Happy times in Cornwall

2 May 2016
Ben Pentreath

You might have been wondering where I went again….. but in this case it was just another manic week. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to get down to dreamy Dorset on Thursday… albeit Charlie and I were nursing tender hangovers after a delicious and bonkers supper with Rita Konig on Wednesday night. We were all feeling a bit the worse for wear but I was glad I wasn’t her friend James, who managed to be taking his driving test at 11 o clock that morning.

I had Dorset meetings all day, and got home to dramatic clouds and bright sunshine… high spring.  The veg garden sparkled. I’ve been away for so long that we have almost missed the great glory of Charlie’s tulips, bucketloads of which he’s been taking to London each week for sale to florists and friends, but luckily the garden was still looking amazing. Tulip-time; my favourite.

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Mavis has been getting enormously long in the last three weeks. She is growing up fast.P1000124 P1000129 P1000130 P1000131

And is proving to be very helpful in the garden….P1000137
But early on Saturday morning, we got up and drove to Cornwall. We were staying with our friends Henrietta and Toby – Henrietta is one half of the wonderful Land Gardeners, who regular readers of the blog will already know about…. and their children, Willow, Lilac and August. Bunny Lytle, daughter of Lulu Lytle (who as VERY well-informed readers of the blog will know introduced Charlie to me) was also staying, bringing her own brilliant touch of wit and humour to the proceedings.

We met at a very strange event, a Horse Trials – at Port Eliot, the beautifully decaying, dreamy estate down in South Cornwall that briefly made the headlines last year when it seemed that the Prince of Wales might buy the splendid, timeworn house (for some reason, which I know not, nothing came of this).  I am not a regular at Horse Trials. I have never seen so many Horse Trucks in my life.
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That’s Bunny on the left, Lilac on the right. I was very taken by the blankets.P1000163 P1000164

You don’t say:P1000166

Here is the front door of Port Eliot, reminiscent of a slightly terrifying prep school. There was a big sign at the entrance gates saying “HOUSE OPEN TODAY 2-5pm” but when I opened the front door the place was completely deserted. P1000176

On further enquiry in the Estate office yard it turned out that meant every day apart from Saturdays. Oh well.P1000178 P1000182 P1000185

The place is dreamy.  But I was glad when we drove north and ended up home at Toby and Henrietta’s beautiful farm on the North Coast, sparkling bright coastal light glowing with the light of the nearby sea. Here is an extraordinary wall of their great 16th century barn, in the garden:P1000221

A corner of the farmhouse. On the site once stood a much larger, grander Tudor mansion, now all gone. But the place has the feel of history.P1000228

Mavis was in heaven, and, for moments now and again, was very well behaved.P1000237

On Sunday the weather came in wet and dank, as is completely normal in Cornwall ( I can say this, being Cornish, of course). We went for a great walk along the cliffs at Pentire Point, that inhospitable coastline just north of Rock and Padstow.P1000242 P1000244 P1000252 P1000255 P1000256 P1000260 P1000262 P1000267 P1000269 P1000273 P1000274

What an amazing year for primroses it has been…P1000278

I suffer from terrible vertigo, as you may know, and from time to time I was quite freaked out on moments of this walk. but I face my demons by peering as close as possible over the edge as I dare. P1000280

Wet Mavis, wet Henrietta, wet Charles:P1000281 P1000286

Carpets of bluebells just beginning.P1000289

The beautiful farm is now all owned by the National Trust.P1000291

Someone was rather glad to be home:P1000305

Today, more rain, sweeping across country. Henri, Charlie and I went to Trerice, which I have longed to go to ever since finding the wonderful Rena Gardiner guide book to the house written in the 70s, which I blogged about here.

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Incredible plasterwork; beautiful rooms:P1000315 P1000318 P1000321 P1000323

But while the house was a dream, it utterly lacked the magic of Rena’s beautiful illustrations, presented as it was by the Trust as a bit of a theme park, inside and out. My heart slightly wept, and I dreamed of how easy it would be to clear out the clutter of the dreadful gift shop and the amusing ‘tat’ designed to entertain kids throughout the house, and then felt a bit guilty for being such a killjoy. But seriously. Ridiculous volunteers dressed in daft ‘tudor’ costumes are not necessary. The house would have been so much more special presented quietly. We have imagination; no one has more imagination than a child. We don’t need ersatz “history” rammed down our throats.

Outside, beautiful mossy walls and damp green paths.P1000332

But we were not really in the mood to try on a Tudor Costume I am afraid.P1000334

The house is a dream, a magical place.P1000335

but we breathed a sign of sadness, and relief, as we left.  Bad things have been happening in parts of the garden too, where a beautiful ancient apple orchard has made way to a rather strange and curiously alien “Tudor” garden. Someone is trying too hard here.

Incidentally, maybe this is the moment to let you know that my great friend David Burnett of the Dovecot Press has beautifully republished Rena’s wonderful guide to the Isle of Purbeck.  You can buy it from us here. A brilliant book, and so exciting that it is at last republished – the original being rarer than hen’s teeth now.

We got home and, as the end of the Bank Holiday approached, the clouds lifted… with incredible, some might say, cynical, timing. Sparkling sunshine filled the house and garden once again. Here are Charlie and Henri in the cutting patch.

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We are still at the house, which feels incredibly quiet and still and ancient after all the shouting and laughter of the weekend. Tomorrow, I’m in Newquay and in Truro, looking at some of our housing projects there, which reminds me that one of these days I’ll post a blog writing about some of the projects in the office. It could be interesting. For now, we’re gently enjoying the setting sun in Cornwall, half an hour later at least than London, so far west are we.

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The magic of this place is incredible – like a dream. I cannot remember sleeping more deeply, and dreaming more intensely, for years. I love Cornwall, and it’s been the happiest of times.

17 comments on this post


re Port elliot. I cycled from suffolk to cornwall in 4 days to see the total eclipse (?) of the sun aug 11 1999. i was aiming for pendeen, but ended up in port elliot. the ecclipse was an utterly magical event, so complete was its beauty. so, for me port elliot remains supreme, its singular magic unsurpassable. Incdentally, i cant “do” shiny, new or , even worse, tasteful. i far prefer crepuscular (look it up) and even better, decaying. preferably with an edge of the hostile. Elliot has it all.
I was born in truro, went to truro school, got married there, both my parents lived and passed away there, as did my sister.Now truro, alas , is the “surrey of the west”… yawn.

Alex Dunnsays:

Beautiful pictures as ever, but your words about the National Trust and its volunteers were disappointing. I can completely see how the way some houses are displayed would not be to your taste and there is no problem with sharing those views. ‘Ridiculous volunteers’ is plain rude though and well, you can see how that vulgarity was echoed in someone else’s comment. Such a shame.


My wife was taught by Rena at Bournemouth School for Girls. There was a huge wall of her work in the entrance. As a form tutor she was little seen – too busy on her own work! Lovely lady.


Hmm Cornwall. A Marmite county for me. Agree totally with your comments on the Nat Trust’s use of costumed interpeters. Lovely tulips, lovely house, stone and lichens, and despite being basically a cat person, one cute Mavis. I hope the blog machine is up and running normally again now. Best, Nicola


Talk about redemption! For those of us who religiously await your Monday morning blog (even avidly checking last thing on Sunday night in the hope that this side of the Atlantic we might catch a super late post from you before we go to bed), Monday mornings for the last few weeks, nay months, have been somewhat stressful. Will there be a Ben post or not? The despair yesterday, when for the second Monday in a row no blog, was only matched by Saint husband’s relief that it was not actually something he had done to cause such huffing, puffing and general slamming of everything in proximity because once again (cue sarcastic eye rolling from the rest of the family) there was no blog from Ben! So the happiness all round when my Inbox veritably sang out this morning with the news announcing your latest post was gift enough. But oh you joy-inducing man! Pentire Point and the Rumps? Not only was the blog back but you were talking about my favorite place on Earth! (Even my Manhattan-born pre-teen children know that the time comes they will be throwing my ashes off those cliffs – it is a place that special to me!) Thank you for braving those cliff tops! How happy have you made this accidentally NW Connecticut-based English woman who spent a childhood and youth scrambling up and down those very paths to Com Pit, the ‘secret’ beach at the base of the cliffs and dreaming of living in that very farmhouse when I grew up. (Now of course I dream about coming to live in the Parsonage with you and Charlie if I ever abandon the Saint – and yes, I know we have never met!) Ben, you are forgiven all past and future skipped weekly posts. If it weren’t for my inability to avert my eyes from the crash-crash in waiting of Mavis and your garden (being a proud owner of not one, but two (26 months and 11 months) horticultural WMD’s affectionally known as black labs I know of what I speak), I could retire from reading your blog now, happy in the knowledge that two of my favorite worlds just collided so unexpectedly and so perfectly and could it ever, possibly, get better than that. Thank you, thank you thank you!


Just a note. Whilst a lot of the volunteers are ‘ridiculous’ without them the Trust would not exist. They are volunteers, give their time freely, from all walks of life, some very opinuated like yourself, but whether in ridiculous costumes or not, care about the the fabric of our heritage. A perfect world would be to have it as it should be, but it’s not a perfect world. I adore your blog but it irked me, I’m a volunteer for the trust, I don’t dress up but feel I should defend those that do…by instruction probably, to engaged and encourage.

ah! the glory that is England. that’s what we keep coming back for! thx for a lovely breath of blighty. 🙂


The tulips are stunning. I love any and all pictures of your garden. It is a joy to see it grow through the spring and summer. Thank you, Ben.

Liza Vandermeersays:

If your blog wasn’t perfect already, the addition of a black Lab pup has certainly made it so!

sarah tribesays:

I know that walk to Pentire having done it from walking age to teens and beyond (in to a 4th decade now). Only recently overcome by the urge or terror of just rolling off down onto the cliffs and breakers below, an awful feeling, I was terrified, so you have my wholehearted sympathy Ben.


Oh that was a blog worth waiting for and, being a fellow black Lab owner, entirely agree that it is a toss up between Mavis and the tulips. Also heartily agree with your comments on the Disneyfication of some National Trust properties which both embarrasses me and makes me want to weep. Houses like Trerice don’t need pimping up and willing idiots in mop caps as room guides. Sincere apologies to any mop capped idiots reading this blog but the N.Trust need to stopped in their tracks

Pierre B.says:

Another great post: flowers, sceneries… Mavis is becoming THE star of the blog! Thank you for sharing!


Blissful as always….can’t thank you enough for the delights you share


While there are so many beautiful shots in this post, the second last of a sunset reflected in a window literally made me gasp. I truly enjoy seeing the world through your eyes and have come to anticipate just what will catch your attention. No wonder those horse blankets grabbed you! They’re SO Ben! 🙂 Thank you again for bringing such natural, simple beauty to the start of my week.


A post to set us all dreaming again….
Port Eliot has a festival in the last weekend of July. Not sure festivals are really my ‘thing’ but this one is a little different and often wonderfully eccentric. It has a mix of literature, fashion, cookery,competitions (flower arrangements and cakes and jams in the old basement of the house – Charlie?),music and plain wacky talks and experiences, all centred round the house. My favourite moment of last year was listening to an amazing soundscape of dusk to dawn on the Port Eliot estate created to commission by natural history specialist Chris Watson, and ‘broadcast’ to a small audience in the house’s spectacular painted round room. Unforgettable. I think you two would enjoy a day or two there…

Good to have you back, Ben. I quite agree with your comments about Trerice. It looks a wonderfully atmospheric house; its beauty is eloquent enough without any gimmicks. Last week I finally bought a copy of Mary Gilliatt’s ‘English Style’and what an utterly fabulous book it is! Am quite smitten with it. Rob

Not sure who is the star of the show…….Mavis or tulips?! James didn’t tell me he was taking his driving test, hope he whizzed through! xxx

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