Plymouth Pilgrim 2

Tamar bridge

View from my train as it crosses the Tamar bridge into Devon

On July 14, 2016 I wrote this post about my visit to Plymouth in memory of my oldest friend, Mike Flay, who’d died earlier that year. As I wrote then, we used to meet there often, usually ending up at the same couple of watering holes as we talked endlessly about books, football, family.

Yesterday I repeated the pilgrimage. So in a departure from my usual bookish posts, here’s a photographic record of my day there. A commemorative dérive…

I always relish the word ‘wharf’, which derives either from OE hwearf: bank, shore, or from Old Dutch. Typical of the English language, it can be spelt ‘wharfs’ or ‘wharves’ in the plural. Like hoofs. But not rooves.


Barbican wharves and marina

We didn’t often wander to this old part of town, but I thought I’d approach our usual lunchtime haunt from the Barbican.

My first stop was the old bookshop by the marina. Over three floors are spread thousands of second-hand books. The fiction section seemed to follow a loose sort of plan – orange Penguins, green ones, hardbacks – but there was little discernible use of alphabetical order.


I resisted the temptation to buy anything.

The Scots proprietor told me he had far more stock in his warehouse.



Barbican sculpture

This strange creature stands on the Barbican marina


Barbican marina


This 19C cannon probably saw action in a warship in the Crimean campaign

This is one of two cannon that loom over the bay from the hilltop by the Hoe. Plymouth is still very much a maritime town.



Plymouth sound

Plymouth sound









Art deco Tinside Lido, recently restored. That’s sea water in it








Jail ale

This is the terrace of the Waterfront bar where Mike and I usually had lunch. He always had a burger.

It was warm enough yesterday to sit outside. Pigeons and gulls tried to persuade diners to part with some food.

That’s not St Austell brewery Tribute in the glass: it’s a Dartmoor brew called, appropriately, Jail Ale. Not bad at all.


Right on cue, as last year, the Brittany Ferries ship Armorique steamed by, just a few metres from the terrace.


Armorique ferry passing the Waterfront bar







As I headed back towards the town centre I passed this game of bowls in progress. Not exactly Francis Drake…











Dragonfly sculpture in a rather murky pond by the town centre

Colonial hotel

Colonial hotel










I made one final stop, before taking the train back to Cornwall, in the place Mike always called the Colonial Hotel – not its real name. It’s a bleak sort of place, but strangely conducive to conversation, we always found – perhaps because there’s nothing much else to engage the attention.

Rather a sad trip home, but the day was good.


16 thoughts on “Plymouth Pilgrim 2

  1. Lovely, Simon.

    Cool phrase: “A commemorative derive”

    As an American, it is always fascinating to study a map, and note all the towns and cities named after places in England. And what American school boy or girl doesn’t know about Plymouth Rock. In grade school, we participate in ritual plays where we dress up as Pilgrims and reenact the first Thanksgiving. In addition to the English place names, we also have Indian (Narraganset, Coonamesset,, Sipiwisset, Tallahassee), French (Jolliet) and Spanish (San Franciso, San Diego, etc.).

    • There are several Cornish place names in New England, too…It’s always intrigued me how many other places in the US took foreign names: Athens, Paris. Is there a Berlin? Glad you liked the post, Maureen. Sad, but uplifting to write.

  2. Nice, evocative pictures. “(…)the place Mike always called the Colonial Hotel – not its real name. It’s a bleak sort of place, but strangely conducive to conversation, we always found” is such a fitting phrase. There were quite a few places that Mike had made a habit to go back to, possibly because their bleakness wasn’t distracting. Also the fact that things or places weren’t called by their actual name but by what they evoked to Mike. I like to remember those details. Thanks for sharing.

  3. What a lovely post Simon, I’m sure your friend Mike would appreciate the time taken to remember your many visits and talks – as Maureen above mentions as well an intriguing phrase a commemorative derive. I always enjoy your asides

  4. So moving to read this Simon. It brought back many memories of Mike setting off to meet you in Plymouth, very pleased at the prospect of a good literary discussion, some football talk and yes, a burger and lager. He always returned both invigorated and contented.
    So glad you mentioned Mike’s habit of renaming things. It was one of my favourite things about him. He taught Catherine to refer to knickers as ‘Nicaraguas’ when she was a little girl, something my aunt was convinced would cause lasting confusion in the poor child.

    • So glad to hear that, Victoria. Lovely story about Nicaraguas. Whenever he suggested doing a Google search on my phone for something we were discussing he’d say, ‘You could dial it up’

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