If you enjoy the splendour of historic houses or strolling around beautiful gardens, then you’ll find southeast Cornwall an intriguing place to explore.
Historic Houses and Stately Homes
Cotehele House near St Dominick is one of the best-preserved grand Tudor houses in the country. Hidden in peaceful woodland above the River Tamar, the house has changed little since the reign of Henry VIII, when it was owned by Sir Piers Edgcumbe. It is now owned by the National Trust.
Cotehele, image National Trust
Further down the Tamar can be found the Edgcumbe family’s other great house, Mount Edgcumbe House. Although heavily damaged by German bombers in the Second World War (being very close to the Devonport Naval Base), the 6th Earl of Mount Edgcumbe spent much of his life restoring it before it was sold to Cornwall County Council and Plymouth City Council in 1971 and opened to the public.
Also on the Rame Peninsula is the National Trust Property of Antony House. This dates back to the early 18th century and is still home to the Carew Pole family. It is open to the public between March and October and features an extensive art collection (including several works by Sir Joshua Reynolds) and grounds landscaped by Humphry Repton. (The grounds featured in Tim Burton’s film ‘Alice in Wonderland’.)
Antony House, image National Trust
Our other National Trust house is Lanydrock near Bodmin. This truly magnificent house is mostly Victorian (it was refurbished after a devastating fire in 1881), with some sections dating back to the 1620s.
A much smaller house, but one that might be just as interesting, is Mary Newman’s Cottage, in Saltash. Mary was (probably) Sir Francis Drake’s first wife, and her cottage survives, with stone floors and narrow, twisting staircases. (Drake’s own house, Buckland Abbey, is situated just the other side of the Tamar on the Bere Peninsula.)
Port Eliot, seat of the Earl of St Germans, is a privately owned house and estate with a history stretching back an incredible 1,500 years. It is open to the public for most of March, April, May and June. A particular highlight is the mural by Robert Lenkiewicz that dominates the Round Room.
The Round Room, Port Eliot, image Port Eliot
Another privately owned stately home in the region is Pentillie Castle near Pillaton. Although the house is not open to the public, if you are lucky enough to be here on one of the days when the gardens are, they are well worth a visit.
In fact, there are plenty of really stunning gardens to explore in South East Cornwall. We’ve already mentioned Cotehele and Mount Edgcumbe, Antony, Lanhydrock, Port Eliot and Pentillie. And that’s just the beginning.
Just outside of Mevagissey are the famous Lost Gardens of Heligan, one of the UK’s most popular botanical gardens. They were originally created by members of the Tremayne family from the mid 18th century to the beginning of the 20th, but were neglected after the First World War and only restored as recently as the 1990s.
Even more famous than the Lost Gardens of Heligan is the Eden Project near St Austell. The site was once a china clay pit, but is now dominated by a huge greenhouse complex with biomes providing tropical and Mediterranean climates (and further planting outdoors).
Not far from the Eden Project is a more conventional garden – Caerhays Estate, an informal woodland garden overlooking the sea. It is best known for its huge magnolias, in their prime in March and April. The castle itself is also sometimes open for guided tours.
The Woodland Gardens at Boconnoc House near Lostwithiel are open for charity on Sundays in May (although large group visits can be arranged throughout the year). The house also hosts the Cornwall Garden Society Spring Flower Show at the end of March.
A Little Farther Afield
South East Cornwall is a great base from which to explore farther afield. There are additional National Trust properties at Buckland Abbey and Saltram House just across the Tamar in Devon. Farther west, you’ll find amazing Cornish gardens at Trebah (rated one of the top 80 gardens in the world). Glendurgan, Trewithen, Trelissick and Tregothnan are all stunning gardens easily reachable for holidaymakers staying in South East Cornwall. And if you fancy something other than plants in your garden, how about heading up to St Ives and spending some time in the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden?