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Trip Report Hiking and Gardens in Devon, Cornwall and the Scilly Islands

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Good Day Fodorites, This trip report is to cover my 12 day vacation in South West England which evolved with knowledgeable help from all of you. First of all let me say that I am aware that the Scilly Islands are part of Cornwall. I list them in the title so this trip report would be found in a quick search by someone planning a trip to the Scilly’s.

Day 1 - Fly into Heathrow and travel to Truro via Stourhead. Stourhead is a lovely place to visit as long as you keep in mind it is more an estate than a garden. The grounds are laid out to make walking around easy and the views and architectural elements are very appealing. I was particularly take with the Grotto. There are two dining areas available. I grabbed a stuffed baked potato for the road which had that terrible tin taste they get when baked in foil, who invented that silly practice?

On arrival in Truro checked into the Alverton where we stayed for 5 nights. This was a magnificent accommodation. It has been recently redone. The rooms are lovely with all the modern conveniences and great bath and shower facilities but have maintained all the buildings old world charms. Ate in their restaurant 3 nights. Every dish and hit and perfectly prepared.

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    Day 2 - While I know it is not for everyone there are some that might be interested in local running information. First morning I did a 6 mile run, wandered past Cathedral, through a nice park along River Allen and then out to the town of Idless. On return leg came back on the other side of the river. This is a beautiful run or walk for anyone so inclined. Very nice exposure to the town and local countryside.

    Had an excellent breakfast at the Alverton, full cold buffet plus full range of hot options, eggs benedict, house-made Hollandaise, yum.

    First garden of the day was Trebah. I would say this garden is not to be missed. The rhododendrons were in perfect bloom, the water garden takes full advantage of the natural landscape and it is really nice to have an ice cream and walk in the ocean at the far end of garden. The plantings of bamboo and hydrangea ensure this garden has something to offer all year. Cafe available for lunch.

    Second garden of the day was Bonython. We were here a little early in the year to appreciate this garden. The rock garden and walled garden near the house are currently a hive of activity but not a lot to see. The river walk which has been developed more recently is coming along well and the plantings of hellebores, rhododendrons and magnolias were if full bloom for us.

    Dinner this second night was at Tabb’s in downtown Truro. It is a lovely 15 min walk from the Alverton through unique cobbled streets. The dinner was excellent. Each dish was carefully thought out and excellently prepared. Emphasis on locally sourced ingredients.

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    Day 3 - This mornings run walk was along a 4 mile loop found on line as - the Truro Town walk. I would not recommend this route. The in town section is on busy streets and the “rural” section is along a bike path with 10 ft hedge rows on each side, no views, wet footing.

    After another yummy breakfast went off to Tremenheere. This is a combination garden / sculpture park. This garden is still developing but they are being very true to goal of Mediterranean garden in lay out and plants. The installations are each unique in perspective and well incorporated into their location in the garden. If you are lucky you will be there on a Saturday and get to experience Turrel’s underground installation. We had lunch at the garden restaurant. This was a fabulous meal. To call this a cafe is a disservice. While we savoured local foods prepared in thoughtful fashion we fell an hour behind schedule but well worth it.

    Rather than visit busy Land’s End we stopped at Cape Cornwall, outside St Just and climbed the look out tower. Not a hard climb and views worth the effort. After this we were off to Chygurno. This is a private garden so visits must be arranged in advance but if you have an in depth interest in gardens and landscape architecture you will find it worth your while. This cliff side vertical garden has required engineering but the end result is a view in every direction.

    Finished the day at Mousehole with dinner at the Old Coastguard. Mousehole is a lovely picturesque town. It is full of very expensive shops but you don’t have to go into them. There is also a lovely harbour to photograph and you can wander up and down narrow streets for beautiful photo ops. Wouldn’t recommend the Old Coastguard. The kitchen is good but tables packed in too close, menu narrow range of dishes and staff over worked and under trained.

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    Day 4 - Lost Gradens of Heligan. You know how sometimes there is so much coverage of something it gets blown all out of proportion? That is not a problem here. What an interesting place this is. We had an organized tour of the North garden then roamed the grounds, Lost Valley, Jungle etc. I was on the property for 4 hours and that was not too long. You would have to visit on a couple of days to really appreciate the whole thing. A little early in the year for the walled garden but there was enough history to be seen and many other sections were well into bloom. The jungle was a view or a reflection at every turn. Lots interactive stuff here for the kids.

    It happened we were in the area the one weekend of the year that Tregothan private garden is open to the public. This was very much a festival with live music, food stands and lots of people. The garden was worth the walk through but it is really a one trick pony. The Rhododendrons are numerous and some 40 feet tall and 40 feet wide, most is riotous bloom. The tea plantation was underwhelming although it is an interesting premise, the English actually growing their own tea.

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    Day 5 - Morning run Truro - Malpas - St Clement - Truro. This route can be walked or run, about 5 miles. Incorporates the cross country path from Malpas to St Clement. This was a great route, very pretty along the river to Malpas, then nice cross country stretch over the hills and take a breather to visit the St Clement church. In the early morning light pouring through stained glass windows onto tiled floor - inspiring.

    After breakfast we were off to Trewithen. This is another garden I would recommend. It was like walking through a forest except the forest was in bloom. Of all the Cornwall gardens we saw it had the largest variety of Rhodos, Camelias and especially Magnolias. I have never seen a sixty ft Magnolia in full bloom.

    Garden two for the day was Caerhays Castle. This property is currently in the hands of a family which breeds and propagates Magnolias, Camelias and Rhododendrons. It is a wonderful spectrum of towering 100 year old plantings to expanding sections with new varieties. I guess you don’t really need my opinion since this property was named Garden of the Year for 2016. Give yourself a couple of hours, there are lots of interlocking paths. The kilometer long drive is known for it’s Magnolias which were in full show when we were there.

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    Day 6 - Eden Project. This is a location I have wanted to visit for a long time. I have been curious about what they do there and how it is set up. We had a guided tour of the largest biome and I would suggest that your time is wasted without this. I came away with a much better understanding of the project. A lot of money and resources are being pumped into this facility. There are lots of interesting things to see, whether or not there is a long term value to the project has yet to be proven.

    After leaving Eden we made the long drive up to Bath where we moved into the Queensberry Hotel. This was another great choice. You are right in the middle of Bath, easy walk to everything. Building totally evocative of the town but rooms had great facilities. The one thing I would watch is I probably would avoid the attic rooms in summer. It is only April and I had to have fan on all night to cool room.

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    Day 7 - Some of you may remember an in-depth conversation we had in November about Glastonbury vs Bath. I want to thank you all for your in put as it helped me get the most out of this day. As you read on you will see my opinions.

    I got an early start at 6:45 and headed off to Glastonbury. I parked in the lot next to cathedral and then walked everywhere. I wanted to climb the Tor early in the day. The affect was a little spoiled by the current construction which has load and noisy equipment working on side of hill. I don’t know what time they start but they were hard at it when I got there at 8 am. Once you climbed up and walked around to the other side of tower you couldn’t hear them. I spent a lovely half hour up there enjoying the view and doing my TaiChi. Not everyone’s cup of tea but it worked for me.

    Cathedral opens at 9 and I was back there by 9:30. Just managed to sneak in ahead of 2 huge bus tours; one adults, one students which were scheduled to start at 10am. I would now side with the naysayers, complete waste of time and money. Few piles of rocks and lots of dotted lines where they used to be attached. I was foolishly expecting something like New Abbey in Dumfries, Scotland. Was not there long. Walked back to the Chalice Well Garden which opens at 10am. If you are into gardens for their own sake or like visiting places for their inner beauty (for lack of a better term, trying not to be too new age!) this is a must stop. Garden is not large but is laid out with a variety of “rooms” each of which exposes you to the water from the well in a different way. There is a well, river, waterfall, pool and fountain. This is now a world peace garden and a very peaceful place. Also filled with colourful blooms and many textures of greenery. Totally made up for the abbey, I am so glad I came.

    Thanks to the nudges of the Fodorites I came back to Bath via Wells and thank goodness I didn’t miss it. This is a beautiful cathedral. I loved walking up to it through the market with lots of stalls selling many kinds of goods. Felt a bit medieval. Inside the windows, scissor arches and carvings are not to be missed. You could totally spend a whole day in Wells but I enjoyed my visit just to the Cathedral.

    Because of my early start I was back in Bath by 1pm and after a quick change at the Queensberry headed straight to the Baths. I had brought my suit with me because if i only did one thing in Bath it was going to be the Baths. I was lucky enough to be there on a cool sunny spring day and spent an hour in the roof top Bath. The fresh air, views of the old town and bubbling water were a balm. Met my friends at the pump room for high tea. The scones and jam were, of course, yummy and the chamber music and overall classy atmosphere make this an event not a meal. The Roman baths are right next door to the pump room and were pretty much deserted this late in the day. I had a walk through them but the details of rocks and history are not my thing so didn’t take long. Instead I moved outside to one of outdoor patios, had a glass of wine, listened to an excellent classical guitar player busking and watched the evening sun reflect off the front of the Abbey, beautiful moment.

    I know you would think this day should be done but I had one more thing I wanted to do. I went on the last tour of the Abbey clock tower at 5 pm. This is THE way to see Bath. There are 212 steps to the top and along the way you stop in the ringing chamber, clock chamber, bell tower and then go out onto the roof. Steve was an excellent and knowledgable guide who made sure we timed it to actually be in the tower when the bells chimed the quarter hour. We had a great dinner at the Queensberry which not only has an excellent menu but an excellent wine list!

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    Day 8 - Another transition day but first I visited Iford Manor garden. This is a small garden but also a national treasure. Many gardeners may be aware of the work of well known garden designer Harold Peto. Well this was the land he chose for his own home and the garden he laid out for himself. It has a variety of areas; Italian garden, English country garden and some interesting statuary that is well incorporated into the design to draw your eye. Of course Peto loved water so fountains are prevalent. Well worth the visit.

    From here I drove to Exeter, caught a plane to St Mary’s and then a boat to Tresco. Since Tresco lost their helicopter service they have refined other access to the island. Travel to Tresco from the airport was included in my accommodation costs. I was met by their own shuttle bus, driven to the quay where the jet boat was waiting, 7 minutes to cross, then met by a vehicle to drive to the New Inn. Total time from wheels down on St Mary’s to arrival at Inn - 20 minutes!

    There are limited choices of accommodations on Tresco. If you don’t want to book a whole week they are even more limited but the New Inn really has everything you need. Small but well equipped room. Functional would be the word. For dinner the first night headed over to the Ruin Beach Cafe (10 min walk). To be fair I have spoken to many people who had great meals at this restaurant. My own experience was a terrible dry tasteless pizza which I mainly left on the plate.

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    Day 9 - This was the day my whole tour was building to...the visit to Tresco Abbey gardens. I got up early and went for a run exploring the northwest end of the island and Cromwell’s and King Charles’ castles. Came back for breakfast. This was a good breakfast, included in booking. Lots of lovely fresh fruit, toast, croissants and then all the usual hot breakfast options. Eggs benedict not up to Alverton standards but still good.

    My plan for the rest of day was to visit gardens 10 to noon, walk the south end of the island for a couple of hours then back to garden for late afternoon light. Didn’t quite work out that way. I stayed in the garden for 6 hours and never missed a beat. I had packed a light lunch and a thermos of tea so rested in some of my favourite places then got up and walked about again. It would not be going too far to say I was enthralled. The structure and back bone of this garden as well as the blooming plants could not make better use of space. I filled every flash drive my camera had and often had to remember to close my mouth. OK I know I am raving now but if you like gardens this one should be on your bucket list.

    Had dinner at the New Inn and it was delicious. Food was interesting combinations, a huge variety of choices and well prepared. Staff is very friendly.

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    Thank you very much Kinloch for taking the trouble to say so many lovely things about Cornwall - can I pass your name to the Cornish tourist Board? You should be on a retainer!

    Firstly, thanks for the update on the Alverton. We haven't been there for about 4-5 years when we had what I must admit was a very good Sunday lunch there, but the whole place felt very old-fashioned - nice to know that they've joined the 21st Century.

    Good too to have your overview of the various gardens. I am so familiar with them that it's quite hard to see them objectively. Your remarks are timely to as we have friends staying who are very keen on gardening and weather permitting, we are intending to visit quite a few this week. It looks like Heligan [where I was with my mum at Easter and was a bit disappointed though we didn't do the Jungle] and Carhays [where we haven't been for years] plus Trewidden where we went at about this time last year and were very impressed are top of your [mainland] list.

    Trebah we are very familiar with but of course out friends aren't. Though it's lovely it does have one disadvantage in comparison with nearby Glendurgan [as well as not being NT] which is that you have no access to the coastal path from the beach. From the beach at Glendurgan you can walk along to Helford Passage for lunch at the pub - it's a truly delightful walk and one I've got in mind to do with our friends if the sun shines on us.

    As for the Tresco Gardens, I'm not surprised you liked those so much - again we've now been several times but on first sight they are very impressive.

    I was interested too in your impression of the different restaurants you ate at - Tabbs is another place we've never been to, so i'm pleased to read you liked it, and sorry you disliked the Old coastguard, but not terribly surprised - it really wasn't very good the last time we went though it wasn't as bad as DH kept saying!

    and I won't let the words "told you so" pass my lips about Glastonbury - I'm just glad you got to Wells!

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    Apparently in Cornish Tre means place or location. It does get very confusing to those of us "from away" when all locations start with the same 3 letters. Names start to blend. Everytime I have to go back to my pictures of each garden to remind myself which was which.

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    Apparently in Cornish Tre means place or location. It does get very confusing to those of us "from away" when all locations start with the same 3 letters.>>

    Not quite all, Kinloch as this handy little rhyme indicates: "Tre, Pol & Pen, by their names shall you know them". As well as the names beginning with Tre, which as you indicate are legion [Trewidden, Trewithen, Trerice, Tresco & Trelissick, which is a local garden and not to be confused with Trelisk which is the local name for the main hospital] there are the Pols [Polruan, Polzeath,] and the Pens [Penrice, Penzance,& Penpol, which neatly combines both!]

    Then there are the Perrans, named after the local saint Pirran who allegedly sailed from Ireland to Cornwall on a granite millstone e.g. Perranaworthal, Perranporth, Perranzabuloe,& Perranuthonoe, and the Porths - Porthcurnow, Portreath, Porthscatho

    And those are only the ones that I can remember off the top of my head!

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    When I read "My plan for the rest of day was to visit gardens 10 to noon, walk the south end of the island for a couple of hours then back to garden for late afternoon light" I was thinking, "That's impossible. How could she have the strength to only spend a couple of hours on her first visit to the gardens?" Then a big smile when I read on and found you were just as entranced as I was (and still am--always spend more time there than I expect to).

    Will you be putting up a link to your photos? I'd love to see some. Here is a small photo book I put together for the IoS, including Tresco (about half way through the book), after a visit four years ago. Make sure you click on Full Screen.

    annhig: I didn't know that info about Perran. The house we stayed in on St. Mary's, a couple of years ago, was called Perran. I'll have to tell the grandkids, they'll be most interested to learn of the legend behind the name. Thank you.

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    I didn't know that info about Perran. The house we stayed in on St. Mary's, a couple of years ago, was called Perran. I'll have to tell the grandkids, they'll be most interested to learn of the legend behind the name. Thank you.>>

    no problems. evecolorado. It's even found as a first name, albeit rarely, and at a recent concert I attended in Truro Cathedral, there were both a Pirran and a Petroc in the audience, both named after Cornish saints.

    Lovely pictures by the way - you have really captured the quality of the light, which is not easy to do.

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