Saturday 20 March
It’s all about the Hoe right. (Feel free to insert your own rapper joke here – go on you know you want to. How about: Why does Snoop Dogg always carry an umbrella? Fo’ drizzle.) Well it’s certainly all about the Hoe in Plymouth. The bare facts are that it’s a large south facing open public space adjacent to and above the low limestone cliffs that forms the seafront hereabouts. The name comes from the Anglo-Saxon and means sloping ridge shaped like an inverted foot and heel. Whatever, I’m told it provides majestic views of Plymouth Sound, Drake’s Island, and across the Hamoaze to Mount Edgcumbe in Cornwall. Couldn’t really confirm this because it was pouring with rain the day I visited.
My last blog talked about being a flâneur (see ’A flâneur in the works’) and there’s certainly no reason why that should just be applied to London, although in my case it mostly is. This was my first ever trip to Plymouth and very pleasantly surprised I was to. But back to the Hoe. In 1588 Sir Francis Drake, apocryphally, was believed to have casually completed a game of bowls here before sallying forth and soundly defeating the Spanish Armada. A great story but Drake is such a colossal figure it hardly seems necessary to add to his reputation. Born just down the road in Tavistock, Drake became an experienced and daring seafarer. Among many adventures, the ‘famous voyage’, his successful circumnavigation of the world between 1577 and 1580 ensured that he would be one of the best remembered figures of Tudor England. Then, as now, he was regarded with mixed feelings, both at home and abroad. Some English people regarded him as a hero, but he was distrusted by others, who saw him as having risen ‘above his station’. Although he was feared and hated by the Spanish, he was also regarded by some with secret admiration. In 1567, Drake made one of the first English slaving voyages as part of a fleet led by his cousin John Hawkins, bringing African slaves to work in the ‘New World’. All but two ships of the expedition were lost when attacked by a Spanish squadron. The Spanish became a lifelong enemy for Drake and they in turn considered him a pirate. Drake was also something of a politician in Elizabethan times becoming the mayor of Plymouth.
Even today it’s hard to avoid Drake when in Plymouth. In 2004 the old Drake Circus shopping centre and Charles Cross car park were demolished and replaced by the latest Drake Circus Shopping Centre, which opened in October 2006. It received negative feedback before opening when David Mackay said it was already “ten years out of date” – and I can’t help agreeing with him. It’s a shame because there’s plenty of scope to be innovative here because the centre was sympathetically re-designed in the 60’s following extensive bomb damage in WWII. The roads are very wide and it’s generally laid out on an easy to navigate grid system.
But it is really all about the Hoe here and we pushed on to the seafront. Then we turned right made our way back to the town before heading for the Barbican. The promenade is splendid with a huge colourful lido. Thousands used to flock here in the 50’s. Before you reach the Barbican you pass by the Royal Citadel at the east end of the Hoe. This was built after the English Civil War to defend the city from naval attack. The Barbican closely approximates the size of the old port settlement called Sutton. It has cobbled streets, over 100 listed buildings, and The Mayflower Steps that commemorates the 1620 voyage of the Pilgrim Fathers. It is also the site of the Plymouth Gin Distillery that has been producing gin since 1793. We reached this by going down a little alleyway called Blackfriars Ope. Another new word for alley for me there then. Round here you can see some traces of the work of the artist Robert Lenkiewicz, who lived here from the 60’s until his death in 2002.
One final note I think I’d better stop visiting these south coast cities because since I turned up Portsmouth have been relegated from the Premiership and now Plymouth Argyle have lost their Championship status.