The first thing I learned for this article is that, contrary to what growing up in Plymouth would have me believe, it isn’t spelled Gunners Lake. The second thing is that it is surprisingly close to Tavistock.
Located right on the border of Devon and Cornwall, Gunnislake is within the Tamar Valley Area of Natural Beauty. From Plymouth, it is fairly easily accessible via a 45-minute journey, or two buses – first to Tavistock, then onto to Gunislake.
Owing to my motion sickness and the fact that I love a good train ride, I hopped on the train at Plymouth Station and spent the next three-quarters of an hour frantically searching the internet for information about Gunnislake. The internet left a lot to be desired.
The small, residential village used to be a mining town, which is documented in the award winning visitor museum Morwellham Quay. The first Wednesday in August hosts the start of a week-long summer festival.
This is all an initial internet search told me about the small Cornish village. My expectations heading into this adventure were that of a fairly removed village straight out of The Famous Five, or an Agatha Christie story.
After a beautiful train ride with shockingly good reception, we pulled into Gunnislake station and I found out that it wasn’t in Gunnislake. Apparently Gunnislake was about a half-mile walk down a busy main road with lorries chugging up and down at all speeds.
This is worth mentioning, as I imagine it could be difficult for a wheelchair or other mobility aid, or a baby’s buggy, to get down – or rather, up – that hill from the station to the village. Not that the local people seemed to mind.
“It’s alright walking down, not so nice walking up,” says one local man as I’m panting down the hill. I turned around and, to my disbelief, he’d vanished, so either it was a much longer walk than I thought, or the train had brought me somewhere magical.
Despite the lack of people wandering around, which may have been my fault for visiting on a random Tuesday afternoon, there was an overwhelming feel of community. From proudly displaying their ‘Outstanding’ award from the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘It’s Your Neighborhood’ scheme at the entrance to the village, to the community notice boards dotted about, you get the sense that the people here truly care about their home and each other .
Not that it’s always quiet, mind you. Freya, a barmaid at The Rising Sun Inn, told me that Sunday and Monday afternoons are where things really kick off.
“We have an open mic night on Mondays and on Sundays an open mic day – it’s really chilled and relaxed. The big event we’re getting ready for is the Jubilee, to celebrate the Queen. “
The pub is organizing a soap-box derby with some of the locals for the Jubilee weekend. They will be hosting a workshop to build the carts, before racing them in both a children’s race, and one for the grown-ups too.
“You’ve found the one recluse in Gunnislake,” Freya laughs. “It’s a really nice atmosphere – everyone knows everyone.”
One of the pub patrons, George, tells me it is why they do not need a police station in the village: “because everyone knows everyone’s business”.
Near the well-beloved statue of the Gunnislake Miner, in a corner surrounded by blooming flowers, there is an old red telephone box, which acts as a community book swap. People can leave books they no longer want and take books they would like to.
Started up during the pandemic in 2020, the phone box is full when I pass it, neat and tidy, and with a sign on the door that begs people to take some books if they’re going to leave some. Since I did not have anything to leave behind, I decided not to rifle through the books, but it is something you wouldn’t see everywhere.
Down the road from the phone box was ‘The Koffee Lodge’, where I stopped for a drink after my long and arduous journey down that hill. Sarah Reeves, one of the owners, told me that living in Gunnislake suited her down to the ground.
“We love it. We moved here in 2017, in September, and honestly it’s the best thing we ever could have done. “
“It’s great to be in such a lovely little community – and it is a full on community, you know, if anyone ever needs a hand with anything you just need to put a shout-out and there’s always somebody willing to come forward and help with something. “
Peter Holmes, of ‘Pete and Di’s Bazzar’, said that he had very few complaints. Well, except about the lack of a road sweeper.
“It’s wonderful living here. You’ve got everything you could need – a hairdresser and a supermarket, a doctor’s surgery and a train station, not many villages have that. “Did you know we’re the first village in Cornwall? Saltash is a town, so if you’re coming from that direction as well, we’re the first. “
Peter told me the train ride from Plymouth was “picturesque” and I agreed. Plus, it’s a fair bit shorter than the bus ride from the city.
Further down the road, there is an honesty shop, full of little knick knacks and plants, like a tourism shop but with no people operating it. While I was taking a photo, I wondered if something like that would work in the city, or if people would just abuse the system?
After chatting in the pub with Freya, George and Clive, I tried to take what I thought was a shortcut back to the train station because there really was not very long till my train ride home. Unfortunately for me – and any readers from Gunnislake are probably laughing right now – that shortcut turned out to be a colossal great big hill, the steepness of, say, Ford Hill or Hollycroft Road, but probably twice as long.
I had to sit down twice on my way up to the mountain. By the time I reached the top my legs were burning and I couldn’t breathe but it was okay, because I had a lot of time to rest at the top waiting two-hours for my train ride home.
The roads in and out of Gunnislake were constantly packed, and I’m not sure if it was cars from the people who lived there, or people just passing through. Gunnislake isn’t built for tourists, it is created by the people who live there, for the people who live there, but the people just passing through are missing out on community spirit, friendly faces, and beautiful scenes.
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