Local Focus: Plymouth

The South West peninsula is a popular tourist destination, for Britons and foreigners alike, who are eager to experience a taste of the jolly English seaside. Plymouth, the largest town in Devon, plays amiable host to reams of holidaymakers throughout the year and is an ideal setting-off point to explore not only the miles of coastline, but also the moors, that surround the area.

Plymouth itself is steeped in history; it was the departure point of the Pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower to Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1620 (note the nickname of Plymouth Argyle FC, ‘the Pilgrims’). Plymouth was also the place that Sir Francis Drake, a sailor and navigator who fought the Spanish Armada, called home – it is rumoured that he was playing bowls near the coast when he spotted the Armada approaching. These historical events are marked with exhibitions and statues at their respective locations around the city.

A crucial shipping and naval port for Britain in the twentieth century, Plymouth was bombarded in the blitzkriegs of World War Two, a period which desecrated many of its historic buildings and landmarks.

Today, Plymouth itself is mainly stripped of such importance and is now a compact city on the south-western fringe of the UK. Excellent shopping there is not; nor are there outstanding museums or art galleries. Yet there are still numerous reasons to visit this city.

Plymouth Hoe and the Barbican – coastal regions of the city – have been extensively redeveloped and now comprise outstanding culinary and night-time hotspots with a contemporary maritime edge. Having a drink with friends at the Barbican Jazz Café while gazing out into the marina, surrounded by glittering lights tripping off the tranquil harbour, is both relaxing and inspiring.

In the summer, the sandy beaches along the Hoe are havens for those who enjoy sunbathing or swimming. Other local attractions include the internationally acclaimed fireworks display in November and the annual speedboat competition in summer.

To the north of the city is the wide expanse of Dartmoor – a must visit, even if only to enjoy the dramatic scenery of high peaks and rolling hills, with the odd Dartmoor pony drawn in for good measure. For those who enjoy a crisp walk, there are plenty of moorland miles to be explored. One impressive hike is up the 1130ft conical bulk of Brent Tor; at the summit is St. Michael’s Church, the view from which is unbroken moorland in every direction.

Tavistock, a small town to the west of Dartmoor, is an exceptionally attractive market town owing as much to some fine Victorian architecture as to its picturesque location. The Bird’s Nest is a fine Chinese restaurant in the heart of this town in Bedford Square.

If none of this appeals, one can always travel to the student haven of Newquay in Cornwall, a town with bars, nightclubs and surfers aplenty.

Local culinary “delicacies” must also be sampled; fish and chips with lashings of vinegar, Cornish pasties, ‘99’ ice creams by the seaside and scones with jam and clotted cream conform to the stereotypes of the region.

Finally, a bizarre tidbit: David Gest has recently visited the region, interested in purchasing a hotel for redevelopment. Yes, you read that correctly. Plymouth is moving up in the world!

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