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Europe » United Kingdom » England » Cornwall » Par 16th June 2010 Tregrehan (pronounced Trgrain), nearby beaches at Polkerris and Porthpean, and Charlestown

sunny 20 °C

We reached our rented holiday cottage in Tregrehan Gardens in the late afternoon.

The key was in the door, there was milk in the fridge, and tea and coffee in the cupboard.

The cottage, reached by an impressive winding driveway through parkland grazed by sheep, is actually part of a converted coach house. The adjoining buildings have huge doors fit for the grandest of horse-drawn carriages. Strangely, this cottage is called 'Game Keepers'. It’s reminiscent of a cottage we’ve rented in the past at Aberglasney Gardens in Wales (see our blog: 'A garden lost in time'). We found it comfortable and very well-equipped, although perhaps in need of a little up-dating here and there.

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We have a small front garden facing south, towards the back of stately Tregrehan House on the far side of a large, stony courtyard. It’s a pleasant place to while away an hour or two on a sunny day. We also have a spacious and very private, walled rear garden, but this can only be accessed from one of the two upstairs bedrooms, so that’s not much used.

It's extremely quiet - just birdsong and distant bleating of the resident sheep. The only traffic is from the postman's van in the mornings and the few other paying guests staying in nearby cottages - and we’re a long way from a main road. Swallows swirl around our back garden during the day, replaced by bats doing the same as darkness falls. There's a blackbirds’ nest with four chicks in the bush of hardy fuchsia outside our front door and some martins nesting in the stable/garage immediately opposite.

Tregrehan Gardens is open to the public on certain days at a charge of £5 a head. As residents, we can walk around the parkland and the walled garden whenever we wish. We can also visit the rest of the 10-hectare garden without charge when it’s open to the public, currently on just one day a week.

Unlike other grand gardens we’re visiting on this holiday, Tregrehan is family owned and managed. There’s a distinct New Zealand connection here. The Carlyon family has owned the place since 1565. Most of the planting was carried out in the late-19th century by Jovey Carlyon when he came back from New Zealand, although I can’t quite figure out why he’d gone there in the first place - it was probably one of those things that young men did in days gone by. Although the current proprietors are Tom and Jo Hudson, they’re related to the Carlyons through Tom’s grandmother, and Jo certainly has more than a hint of a kiwi accent.

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While visitor numbers are said to be good earlier in the year, when the camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas are in bloom, sightseers were noticeable by their absence here in mid-June, so we’ve had the gardens almost to ourselves. They’re pretty enough, particularly the walled garden, reached through a former grain mill and apple store that have seen better days. With its little pond, picturesque fountain and arching, bronze-leaved Acer, the walled garden is a tranquil place. A fine 1846 greenhouse, holding plants needing protection against rare winter frosts, occupies one entire side. In the wider estate, there are spectacular, tall trees, vast woodland gardens, and a whole plantation of camellias.

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Everywhere has a friendly, informal, slightly unkempt look. It’s almost as if they weren’t too bothered whether people came to see the gardens or not - even the ‘Open’ sign at the main entrance was hidden behind shrubs in need of a trim. Perhaps it was because, at this time of year, the gardens lacked a ‘wow’ factor (although that would be easy to achieve with some colourful planting and removal of dead stuff by the reception and entrance areas) or maybe because two gardeners plus occasional pruning and slug control by elderly parents is simply not sufficient resource for such a huge estate.

However, this is a perfect base for visits to some of the better-known gardens in this part of Cornwall. The world-class Eden Project, for example, is within a quarter of an hour’s walk, the Lost Gardens of Heligan are a short drive to the south, and the unmissable Lanhydrock is around half an hour to the north.

You may also have heard of the towns of Fowey, Mevagissey, St Mawes, Truro and Padstow. They’re all close by - and may be mentioned in my accompanying blogs.

There are some lovely small coves with sandy beaches nearby too. Just two are worthy of mention here - Polkerris and Porthpean, on opposite sides of St Austell Bay.

We saw two dolphins, an orca, a crocodile and a dinosaur when we visited Polkerris on the eastern side of the bay.

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The creatures were, of course, of the inflatable variety and ideal for kids to float on when the sea was as calm as it was that day. The beach is terrific for dads to dig holes and make sandcastles. This was once a fishing village so there's a little harbour and a few buildings - old ones, mainly converted to provide facilities for visitors. The car park is small and half way down a steep hill - unless, like us, you're a patron of the Rashleigh Inn beside the beach. Arrive for a very early lunch on a weekday outside of school holidays and you could be one of the lucky dozen to squeeze into their private car park and thus avoid the trudge back up the hill afterwards. We'd tried to get in here on a Sunday without success. There's a watersports centre, a pizza restaurant and a shop here too, but the inn on the beach is the place to be. It has a very good restaurant inside, but on a fine sunny day we enjoyed our excellent fish lunch on the terrace, looking out over the beach to the sea.

To the south-west, Porthpean (pictured below) has a car park within easy walking distance of a clean, sandy beach with some rock pools at one end when the tide's out. It's popular with families and yachtsmen but has very little in the way of facilities. There are toilets and a shack selling simple snacks and drinks - that's all. In mid-June, with older children still at school, it was quiet. In August, it'll probably be dreadful.

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Near to Porthpean is the interesting harbour village of Charlestown. It was built in the late-18th/early-19th centuries for the export of copper and china clay, when the dock would be full of ships and the surrounding sheds and warehouses would be busy with related shipping businesses.

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Although it's still a small working port, its main interests are the two sailing ships with their tall masts that are used in period films around the world. I guess they have to remove or disguise the radar equipment that's attached to one of the masts. I noticed that one of these ships would be taking paying passengers for a day's sail during the summer holidays; will they have to climb the rigging, man the sails and wear pirates' outfits, I wonder?

Posted by Keep Smiling 08:35 Archived in England Tagged beaches england cornwall

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