Cornwall is well endowed with heritage sites, many under the stewardship of English Heritage, Historic Houses or National Trust. Although we are members of all three organisations, we had not managed to visit any heritage properties in what is England’s most south-westerly county.
That was until last autumn when pandemic regulations had been eased and we were able to visit five very different sites: St Michael’s Mount, Botallack Mine, Pencarrow House, Lanhydrock House and Tintagel Castle.
Social distancing restrictions were of course in force at all of these properties.
All of the five properties we visited had some great highlights for us, as described below, although there were also some disappointing aspects.
In addition to these five heritage sites, the map below also includes seven other English Heritage (EH), Historic Houses (HH) and National Trust (NT) sites we intend to visit when they have fully reopened and when we next head down to Cornwall.
St Michael’s Mount
Our short heritage tour of Cornwall started just 10 miles or so east of Lands End at St Michael’s Mount, the National Trust’s most popular property in the county. And that was apparent on the day we visited.
We had booked separately to visit the terraced gardens and the castle, but so had very many other people, making social distancing quite difficult.
Maybe that was because the site was only accessible that day in the morning. Everyone had to leave over the causeway before the tide came in and St Michael’s Mount returned to being an island. There was no access by boat due to the pandemic.
The Victorian terraced gardens were very impressive with a wide range of plants amid the granite rocks, including exotic Aloe and Agave species.
The castle tour passes through several impressive rooms, including the Blue Drawing Room (which we were told is in Gothic rococo style) and the chapel. There are great views from the ramparts.
A word of caution for less nimble senior travellers. Both the terraced gardens and access to the castle are via steep pathways.
Just a few miles north of Lands End is Botallack Mine, a National Trust site on the so-called Tin Coast. Just by the car park there is a café in the Count House (the old mine office) and a small museum.
The mine shafts were on several levels and reached to a depth of 1870 feet and stretched half a mile out to sea. Thousands of tons of tin and copper ore were removed before its closure in 1895.
The Crowns Engine Houses (a pumping house and a winding house) clinging to the foot of the cliffs may have been photographed many times, but we found it quite spectacular to see them in real life.
Similarly the landscape around here has featured in the Poldark television series, but is far better when seen in reality with the noise of the waves crashing over shoreline rocks in the background.
The National Trust has set out an easy one mile walking trail around the mine site.
The last three sites on our heritage tour are all near to Bodmin, where we were staying, with the Historic Houses property, Pencarrow House, being just five miles to the north.
This handsome Georgian House is the home of the Molesworth-St Aubyn family, who have links with the St Aubyn family who live at and manage St Michael’s Mount.
The Victorian gardens were not at their best when we visited in late September. The estate walk around the lake and by a wishing well enabled us to see some of the many varieties of rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and hydrangeas growing on the estate, although not many were in flower at the time of year when we visited.
The interior of the house is very impressive and contains some fine paintings, including family portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds and some unusual marble busts bedecked with a range of hats from a bowler to a fez!
There is also a large china and porcelain collection including Meissen figurines, a Worcester dinner service and Sèvres plates and candelabras.
Unfortunately we can’t show you any pictures of the elegant rooms and their furnishings as we were told that no photography was allowed within the house.
This National Trust property is three miles south of Bodmin. There is a half mile walk from the car park up to the house which is entered via a 17th Century gatehouse and a courtyard.
The house dates back to Jacobean times, but following a massive fire in 1881, it was partly rebuilt and furnished in high-Victorian style.
Normally there are normally 54 rooms open to the public, both above and below stairs, but when we visited this had been reduced for safety reasons.
Nevertheless there was much of interest to see including the Dining Room, Boudoir and Morning Room.
We found the the Long Gallery, which survived the fire, to be of most interest with its ornate plastered ceiling, probably dating back to 1642 and depicting Old Testament scenes, and important collection of books some from before 1500.
There are 30 acres of formal garden to enjoy passing the 15th Century St Hydroc’s church along the way. The 900 acre estate has several walking trails including ones leading down to the River Fowey.
This is one of English Heritage’s most iconic sites and having booked our visit a few days in advance we were very much looking forward to our visit, despite the rather drizzly weather on the day. It is about 20 miles north of Bodmin.
Having parked in a commercial car park in Tintagel village (English Heritage has no parking), we made our way to the site entrance only to be told the main bridge across to the castle was closed because of high winds and was unlikely to reopen that day.
Unfortunately the main bridge, completed in 2019 with much fanfare, was the only way to access the castle, with the old narrow pathway up being considered not suitable for social distancing.
Never mind, we could walk down to the shoreline cliffs and look down on the caves below the castle and look up to Tintagel Castle itself. We could also visit the shop and small museum (covering both history and legend), whilst sampling some takeaway refreshments from the café. Next time we’ll check the weather forecast more carefully before setting off.
Other Heritage Sites in Cornwall
Our choice of sites to visit was very much limited by closures due to the pandemic. But following research at the time, our must-see list for when we can next visit Cornwall includes the English Heritage castle at Pendennis, the Historic Houses sites at Prideaux Place and Tregrehan Gardens and three National Trust stately houses at Cotehele, Godolphin and Trerice plus the medieval Old Post Office building in Tintagel.
In addition for anyone interested in archaeology, English Heritage has more than ten ruined castles and other ancient sites in the county. For those interested in walking, National Trust has stewardship over many stretches of coastline.
Accommodation and Driving
For accommodation in the area we can recommend the Holiday Inn Express at Bodmin, which provided excellent service in an attractive new building. As an alternative, and for a bit more luxury, try the Crowne Plaza in Plymouth where you can get a senior discount rate.
Cornwall has many notoriously narrow roads, so give yourself plenty of time when planning journeys and bear in mind that you may have to back up, sometimes quite considerable distances, as we found on several occasions.
Special Offers: If you intend to visit several heritage sites in a year, then taking up annual membership of one or more of the three heritage organisations could save you a lot of money. We have special offers on annual and gift membership.
English Heritage – For 15% discount on annual and gift membership, click on English Heritage, enter EH2021 at checkout.
Historic Houses – For a £5 discount on annual and gift membership, click on Historic Houses, and use our unique discount code STEW05.
National Trust – To receive a £5 M&S e-Gift card and free binoculars with annual or gift membership paid by direct debit, click National Trust.
See also: English Heritage versus National Trust – Which to join?
Historic Houses versus National Trust – Which to join?
National Trust in Devon and Somerset: Buckland Abbey, Killerton, Montacute House, Tintinhull
POSTED 28th JANUARY 2021 by STEVE HANSON. The photographs were taken by BARBARA HANSON.