Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (5): Magnificent mansions

Cornwall is home to several National Trust jewels. We visited these four:

  • St Michael’s Mount, on an island in Mount’s Bay off Marazion in the south of the county
  • Lanhydrock, close to the A30 near Bodmin
  • Cotehele House and Quay, overlooking the River Tamar, north of Plymouth
  • Trerice, close to Newquay on the north coast

Knowing how popular St Michael’s Mount can be (even slightly out of season, as we were), Steph and I decided to head to Marazion early on the day of our visit, so we could easily find a parking place. I guess we must have been there before 9:30 am, and knew we’d have to take the boat over to the island as the tide was still ebbing then and the causeway was still covered.

Parking was no problem. However, when we returned from our visit to the island just before 2 pm, visitors were streaming across the open causeway in the hundreds, and it seemed as if every parking place was already taken in the several car parks along the sea front.

Just before 10 the first passenger boat of the day pulled up alongside the jetty, and about eight persons clambered aboard. Since the sea was calm, there being no waiting queue of visitors, and it being the first boat, the boatman suggested going right round the island instead of just across directly to the harbor on the island. What a treat, as we had many different views of the island and buildings that would not have seen on a normal crossing.

St Michael’s Mount (the Cornish equivalent of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, although not quite so grand perhaps) was originally home to a 12th century priory, and there is evidence of human occupation over several thousand years. It has a rich history.  It became the home of the St Aubyn family in the late 17th century, and the family continues to occupy the Victorian wing. in the 19th century there was a village and thriving community of several hundred residents living below the castle.

A visit to St Michael’s Mount includes not only a tour of the house, and its magnificent views over Mount’s Bay, but the gardens below the castle that have been built into and cling to the cliff face. We were told by our boatman that the four resident gardeners are also qualified abseilers! It’s quite a steep climb up to the castle, but well worth the effort.

By the time the causeway had opened and hundreds of visitors were pouring across, access to the house was becoming difficult. We had made the tour earlier, and even then passing the narrow entrance caused significant tailbacks.

Nevertheless, no visit to Cornwall would be complete without a visit to St Michael’s Mount. Its inaccessibility for half of the day just adds to its attraction. Check out more photos of the interiors and gardens here.


Lanhydrock, just a mile or so off the A30 near Bodmin) is special for two reasons: so many of the rooms (>50) are open to the public, and the Long Gallery in the north wing) and its magnificent 17th century plastered ceiling survived the 1881 fire that gutted most of the rest of house. The house is U-shaped; an east wing was demolished in the 18th century. It has been the family home of the Robartes for four centuries.

The weather for our visit was overcast with a little drizzle. As we wanted to visit Restormel Castle in nearby Lostwithiel later in the day, we decided to forego a walk around the park, just viewing the gardens and parterre close to the house.

You can take a virtual tour of the house and gardens here. There’s no doubt that Lanhydrock is one of the National Trust’s ‘premier’ properties full of exquisite objects that passed to the Trust when it acquired ownership in 1953. Definitely one of the properties that should be on everyone’s National Trust bucket list.


The first question I asked one of the volunteers when we arrived at Cotehele House was how to pronounce ‘Cotehele’. It’s ‘cot-eel’ apparently.

And it’s also one of the National Trust gems, having so many exquisite tapestries on display. The house dates from the late 15th century but then had 16th century Tudor additions, and is built I guess from local granite, a lovely soft grey color. It was the home of the Edgcumbe family. Passing through a small courtyard, you enter the Great Hall, on to the chapel, and up to the treasures of the first floor and above.

Cotehele has terraced gardens beside the house, and others slightly further away. The Valley Garden follows a steep-sided valley from the terraces to the River Tamar, and Cotehele Quay and Mill.

Have a look at more Cotehele treasures here.


Trerice is an Elizabethan, 16th century manor situated a few miles inland from Newquay on Cornwall’s north coast. We visited this delightful house on our last day in Cornwall, on the way back to our holiday home after a visit to Tintagel Castle.

The Arundell family inherited Trerice more than 700 years ago. It passed to the Aclands in the late 17th century. In the 20th century, the Elton family took on a lease from the National Trust and carried out some major refurbishments, including replacing the roof.

There is some particularly smart plasterwork in several rooms, as well as impressive oil paintings.

Outside there is an attractive knot garden, and other horticultural attractions like a 1km mowhay.

An archaeological dig was underway behind the house on the day of our visit.

More photographs of this dig and exterior/interior views of the house are available in this album.


These are the other four stories in this Cornwall series:

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (1): The journey south . . . and back

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (2): Coast to coast

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (3): Stepping back in time

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (4): An impressive horticultural legacy


For those interested in photography, I use a Nikon D5000 DSLR, with a Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6 GII ED VR lens.

Flash photography is not permitted inside National Trust properties, so that means shooting with the slowest speed I can get away with, since all my photos are hand held. Often I’m shooting as slow as 1/15, and 3200 ASA. All the interiors at these four properties were photographed in this way. It’s remarkable how the colors of the tapestries at Cotehele, for example, are revealed. I’m getting quite the dab hand at holding my breath as I’m about to press the shutter.

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (4): An impressive horticultural legacy

Gardens. How many were designed and planted decades, even centuries ago, that can only now be fully appreciated? They were never seen in all their glory by their visionary originators. What a horticultural legacy they bequeathed to later generations.

The National Trust manages four important gardens in Cornwall which we were delighted to visit during our recent break there. Of course, many of the houses which the NT owns have their own gardens. But the four we visited are ‘marketed’ as gardens in their own right:

  • Glendurgan Garden, on the east coast, just south of Falmouth
  • Trelissick, at the head of Carrick Roads near Truro
  • Godolphin, an important medieval garden east of Penzance
  • Trengwainton Garden, northwest of Penzance.

All lie south of 50.2°N, and so there are many exotic species like tree ferns and bamboos that thrive under these conditions. And although these gardens would have been in their prime earlier in the year, with rhododendrons, camellias, and magnolias in flower, we saw enough during our exploration of these gardens to appreciate how they might look in another season.


Glendurgan Garden was the first on our list. Having enjoyed a walk at Lizard Point earlier on this bright, sunny day, we looked forward to a pleasant stroll around the garden.

The garden was planted in the 1820s and 1830s by Alfred Fox, and occupies a steep-sided valley down to the fishing village of Durgan, below Glendurgan House, home of the Fox family (not open to the public).

We followed the red trail down to Durgan village, and came back up the brown trail on the left, taking in a viewing platform overlooking the maze (that was planted in 1833).

Check out more photos here.


It was a mizzly sort of day when we stopped by Trelissick on our way back to our holiday cottage after visiting another NT property northwest of Plymouth, Cotehele House. So we were never going to fully appreciate one of the triumphs of Trelissick: the panorama from the terrace in front of the house down to the shores of the River Fal estuary.

Trelissick was the family home of the Copeland family, owners of the Spode China factory in Stoke on Trent (I used to pass nearby everyday on my way to grammar school in Trent Vale in the 1960s). Just a few rooms on the ground floor are currently open to the public. It was passed to the National Trust in 1955.

From the terrace, we made our way south through the garden, taking in the views (such as they were) from the tennis lawn (8) and the parkland (9) that did provide nice views back to the house. From Jack’s summer house (at the tip of the garden) we worked our way back up on the eastern side, crossing over the bridge into Carcaddon (11), then back towards the house across the main lawn (4).

Take a look at the rest of the photos here.


Godolphin has a particular claim to fame. In its various gardens, the King’s Garden (5) and Side Garden (14), it seems little has changed since at least the 16th century, maybe earlier.

The Godolphins derived their wealth from some of the most important mines in Cornwall, the remains of which can still be seen dotted around the estate.

The main entrance of Godolphin House (9)

The Undercroft (8)

On the day of our visit just the King’s Room was open to the public. The National Trust has a holiday let here at Godolphin, and mostly the house is off-limits to the general public apart from certain days per year.

The Side Garden (14) from the Dry Ponds (16)

One of the two Dry Ponds (16)

More photos of the garden can be viewed here.

We also enjoyed the 1.5 mile walk to the top of Godolphin Hill, from where there is a 360° panorama to be enjoyed.

Looking towards Land’s End from the top of Godolphin Hill.


Northwest of Penzance, Trengwainton Garden offers magnificent views over Mount’s Bay, towards St Michael’s Mount in the east and Land’s End in the west.

Only the garden, full of exotic shrubs (particularly bamboos and tree ferns) is open to the public, although there is access to the terrace (R) below the house from where the panorama can be enjoyed.

Once again we were too late for many of the shrubs that flowered earlier in the year, but nevertheless our stroll through these leafy glades was rewarded by the view from the terrace.

There is also an impressive walled garden, divided into several ‘rooms’ growing vegetables and ornamentals. On the day of our visit there was an exhibition of scarecrows made by local schoolchildren to celebrate the centenary of women getting the vote in the UK.

More photos are included in this album.


We enjoyed this horticultural tour of Cornwall, and of course the gardens at the various houses we also visited: St Michael’s Mount, Lanhydrock, Cotehele House, and Trerice. We decided not to visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan (which must also be included in Cornwall’s horticultural heritage) having more than enough on our itinerary of National Trust and English Heritage sites to add another.


These are the other four stories in this Cornwall series:

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (1): The journey south . . . and back

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (2): Coast to coast

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (3): Stepping back in time

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (5): Magnificent mansions

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (3): Stepping back in time

Almost 2000 years.

English Heritage preserves several important sites in Cornwall, and during our week long break there, we got to visit four that span about 2000 years of British history, from the Roman occupation of these islands, through the Dark Ages, the 12th century under the Normans, and from the Tudors until the Second World War:

  • Chysauster Ancient Village, on the Land’s End Peninsula
  • Tintagel Castle, on Cornwall’s north coast
  • Restormel Castle, near Bodmin
  • Pendennis Castle, overlooking Carrick Roads near Falmouth

Chysauster Ancient Village (pronounced ‘chy-soyster’, with ‘ch’ as in church)
Sylvester’s House. That’s what Chysauster means; ‘chy’ is Cornish for house or home. But whether Sylvester ever lived there and who he was I guess we’ll never know. Because the remains of this Iron Age village date from Romano-British times, some 1800-2000 years ago.

The Romans never really penetrated into Cornwall, apparently. Thus Chysauster, with its unique courtyard houses (found only in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles), is a very important site in the nation’s history. Courtyard houses are found in several locations, but the village at Chysauster is one of the best preserved.

As I walked on to the site I had this feeling that the village had once been a thriving community. I could imagine children playing among the houses, smoke rising from each roof. A busy place.

We spent about an hour walking from one building to the next, fascinated by the layout of each house with its rooms off the central courtyard, and even a backdoor.

Take a look at more photos here. This is the link to English Heritage.


Tintagel Castle
Did King Arthur live here? Did he even exist? Whatever the truth of the myth, Tintagel Castle will forever be linked with his name. It’s certainly an iconic site jutting out into the North Atlantic, battered constantly by winds and storms. It was quite windy on the day of our visit, but thankfully dry.

Tintagel Castle from the Upper Mainland Courtyard (4)

Click here to download a phased plan of the castle, which shows its occupation over almost a thousand years.

Geoffrey of Monmouth has a lot to answer for, because much of what we ‘know’ of our history prior to the 12th century is a mixture of fact and fiction that he wrote in his History of the Kings of Britain.

Among the many myths that he conjured up is the tale of King Arthur and his links with Tintagel Castle where, claimed Geoffrey, Arthur was conceived.

Tintagel Castle was once home to a thriving community of more than 300 persons. But since much of its history derives from the so-called Dark Ages (the period between the exodus of the Romans in the 5th century AD and the arrival of the Normans in the 11th). Tintagel Castle island is dotted with the remains of many houses.

We arrived at Tintagel just before 09:30. I wanted to be sure of a parking place knowing that it can become very busy. The castle opened at 10:00, so we took a slow walk down to the entrance, about half a mile, and quite steep in places. We opted for the Land Rover ride (at £2 each) back up to the car park after our visit.

The cafe was just opening, so we enjoyed a quick coffee before registering for our visit, and getting some wise advice about how to tackle the site. There are lots (and I mean lots) of steps at Tintagel, some very steep indeed. The person on the ticket counter advised us to enter the site through the upper entrance (just before 1), and straight into the mainland courtyards (3 and 4) that overlook the main entrance and island courtyard and Great Hall (6).

There is a set of extremely steep steps down the cliff to then cross a bridge and climb into the main ruins. The walk up to the upper entrance and courtyards was certainly gentler than had we visited the main island first then returned to view the courtyards (and climb that set of stairs) as we saw many other visitors doing later one. And by visiting the courtyards first, we had a panorama over the island ruins to get our bearings.

What goes down must go up . . .

The island courtyard and Great Hall (6)

Check out the full album of photographs. It takes about an hour and a half to walk round the ruins and appreciate everything that Tintagel has to offer. The views over the cliffs, north and south down the coast are typical Cornwall, and you’re left wondering how a community managed to survive for so long in this rather desolate spot.


Restormel Castle
Moving forward to the 12th century, Restormel is a Norman castle alongside the River Fowey in Lostwithiel. Its circular shell keep is unusual (the round tower at Windsor Castle is also a shell keep), built on a mound surrounded by a dry (and quite deep) ditch. The ruins are remarkably well preserved, and in addition to wandering through the various rooms at ground level, English Heritage has provided access to the battlements, from which there is a good panoramic view over the surrounding countryside.

You can read a detailed history of Restormel here.


Pendennis Castle
Guarding the approaches to Falmouth, Pendennis Castle has proudly stood on a peninsula overlooking Carrick Roads since the time of Henry VIII in the sixteenth century. And it remained an important fortress right up to the Second World War when guns were installed to combat any threat from German naval vessels.

Across the estuary is another Tudor fortress, St Mawes Castle, a mirror image of Pendennis. During Tudor times, the guns from each could reach half way across the estuary, this protecting Falmouth and its harbor from both sides.

In July 2016 we visited Calshot Castle, that guards the approaches to The Solent near Southampton, and is another of Henry VIII’s coastal fortresses.

Pendennis has a fine collection of cannons inside and also on the battlements, as well as the Second World War guns at Half Moon Battery.

Looking southwest to the mouth of the Helford River

At Half Moon Battery

The castle is not just the round tower. There are extensive 18th century barracks and parade grounds enclosed within major earthworks, ramparts constructed during the reign of Elizabeth I.

Earthworks leading to the main entrance (and below as well)

The barracks (on the right) and guardhouse on the left, from the roof of the Tudor round tower.

Check out more photos here.


These are the other four stories in this Cornwall series:

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (1): The journey south . . . and back

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (2): Coast to coast

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (4): An impressive horticultural legacy

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (5): Magnificent mansions

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (2): Coast to coast

On reflection, I’m not completely sure our choice of holiday accommodation was appropriate.

It was located in the far south of Cornwall, just north of Helston, excellent for visiting the coast around the Lizard and Land’s End Peninsulas, but not so handy for any of the other sites we wanted to visit in the north of the county. So on two or three days we had 100 mile plus round trips. Maybe we should have looked harder to find a cottage in the center of the county.

Nevertheless, it was very comfortable, and in terms of facilities and cost, it was just what we were looking for. And we were very happy with our week’s stay there.

Having traveled more than 250 miles south on the Saturday to reach Cornwall, we decided to spend the first two days, Sunday and Monday, exploring the coast in the far south. In any case, perusal of the weather forecast indicated that these two days would be favored by warm and sunny weather, ideal for enjoying the coast.

First port of call was Lizard Point (owned by the National Trust), the most southerly point on the British mainland. We always hear about John o’ Groats to Land’s End. But I think it should be Dunnet Head, the most northerly point on the mainland, in Caithness (which we visited in 2015) to Lizard Point.

Lizard Point, from the east

Having found the National Trust car park, we set off east along the cliff path towards Lion’s Den, a hole in the cliff created when a cave collapsed in the mid-1800s, overlooking Housel Bay.

The cave fall lies immediately in front, overlooking Housel Bay

Just as we approached Lion’s Den, I saw two black birds take to the air from a field to the side of the path, and fly down into Lion’s Den. Could those be choughs, I asked myself.

I hadn’t seen the distinctive reddish-orange curved bill and legs, but their call and size were different from either crows or jackdaws that were common in the area, especially jackdaws.

A local naturalist confirmed they were choughs, a resident pair that had nested at the Lizard in 2018. A few minutes later and he showed us a photo he’d just managed to take (with a super telephoto lens) of one of the birds deep down inside Lion’s Den.

So we returned to the spot, a few meters away where he took the photo, and waited. We could hear them calling. Our patience was rewarded, for after a couple of minutes, one of the birds hopped on to a ledge in full sunlight, and I had a brilliant view of this remarkable rare bird. Once common in Cornwall, choughs only returned to the Lizard in 2001, although more can be seen on the north coast of the county. We’d seen the Lizard’s only choughs! Needless to say, we were chuffed! Magic!

Returning to Lizard Point, we heard this eerie crying, wailing almost, coming from Enoch Rock just offshore. Talk about mermaids enticing unsuspecting sailors to their doom, shipwrecked on hidden rocks (no wonder the lighthouse was built there). A group of Atlantic grey seals was basking in the midday sunshine and calling to one another.

We enjoyed a coffee, overlooking Polpeor Cove, at Britain’s most southerly cafe, before heading west to follow the path towards Old Lizard Head through Pistil Meadow. On the way there were great views of the old lifeboat station, home to the RNLI’s biggest rescue in March 1907.

The following day, we headed to the north coast of the Land’s End peninsula, and the National Trust’s Levant Mine and Beam Engine (that had just shut down when we arrived there).

Levant Mine is located on Cornwall’s ‘Tin Coast’ (part of the Cornish Mine World Heritage Site), west of Lower Boscaswell (map). The 1840s beam engine has been fully restored. Both copper and tin were mined here, and the mine stretched for 1.6 miles out sea, and more than 500 of feet below the seabed. The mine closed in 1930.

There’s a small museum providing a window into the past and who were the miners and their families (particularly young women) who worked at the mine, underground and at the surface sorting and cleaning the ore. The coast path passes by the mine, but we didn’t walk too far; it was just too blustery and at the end of the day (after several other visits) we were feeling a little tired. The landscape is dotted with the remains of engines houses and chimneys of mines and their shafts long abandoned.

Continuing round the coast near St Just, we ended the day at Cape Cornwall (map). We had already decided to give Land’s End a miss: too commercialized. Cape Cornwall in the late afternoon sun was more than an adequate substitute. What glorious views west over the Atlantic Ocean (next stop: North America); and south to Land’s End, jutting just that little further out into the Atlantic, with the Longships Lighthouse just over a mile offshore.

At the end of our week in Cornwall, we visited Marazion and its the sandy beach before crossing over to St Michael’s Mount.

St Michael’s Mount at Marazion at low tide

And to Tintagel on the north coast, where (after visiting the castle and the Old Post Office) we enjoyed a picnic lunch overlooking the Atlantic from the National Trust’s car park at Glebe Cliff beside the Church of St Materianna, that can be seen from Tintagel Castle.

There’s no doubt that Cornwall has a spectacular coastline; cliffs and beaches, waves for even the bravest surfer. The places we chose fitted in with our National Trust and English Heritage itinerary – and didn’t disappoint.


These are the other four stories in this Cornwall series:

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (1): The journey south . . . and back

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (3): Stepping back in time

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (4): An impressive horticultural legacy

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (5): Magnificent mansions

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (1): The journey south . . . and back

Steph and I began planning a short, one week break in Cornwall way back in the Spring. As followers of my blog will know by now, we are avid members of the National Trust and English Heritage, and throughout the year we try to make as many visits as the weather and other commitments permit. In Cornwall, we wanted to explore as many NT and EH properties as we could fit into the six days, and the two days of travel. Eighteen was our tally!

We chose a small studio cottage, suitable for a couple, just north of Helston on the south coast, a round trip of more than 500 miles (including the side trips to a couple of National Trust properties on the way there and back – see map). Dovecote Cottage was located at the end of a 2 mile drive down a narrow lane (with passing places), next to a former farmhouse. It was very peaceful, and comfortable.

Dovecote Cottage

Our home (in Bromsgrove, in northeast Worcestershire) is less than 5 miles from the M5 motorway, the main arterial to the southwest. The M5 and roads south into Cornwall like the A30 can be notoriously busy during the summer, and delays of many hours are not uncommon as lines of motorists (many towing caravans) snake their way to the coast and sunshine. On the way south we had a traffic-free journey, but on our return on the following Saturday we had to make one detour to avoid a jam at road works near Tiverton (on our way to Knightshayes), and we also hit a long queue of traffic attempting to navigate the bridge over the River Avon, backing up about 10 miles although constantly moving.

During the six days touring Cornwall we clocked up another 500 miles, for a total of 1086 miles for the whole holiday.


Heading south, and just 12 miles east of the M5 near Taunton, we visited Barrington Court, a Tudor manor house built between 1538 and the 1550s. It was the first house acquired by the National Trust (in 1907) and became the residence of Col. Abram Arthur Lyle (of the sugar refining company Tate & Lyle) who refurbished the property, installing his collection of historic woodwork, and converting the next door 17th century stable block, Strode House, into a residence. Check details of Barrington Court on the National Trust website.

The south face of Barrington Court (on the right) and Strode House on the left. The connecting corridor between the two can be clearly seen.

Barrington Court is unfurnished, but that also permits better appreciation perhaps of the fine woodwork. The long gallery on the top floor is particularly impressive.

In several of the bathrooms, reclaimed Delft tiles surround baths and wash basins.

During the 1920s refurbishment Lyle had asked Gertude Jekyll to design a series of formal gardens surrounding the house. In the eventuality not all were constructed, but what there are now are beautiful accompaniments to an elegant house.

A full album of photographs of Barrington Court can be opened here.


A week later, and we were headed north to take in Knightshayes, an imposing Gothic Revival mansion standing on a hillside overlooking Tiverton in Devon.

Knightshayes is a late Victorian house (built between 1869 and 1874), designed by William Burges, whose design excesses never made it completely into the interior of the house (although the National Trust has refurbished one room following his designs). The gardens were designed by Edward Kemp.

It was the home of the Heathcoat-Amory family for more than 100 years, and was handed over to the national Trust in 1972. The last occupants, Sir John Heathcoat-Amory and Lady Joyce carried out extensive work on the gardens in the 1950s and 1960s; both were awarded Gold Medals by the Royal Horticultural Society. Lady Joyce (née Wethered) was a world class golfer with many titles to her name.

The interiors at Knightshayes are impressive indeed.

The woodwork and decoration on the ceilings in many rooms is quite stunning.

A few photographs displayed here cannot do justice to Knightshayes, so please take a look at a more complete (and annotated) album of photographs here.

Knightshayes also has one of the largest walled gardens we have ever seen, and on the day of our visit there was a ‘heritage tomato event’.

One of the paintings on display at Knightshayes was recently featured in BBC Four’s Britain’s Lost Masterpieces. A small painting, not much more than 12 x 15 inches perhaps has been attributed to Rembrandt. Using the tool beloved of all art historians, a torch, we could highlight and see the detail in this beautiful small painting.

Rembrandt as a young man – self portrait attributed to the artist

But is it a Rembrandt? Perhaps.


These are the other four stories in this Cornwall series:

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (2): Coast to coast

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (3): Stepping back in time

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (4): An impressive horticultural legacy

Kernow a’gas dynergh – Welcome to Cornwall (5): Magnificent mansions