I was delighted when Melanie asked me to join her group at Menabilly. I have long suggested she make a Daphne du Maurier-themed tour with walks and talks. Indeed she could expand these to Thomas Hardy and Dorset, The Brontes and Yorkshire, Wordsworth and the Lake District and Lewis Carroll and Oxford. There are so many Cornish novels written by Du Maurier that it would be fascinating to have a heritage trail.
Yesterday though we took a different tack. I have known for 4 years now a local travel guide called David Hogg who gives excellent tours to the Eden Project and The Lost Gardens of Heligian. Last year we all visited the Eden Project so this year we decided on the Heligan Gardens, both of them the brainchilds of Sir Tim Smit, archaeologist, musical and entrepreneur. Sadly we were not blessed by good weather and as there was a consistent downpour. Over a coffee David explained initially the history of the place. The Tremaynes came down here in the the eighteenth century. Henry Tremayne, the second son, a curate in Lostwithiel after a series of deaths in the family and a good marriage ended up as the seigneur of a sizeable estate, 59 acres of which he turned into gardens. A friendship with John Hooker, the son of the founder of Kee, and various trips to India and the subcontinent resulted in many large rhodendendren and other more exotic plants and trees being planned. It even had its own pineapple pit. In Victoran times the pineapple was a status symbol equivalent of a Rolex watch, costing £5000. There were even pineapple brokers who would lease out a pineapple for a dinner party. The necessity to conscript the gardening team to the First World War diminished the gardens, ranked at the turn of the century as famous as Kew and Chatsworth, into decline. They encountered further difficulties paying the death duties of Jack Tremayne and only returned to vigour under the aegis of Sir Tim Smit who ran them alongside his Eden project though one nearly bankrupted the other at one stage. Now the gardens are flourishing with 400,000 visitors annually.
It sounds heresy but I was a tad disappointed. There are no explosions of colour in bloom, only a few greenhouses and mainly fauna and trees. The difficulty is that the gardens are period correct and only flora and fauna can be planted which existed between 1840 and 1860, necessarily limiting. We were however treated to one moment of hilarity when the ever game Bob Tickler said he had no problem traversing on foot the rope bridge. He heaved across and the bridge shuddered and shook, David Hogg asked him as he reached the other side side if he was all right.
“I feel like a bloody Chindit” Bob retorted, “The Burma campaign has nothing on this.”