Travel: Plymouth is a restorative tonic to London’s chaos
15:00 18 August 2015
© Trevor Burrows
A weekend in Plymouth is a chance to reconnect with the sea and a perfect antidote to the rat race of London life. Dating back to the Bronze Age, it is the site where the Pilgrim Fathers departed from in 1620 and boasts a strong naval history, which means there is also plenty to see and learn.
First Great Western trains out of Paddington offer the most direct route; in a mere 3.5 hours you could be taking in the spectacular coastal vistas with the cry of seagulls overhead.
Strathmore House Apartments are the best way to go for a self catered base right in the heart of the action. The two to four-bedroom flats are fully furnished with modern appliances and offer all the amenities. Bobbie and the team insist guests make themselves right at home and kindly include refilled tea, coffee and biscuits on arrival as well as the usual iron, towels and more.
There is plenty to do and eat in Plymouth, which is famous for its sustainable seafood. A host of native species is found in these plentiful waters, which will reacquaint visitors with the bounty of British seas.
A perfect introduction is with Plymouth Boat Trips which offers options of hour cruises along the coastline or longer deep-sea excursions for the more adventurous that includes a “cook what you catch” opportunity.
If fishing proves unsuccessful, the neighbouring Boathouse Café provides a wonderful lunch alternative featuring fresh seafood caught that morning. Highlights are the luscious mussels, plumped in a cream sauce, or faultless hake and chips, served with pillowy brown bread.
Use the first afternoon to wander The Hoe and the streets around Barbican, which are an ode to the creativity of the city.
The winding lanes are home to a thriving scene of galleries and crafts with plenty of opportunities to pick up unique pieces for friends, family and the home.
One of Plymouth’s most famous exports Plymouth Gin has its home here. A visit to the distillery provides an enlightening insight into the history of the drink and its growth in popularity from the eighteenth century.
Visitors can round off the afternoon with a Plymouth Gin and Tonic from the bar above the distillery to whet the palate before enjoying a meal at the adjoining Barbican Kitchen Brasserie. Here, my companion savoured a steak and chips while I once again sampled the local fruits de mer with a zesty crab linguine.
For a less student-orientated night out, catch a show around at the Theatre Royal or enjoy a drink around one of the many pubs and clubs around the Barbican.
Early risers can spend the morning on Plymouth’s famous two-mile wildlife trail, which younger visitors will especially appreciate.
If there is time before lunch, the Mayflower Museum provides a more thorough account of the emigration to the new world, as well as how Plymouth’s coastal location has shaped its history, as a trading port, major fishing centre and a starting point for seafaring adventures.
Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall’s Plymouth branch of The River Cottage offers a good Sunday Roast for those who have worked up an appetite – lamb being a popular and tasty choice.
A highlight of the trip is definitely a visit to Plymouth’s vast National Marine Aquarium which was made all the more special on our visit by our informed and passionate guide.
Not only is the aquarium home to many colourful characters and species – boasting three of the largest tanks in Europe - but it is fascinating to learn about the cutting-edge scientific and conservational work that is going on there as well.
From teaching children about sea meadows, to working out the breeding habits of scallops to keep the fishing trade sustainable, the team at the aquarium are dedicated and willing to share their knowledge. For an operation that survives on attendance, educational projects and donations alone it is truly impressive to see what it has achieved.
Dinner at outstanding Rockfish, next to the Aquarium, rounds off the weekend perfectly. This is the largest branch of Mitch Tonks’s hugely successful mini-chain and it does not disappoint. Family friendly, with the warmth of a local chippy but the panache of a “nice” restaurant, the venue is fun as well as serving great food.
Hugely enjoyable were the fragrant four-peppercorn shrimp, lightly battered and fat and juicy. Breadcrumbed scallops reclining in a delightfully rich garlic butter were also gorgeously addictive. Solid and authentic renditions of mushy peas and chips accompanied a generous fillet of freshly caught hake, coated in the lightest of batter. The crunchy golden exterior gave way to big flakes of pearlescent fish, ticking every box on how to make this British classic.
Despite many Londoners not immediately thinking of Plymouth’s shores as a place to spend a weekend, the fresh sea air truly does leave visitors feeling regenerated.
On top of that, good food, warm people and interesting British history are sure to give seaside nostalgics something to dream about.
For more information on Plymouth visit: www.visitplymouth.com
First Great Western
Advance single fares from London Paddington to Plymouth start at £20.50
For the best value tickets and offers buy before you board at www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk, download the app or telephone 03457 000125.
Strathmore House Apartments offers a selection of serviced apartments, ranging from one, two and four bedroom maisonettes for a minimum 2 night stay. With parking. From £75 per night