Tag Archives: Pentewan

On This Day – An Atlantic Storm in Cornwall

I am hoping that later this year I will be able to on annual holiday with my grandchildren.  In 2019  we went to Cornwall to the fishing village of Mevagissy and made our arrival amidst a mighty Atlantic Storm…

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Cornwall, The Lost Gardens of Heligan

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“Heligan is a modern miracle, once the estate of the Tremayne family, it was definitively scuppered – like so much else – by the First World War. It lost the great bulk of its staff and its thousand acres or more lapsed into almost complete decay.”  – John Fowles

After a couple of days we had exhausted all of the obvious local National Trust options that were close by and with no real appetite to tackle the dreadful A30 again we decided to stay local even though this involved putting hands in pockets and paying an entrance fee.  We chose the ‘Lost Gardens of Heligan’ which cost £55 for a family ticket.

Heligan, it turns out is one of the most interesting estates in all of England. Lost to the brambles of time since the outbreak of WW1, this Sleeping Beauty was re-awakened in 1990 to become Europe’s largest garden restoration project. Even without Alan Titchmarsh!

The name says it all I suppose. These gardens on the south coast of Cornwall near Mevagissey had once been a thriving country estate, but went into decline after the First World War and lost to the sands and weeds of time.

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The story of the lost gardens of Heligan is now the stuff of legend. When the ecologist Tim Smit and local builder John Nelson entered the estate sometime in 1990 they made a pivotal discovery – the magnificently named Thunderbox Room, which had been the gardener’s lavatory.

The pair found signatures scribbled on the flaking plaster along with the date August 1914, as they prepared to leave and go to war.  These were the men who had looked after the gardens and the pair resolved to rediscover them.  Twelve left, only three returned and the nine lost their lives on the battlefields of France.

After the war the owner John ‘Jack’ Tremayne declared that ‘he couldn’t live with the ghosts of the place’ and left Heligan for Italy. No Tremayne has lived there since.  With a desperate shortage of labour in the post-war years the gardens were abandoned and left to return to nature.

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In 1990, work began on what is Europe’s largest garden restoration project and now it is possible to get an idea of what a Victorian estate may have looked like.

And what a splendid job they have made of the ambitious restoration and we discovered a lot to see and do in the gardens and surrounding woodland. The northern gardens around the house consist of a productive vegetable and fruit area and some pleasure grounds, which include various aristocratic distractions such as an enclosed Italianate garden and the pineapple pit where the fruit is grown under glass in rotting manure. From the formal gardens the estate slopes south towards Mevagissey and the highlight is the ten acre jungle garden because the combination of a south-facing valley and mild Cornish climate makes this perfect for exotics.

I always worry about taking children to see gardens for fear that they might be bored but there was no chance of that at Heligan.  We walked for almost five miles along the paths, running, skipping, jumping, climbing (the children of course, not me) and after our picnic on the lawn and as we left we declared the day to be a resounding success with no complaints from us about the entrance fee which we all agreed was very good value for money.

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Cornwall, Mevagissey and a Stormy Arrival

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The early Spring weather in the United Kingdom had been especially good, we had been lucky in the Forest of Dean for a couple of days and enjoyed the sunshine and we were hopeful for more as we drove to Cornwall but when we arrived in the port village of Mevagissey our optimism was literally blown away.

There was a howling south-easterly gale that was roaring into the jaws of the sheltered port and sending sea and spray crashing over the protective harbour walls.  We had been advised to park in the harbour car park but as we drove along the narrow road and waves washed over the car this didn’t look very promising.  As we drove out again I spotted a man sheltering in a doorway and sought advice.  I didn’t catch a lot of what he said because like a thief the wind stole the words almost as soon as they passed his lips.  He expressed surprise to see us driving along the harbour wall in such severe conditions and I deduced from his mannerisms that this was not an specially good idea so we set about finding an alternative place to park.

This was about five hundred yards away from our holiday cottage and with the only access up a steep narrow path there was no chance of getting any closer to unload the luggage so we had to make several journeys back and forth to transfer all of the luggage and the shopping bags from the cars.  Once this was achieved there was time to survey the cottage.

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It was named ‘Tranquility’ but standing right at the top of the path and overlooking the turbulent harbour below there was nothing very tranquil about it tonight.  As the gale grew stronger the windows rattled and the lashing rain streamed down the glass as we looked out and debated who should go back into the village to bring back the fish and chips supper that we had promised ourselves.  Naturally it was me that got the most nominations.

The rain continued through most of the night and I was disturbed several times, not only by the gale outside but by nagging thoughts about how we might amuse ourselves in the morning if the weather showed no significant improvement.

Well, by the morning the rain had stopped but the wind was just as fierce so that ruled out the visit to the beach which was what the children wanted so after breakfast we pulled on our rainwater clothing and stepped out for a walk along the coastal footpath south to the village of Portmellon.  Over the headland we battled against the wind and on arrival took shelter in a coffee shop whilst the children played near the sea.  I had almost forgotten that little people barely take notice of the weather and whist we adults complain and grumble they just get on with enjoying themselves regardless.  Later in a sheltered cove I couldn’t even dissuade them from going into the sea!

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Later in the day we ventured outside again and this time walked in the opposite direction on the coastal path.  We had intended to walk as far as the beach village of Pentewan but at just about the half way point it started to gently rain so we abandoned the plan and returned to the cottage.  Just as well that we did because shortly before we arrived back home then it began to rain with fierce intensity and we had to make a dash for shelter right at the end.

No real harm done at this point until I was later persuaded to walk down to the village to visit the free admission aquarium in the harbour.  Later I was told that it was free right enough, free for a reason.  By now it was pouring with rain and the sea was crashing over the harbour walls so we had to pick the right moment to move forward to avoid a real drenching.

When we got there the place was closed with a sign promising ‘Back in Five Minutes’.  I don’t think the staff were anticipating any visitors this afernoon because we waited for ten but no one showed up so thoroughly damp we made our way back stopping on route for some traditional Cornish pasties for our evening meal. I suspect no one ever went back to the aquarium that afternoon.

We hoped the weather would be better the next day but looking out of the window at the squally sea and the towering columns of water and foam I confess that I was not terribly optimistic.

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