I read Kirsty Fergusson’s excellent book SLOW TRAVEL Cornwall and wrote down the names of towns that sounded interesting. That’s why Ruth & I went to Bodmin. It turned out to be very interesting but not for the reasons we went there. Bodmin has a long, colorful history but has seen better days.
It’s the only Cornish town mentioned in The Doomsday Book. Compiled in 1058, this was one of the earliest public record documents in history. It followed a survey ordered by King William I and listed all the landholdings and resources in the area. I don’t know how it got its depressing name. It became the foundation document of the British national archives. Bodmin was the scene of 7 Holy Wells visited by pilgrims searching for health and omens. Nearby Dozmary Pool is thought to be the lake from which King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, emerged from the depths. This hilly town sits near vast Bodmin Moor, a granite expanse that is the source of many of Cornwall’s rivers.
About 50 years ago a bureaucrat chose to close many local train depots. Many towns like Bodmin lost easy rail access to the rest of the country. The closest main line train service to Bodmin is 3 miles from town. The station is called Bodmin Parkway. Visitors like us have to rely on a slow bus to get us to town. The old Bodmin and Wenford that calls itself Cornwall’s premier steam railway, however, is still chugging around, but it’s a strictly tourist railroad going nowhere scenically.
The name Bodmin derives from the Celtic phrase “Bodmeneghy”. This means ‘by the sanctuary of monks’. Bodmin was already a monastic settlement in the 6th century. If you go there, don’t stay at the White Hart Inn, a hotel/pub we booked through Expedia. Most of the people who check in and dine next door at the Westbury Hotel and Restaurant call it the dungeon. That’s apt. It was so bad that we moved to the Westberry where its new proprietor, Le Khanh Au Duong, took very good care of us. The restaurant, which I highly recommend, serves typical English food and delicious Thai dishes.
Bodmin has some curious tourist attractions. The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry Museum was being visited by fewer and fewer tourists, so a new marketing director who redid it was hired. The conflicts that this regiment fought in, including the American Revolutionary War, form an impressive list. But the 2 best attractions we found in Bodmin were its comprehensive visitor center in the Shire Hall and an entertainment called the Courtroom Experience. It was truly original and I’ll tell you about another day.
ps Views from Bodmin’s White Hart Inn: