How eating a cream tea in Cornwall made me think about a holiday on the Grand Union Canal
On holiday last week down in that lovely (but challenging for parking) county we followed the advice of a friend, left the car in Polruan and took the foot ferry across to Fowey. These delightful, picturesque fishing villages deliver what most visitors to Cornwall are looking for: pretty narrow streets, gorgeous old white-washed cottages – and the traditional Cornish Cream Tea, complete with a pot of English tea grown on the Tregothnan plantation.
The scones (let’s not get started on the debate about how that word is pronounced) were warm and fresh from the oven, the homemade strawberry jam was delicious and the cream to die for. We tucked in with relish (well, it was 4pm and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast) and enjoyed every mouthful. It was two days later when we were indulging in another tea in Falmouth that we learned there are 'rules' to eating a cream tea. There is the Cornish way (jam on the scone first, then cream) and the Devonian way (cream first, then jam). Who knew? And we’d eaten our Fowey tea all wrong. The ignominy of it; our mistake marking us out as complete amateurs. But it got me wondering how these things are decided? Who makes these ‘rules’?
When I was a child and enjoying our first family holiday on the Grand Union Canal, as we picked up our boat from Red Rose Cruisers in Berkhamsted, we were told the rule was to leave lock gates open as a courtesy to oncoming boaters (of course this didn’t help any hapless boaters following you). As the designated lockwheeler I did as I had been told. Now, of course, the Canal & River Trust asks boaters to close the lock gates behind them to help conserve water. And this at least seems to provide a level playing field for all boaters (although I know the debate still rages on today on some forums.)
The cream teas were delicious whether eaten the Cornish or the Devonian way, but the Cornish way is easier and less likely to cause spillage of the precious rich cream. Closing lock gates still means you have a lovely canal holiday, it doesn’t take more than a couple of seconds, and it helps us to save water. (There's a tenous link in there somewhere. Honest.)
Liz Waddington is editor of The Source, the Canal & River Trust’s monthly staff newspaper. She has been in love with canals and their industrial heritage since her first holiday on the Grand Union Canal when she was 10 years old. Liz likes nothing more than getting out and meeting her colleagues on the cut.See more blogs from this author