The Cactus Patch
Volume 10       November 2007      Number 11

Serendipitous Succulents in Pilgrim's Plymouth
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

It's hard to believe we've been back here two months. Time has fled. James & Emily came to Bakersfield with Michael on Labor Day. Our grandson is already walking and babbling. We met our grand nephew Elijah with his parents Leo and Becky on the 29th of Sept. He is a little younger than Michael, but almost as promising. In between these visits we went to the Kern County Fair (disappointing - the children had the best garden exhibits) and hear Ngugi wa Thiongo read from his latest book at CSUB. (For those not familiar with him, he is a leading fiction writer from Kenya who is in exile in Irvine as Kenya takes his allegories seriously.)

But back to the journey home. We left Botswana on 14 July with a short hop to Johannesburg. Then it was an overnight flight to London. Polly and I had seats in different rows-more about that later. At London we found our two biggest cases had missed the plane. This was actually a good thing as we were able to travel onward with only our two smaller cases. From London we were headed to Cornwall, but our hostess there was in Wales for the weekend. Polly noted that the bus would pass thru Plymouth, so we decided to go there for the night. Heavy rains had left the countryside green and dotted with wildflowers. The bus stopped for lunch at a disappointingly modern service area. We arrived in good time and checked into a Bed and Breakfast near the Bus Station which I had noted in passing.

We then headed into town and came to a puzzling sign which showed the Town Centre one direction and the Other Town Centre another direction! We chose the "Other" and found the Barbicon Harbour which is what we wanted as this is the place from which the Mayflower sailed carrying Pilgrims to America. Several of my ancestors were among those pilgrims, so it was of personal interest to see the English Plymouth. (We had seen the American Plymouth years before when living in New York.) It is interesting to note that the English one is so named because it is the mouth of the Plym River. (There is no such river in America!)

The Harbour had the usual seagulls, but it also had beautiful swans! Atop the harbour wall there were small plants of Sedum acre or biting stonecrop. Incidentally, it is unwise to try eating this plant. It is said to have a biting taste and to be poisonous.(How did anyone find out?) It was nice to see that succulents grow in Plymouth, but this is a very common plant of rock walls throughout England which we had seen on previous visits.

We proceeded to the Mayflower Steps, a monument which represents the spot from which the boat left. (No one is sure of the precise spot.) There on the rock wall we found a small succulent. Fortunately, it was in full bloom, so I could recognize it as a member of the carrot family. I knew there were succulents in the family as we had seen some in the Canary Islands, but I didn't know of the English ones. I have since identified it as the rock samphire, Crithium maritimum. According to the Reader's Digest Wild Britain- Wild Flowers (no date, Reader's Digest Assoc., London L7.99) it is found on sea cliffs and rocks of Wales, Ireland and south and west England. The book is well illustrated in color and contains facts such as, "In Shakespeare's time rock samphire was a popular vegetable, its leaves pickled in vinegar."

From the monument we crossed a small drawbridge to an Aquarium which is said to be the biggest in England. Not impressive! Back across, we continued down the shore to note a lot of plants on the rock walls: fennel and wild carrot (both in the carrot family - the latter of the variety known as sea carrot which is succulent, unlike the ordinary ones which we call Queen Anne's lace in the U.S.), butterfly bush, ivy-leaved toadflax, wild teasel, red valerian, petty spurge and caper spurge. In soil below the cliff we saw some crabapples with fruit. (Unfortunately we did not find the related hawthorn which is the English mayflower, not to be confused with the American mayflower which is related to Azaleas.) There were a couple of magpies in this shrubbery.

Looking back toward land we observed the towering walls of the Royal Citadel. Interestingly, this fort faces inland as the threat was felt to be the heretical Methodists rather than foreigners! (No wonder the equally heretical pilgrims left from here.) Further along we came to the Hoe (High Place) with its misplaced "Smeaton's Tower". This is a lighthouse which had been the third on the Eddystone Rocks far out to the south but moved inland due to cracking. I had long known a song about the Eddystone Light, but had no idea where it was. Darwin reported the Eddystone Rocks as his last view of England as he sailed from Plymouth on the monumental voyage of the Beagle.

Next at the Hoe we saw a beautiful garden with a huge eagle in gold done by the Boy Scouts for 2007, their "hundredth" anniversary. (They were prize-winners in the English garden contest.) Oddly, in South Africa which considers itself the starting point, the "hundredth" anniversary was celebrated seven years ago. Ironically, nearby on the Hoe is a monument to the soldiers of the Boer War, including those at Mafikeng where Baden-Powell organized the youth as "scouts".

We returned to the street with our B&B, passing up a couple of Indian Restaurants (there was also a Mexican restaurant in town) to eat at a more English place. (We ordered nachos which were terrible.) That evening we watched British TV with its delightfully different sense of humor.

Next morning we went up past a church which was bombed out in WW II to a very modern shopping center on Drake's Circus. (No clowns -- it simply means circle, & yes this is the same Drake for which Drake's Bay in California is named; he, too, sailed from Plymouth.) We passed up a well-known US coffee chain and had coffee at Marks and Spencerís.

Now that we were awake, we went back to our B&B and had breakfast at the Old Friary pub below. (They weren't open earlier.) We then went back to Drake's Circus and had drinks at Burger King, bought souvenirs and observed giant hanging fish in the multistoried atrium. Nearby, we cashed travelers checks at the post office and observed American yuccas in bloom. We ended our tour of Plymouth with a visit to the Plymouth Mayflower museum which has a lot more than just pilgrims-it goes back to stone tools found in the area and comes round to modern Plymouth. One of the most amusing exhibits was an old American cartoon of the Pilgrims. We had late lunch at the Old Friary and a snack at the White Rabbit at the bus station. At 4:30 we took the bus to nearby Cornwall, but I'll write about that next month.

Lyrics to Eddystone Light:

Me father was the keeper of the Eddystone Light
Slept with a mermaid one fine night
From this union there came three;
A porpoise and a porgy and the other was me!
Yo ho ho, the wind blows free,
Oh for the life on the rolling sea!

One night, when I was a-trimming the glim
Singing a verse from the evening hymn
A voice on the starboard shouted "Ahoy!"
There was me mother, a-sitting on a buoy.
Yo ho ho, the wind blows free,
Oh for the life on the rolling sea!

"What became of my children three ?"
Me mother then she asked of me.
"One was exhibited as a talking fish
The other was served on a chafing dish."
Yo ho ho, the wind blows free,
Oh for the life on the rolling sea!

The phosphorous flashed in her seaweed hair.
I looked again, me mother wasn't there
Her voice came echoing out of the night
"To the devil with the keeper of the Eddystone Light!"
Yo ho ho, the wind blows free,
Oh for the life on the rolling sea!

Hear this shanty sung by Ian Marshall by clicking here.

OR visit this website:

Polly in the Plymouth Mayflower museum looking down on the Mayflower Steps

Rock samphire growing at the Mayflower Steps

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