Would Drake have beaten the Armada out of Plymouth if he’d been lounging around the tea rooms and coffee shops they have in town today?

Plymouth may have been virtually flattened in the Blitz, but it’s still got its Elizabethan tea rooms and the coffee isn’t bad either!

I’d only ever been to Plymouth before for work events; the kind of visits where you see hotel rooms, conference suites and maybe a restaurant if you’re lucky. I’d not ventured more than 100 yards from my hotel and all I’d seen were the 1950s concrete slabs that make up the shopping streets of the post-war city centre. And pretty ugly they all are.

But this week I made time to snoop around the really old bits. And it is a really fascinating place.

The harbour area is full of reminders of people who have passed through on their way to new lives: the Pilgrim Fathers heading off to America; convicts (and free shiploads) heading south to Australia.

Up on the Hoe, there are great views out to sea, but I can’t help feeling they could do more with the whole Drake final-game-of-bowls-before-I-destroy-the-Armada scenario. The single statue of the Elizabethan admiral (well, apparently, vice-admiral), capped by a sea gull and the white stripes over his forehead from what sea gulls do best, all felt a bit sad when there’s such a great story to tell…

The only decent independent coffee shop we could find was Coffee Bean Central, right in the middle of that concrete shopping area.

Coffee Bean Central - coffee shop in Plymouth

They do a nice cup of coffee (and equally nice hot chocolate or loose-leaf tea) and they have the friendly feel of a family-run establishment. Best spot inside is definitely upstairs, looking down on Plymouth’s pedestrians out and about in the cold.

Upstairs inside Coffee Bean Central in Plymouth

This is a fairly new venture – only opened its doors this summer – and we wish them luck.

The (Catholic) Cathedral stands high up in a residential part of the city. The narrow, cobbled streets all around suggest this place was teeming with terraced houses or tenements until they were bombed in the Blitz. It’s a miracle the Cathedral survived at all.

Plymouth Catholic Cathedral

But as with many Catholic cathedrals, this functions almost exclusively as a place of worship, rather than tourist destination. The only information dotted about the place is there to explain to those unfamiliar with Christian traditions and rituals what the various parts of the Church are for.

It was a bit short on the kind of stories I’m looking for: I’d like to know more about how it survived those 59 bombing raids on Plymouth in the War; how the Bishop reacted when his new ‘throne’ was installed (it’s a very plain, modern, wooden chair); and more on the link to the garrisons and shipyards here.

Oh well.

At least Plymouth still has fantastic tea rooms (one of the rare cities on this cathedral tour where good tea is easier to find than good coffee…).

The Tudor Rose Tea Rooms are in a wonderful old 17th century building, backing on to the pretty Elizabethan gardens.

Tudor Rose Tea Rooms in Plymouth

I knew I’d like this place as soon as I got such a cheery welcome from Mariana, the Hungarian waitress who showed that you don’t have to be English to have a passion and a fair bit of knowledge about afternoon tea…

The scones are all baked in-house (thanks to head chef, Gemma), and the jam and cream make this a classic Devonshire Cream Tea.

Devonshire Cream Tea at the Tudor Rose Tea Rooms in Plymouth

The tea comes in a tea bag, but you know sometimes that can taste OK, and here there’s a nice local touch as they serve a ‘Devonshire Brew’…

This was a great find in the most fascinating part of Plymouth. Mind you, take a look at some of the historical noticeboards up around the area: it became a squalid slum district in the mid 19th century, when you’d sometimes get 60 people living in one small house.

This is the arty, independent shopping part of Plymouth now, though. So don’t miss this area even if you’re here on other business. I wished I’d known about it on those earlier business trips…

Video: Coffee, tea and cathedral in Plymouth

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2 Responses to Would Drake have beaten the Armada out of Plymouth if he’d been lounging around the tea rooms and coffee shops they have in town today?

  1. Tim Cross says:

    Interesting to hear your thoughts on Plymouth – I agree that more could be done to promote the history surrounding Drake and the Armada – I believe there are plans to revamp the bowling green as a start. Plymouth is a city full of history but you do have to take the time to explore to find some of it.

    • admin says:

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Tim. Our next themed tour is of cuppas by the lidos so we’re back in Plymouth as soon as they repair Tinside Pool after this winter’s storms. If you have any tips on things we missed, we can compensate when we come down this summer (if the pool is back up and running…)

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