‘Cornwall is a land beyond England’, in Simon Jenkins’s happily ambiguous phrase. First, prosaically, it protrudes: with a coastal path of 300 miles and with no village more than 16 miles from the sea, the Cornish peninsula extends mainland England far to the south and west. Second, in some less definable way, it feels palpably distinct. Much of the landscape and streetscape is unmistakably and intensely English, but equally unmistakable is a pervasive all-enveloping Cornishness.
The physical reality of slate and granite gave rise to tough economic realities; except at the height of the Industrial Revolution, Cornwall has usually been among the least prosperous parts of the country, mining and fishing and marginal farming providing hard ways to earn a living. Redolent of struggle and privation, the county provides a less luxuriant version of the traditional English scene – reminiscent in many ways of the England of a generation or two ago.
There are moorland and coastal landscapes of rugged beauty, but also vistas of heart-stopping charm. There are dramatic cliffs, becalmed valleys with patchwork emerald fields, fecund gardens in sub-tropical microclimates, dour yet impossibly pretty fishing villages, architectural gems among country mansions, and proud little towns.
The added charm of these walks is that at the end of each one is a country house or garden of distinction. We have chosen a selection based on their proximity to first-class countryside or coastal landscapes, but also to offer a variety of architectural periods and styles. Many are still privately owned and open to us by prior appointment or outside usual opening hours.
The tour stays in Fowey and Padstow, both bustling holiday destinations in the summer months, but which exude a quieter charm and sense of purpose in the spring and autumn seasons. They are also both home to restaurants building their reputations on locally sourced and well-cooked British food.
St Germans, Port Eliot. The tour starts at Plymouth railway station at 1.00pm. Drive to the picturesque village of St Germans from where we begin a 1½-mile walk to Port Eliot, a Grade I listed house, substantially remodelled in the 18th-century, in part by Sir John Soane; the Round Room here is considered one of his masterpieces, now decorated with Robert Lenkiewicz’s mural ‘The Condition of Man’. Visit St German’s Priory, once the bishop’s seat for Cornwall. Continue to Fowey for the first of three nights.
Fowey, Lanhydrock. Topped and tailed with ferry crossings, this moderate to strenuous 6½ mile walk begins with the splendid cliffs of Lantic Bay and continues with undulating farmland, the soaring mediaeval parish church at Lanteglos-by-Fowey, a secluded wooded river valley and views across the estuary to Fowey. In the afternoon walk 1 mile through woodland to Lanhydrock House. A fine Jacobean mansion surrounded by gardens, park and landscape, the opulent interiors display the entire spectrum of life in a top-end Victorian household.
Caerhays Castle, Trewithen. A 3-mile coastal cliffs and woodland walk to Caerhays Castle, with some steep ascents and descents, short stony sections and a long, stepped descent at the end (130 steps). There is a guided tour with the head gardener of this Grade II* listed estate.
Trerice to Padstow. Cross the peninsular towards the north coast, breaking the journey to visit Trerice, an Elizabethan manor house. In the afternoon there is a 5-mile coastal walk, before continuing to Padstow, a picturesque fishing port that has long attracted visitors, the allure recently enhanced by Rick Stein’s restaurants. First of three nights in Padstow.
The Camel Trail, Pencarrow. Drive to begin walking a 4-mile section of the level Camel Trail. After lunch drive to Pencarrow, the home of the Molesworth-St Aubyn family for 500 years; the current house is Georgian, delightful inside and out and with fine gardens. Return to Padstow for some free time.
St Enodoc’s Church, Rock. Drive out to Polzeath before a 3-mile walk across Daymer Bay to Rock; John Betjeman is buried in the tiny church at Trebetherick. Return by passenger ferry from Rock to Padstow. Visit St Petroc’s Church and Prideaux Place, a gorgeous manor house, Elizabethan and Strawberry-Hill Gothic, still a private home.
Cotehele House. A Tudor house perched high above the River Tamar and once home to the Edgcumbe family. It is entirely hung with tapestries, mostly from the 17th century. The coach returns to Plymouth train station by 3.00pm.
Lecturer, writer, curator and broadcaster specialising in the art, architecture and design of the 19th and 20th centuries. Has published many books on pottery, porcelain, silver and antiques, also on canals and railways, and two books on the Thames. He has worked as an external curator of the V&A on a number of exhibitions including Pugin & The Victorian Vision and was Historical Advisor to Royal Doulton in Stoke-on-Trent. He is a long standing expert on BBC’s Antiques Roadshow.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,520. Single occupancy: £2,990.
Included: travel by private coach and all ferry crossings; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 2 lunches and 5 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Fowey Hall: a late Victorian mansion, set above the town centre with extensive estuary views from the grounds. Elegant public rooms compliment the comfortable bedrooms; rooms with a view are allocated on a first come, first-served basis. In Padstow we occupy the rooms above Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant. Rooms vary in size and outlook, but throughout decor is fresh and modern and the service is excellent. Single rooms throughout are double for single use.
This tour should only be considered by those who are used to regular country walking, with some uphill content; some steep rises and falls are unavoidable, and walking sticks are recommended. Strong knees and ankles are essential, as are a pair of well-worn hiking boots with good ankle support. There are seven walks of between 1 and 6½ miles. Average distance by coach per day: 43 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.