“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent
And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted,
the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.”
– Daphne du Maurier
Glorious Cornwall, how we love that beautiful county of cream teas and clotted cream, stunning coastline and mild maritime climate. During this time of lock-down, we can’t travel to Cornwall in person but we can be reminded of happy times there. I hope you enjoy these highlights of a memorable trip I organised there for 30 guests in May 2018.
Amongst the places we visited were; Boconnoc House, the Lost Gardens of Heligan, Antony House, Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Manderley’ and the stunning Tregothnan Estate, believed to be the first place to grow ornamental Camellias in Britain (200 years ago) and still the only place in England growing and exporting tea.
We arrived for our tour and private dinner at Boconnoc to be warmly greeted by the owner, Elizabeth Fortescue, and with the stunning Georgian facade of the house basking in the late afternoon sunshine.
“This magical house sits in one of the most beautiful settings in Cornwall and was crying out to be restored and used. It is wonderful to see it come back to life and to see the important painted staircase influenced by Soane so carefully respected in its restoration.” – James Stourton, former Chairman of Sotheby’s UK
In 2000 Elizabeth and her late husband Anthony, embarked on a major 12 year refurbishment of the house, restoring Soane-inspired features and introducing stylish contemporary interiors. The project won the HHA/Sotheby’s Restoration Award 2012.
Elizabeth treated us to a tour around the house and the grounds which included the intriguing Georgian Bath House and gardens blooming with colourful rhododendrons. Following a relaxed glass of champagne in the Drawing Room the group enjoyed a private 3-course dinner in the Orangery – totally delightful.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan in Pentewan, near St Austell is somewhere you must put on your list if you haven’t visited already. Lost to the brambles of time since the outbreak of WW1, the 200-acre gardens were re-awakened in 1990 to become Europe’s largest garden restoration project.
In August 1914, the 22 gardeners that managed the gardens for the Tremayne family, went off to fight in WW1. They left a message, still visible on an old wall today ‘Don’t come here to sleep or slumber’ – signing their names beneath the motto. Most never returned and the gardens were left unattended to grow wild until 1987 when a team of enthusiasts, led by Dutch archaeologist, Tim Smit, discoverd a hidden door that opened into the jungle that became The Lost Gardens of Heligan … the rest is history.
Antony House, near Torpoint, is one of my favourite Cornish houses for two reasons; firstly it is only five miles from Portwrinkle (see my photo of sunset over the sea at Portwrinkle June 2017) where my family and I spent holidays for over 40 years) and also because it is the home of Sir Richard Carew Pole, Trustee of the RA Trust and a lifelong philanthropist.
Built between 1711-1721 for Sir William Carew Pole, the house contains a fine collection of paintings and treasures including a portrait of Charles I at his trial. Sir Richard gave us a private tour around the main rooms which are richly panelled with Dutch Oak. The magic of Antony was captured by director Tim Burton, as a film location for his blockbuster, Alice in Wonderland.
Another sunny morning and we set off full of anticipation on our journey to visit Menabilly, the privately owned house (not open to the public) on which Daphne du Maurier based the location of Manderley, in her haunting novel Rebecca. We stopped off at The Rashleigh Arms for coffee and shortbread on the terrace, before our coach drove us slowly along the meandering drive to the house. We had a very special visit looking at photos and paintings from the time Daphne and her family lived there between 1943-1966, followed by time to wander in the grounds and venture along the path leading down to the sea.
As a private botanic garden and arboretum Tregothnan is unequalled, offering a diversity of plants and trees, rare collections, sweeping vistas and peaceful secluded groves. The estate enjoys a special sub-tropical climate where hillsides of tea bushes (camellia sinensis) have produced the UK’s only home-grown crops of tea since 2005.
I had arranged for Jonathon Jones, the managing director at the estate (and former head gardener) to give us a personal tour. The sun was beating down on the glorious Himalayan Valley (see below) and the group enjoyed hearing the story of how the plantations came about following Jonathon’s many visits to plantations around the world and the knowledge he acquired while doing so. Naturally, after our tour, we enjoyed scones with jam and clotted cream and, of course… lashings of freshly brewed (and homegrown) tea!
You may like to know that during this period of Coronavirus lockdown, online sales of Tregothnan tea (and associated goodies) have sky-rocketed with 12 times as much business as normal. Usually they sell to upmarket stores such as Fortnum and Mason but Jonathon says:
“I think people are consoling themselves with a cup of tea. People are video talking to each other and having a cup of tea online. We don’t know what’s going to happen in life, we hope that people will get back to drinking tea together but we don’t know when that will be.”
If you’d like to browse their selection of teas, honey and other products please see here
Image credits: Painting of the Rashleigh Arms is by J.A. Davies/photo of Jonathon Jones with cup of tea c. Jim Wileman/other images Sue Stamp