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My fave places: Dr Deborah Stevens

How do you cycle from Lands End to John O'Groats in lockdown? We caught up with retired Cornish doctor, Dr Deborah Stevens, to find out how, why and also got the lowdown on her fave places in Cornwall. Where to first?

For 27 years Dr Deborah Stevens worked at the heart of Cornish charity Cornwall Hospice Care, spending 20 of them as Medical Director.  She saw at first hand the difference the service makes to patients and their families and now in her retirement, she’s taking on a crazy cycle challenge to help fund the care.

We caught up with Dr Deborah to hear more about her virtual cycle and nosy out some of her favourite places in Cornwall.

You say virtual cycle, but it sounds pretty real to me!

True! It’s real in that I am cycling real hard miles around my local, hilly area to reach the 874 miles between Lands End and John O’Groats, but virtual in the sense that I’m staying local, not heading off for John O’Groats. It’s keeping me occupied in my retirement and giving my exercise time out of the house a sense of purpose!

Tell us more about your favourite places – and are they part of your cycles?

All my circuits have to start and finish where I live, so one of my favourite and frequent rides is along the coast path from my home in Marazion to Penzance.

Marazion to Newlyn round Mounts Bay

In the summer we will often ride to the Jubilee Pool where I love swimming in the art deco saltwater lido looking up to St Mary’s Church and the rest of Penzance. A late morning swim is followed by delicious home cooked food in the Jubilee Pool Café.

In the winter we will ride past the pool and along the prom in Penzance, beautiful now it has been restored, to watch the Pirates play at the Mennaye field.

Alternatively, we will ride further to Newlyn and buy fish from Stevenson’s and then have lunch at the Tolcarne Inn in Newlyn, which serves fabulous seafood.

St Hilary Church

Another of my cycling circuits takes me through St Hilary. My children attended St Hilary School and I therefore have a close connection with St Hilary Church, whose 13th century spire can be seen for many of my cycle rides.

The church itself is decorated works by the Newlyn artists as Father Bernard Walke who was based there during the twenties and thirties had close connections with the Newlyn community. He wrote a fascinating book, Twenty Years in St Hilary, about his time in the village.

St Hilary Church was also the site of the first outside drama broadcast by the BBC in 1927 when the nativity play, featuring the villagers was broadcast to the nation on Christmas Eve. The play was so popular that the play was repeated over the next 8 years. The little boy who was with the shepherds in the original broadcast, played the lead shepherd in the 75th anniversary production on Dec 24th 1997 which was also broadcast on Radio 4, and his grandson was the little boy with the lamb. My children were also involved in that broadcast.

My daughter got married in St Hilary Church on a wonderful spring day when all the daffodils were in bloom two years ago.

Men an Tol and Ding Dong mine circular walk

This is a much-loved family walk at any time of year. I love the moors and the sense of space whilst also being reminded of the working history of Cornwall. The children, when smaller were always keen to crawl through the circular stone and encourage the dogs to run through in the hope of puppies. (The stone is reputed to have fertility powers and young women were encouraged to pass through the stone to encourage conception)

Glorious in the summer, and I have never seen as many butterflies as there were last year, but also marvellous on a wild windy day. We often go for a Boxing Day walk with Christmas cake and champagne and return home with tired and muddy dogs.

The Tinners Arms at Zennor is a welcoming place for lunch after all the fresh air.

Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens and Kitchen

One of the Great Gardens of Cornwall, the Sculpture Garden at Tremenheere is the result of many years of hard work by Neil Armstrong. Not the American astronaut of course, but a local GP. Dr Armstrong acquired the site at the end of the 90s and after sourcing many plants from overseas, has created a visionary garden in the sheltered Tremenheere valley, surrounded by the natural woodland, which opened to the public in 2012. Incorporating pieces of modern sculpture into the landscape and some wonderful viewpoints over Mounts Bay and St Michael’s Mount, it is very relaxing to walk through the gardens. 

We often ride there to enjoy a leisurely breakfast or lunch, either in the Kitchen, or sitting on the grassy slope under the Restless Temple, slowly moving in the breeze. Our own garden, which is also south facing over Mount’s Bay, contains several plants from the nursery shop and it was at Tremenheere that we celebrated our daughter’s wedding in 2019.

Periglis Beach, St Agnes, Isles of Scilly

© Dave Farrar, Methigion Cricket Club

For the last 35 years the Cornish doctors’ cricket team, Methigion, have gone on a weekend tour to the Scillies in mid-September. Once young doctors are now grandparents, who return with their families and new young doctors to play cricket on the most southwestern pitch in the British Isles (on the meadow below the lighthouse behind Periglis beach in St Agnes, above). It has a concrete strip with a matting wicket and when we first went, before the obligatory cricket helmets, one of the veteran St Agnes team came out to bat in a motor bike helmet. In 2017 a photograph of the match was included in Wisden’s almanack.

The islanders are so welcoming and provide a fantastic tea, always well received halfway through the match and after the morning walk round Gugh or St Agnes. There is a timelessness to sitting huddled in the bank by Periglis beach, out of the wind, watching a match on a camomile field where really the only scoring options are a 1 or a 6. Then at the end of the match, when team photographs are being taken, finally looking out to The Bishop Rock lighthouse as the sun sets is like looking at the edge of the world.

The journey home in the open inter-island boat in the dark, surrounded by all the lighthouses in the Scillies, after hot chocolate with brandy in the Turks Head, is truly magical and for many of us marks the last day of summer.

Some of us have not missed this weekend for 35 years until last year, but the real hope is that we will all be on the 35th tour in September 2021.

And why is the Cornwall Hospice Care your chosen charity?

It is a service that I know very well, having worked there for 27 years, but my main reason for trying to raise awareness and support is because I know first-hand how much relief I felt and how much difference the hospice made to my mum and to me when she died in 2010 in St Julia’s Hospice.

Can we hear more about your time working with the hospice?

Yes! Before I retired, I recorded a podcast episode with the hospice, looking back over my medical career in Cornwall, talking about the sad times and the funnier moments too. The podcast is Two Old Choughs, a Tale of Two Hospices, mine is episode 12, called “Someone who travels beside you”. 

Dr Deborah is doing the LEJOG challenge on behalf of Cornwall Hospice Care. Her aim is to raise £960 which will fund a weekend of nursing care in the hospice.

Find more ideas here

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