A Drive Out to Caerhays Castle….


Using our HHA cards we drove past St Austell towards Roseland and visited Caerhays Castle. Apparently you can only use the card here for either the house or the gardens…a bit of a cheap gesture I would have thought. First impressions were amazing. You have to park by the beach and walk up a drive past the lake, and the view of the castle is indeed spectacular. This drive is just really the tradesmen’s entrance as the main drive is on the other side of the castle and is a mile long. Anyway we booked a tour of the house and in fact it was the very first of the season. The guides were very good and we had our introduction outside in the sunshine by the porte-cochere, before entering the hall.

Unfortunately, but understandably, as it is a private home and very much lived in, no photos of the interior. And indeed looking on the net, I could find nothing except the following shots on a restoration builder’s website. I sneak these in here…..


What was striking was that although of course the castle looks as a castle should externally, inside there are only a handful of rooms and on a reasonably intimate scale. There are more private rooms and bedrooms which we didn’t see, but nevertheless a liveable interior.


20180320_130933.jpgThe history of the buildings is not generally reviewed anywhere, but the potted history of the owners is on Historic England………..

‘In the early medieval period the manor of Caerhays belonged to the Arundell family, passing by marriage c 1379 to the Trevanion family, with whom it remained in direct succession until 1767. John Trevanion, who inherited the estate in 1703, improved an existing house and developed gardens, thus creating ‘a pleasant romantic seat’ (Lake 1867). When William Trevanion died in 1767 the male line of the family became extinct, and the estate passed to his sister’s son, John Bettesworth, whose son adopted the additional name of Trevanion when he inherited Caerhays in 1801. John Bettesworth Trevanion commissioned John Nash (1752-1835) to build a new house in 1807. It is possible that at the same period Humphry Repton (1752-1818) may have advised on the development of the grounds; correspondence from Mr Pole-Carew of Antony, Cornwall (qv) suggests that he had introduced Repton to Trevanion, but there is no further documentary evidence relating to this possible connection (Stroud 1962), and contemporary descriptions do not refer to Repton’s involvement here. Partly as a result of the escalating cost of building the new mansion, the Trevanions found themselves in increasingly straightened financial circumstances, and in 1840 the family departed for Paris leaving the estate in the hands of creditors who offered it for sale in 1842. It failed to sell, and was again offered for sale in 1852 before finally being purchased in 1853 by Michael Williams, a wealthy banker, mine owner, and iron master of Scorrier and Burncoose. Michael Williams undertook the repair and improvement of the house and made significant changes to the pleasure grounds which are recorded on a plan of 1858 (private collection), the year of his death. Michael Williams was succeeded by his son, John Michael, who continued the improvement of the grounds. J M Williams died in 1880 and was succeeded by his son, John Charles, who c 1885 began the woodland garden for which Caerhays has been noted in the C20. In the late C19 and early C20 J C Williams supported expeditions by E H Wilson (1876-1930) and George Forrest (1873-1932), which provided new introductions which were planted at Caerhays; J C Williams was also undertook significant work hybridising camellias, rhododendrons, and daffodils at Caerhays.

J C Williams died in 1939 and was succeeded by his son Charles, who continued to hybridise rhododendrons and who managed, despite a busy political career as MP for Torquay and Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means during the Second World War, to maintain the gardens during the war. Following Charles Williams’ death in 1955 the estate passed to his nephew, F Julian Williams who has overseen the restoration of the gardens in the late C20.’ Julian is still around though ancient, and a son has now taken up the reigns and doing all the usual things, visits, weddings, shoots, selling caerhays as a film location etc etc

What Historic England doesn’t really make clear is that it was actually the extravagance of Nash which led to the downfall of a dynasty! Nash must have thought he was onto yet another good thing (he designed Brighton Pavilion of course for the Prince Regent). And he was sacked by the Trevanions – but too late.

Going back to our tour, a lot of the furnishings and paintings have been bought by the present generation and so there are the usual Opies, Romneys, etc as well as one or two very interesting more modern paintings. The interior style is of a piece with the buildings and there are some exceptionally nice rooms, especially we thought the round drawing room and the octagonal library. Background heating seemed to be some ancient free-standing heaters………I think living in this style of house is definitely for the upper classes!

One very, very interesting thing was in the room which had been created as a museum by the family in Victorian times, a collection of geological specimens which apparently are of international renown. They were quite spectacular. Far from being lumps of old rock (as I thought), they were incredibly beautiful especially some of the foreign ones such as the Australian opals in their raw state. But the Cornish exhibits which were carefully labelled with which of the family’s mines they had come from were equally intriguing.


After a lovely piece of cake and tea in the courtyard (another source of income), we trotted off down the drive, past the splendid lake,  to have a wander on the beach. Caerhays is known especially for its gardens and of course we didn’t see these, but F. talked to a lady (when both coming out of the loo) who said that they had been a little disappointed on their garden tour..the plants needed another week or two before blooming. We will be back to see the  apparently breathtaking magnolias, rhododendrons etc perhaps in a couple of weeks time……..

On our drive back home we had some great views of the bay…..a lovely Cornish day.



And, as we passed near it, we couldn’t resist calling into Fowey where we did our usual gaping at houses, estate agents, and visiting of some shops on the lookout for maritime-themed draught excluders of all things.





I loved this door (on a holiday cottage of course)…


Back for a late ‘lunch’ at 4pm! We found our living room flooded in sunlight…we are more or less West-facing.


Reading matter…

9781784770778.jpgI’ve already talked about the ‘Slow’ series of travel guides by Bradt when I reviewed the edition covering ‘Cornwall’. Since we have visited Devon once or twice recently I found  that I also had a copy of ‘South Devon’ on our shelves and so decided to have a browse. In fact these books are so good I had to read the whole thing. What I found was not only that it was pleasure to read, but that there are so many places, still fairly near to us, that we should try and visit over the coming year. I love the way that these guides give you as well as a potted history of places, highlights to visit, diversions nearby, excellent recommendations on food and drink, places to stay, and how to get there by public transport and how to get about, good walks too. All done in a friendly conversational style that draws you in.

Robert-Galbraith-The-Cuckoos-Calling.jpgWe’ve really enjoyed the Cormoran Strike series on TV, and so last time we were in Truro we bought the three books that formed the basis of the series so far. They are by Robert Galbraith, also known as J K Rowling of course, and on the whole very good they are too. It was interesting that the TV followed the books very closely indeed, which shows you that their plot lines are very strong. The character build-up is also good…as, for many Crime books, it is not. And of course they are page-turners which has led to some very late nights, and the carrying round of the books during the day. They are lengthy galbraith.pngtoo which is good, as they can certainly sustain it. In fact the only thing I have against these is that after a fairly normal first story, the follow-ons get increasingly way-out and darker. It really isn’t necessary.9780751563580.jpg

912xdMpbvDL.jpgI am just finishing ‘High Minds : the Victorians and the Birth of Modern Britain’ by Simon Heffer. It’s taken me a while to get round to this as we had Simon along to give a talk at Warwick Books about five years ago, and very good value he was too. But it is a serious book and demands a thoughtful read. I can’t do better in describing what it’s all about than quote from the publisher’s blurb….’Britain in the 1840s was a country wracked by poverty, unrest and uncertainty, where there were attempts to assassinate the Queen and her prime minister, and the ruling class lived in fear of riot and revolution. By the 1880s it was a confident nation of progress and prosperity, transformed not just by industrialisation but by new attitudes to politics, education, women and the working class. That it should have changed so radically was very largely the work of an astonishingly dynamic and high-minded group of people – politicians and philanthropists, writers and thinkers – who in a matter of decades fundamentally remade the country, its institutions and its mindset, and laid the foundations for modern society.’

And that is a very fair summary. Indeed it is a high-minded book. We learn through Simon what the intellectual milieu of those forty years was, and we learn how radical change came about through the interaction of politicians, writers and intellectuals. Some of them already known to us, many not. As Dominic Sandbrook said in his review “There is something enormously refreshing about reading a history book with such a passionate moral agenda, as well as one with such scope, energy and intellectual clarity. High Minds is a book Heffer’s heroes would have loved – and perhaps there is no higher compliment than that.” We learn about the development of Women’s Rights, we learn how much trouble Prince Albert had in getting his way with the Great Exhibition and the founding from the proceeds of ‘Albertopolis’ which benefits us so much today. We get to know all about the great debates on education, changes in crime and punishment, the struggle between different forms of architecture, and so much else besides. This book is a great achievement and a wonderfully stimulating read.

A tour around Shilstone House in Devon Tuesday 13th March


Resident archaeologist Abi Gray, based with the Devonshire Rural Archive, was our guide around the house and grounds of Shilstone House in which grounds the Fenwick family set up and funded the DRA…which I have mentioned before and which is an amazing resource.

When owners Sebastian and Lucy Fenwick bought the property in 1997, Shilstone House was less than half the size it stands at today. Purchased as a rather rundown farmhouse reduced in size over many years from its former medieval glory, the Fenwicks had a vision of a Georgian house, but one with plenty of magic. What they did was to create a Georgian House which gave the appearance of historic development from the Tudor period onwards. So, both outside and within, you can see the Tudor style in one part of the house, flowing into early and later Georgian…all created with modern methods of construction….including breeze blocks and insulation for instance! The darker stone of the old farmhouse can be seen on the right of this pic…


and the house was developed around a small inner courtyard filled with flowers and scent


I must admit that I have always thought the building itself a little austere, and set into its hillside it seems to beckon damp and darkness, but not a bit of it. The inside of the house is full of light and an amazingly welcome space, and absolutely crammed with pictures including important originals (as you would expect with Lucy having been a Director of British Art for Sotheby’s!).


and the spaces are intimate and lived-in. Indeed it was made clear that this was a real family home used daily as a home should be, and not some impersonal shell (sorry NT….).


The library had a ‘secret’ hinged door loaded with books (just like our daughter Katherine’s in Edinburgh!).


and it goes without saying that original material was re-used wherever possible…..here for instance some of the three rooms-worth of Jacobean panelling with intricate carving has been painted over to lighten the whole aspect (and with the approval of English Heritage……).


and the views of Shilstone’s own gardens and estate are pretty good too….


Moving outside we saw on this wing the three ‘periods’ that had been created – from Tudor 1600 on the left through Early Georgian 1690 to Later Georgian 1730, the windows all changing to reflect the different styles.


We walked past some of the domestic buildings and then


into the walled garden which had a feature I had not seen before..a lowered wall on the South side to allow more sunshine and warmth into the interior…20180313_150128.jpg

The small banqueting tower was cute….20180313_150519.jpg

We then had chance to see the only known surviving example of a seventeenth century water theatre, which took place in the three-arched grotto seen here – above the series of ponds which were another feature of the grounds.


What struck most from our tour was the care and attention to detail of the Fenwicks and their craftsmen, and the delightfulness of the interior which was supremely welcoming. The nicest ‘modern’ house we have ever seen!!

On the way back through the beautiful South Hams countryside, we stopped briefly at Ermington so that I could take a picture of the extraordinary twisted steeple….I thought only Chesterfield had one. However, in Wikipedia there is a list of the twisted spires of Europe including seven in England.


When nearly home we stopped in a lay-by for me to take a picture of a feature we had often noticed….which seems to me to be rather like an ancient barrow. More investigation required.20180313_165653.jpg


A stay at Dartington Hall…8th/9th March…..


We saw an overnight stay at Dartington Hall advertised on TravelZoo for £59 bed and breakfast. And it coincided with ‘Open House’ at Dartington and a film in their Barn Cinema which we thought would be interesting. So off we went. The first views of Dartington were encouraging, finding the actual ‘hotel’ bit extremely difficult. However, as we entered the courtyard of restored medieval buildings where our room would be located, we got a good feel for this wonderful place…..


20180308_121507and our bedroom and the view from the window were extremely satisfactory. This was £59 for 2 people….ridiculously cheap, as I told Dartington in my feedback.



The best concise description of the importance of this group of medieval buildings and associated famous gardens and parkland are to be found at Historic England. But also do look at the Trust’s own site for details of its development til today. I had thought originally from its layout and setting that this was an ancient monastery but no it was built as a prestigious house in medieval times and altered since. The most recent major input was the work of two philanthropists – the Elmhirsts – who ‘undertook a major programme of restoration under the supervision of William Weir from 1927 to 1938, while at the same time establishing The Dartington Hall Trust in 1932, which promoted experimental approaches to rural reconstruction and progressive education. The Trust was an amalgamation of three specialist Trusts. New buildings were built to accommodate the Trust’s activities, but no overall development plan for the estate was made. At the same period Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst commissioned designs for the gardens around the Hall from H. Avray Tipping in 1927, followed in 1932-35 by Beatrix Farrand. From 1945 to 1968 Percy Cane advised on the design of the garden. Dorothy Elmhirst recorded the development of the gardens in a series of notebooks from 1943 until her death in 1968. Following the death of Leonard Elmhirst in 1974, Dartington has continued to be administered by The Dartington Hall Trust as a centre for its educational, sociological and artistic activities’.

Anyway after dumping our bags we drove through the grounds which were indeed beautiful, stopping to admire the River Dart, and made our way through Totnes, which is within walking distance of the Hall, to our first planned visit the NT’s Coleton Fishacre House near Dartmouth.


As NT explains..’This country home was built in 1926 for Rupert and Dorothy D’Oyly Carte, who were inspired to make the beautiful valley running down to the sea the site for an elegant Arts and Crafts home. Here they could entertain in style and indulge their passion for the outdoors. You get a real feel for their lifestyle of outdoor pursuits and entertainment as you explore the house; looking out for the wind dial which indicated good sailing weather, and the bell on the side of the house which could be rung to call the family in from the cove at the bottom of the garden at meal times…..’ First impressions were that it was indeed a beautiful house in a wonderful setting….


but the first priority was a cup of tea and light lunch….


the view from the cafe and patio was pretty amazing…


and this continued in every room in the house….


Coleton was full of interest inside – from the family’s accoutrements…20180308_135036

to bedrooms…20180308_135123with fabulous views of the gardens…..20180308_135245There was, as is becoming more common, a dressing-up room….this time with 20’s and 30’s bits and pieces (quite fetching)20180308_135320and little personal touches provided a homely feel..20180308_13571120180308_135942The ‘downstairs’ operation was not as unprepossessing as at a lot of the grander homes, and indeed the maids and butler’s quarters were very nice..they still had lots of work though…..20180308_140235but towards the end of the tour were my two or three favourite rooms…..the library20180308_140711with its very fancy wind dial 20180308_140719and the living room where cocktails await, or if you really must…..20180308_141207…….tea20180308_141233and immediately off the dining room was the outside loggia where the family preferred to eat whenever possible…sheltered, airy, and with lovely views of the gardens….20180308_140344there were also some handsome paintings…all in all, a terrific experience.20180308_140635But as it was such a nice day we had the further delight of a stroll through the gardens, via the Summer House and formal areas…..20180308_14395220180308_143110to the viewpoint at the end of the estate….magnificent.20180308_14384220180308_145538I really must mention how friendly and helpful all the staff were…this year wherever we have been this has been so. I therefore imagine they have all been on a customer service course, who knows?

Our next move was back to Dartington where we had a dinner booked in what they call ‘The White Hart’ Inn, which is actually  part of the restored range of buildings. It is a very very impressive place indeed…I would go so far as to say it is the highest-roofed hall building I have ever seen with the thickest walls, plus enormous fireplaces.20180308_203001Unfortunately on this occasion the meal wasn’t up to scratch. However,  the film afterwards in The Barn Cinema, another restored building and part of the complex, in reality a fifteenth century barn, was very interesting. It told of the other side of Hedy Lamarr. As well as being ‘the Bombshell of Hollywood’, the most beautiful woman in the world, she was an inveterate experimenter and inventor. Of the reviews I have read that of ‘The Independent’ is the best…..do read it to find out how what she invented – a frequency-hopping system – was used by the American Military and actually became the basis for Bluetooth and wifi and other developments, now the supposed foundation of the modern world! It is an astonishing story. She received no credit until she was more or less on her deathbed…..because she was a glamorous, and controlled, American film star.big-film-fest-norgan-theatre-january-2018-1080x640

Breakfast next morning was in The White Hart and it was superb. After that we had a look in the Great Hall which was closed for an event but we sneaked in anyhow, and this was even more impressive than ‘The White Hart’ and its screen corridors were very atmospheric.


It was really quite wet today but we didn’t let that put us off visiting the gardens which are such a feature of Dartington and we had quite a long chat with the only other person we met who had been to school here and remembered brilliant performances in the outdoor amphitheatre….20180309_10471620180309_10480920180309_104934There were some famous statues including this Henry Moore, so we enjoyed our little tour despite the conditions.20180309_105326Next stop was Agatha Christie’s holiday home ‘Greenway’. Located on the River Dart normally you would want to explore the gardens here, but as it never stopped pouring down we were satisfied with the house interior.20180309_13105620180309_133012All very interesting, but everywhere gloomy I thought. Mind you I think half of that was  down to the weather conditions. Very friendly guides again – must have been on the same course!20180309_133017I particularly liked some of the paintings of Agatha’s husband Max, the archaeologist, which gave a real feel for the man.20180309_13381220180309_135615

anyway, here from the NT site, is what it’s like on a nice day! Much better…..


I forgot to mention we had an extensive look round the exhibition that was on at Dartington about the Trust’s future. The big trouble was it was thick with a mixture of management-speak of the worst kind and Totnes-influenced flower-power of the hugging a tree variety, a strange mixture indeed. It was all much too airy-fairy for me. I’d certainly do things differently. I don’t think I’ll be asked. Nowhere at the exhibition or on the website for you to give your feedback…..I wonder why?







Spring to winter to spring…March 2018


Nice view to wake up to last week, but slightly different the next day..


The only worry was that I hadn’t covered up a couple of palms. We chose to stay indoors one day but that was all, the next day was lovely for walking our lanes..





and on the very next day at Looe it really was warm enough to sit in the sun



and by the next day, back to Spring….




Seeing the wildlife here in SE Cornwall…



Without really thinking about it we see quite a bit of wildlife here. Let’s start with our garden ….what have we seen at the bird table or elsewhere in the garden?…..Wrens, Goldcrest, Great Tits, Coal Tits, Blue Tits, Long-tailed Tits, Robins, Dunnock, Sparrows, Greenfinch, Starlings, Bullfinch, Rooks, Crows, Blackbirds, Nuthatch, Wood Pigeons, Magpies….. plus the odd squirrel and not forgetting the Charolais cattle in the field behind us, and sheep. On our walks from the front door we can add kestrels and buzzards and pheasant and partridge and swallows or swifts. Plus the sound of a woodpecker.


Then on our regular walks at Hannafore and Looe, and along the river, we can add the seabirds….Turnstones, Oystercatchers, Dippers, Grey Heron, Mallards, Canada Geese, Mute Swans, Herring Gulls, Common Gulls, Great Black-backed Gulls, Cormorants (below), 20170224_163236.jpg

Shags, and White Egrets. In the meadow at the end of Hannafore we have seen and heard Skylarks. Plus we have seen bubbling shoals of Sea Bass and the odd flat fish, maybe a Sole, in the river at Looe. And seals at Looe and elsewhere. Also foxes and water rats.

So we really are lucky indeed….and we will hopefully continue to learn more as we make use of our retirement.


Stalwart Brits….


Today I had booked train tickets to Truro in order to go on the highlights tour of the Royal Cornwall Museum. The local weather forecast was a few light showers of snow which would disappear. When we arrived, however, we found Truro virtually deserted and quite a lot of places closed. Indeed the notice in this shop window seemed to  imply that we were somewhere in the Arctic Circle. I am 68 years old and I have never in my life allowed snow to stop me doing anything or going anywhere. When we had our greengrocers shop in Dartmouth and we did have really bad snow one year I still managed to walk across a few fields at hedgehop height, and a few miles in, to make sure we were open. So to see all the fuss whenever we have just the teeniest weensiest bit of snow just bemuses me. It really does…….


So, we arrived at the Museum to be told that they were closing in twenty minutes due to the adverse weather conditions to ensure staff got home safely. Unbelievable! Their cafe, which adjoins, was staying open as presumably the staff were braver there. After a very cursory look round…at a few of their exhibits and couple of their more well-known pictures..



off we had to go….to Waterstones which was staying open, come what may, I am really glad to say. After we had exhausted the possibilities there, with three new books in hand, we tootled off to the station to catch our train home (all trains on time….). What a disappointing day. How feeble some of us are!