Plymouth - an unpolished diamond
Plymouth isn’t perfect. But bits of it come pretty damn close.
Many first time visitors to the city centre confess to being more than a little disappointed. It’s concrete and functional with some decent shops and coffee houses.
But where’s the charm, the romance - that “spirit of discovery” promised to us on those signs on the A38 as we head into the city which gave us Sir Francis Drake, Dawn French, Scott of the Antarctic and Tom Daley?!
It has some pleasant enough features but it’s all a bit, well…bland and lacklustre.
No grand cathedrals provide a photographic focal point, as they do in neighbouring Exeter and Truro.
There’s a central Sun Dial which is popular gathering spot for the city’s youth. It’s attractive enough but not the sort of thing to stop you in your tracks and make you gaze open mouthed with awe. And you’d be hard pushed to even find Plymouth’s cathedral which is tucked away down a back street.
The Civic Centre is the dominant building – a grey, ugly and crumbling rectangle built in 1960 and now well past its sell by date. It’s in such a sorry state of repair that the city council wants to demolish it. English Heritage scotched that plan by slapping a listed sticker on the building causing an outcry among many city residents, dismayed that anyone in their right mind could consider such an underwhelming building worthy of protection.
A short walk west from the city centre takes you along pavements blighted by chewing gum, into notorious Union Street where trees and foliage flourish in the cracks of decaying buildings. The drunks and dispossessed spend their days on the steps of the C103 nightclub and heroin addled hookers teeter on the corners of grim alleyways.
So far, so dismal.
It’s enough to make even the most intrepid tourist run for the hills. It’s not surprising that the highly regarded Lonely Planet guide described Plymouth as 'gritty but not always pretty'.
But Plymouth is a city which is worth a closer look. TV personality Kevin McCloud, presenter of Grand Designs, describes Plymouth as an “unpolished gem”.
So having got some of the bad and ugly stuff out the way, let’s turn to the good. And there’s plenty of it. In fact, we’d go so far as to say this city is one of Britain’s best kept secrets…find out why.