Visiting Cotehele

Tuesday 19th July 2016

Having spent my final night inside a tent down in Cornwall, it was time to begin the long journey home with a good three-hours of driving.

Of course, I wasn’t set solely on returning to everyday life so suddenly after four days away… To break up the journey, I decided to make my third National Trust stop of the weekend.

If the temperature hadn’t peaked to 25°C, I would’ve been doing a walk somewhere near Land’s End. After the fifteen-miler past Lizard Point, my feet were fine (surprisingly) and I had not suffered any knee pain. Physically, I was in good shape for another ten-miles. Anything but the blazing sun.

My morning had begun much like the previous to, with a yearning for breakfast and a hot drink – neither of which were available, thanks to a faulty stove. Looking at my road map, I estimated that Cotehele was only an hour’s drive away and I decided that I could stop for breakfast somewhere along the way, as opposed to taking another diversion towards Mullion or going without.

I left the SatNav out of sight and placed my confidence in my own ability to follow a network of A-roads in in the direction of Tavistock (North Devon), whilst giving Plymouth a wide berth.

Within half an hour of following the A394 northwards, I’d already passed two potential stops, with signs to indicate their convenient opening hours. As I don’t ever like doing a U-turn and turning back on myself (whether walking or in a car), I continued to clock up the miles, towards Truro and then St. Austell… That “hour” was almost up!

Perhaps the SatNav would’ve led me along a more efficient route. Not that it really matters or that I could see it saving significant time or mileage. I mostly enjoyed the drive for the new roads (to me), sights and scenery.

It was about midday when I arrived in the spacious car park, also to find that just about every shaded space had already been taken… I salvaged what I could from the rising temperatures of my cooler box and set off on my way. Whilst munching on a chocolate bar, I looked down to a sight which had caught my eye – a golf ball-shaped robin peering up, straight in to my eyes! I guess the red-crested birds cannot resist chocolate. Still, I did not share.

From the car park, you must pass through the visitor centre before arriving at anything else – and that includes the toilets. I was fortunate that my bladder wasn’t full on this occasion because, when you need to go, the last thing you want is to have to endure a volunteer’s kind welcome and questions. Even the simple act handing over your membership card is one that will twist and taunt your bladder.

Close to six-weeks have passed since the date of my visit and my act of sitting down to write this. There’s not an awful lot that I can remember from my visit to the house, apart from the fact that I felt like I was on a Mediterranean island, with that warmth. I do remember that – as at Lanhydrock, a few days earlier – the staff/volunteers were handing out guides you could read and follow around your tour so that you did not miss anything. Again, I find this a very welcome idea.

Looking closely at some of the woodwork around the interior of the property…

I cannot recall the last time I saw someone use mitre joints like this – so much so, I cannot recall the correct terminology for this joint. It’s certainly not a common feature of today’s makers’ work but a welcome find, all the same. more surprising is that those five oak boards in the centre panel would surely be prone to blowing the mitred corners apart, when the timber comes to expand and contract with seasonal changes in humidity…

I could be wrong, of course, as this property probably doesn’t have central heating like most modern homes. In fact, I’ve often seen that certain rooms within National Trust properties are ‘temperature controlled’, to reduce the impacts of humidity on the treasured homewares.

I found it odd to see a door with the boards (presumably tongue and groove) running horizontally and not vertically.

…Spot the dehumidifier in the photo above. Behind that, in this first floor room, was a discreet entrance in to another room, for any former occupants who were prepared to crawl on hands and knees. I only noticed this upon another person’s enquiry.

I want to call this a loom… It probably is but, also, it might not be!

What must it be like to wake up in the dim light of an early morning and look up, to see this small dark figure towering over you?…

Descending from the first floor and in the direction of the kitchen, I noticed this brief but very pebbly floor at the bottom of the staircase. Not a sight I have seen very often. I wish my camera had captured it more carefully because it is quite a spectacle.

Again, this kitchen had an inspiring rack for the vertical storage of plates.

It had been a quiet afternoon and I was, by far, one of the youngest visitors of the day.

At the other end of the library was a short and shallow passageway that cut through both the wall and the bookcase preceding it:

A reasonable amount of discomfort was required in order to squeeze my 6ft1in frame beneath the arch. I thought of Robert Langdon’s adventures in the stories created by Dan Brown and the secret passageways and hidden nooks he seems to uncover.

Along with a small group of other people, I arrived at a metaphorical brick wall when looking for direction on where to go next…

Was it back out, they way we came in? And then, where? There were no volunteers or staff nearby.

One by one, we each proceeded through the glazed door in the far right corner of the library… Being the last to follow, I shunted the door closed behind and only to notice a “No Entry” sign on the other face… I’m still not certain whether we were supposed to walk through there or not! It could’ve been a one-way passage.

Now, I was back outside, in a temperature that didn’t seem to have varied to those experienced indoors. There’s a secure locker storage feature here, where you’re required to remove your bag or backpack before entering the house and hold on to the key until your self-guided tour is complete. My 30lt backpack was a tight squeeze in even the largest of lockers and, upon removal, I managed to tear a tiny portion of the webbing pocket when it caught on the locking mechanism… My backpack wasn’t even six-weeks old!

Next, I made my way towards the gardens, where at least one elderly couple were brave enough to sit beneath the blazing sun. Otherwise, it was as beautiful as you would expect of any National Trust property. Quite a busy afternoon, as well. Although, I was still the youngest visitor, by far.

Somewhere beyond the bordering hedges, I found my way to the orchard.

No chance of finding shade here. Instead, there were other points of interest:

Like this giant hand sculpture, nurturing nature. I’m sure it must be symbolic.

There was another sculpture further along. Although, you may find greater clarity here, when viewing from the other side:

There was also this kennel; once home to the household dog, Gordon.

This may well be a reconstruction of the original but to find rat poison inside, was a bit of a shock. I regret never making a kennel for my own dog, while she was with us.

I wandered further, within this open space where I was alone. No-one else had dared to venture this far afield, or so it seemed. That’s when I came across this barn and developed thoughts of shade and shelter.

Of course, the main attraction here was the cider mill. I’m not a drinker but I did admire the scale of and everything about these mechanics, being made almost entirely from wood. It’s a shame it wasn’t running at the time.

Although this barn offered shade and was unattended, I found it as warm inside and, very soon, I was out again, looking on towards what might’ve been a portion of Dartmoor.

One of my most mysterious discoveries in a National Trust property was in this house, where a staircase almost immediately disappears in to the wall upon its ascent, somewhere near the kitchens.

My next stop was to visit Cotehele Mill, which wasn’t far away. There didn’t appear to be any direct access route from the house, looking at the map I’d been given. So, I had to retrace my steps through the visitor centre and then along the roads.

I’ll be writing about my visit to the working watermill in my next blog post.

Thanks for reading.

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