Here I am in east Cornwall for a week of Trusting so regular readers prepare yourselves for an influx of entries over the next six days! I have dragged my mother along with me but she assures me she’s ready for the historical overload so on her head be it. We are staying in a beautiful house overlooking the Tamar; in fact, the river couldn’t be a lot closer as it is just over the wall at the end of our terrace. We have already seen multiple seagulls and geese, a cormorant, a heron, an egret and a huge breaching fish (bass?) so I certainly can’t complain about the accommodations for the week.
I can’t complain about my first visit today either. We started with Cotehele, which is just 20 minutes from our cottage (although it would actually have been quicker to get there if we’d had a speedboat and could have simply shot up the river instead of driving!). There is a lot to see at Cotehele, including the house and gardens, the old quayside and a working watermill. The last of these is a separate entry in the NT handbook so I will grace it with a separate entry here too.
We started our visit with morning refreshments in the Barn Restaurant, which also served up a great lunch later in the day (they have an Around the World theme at Cotehele this year so I am glad we went this week and got the French-themed dinners as I wouldn’t have been so keen on next month’s Indian curry special!). Before heading into the house, we also ticked off the terrace garden and the Cotehele Gallery, where you can buy local arts and crafts, and where I bought a couple of gifts for upcoming birthdays as well as an advance Christmas present (anyone who knows me will be keeling over in shock right now as I make a point of never starting Christmas before December, but it was just too good an opportunity to pass up).
I have had cause to complain about the lack of room information at some properties in the past but there was no such problem at Cotehele. If anything, there was perhaps too much information. Instead of a laminated sheet in each room, there was a folder. It would have been the longest visit ever if I had stopped to read these cover-to-cover as there is not only information about the history of each room but also details of every item on display. However, Cotehele’s contents are not really to my taste so I only occasionally dipped into the extra information about the furnishings. Still, I assure you that you won’t miss anything if you flick through each booklet; for example, the one in the White Room even includes a long description of a visitor’s close encounter with a ghost, so if ghosts are your thing, you’re covered. Alternatively, if you’re a fan of tapestries, I would say that you are more than covered; in fact, even the most ardent tapestry-maniac might feel him or herself to be a little over-tapestried by the time they leave. When I say there’s a lot, I mean… well, just try to find an empty patch of wall in the showrooms and see how you get on!
The Hall has perhaps the barest walls, although these are still liberally adorned with armour, weaponry and bits of dead animals. Antlers galore poke dangerously from the wall (although thankfully the really spiky ones are quite high up and shouldn’t cause health-and-safety concerns!) and you will find the heads of a rhino and an albatross staring out at you from between the tips of a whale’s jawbones. However, if the animal parts make you a little uncomfortable, just look up as the timber lined roof is pretty spectacular. This was actually my favourite room in the house, but I hasten to add that this was due to its size and dramatic roof rather than for its contents.
The architecture of Cotehele is actually fairly complex and I would recommend that you buy the guidebook, which has a good outline of the whos and whens of the building, additions and alterations. The house is often described as a Tudor property but this is only one aspect of it and it would actually make a fairly good puzzle if you wanted to take a model of it and mix and match the different parts and periods. The Hall, Kitchen and Chapel are perhaps all that remain of the Tudor house built between the 1480s and 1560s by the three consecutive generations of the Edgcumbe family who owned it over that period. The rest has been remodelled at various times, most notably in the 1650s, when much of it was de-Tudorised, and again much later in the 1860s. Fortunately, everyone who influenced its development made changes that were in keeping with the whole so nothing looks glaringly new or out of place… except the pink-covered scaffolding surrounding the Northwest Tower at the moment. I have been doing so well avoiding properties that are undergoing serious restoration but I must have missed the memo on this one! Still, I managed to manoeuvre myself into spots where I could get some scaffold-free photos.
Although Cotehele was owned by the same family between 1353 (when an Edgcumbe married a de Cotehele) and 1947 (when it was transferred to the National Trust), the Edgcumbe family tree is still fairly complex and takes up a double-page spread in the guidebook – although, to be fair, anyone’s family tree would look quite complicated if you follow it back more than 600 years! Although several Edgcumbes are picked out as important in the guidebook – mainly those involved in making changes to the house – there was only one that really stood out for me. This was Sir Richard Edgcumbe, the first of the three aforementioned Tudor housebuilders. In fact, he played his part in the very existence of Tudorness, having fought to bring Henry VII to the throne at the Battle of Bosworth. Prior to this, however, his rebellion against Richard III led to him being placed under house arrest and he became the subject of a manhunt after he escaped the house and fled through his woodlands and down to the Tamar. He fooled his pursuers by throwing his cap into the water so that they thought he had drowned, then ran off to Brittany to join up with Henry Tudor… the rest is, quite literally, history!
Another interesting fact about Cotehele is that it was actually a second home for much of its life, with the Edgcumbes having another property further down the Tamar at Mount Edgcumbe. Relatively few members of the family lived at Cotehele by choice, although some were forced back there after WWII when an incendiary bomb left Mount Edgcumbe a ‘smoking ruin’. I wonder if its second-home status was actually a good thing for Cotehele, resulting in its remaining relatively unspoilt. It certainly affected the furnishings of the house as Mount Edgcumbe’s leftovers appear to have been shipped up river to Cotehele when the former was ‘modernised’ in the 1740s. Instead of modernisation, Cotehele experienced antiquation and it appears to have stuck.
The gardens at Cotehele are not extensive, but well worth a wander. It seems as though the daffodil display in the spring is well worth seeing, while we benefited from the sight of apple trees absolutely laden with fruit, so you can choose which season suits you best. The view from the terrace across the valley to the viaduct at Calstock is also pretty special so don’t miss that.
I also need to mention pronunciation once more as this was one of my first questions for the obliging volunteers. I was told that the correct pronunciation is Coat-heel, and the name comes from ‘Cote’ meaning woods and ‘Hele’ meaning estuary, so ‘woods on the estuary’, a very apt description.
Royal visits also have to be mentioned, as King George III and Queen Charlotte popped in for an hour or two in 1789, so they make the list. I will also need to add Queen Victoria, who visited the house and quay in 1846 and also stopped at the quay again in 1856. There are also rumours that one of the Charleses stayed at Cotehele (one of the bedrooms is called the King Charles’s room), but there is no firm proof that this ever happened so I can’t really include it on my list of regal visitors.
The quay is about 500 metres from the house, but they are fairly vertical metres so be warned if you’re not good with ups and downs. There is a very friendly shuttle bus (or at least the driver is very friendly, the bus is just a minibus!) so you can take that one or both ways. It also stops off at the mill, another 750 metres on from the quay, although that’s an easier and flatter walk. The quayside itself has a quaint tearoom in the former Edgcumbe Arms inn, a discovery centre with information about the industrial history of the riverside, and a restored Tamar sailing barge, the Shamrock, for those interested in maritime concerns. And I will tell you about the mill in my next entry.
As usual, I seem to have rambled on long enough, but I do just have to add a couple of NT Connections. Lady Caroline Edgcumbe, resident at Cotehele between the 1860s and 1880s, was the sister of William Henry Fox Talbot of Lacock Abbey, which was also her childhood home. Saltram also earns its place as it was there that George and Charlotte were staying when they made their whistlestop tour of Cotehele. I will be learning more about Saltram soon as it’s on my itinerary. Watch this space!
Highlights: Tudor Hall; orchards; views
Refreshments: Tea and half a slice of ginger cake; Onion, leek and sundried tomato tart with boulangere potatoes and vegetables, with a glass of Cotehele apple juice; Hot chocolate and toasted teacake
Purchase(s): Guidebook; several gifts for an upcoming birthday and Christmas(!); ‘The Strangler’s Vine’ by MJ Carter (from very good secondhand bookshop)
NT Connections: Lacock Abbey (childhood home of Lady Caroline Edgcumbe); Saltram (where King George III and Queen Charlotte were staying when they visited Cotehele); Cotehele Mill (obvious reason, it’s just up the road!)