If you’ve only set aside one day of your break for Cornish history, Cotehele is a good choice. This rambling fortified manor house is a bit of an architectural jumble, with buildings added in an almost haphazard fashion. Of primarily Tudor construction, Cotehele takes you through a variety of eras to create a beautiful little lesson in history.
The interior of the main house has been maintained much as the residents of the Georgian era, the Edgcumbes, left it. A family of eccentrics, the house was a canvas for their quirky tastes and is filled with sumptuous tapestries, intriguing furnishings and plenty of slightly disturbing 17th century war-faring artefacts.
The gardens are just as quirky. Outside the main buildings is the formal East garden; in summer this is a wonderful explosion of colour as the plants flower. The Upper Garden has a Zen-like tranquillity with neat ornamental ponds filled with water lilies. Through a tunnel, however, you’ll emerge into the much wilder Valley Garden, where rhododendrons and azaleas spread over the landscape. A thatched Victorian summer house, medieval dovecote and chapel add to the confusing sense of time.
Cotehele lies on the banks of the Tamar and for many generations river transport rather than road was the principal means of gaining access to the manor. The Victorian quay, beautifully intact, is home to a Tamar sailing barge dating from 1899 – on Sunday afternoons you can climb aboard and explore the hold. The Discovery Centre on the quay tells the story of the industrial heritage of this waterway. The quay borders a vast 1300 acre estate criss-crossed with woodland paths and riverside walks – it’s a wonderland for children.
As always with National Trust properties, the facilities are faultless. Cotehele has two restaurants – one in the 15th century barn of the main house, one on the quay, each with a different view and menu. A gallery specialising in artists from the West Country and a shop and plant centre give you several reasons to indulge yourself. Children are well-catered for with a special children’s guide, quiz and trail and a play area at the quay.
St Dominick, Saltash, Cornwall, PL12 6TA, Tel. 01579 351346