Words by Hannah Tapping
A Mediterranean micro-climate makes for Cornish escapes that transcend the ordinary.
Cornwall’s coastline is well-known for its rugged nature; Atlantic breakers resulting in world-class surf breaks; craggy cliff top walks along the South West Coast Path; iconic working harbours sheltering boats from storms. However, there are other areas of the Duchy that don a more subtle cloak; places where the countryside is nurtured by a sub-tropical climate resulting in lush pastures that roll down to riverside creeks and impressive gardens where plants from far-off climes flourish and flower. Here, there is a slower pace of life away from the hubbub of the coastal hotspots and an opportunity to experience Cornwall from a different point of view.
Kestle Barton is a verdant paradise that lies in the heart of south Cornwall on the banks of Frenchman’s Creek on the River Helford. Set within a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this restored Cornish farmstead has an alluring beauty and offers a range of contemporary eco-friendly barn conversion holiday cottages along with its own art gallery. One of the larger barns, Avallen, sleeping eight, has its own large private garden opening out to an orchard and wildflower meadows beyond. From here a footpath will take you to Helford village, and in the other to Frenchman’s Creek, immortalised by author Daphne Du Maurier in the book of the same name.
Avallen has had an extraordinary amount of care lavished on its restoration with all of the original doors and windows cleverly included in the modern layout, even the old hand-cut roofing tiles have been carefully re-laid. The award-winning architecture follows conservation and sustainability principles, resulting in a calming combination of the old and new, where contemporary glass and steel architecture is juxtaposed with lime-render and oak beams.
Continuing its ancient role, Kestle Barton has retained its herd of beef cattle and orchards adding a new walnut nuttery, all now managed with a benign, organic system allowing rich and varied wildlife to thrive. For the adventurous, paths from the woods lead to Polweveral creek and the wider Helford where there are endless opportunities to explore the National Trust’s valleys, rolling fields and cliff-tops of Bosveal and the glorious gardens at Glendurgan.
Approached through a tunnel of trees in the neraby village of Constantine, An Skiber (Cornish for The Barn) is laid out to maximise its location featuring reverse-level living for six. Every window frames a garden view and the living space boasts a roof terrace from where the rural idyll that is Kestle Barton stretches to the horizon. Mature trees, oak, sycamore and willow provide dappled garden shade, or choose one of the 15th century granite coins as a spot to soak up the sun. A grove of tree-ferns is all that separates the gardens from the six acres of magical woodland beyond.
Up-river, the Helford spills into the sea where the world-class sailing waters of Falmouth are the gateway to many an ocean voyage. Venture down the Carrick Roads and Restronguet Creek meanders up to the village of Devoran, while the River Fal takes you as far as Truro passing the National Trust (nationaltrust.org.uk) gardens at Trelissick and the enchanting Roundwood Quay on its journey. Trelissick’s own peninsula has maritime views which extend to Falmouth and beyond with woodland walks aplenty. The formal estate gardens are home to many an exotic plant and its herbaceous borders burst with spring and summer colour.
As with the Helford, this area of Cornwall is renowned for its lush vegetation; branches of mature trees dip down to the river and on still days create perfect mirror images in the waters below. Trebartha, sleeping six, overlooks Restronguet Creek and is a waterside haven for laid-back living. Its own idyllic garden, with perfectly manicured lawns edged with mature planting, is a bucolic setting to melt the hearts of all who visit. The creek-side setting invites long walks, or gentle sails if that is the desire; evenings can be spent luxuriating in the hot tub and as the sun sets the lack of local light pollution affords dark sky star gazing.
©National Trust Images/Hilary Daniel
Established in 1888, the King Harry ferry, just beneath Trelissick, is the gateway to the Roseland. A five-minute journey on the car ferry avoids the 27-mile route through Tresillian and Truro and transports its passengers to an area of Cornwall that has escaped the ravages of the modern tourist age. Preserving a bygone dignity and beauty that transcends superlative, this peninsula is home to its own share of gardens, notably the Lost Gardens of Heligan and the horticultural behemoth that is the Eden Project.
Heligan’s history is venerable; the seat of the Tremayne family for more than 400 years, during the 19th century its 1000 acres and range of ornate gardens were revered as some of the finest in the country. Lost to the brambles and weeds when most of its workers went to war at the outbreak of WWI, Heligan lay sleeping until 1990 when it was rediscovered and restored to its former glory by Sir Tim Smit.
He was also the co-founder and driving force behind the space-like domes of the Eden Project. Housed in a china clay pit, this global garden is a living theatre showcasing our dependence on plants. Bringing life to the derelict, the sterile clay pit was transformed with the installation of the world’s largest indoor rainforest and a Mediterranean Biome.
Exploring both Heligan and Eden couldn’t be easier from the impressive property that is the sleep-ten Broom Park. Set amidst idyllic countryside, this feels as if it could be your own private estate. Grade II listed and dating back to 1780 its gardens are magnificent. A south-facing expanse of lawn is complemented by an east-facing walled garden, while a west-facing courtyard completes the rural paradise. The house sits at the head of the Roseland and is only a few miles away from the beaches of Hemmick, Vault, Carne, with the cove at Caerhays also within easy reach behind which rises the estate, castle and spring gardens of the same name.
The timeless magic that is conjured by Cornwall’s majestic gardens and the lush landscapes of the south coast provide a refreshing juxtaposition to the oft-depicted beach scenes that fill our screens. Discovering Cornwall’s alter-ego is a welcome addition to an already unique destination.
All of the above properties are available to book through Forever Cornwall, curators of unique holiday properties across the county.