Plymouth now brands itself as ‘Britain’s Ocean City’ and next year they’ll be pulling out all the stops to celebrate the 400th anniversary of sailing of the Mayflower from the Barbican for the new world in 1620. Consequently all museums and galleries are currently closed and undergoing major refurbishment, being rebranded into a cultural hub to be known as ‘The Box’. For me Plymouth was THE city just 15 miles away on the 84 Bus from Tavistock but a world apart. The place I was occasionally taken to with mother to shop as a child in the 1950’s & early 60’s. Having been badly bombed in the war the centre was in effective a new town in the aftermath. I remember swathes of pink flowered rosebay willow herb – fireweed – growing profusely in undeveloped bombsites. Armada Way, a leafy pedestrian thoroughfare in the heart of the city, leading us from rail station to the Hoe, has since matured into a leafy green pedestrian corridor. Not that anyone was sitting around to enjoy it much; only the homeless, the alcoholics, the crippled elderly. Where once I was led as a child into big aspirational department stores like Dingles or C&A there were now only Poundland & B&M bargain basement emporiums.
ofThe new huge statue standing acrobatic guard outside the Theatre Royal (Where I once performed with Orchard Theatre Company) has split public opinion. The massive dark figure is modelled on an actor playing Bianca in Othello in rehearsal at the theatre. Can’t say it does much for me but as Mae West famously said “It’s better to be looked over than overlooked” and given the dramatic imperitive for attention in the public forum then the theatre cannot really lose. The structure that appealed to us in this great city in the process of rediscovering itself was the Royal William Yard. It’s an ongoing regeneration project by Urban Splash of the interconnected complex, severely elegant stone built warehouses built around its own self contained dock. An eclectic mix of restaurants, galleries, shops, artists workshops and a terrific commanding view from Devil’s Point over deep and fast moving tidal waters to Mount Edgcumbe on the Cornish side. We took the nearby Cremyll passenger ferry there and back. Only a short distance but it yields a magnificent vista full of interest. We clock Royal Marines on exercise in high powered landing craft, a frigate sailing in at speed, tug boats, yachts in harbour, small supply boat with a pair of divers at work. Plymouth Sound with its series of docks and sheltered river estuaries is a superb natural harbour which has given birth to a long and proud maritime and naval history. Mount Edgcumbe is the city’s country park, all 865 acres of it + the big house at the end of the avenue and drive ascending from the shore; lots of interconnected historic listed gardens & scores of monuments, scattered amongst fields, villlages, paths and tracks offering much to explore and with stunning views of city, harbour and western approaches. We only had time to sample a part of its generous multi-faceted offer and learned that due to Government imposed austerity cuts to both Plymouth and Cornwall County Councils (who between them run the park), the future funding of this magnificent estate – gifted to Plymouth & Cornwall by the Edgcumbe family – now lies in doubt. It’s inclusive free access is threatened, leaving it ripe for exploitation by profit making commercial interests if proper ongoing local authority funding is not secured. How good to see Plymouth in a new light, a place with great possibilities if they get their economic and socialpriorities right and secure the hearts and minds of citizens and visitors in the 21st century…I wish them well and look forward to returning one day to see the results.