We stumbled across The Lost Gardens of Heligan around six years ago after finding a leaflet in the local tourist office. We decided to spend the day there even though we didn’t really know what to expect and, I recall to this day, how we were both blown away by the beauty of this botanical garden.
At the end of the 19th Century, Heligan, owned by the Tremayne family, was left in a dire state. During the First World War, it was used as a Convalescence Hospital for officers and then in World War Two, American troops made Heligan their base. The preceding decades, saw the estate sold off and neglected, struggling under the growth of brambles and ivy, while the 1990 hurricanes look set to finish off the 1000 acres of land completely, consigned to a footnote in history.
However, thanks to the dedication and determination of a large team, the restoration project began after Tremayne descendant John Willis discovered the derelict gardens in the early 1990s, and their work still continues to this day. That’s the magic of Heligan. There is so much to explore – several gardens hidden behind walls and ornate gates; steps leading down to rope bridges and water features; wide open spaces of lush green fields with sweeping views across the ocean; woodland hideouts with secret dens and trails leading off to the unknown.
When we knew we’d be spending a week in Cornwall, we promised to make a trip to The Lost Gardens of Heligan again and we’re so glad we did. It is just a lovely as we remembered – particularly the Italian Gardens which we were lucky enough to have all to ourselves; the jungle, with its lush green foliage and ponds surrounded by wooden walkways and a fabulous rope bridge; the vegetable garden; the flower gardens where I took a few minutes to the enjoy the sunshine; the Orchards; and the Northern Summer House which has the most stunning views; and the Giant’s Head, Mud Maid and Grey Lady sculptures, which are famous landmarks here.
We even took in some afternoon tea and cake in the Steward’s House Tearoom, one of three eateries on the estate – which are supplied by the organic fruits and vegetables grown on the grounds – and it was delicious and warming, especially as the temperature began to drop, and the rain clouds started looming overhead.
This time round, we were more conscious of entertaining Monkey – but he was in awe of all the different nooks and crannies to explore, happily running though the different walkways and through various trails. He even tried his hand at some bird watching at the Horsemoor Hide; watched in fascination as a wood cutter chopped huge tree trunks to make into furniture; and threw a few pennies into the wishing well. His favourite, however, was the Giant’s Woodland Adventure which had various wooden structures enabling him to climb, dens for him to hide in and great big sticks for him to collect.
My favourites, as always, are the ‘secret gardens’ as I like to call them. I love wandering around the quaint little hideaways, marvelling at the landscaping and feeling like no one else is privy to the wonders that they have to offer.
Even though it would take a full two days to explore every inch of Heligan properly, an afternoon just ambling is sufficient for visitors to get a feel for the place, to understand the sheer work it has taken for the restoration team to turn a once forgotten oasis into a nature’s paradise once more. Plus, it always leaves you wanting to go back for more…
heligan.com Entrance fee: Adults £12; Child from £6; Under 5′s free