This post was originally published on www.randomstoat.com on 26 August 2010.
Day 4 started much like the others – myself up early and everybody else gradually waking up in dribs and drabs. The weather was hardly stellar, and after briefly checking through the attractions guide for Cornwall that we had received at the zoo the day before, I found a miniature railway, Lappa Valley, that was about 10 minutes drive away from the campsite. On a few previous holidays myself and Liz had considered visiting one such railway in Wales, but it was always a bit too far away to make the journey worthwhile. So in true British fashion we moved in convoy to our destination.
The route was exclusively country lanes, involving an incident with an old Gypsy trailer, pulled by a horse. A man and a dog seemed to be the couple in charge of the cart, and were in no rush to allow the traffic on either side to continue their respective journeys. After a brief moment of uncertainty he moved to one side and we went on our way.
On arrival the first thing you see is a respectably sized car park and the first station. It all looks rather quaint and pleasant, even more so when you pay and are told that the fee covers everything at the park except for food and a few other little things (quite literally – they were for kids). The ticket station had a drinks machine that provided some incredibly nice hot chocolate for £1, I was almost tempted to grab another cup on my way out, but I resisted the temptation. My wallet thanked me later.
We borded the first train, which was a 15″ gauge railway and had two trains running the 1 mile or so to the the park itself, trains by the name of Muffin and Zebedee. Not quite sure why Muffin was chosen… Our choice of carriage was dubbed as “First Class” – short hand for “grown-ups taller than 5’2″ will have to twist their neck at a jaunty angle to get in and out”. By comparison the standard carriages were much easier to clamber in and out of. On arrival just about everything you’d ever want to see catches your eye immediately. A lake for canoe boating, two other railway lines for the even tinier trains, the crazy golf course (more on that shortly), and a huge mine pumping house and chimney. A history lesson as well as fun! Huzzah!
We had a quick look around before jumping in the canoes and having a paddle around. With the water only being 0.5m deep, my normal fear of water resided like the tides. Or something poetic along those lines. It took some getting used to but steering the canoe got progressively easier until we decided to give it a rest and go have some lunch. The cafe was clearly geared towards the younger audience, and I was struck with that time honoured dilemma of what to have for lunch: cheese or ham on my bap. Cheese seemed to be the smart choice, and was reasonably priced given the slapdash nature of the kitchen. Seemed par for the course on our travels, most places seemed to have a shoddy kitchen but serve some good food.
After lunch we played Crazy Golf. The first seven holes weren’t exactly what you’d call crazy – a patch of mown grass about 10 feet from the previous hole. I started off quite respectably, finishing the first six or seven holes with 2′s and 3′s. Ironically, when we reached the crazy golf section, my score plummeted. Not so much for the fact it had gone crazy, but that the ground was unevenly shaped to the point where the ball didn’t stop moving if the wind picked up. It reached a point where I lost interest in the game and just played through as near as dammit to putting the ball. If it went near the pin, it was a putt.
Once the crazy, crazy golf was defeated, we decided to try out one of the other trains. Unfortunately the second train was full and the third was full and also not going anywhere for a while. So we went back to the canoe boats and had a bit more fun on the open waves. We finished on there at just the right time to climb aboard the next smallest train, the 10 1/4″ carriages pulled by Eric. This took us to the top of the second line and through the full-sized golf course (which didn’t look half as impressive as the Links at Newquay). The train drops you off at a “fun play area” with a trampoline and some football goals (the less said about me losing the ball, the better…), and a path to the nature walk leading back to the main park area. Hopes were raises to spot a random stoat on the trail, but all we saw were slightly damp plants. We got back again once more just in time to climb aboard the even tinier 7 1/4″ railway, pulled by the unfriendly-named APT. The carriages were so tiny and my hips were so huge (good, child-bearing hips. For a man) that I had to almost sit side-saddle in the open-topped carriage, all by my lonesome. The track itself was also very small indeed (it looks a lot bigger on the out of proportion map), and went round twice. I think the only thing we didn’t do was the brick maze because it looked a bit pants. I don’t think it can ever be called a maze if you can just walk in a straight line to the centre. Ignoring the bricks, obviously.
I recommend giving Lappa Valley a try if you’re in Cornwall, have kids or are a big kid at heart (like us bunch of kidless twenty-somethings). It may also be a good place to spot wildlife, but that might be a better idea when the weather is somewhat more pleasant. Their website (PLUG ALERT!) is http://www.lappavalley.co.uk if you want to check them out.
After the train I decided to get us lost by driving a different route back (shows what happens when it rains, you don’t turn the SatNav on and you’re driving on unfamiliar roads). We popped down to Morrisons, determined to have a BBQ, which we had a dearth of since our arrival on Monday. It just didn’t feel right not having at least one more. We arrived back at the campsite to find our tents trying to fly off in the wind. They weren’t really going anywhere, but it made sense to try and secure them to the ground more firmly just in case. Unfortunately the wind continued along with a torrential downpour, soaking us through, Liz especially. We retreated to the campsite bar to dry off, and to partake in a slightly watery hot chocolate. It ended on a rather sour note when some chap, presumably the owner, told us we were taking up his tables because Dee had brought some food at Morrisons and was eating it inside. I left shortly after, resolute not to re-enter the premises again. Stubborn swine, I know… There were plenty of spare tables for other people as well…
The possibility of a BBQ was a moot one. The wind hadn’t died down in the slightest, to the point where the campsite lost power. Initial plans to eat at the campsite bar were shot down as a result, and we retreated to the relative dryness of McDonalds. Once full of grease and meat (the grease would at least help us float if the campsite flooded – a bit like feeding beefburgers to swans), we drove over to the Quintrell Arms for a quick drink and more chance to dry off, before heading back to the tents and getting to bed. The wind destroyed any possibility of me sleeping, and continued blowing a stormy gale almost non-stop until the following morning. Now THIS was camping!