Monday, April 30, 2007

Cornwall (part 3)

After our late night theatre escapade the previous night, it was time to go 'techie'. So we drove only 15 minutes from where we were staying. Goonhilly is dubbed as the largest satellite earth station on earth. It doesn't mean the largest satellite antenna but the largest collection of satellite antennas in the world. Me and the husband were particularly interested since we both majored in Electronics and Communications way back in university. If we followed what we were educated for we might have been employed in one of these sites.

What do these 'dishes' do? They transmit and receive live TV transmissions, millions of phone calls, video calls, email, data, faxes, and even weather and navigation data. There are also undersea cable lines that connects the communications station to various parts of the world.

The satelllite dish that greeted us (see above) at the entrance was certainly impressive, big and commanding, towering very high above us little midget humans. This my friends is the satellite dish called Arthur (I love the names they gave them). It's the oldest and one of the biggest in the lot.

Let's take a closer look at Arthur. It was built in 1962 to track the Telstar - a fast and low orbiting satellite. This means that Arthur can do a full swing of its face in just 3 minutes. Mind you, these are working antennas so tour can sometimes be cancelled at the last minute.

On the right-hand side is Merlin and in the middle of the 3 smaller dishes on the left is Geraint currently tasked to track an Inmarsat satellite over the Atlantic.

Here is a closer look at Merlin the largest on site with a dish diameter of 32 meters. It was used in 1985 to transmit the Live Aid concert worldwide.

It also has a Blue Peter badge for being featured in that children's TV program.

Because of advances in technology, huge satellite dishes such as Arthur and Merlin need not be built. Smaller satellite dishes such as above can adequately provide the same service on a smaller physical scale. If you notice, a number of windmills are in the background. That windfarm is not actually part of Goonhilly. It just adds to the peculiar sight of the place.

This is Guinevere. The only east facing satellite dish on site. It tracks the Intelsat satellite hovering over the Indian ocean.

There are a big number of other satellite dishes that I wasn't able to photograph - such as Uther, Lancelot, Isolde, Tristan, etc.

After the guided tour in a tourist bus we were escorted back to the visitor centre.

It has a lot of interactive displays for both adults and school children. There is of course the requisite gift shop and restaurant. I was also excited to find lots of iMacs in a corner with free internet access. The downside is I can't access gmail. :(

Some interactive displays that will keep the kids busy pushing buttons, pulling levers, etc.

But for me, the most eye-popping feature of this visitor centre is the 3-minute free phone call anywhere in the world! You guessed right, I phoned all my relatives and friends that I know that are still awake at that time.

It was a very stimulating experience for all of us most especially for me. I count ourselves lucky for this might be the last time we will see all these satellites as it is in the Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall. Because BT (the owner) has decided that by 2008 all of the satellites, except for Arthur, will be dismantled and moved to Hampshire. Shame they will remove these technological wonders in this beautiful location. :(

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Cornwall (part 2)

The next day we came to see Land's End - the westernmost tip of the British Isles. It's just unfortunate that it was not spared from the encroachment of commercialism. To gain access you have to go through this facade for a range of shops, theme park type of shows and restaurants. Of course, if you go via the Cornwall Coastal Path you won't have to pollute your senses of this commercialism. I say ignore all these and walk further ahead until you come to the beautiful rocky scene of the real Land's End.

Paths around here are paved and clearly marked so you can get from one vantage point to another.

This is the view from the other vantage point looking over at the commercial area at the entrance to Land's End. If you notice at the left-hand side of the picture there is a hanging bridge (green one) that may give some people the creepies. It hangs over a cliff where a fall would land you some 200+ feet down the crashing waves below.

That's Cape Cornwall on the foreground - notice the cave carved out by the sea? I walked around that area during a stormy windy day several years ago when I walked the dog (Jack) of a local friend. The sound and power of the waves crashing on the rocks was just amazing.

Some scenes in Land's End. Almost every building here is named 'first and last' this and that. So you have the first and last pub or the first and last inn - ad nauseaum.

After a great time touring Land's End, we decided to do a little cultural thing with the kids. So off we went to Minack Theatre, an open-air theatre having the full expanse of the sea as a backdrop. How's that for drama?

The theatre itself was carved out of the rocks on the cliffside. Such amazing lifetime effort from the woman who started this - Rowena Cade. Their garden was amazing, too. All plants there are made to withstand sea breeze and most probably sea gales as well.

Since this theatre is open to the elements we naturally brought our jackets. But we were wondering what we were getting ourselves into because at the car park we saw a number of people dressed in winter garbs as in layered thick outdoors clothes, wooly hats, gloves, boots, the whole lot. Some even brought in sleeping bags! We decided to play it safe and buy a few wooly hats and jumpers in their gift shops. I know it's expensive but I'd rather pay than be stone cold for a few hours.

This is the stage of the Minack. As you can see the audiences' seating is quite steep. We had to hire (£1 each) cushions to protect us from the cold hard granite seating. See that rocky headland in the middle of the picture? Way before the play started we saw a couple of fishermen walked there, positioned themselves and cast their rods. We thought they would leave by dusk. But what do you know, they were still at it even after the play finished at 10PM !

The musical play we saw was Les Miserables staged by the Kidz R Us amateur theatre company from St. Ives. As their name suggests, all of the cast are kids and teenagers. Despite that the play was marvellous. The singers especially were good. The orchestral music was even live and judging from their sound, all done by kids as well. However, I could just imagine the worry of the parents of these kids because by nightfall the wind was gently blowing with chilly early springtime breeze. I hope none of them fell ill in their sometimes skimpy clothes.

We were shivering as well though we managed to survive with our warm clothes on. The beauty of the setting was apparent from the start but is most especially fantastically dramatic as the sun was setting throwing all red and yellow hues in the horizon. Then a lighthouse from a distance turned on and a brightly lit fishing boat sailed past. Such memorable sight they all are as a backdrop for a very good production of Les Miserable.

On our way home, Deng revealed why he was particularly keen on this musical. It turned out he (or rather a classmate) made a book report on the novel where it is based. He said it's only now decades later that he fully understood the whole story! ;)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cornwall (part 1)

I tried very hard for us to go away during the Easter break a few weeks ago because the stress at work is getting to me and I need to unwind. Probably not necessarily rest but a change from routine and scenery is a very much welcome change. Also, I know once the major project at work gets into full swing in late May I can't have any days off later.

Our choice of holiday place was heavily influenced by a 50% discount promotion of a caravan holiday homes in Cornwall besides the fact that the western tip of that county is probably my most favourite place in UK. I've been there at least 4 times and I have always loved the vibes of the area and the beautiful coastal sceneries that could rival any in the world. This time around I've got the whole family with me plus Tony nephew, Dennis, with his kids J and K. We stayed in a caravan park called Weststar Holiday Park in Mullion which is in the Lizard Peninsula.

I'm chronicling here in four parts the places we visited in Cornwall. As usual, these posts will be picture intensive. If you want a bigger view just click on the picture itself. First off, we went to this place called Kynance Cove in the Lizard peninsula.

We had to pay £3.00 to park our car but it was well worth it.

The path leading to the cove is downhill and winding. Later on you have to go down a steep path down a cliff to get to the beach itself.

Then you get a view of this awesome sight of cliffs, massive rocks, fine white sand beach and clear aquamarine waters. For awhile you could think that it's a Hollywood movie set - everything was perfectly arranged as if it was someone's handiwork. Mother nature is truly a great artist.

It was breathtaking so much so that J2 said - "I didn't know there were places as beautiful as this in England!"

The waters were so clean and the beach so pristine that we can't help wading in.

There were a lot of beautiful and intriguing rock formations.

Everywhere you turn ...

... you see a lot of beautiful rock formations, little nooks ...

... and a lot of caves carved out by the sea into the solid rock faces of the cliffs. We had a great time exploring these. I could just imagine pirates of old times coming here to hide things, do business, etc.

We actually loved it so much that we went back again in the afternoon on the same day. We sat hunkered down in the western edge only for about 15 minutes when a lady kindly told us that the tide was coming in and we need to get to the other side so we won't get cut off from the exit steps in the cliffs. Thank goodness for that we got out with just minutes to spare.

Sadly we have to leave Kynance cove. Here's a last look at a truly beautiful place.