion to seek the fulfilment of our ultimate longings within a product of some kind.

Being reflective about all this is such a good step on the journey to seeking some kind of release from this compulsive drive. It has been said by a doctor that everyone needs to go on retreat once a year (and of course Abbot Christopher was the one who featured in that TV programme The Monastery about the men who went on retreat). Though it could be argued that even a retreat is a product!!

I write this as I am busily selling a product myself …. a book called Paranormal Warwickshire – and I do my fair share of using marketing techniques tried and tested by the advertising industry – the Mr Bigs of this world. In fact when I think about it all, I could despair, except for the one saving grace that helps us keep it all in perspective – a sense of humour!

Cornwall Mini Series Part 14: Trebah Garden

A giant gunnera tunnel, lush subtropical vegetation, vibrant flowers of many colours, and a journey through an imaginative and intriguing landscape: as you will find when you visit this lovely part of Cornwall, Trebah Garden becomes a series of portals to different worlds.

The path draws you into the heart of different areas which yield up a variety of feelings, memories, reflections. In the centre of the garden we come upon an auditorium used for theatrical performances.

Though no performances were taking part at the time of our visit due to the recent Covid19 lockdown, we could imagine ourselves into the acting arena, into the responses of the audience, as we contemplated this empty space full of creative possibilities, taking a rest before breaking out into a reawakening.

Your journey tempts you on through glorious shrubs, trees and exquisite blossoms past a quiet pool and an inviting white bridge…

… and ultimately leads you down to Trebah’s own private beach at Polgwidden Cove.

In addition to this, you’ll find an excellent restaurant at Trebah: the post-Covd19-lockdown arrangements were immaculate, and the vegetarian tart we chose for lunch a perfect taste sensation.

This is a place of enchantment, as several other bloggers will testify: explore the thoughts and feelings of Cornwall in Colours, Trebah blog, and Lizzie Bailey blog.

Do check out the previous posts in my Cornwall mini series.

Part 1 Mawgan Porth

Part 2 Watergate Bay

Part 3 The Eden Project

Part 4 The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Part 5 Port Isaac

Part 6 Truro

Part 7 Trerice

Part 8 The Screech Owl Sanctuary

Part 9 St Michael’s Mount

Part 10 Tintagel

Part 11 Falmouth Discovery Quay and Pendennis Castle

Part 12 Trellisick National Trust

Part 13 St Mawes and Gorran Haven

Cornwall Mini series Part 13: St Mawes and Gorran Haven

The previous post in this series describes the glorious gardens at Trellisick National Trust, on the Fal Estuary. From Trellisick, motorists and pedestrians may take the King Harry ferry across the River Fal, and then travel on to St Mawes.

St Mawes Cornwall SC Skillman
St Mawes Cornwall SC Skillman

We found St Mawes a peaceful and charming fishing village, on the Roseland Peninsula opposite Falmouth. It was quiet when we visited, as the UK Covid9 lockdown had only just been relaxed, and few visitors were to be seen.

As we strolled through the village, we were particularly struck by the fresh, gleaming appearance of the seafront cottages. It seemed to us that all the owners of those cottage must have made good use of the lockdown, and were now looking forward to welcoming new holidaymakers.

As we strolled along through the centre of the community, we noticed a painter at work on the scaffolding and were tempted to ask him if he was working his way through every house in the village!

We gazed ahead to the castle of St Mawes as we made our way along the seafront: the twin of the castle opposite, across the water at Pendennis Point.

Stroll St Mawes towards Castle Cornwall SC Skillman
Stroll through St Mawes towards Castle Cornwall SC Skillman

The atmosphere was dreamlike and tranquil; a contemplation of space through the vistas of water, beach, boats, and seafront flowers, which all contributed to this vision of a small community and an unhurried pace of life.

Later, we drove around the Roseland Heritage Coast to Gorran Haven. Again, we delighted in the tranquil atmosphere, as we walked along the harbour wall.

Harbour Gorran Haven Cornwall SC Skillman
Harbour, Gorran Haven, Cornwall. SC Skillman

Although these small communities need their visitors and tourist trade to flourish, nevertheless we did value the opportunity to experience them in this brief, precious interlude before people start gaining the confidence to go on holiday again after the lockdown.

Have a look at some other bloggers’ thoughts and feelings on these lovely fishing villages of the Roseland Heritage Coast. The Travelhack and Kayakfishing blog on St Mawes and Kayakfishing blog on Gorran Haven.

Do check out the previous posts in my Cornwall mini series.

Part 1 Mawgan Porth

Part 2 Watergate Bay

Part 3 The Eden Project

Part 4 The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Part 5 Port Isaac

Part 6 Truro

Part 7 Trerice

Part 8 The Screech Owl Sanctuary

Part 9 St Michael’s Mount

Part 10 Tintagel

Part 11 Falmouth Discovery Quay and Pendennis Castle

Part 12 Trellisick National Trust

Cornwall Mini Series Part 12: Trellisick National Trust

View Trellisick to Fal Estuary Cornwall SC Skillman
View from Trellisick to Fal Estuary Cornwall SC Skillman

What an enchanting location this is for a grand house: situated on the Fal estuary in Cornwall, views across to the water are to be glimpsed from the terrace at the back of the house, and also from many places in the parkland.

As one of my friends on social media remarked, grand houses like those in the possession of the National Trust always remind him of Cluedo. Here at Trellisick, we weren’t able to go into the house due to the Covid19 restrictions, but certainly I was tempted to gaze through the windows of the orangery and imagine which part of the plot might unfold in there behind the giant terracotta urns…

Moving round into the gardens, it seemed every bend of the path brought new vistas and new delights.

I loved a gazebo in the gardens with stained glass windows which was decorated with natural objects; fir cones had been embedded into the design and created an exquisite fairytale effect.

The walk through the gardens eventually leads d

own to the King Harry Ferry which carries motorists and pedestrians across the river Fal and is the best route to take from Trellisick if you are, as we were, planning to visit St Mawes later. You might like to check out some other bloggers’ thoughts, feelings and information about the glorious gardens here at Trellisick: Tinbox Traveller; Trellisick ranger blog, and Trellisick garden blog.

Check out the previous posts in my Cornwall mini series.

Part 1 Mawgan Porth

Part 2 Watergate Bay

Part 3 The Eden Project

Part 4 The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Part 5 Port Isaac

Part 6 Truro

Part 7 Trerice

Part 8 The Screech Owl Sanctuary

Part 9 St Michael’s Mount

Part 10 Tintagel

Part 11 Falmouth Discovery Quay and Pendennis Castle

Cornwall Mini Series part 11: Falmouth Discovery Quay and Pendennis Castle

In this post, I take up again my Cornwall mini series which I started on 8th October 2019. I opened the series with the beach at Mawgan Porth and continued with a series of short reflections on different places easily reached from St Columb Major.

In early July 2020, we visited Cornwall again, during the first week after the UK’s Covid-19 lockdown had been relaxed. Once more we stayed in the delightful holiday cottage of Penty-Lowarth, in Quoit, near St Columb Major.

We visited a few different locations this time and I’ll be writing about them and sharing photos in my next few posts.

Today we visit Falmouth and Discovery Quay.

A curious atmosphere surrounds a visit to a place like Discovery Quay which is intended to host thousands of people during “normal” times.

We loved wandering through Discovery Quay even though it seemed suspended in a dreamlike quality of stillness.

Of course, the magnificent Maritime Museum had not yet re-opened after the Covid-19 lockdown. Very few people had begun to venture out yet, and we traversed the open space designed for large crowds, and for mass public entertainments, with a curious feeling of being in a time-loop.

I love this quote from the great novelist Joseph Conrad which I read on an informative noticeboard on the Quay:

The sea has never been friendly to man. At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.

There was a special quality to this experience, wandering through the quay, gazing at the boats, coming upon captivating views every few steps. Some of the many restaurants had begun to re-open and we enjoyed a relaxing lunch in The Shack, where the social distancing changes had been well organised, despite the fact that there were very few people to socially distance from.

Having visited Discovery Quay we then went on to visit Pendennis Castle.

Originally built by Henry VIII this has a fascinating history as it returned into use during Elizabethan times ad the Napoleonic Wars and World Wars I and II. Situated across the bay is the twin castle of St Mawes. The views from Pendennis Point are spectacular.

Again, few visitors were in evidence, though the social distancing arrangements were well in place.

We toured the Keep and the Half Moon battery alongside a small party of other visitors, and both tours were excellent, captivating and informative.

Check out the previous posts in my Cornwall mini series.

Part 1 Mawgan Porth

Part 2 Watergate Bay

Part 3 The Eden Project

Part 4 The Lost Gardens of Heligan

Part 5 Port Isaac

Part 6 Truro

Part 7 Trerice

Part 8 The Screech Owl Sanctuary

Part 9 St Michael’s Mount

Part 10 Tintagel

Cornwall mini series Part 5: Port Isaac

This is the fifth in a series of short reflections on places in north Cornwall.

There will be few words, and mainly images.

Port Isaac is an exquisite fishing village with so many breathtaking views.

It seems that from every angle there is another gorgeous picture waiting to be captured.

SC Skillman

psychological, paranormal and mystery fiction and non-fiction.

My next book ‘Paranormal Warwickshire’ will be published on 15th June 2020 by Amberley Publishing.

Cornwall mini series Part 2: Watergate Bay

This is the second in a series of short reflections on places in north Cornwall.

There will be few words, and mainly images.

Early evening is a lovely time to be on a quiet beach. But today, we visit a beach in early morning.

Watergate Bay on the north Cornish coast is a highly-favoured destination for surfers. But for others, the spaciousness, the openness, the freedom, is all we ask – just to walk, to gaze, to be.

SC Skillman

psychological, paranormal and mystery fiction and non-fiction.

My next book ‘Paranormal Warwickshire’ will be published on 15th June 2020 by Amberley Publishing.