Due to the influence of the Gulf Stream, the British Isles is warmer than should be expected for somewhere as far north as it is. Sub-tropical plants can even be grown on the western coast of Scotland, but the southern part of Cornwall is probably the easiest place to grow such plants. Not only does it enjoy a warm climate, the river valleys of the county’s south coast lead down to sheltered coves which give added protection to the tender plants. One of these sub-tropical gardens is Trebah.
It may be classified as a garden but I prefer to think of it as a wooded glen with exotic plants. A natural spring has been used to good effect to provide a water garden that flows down through the valley to Trebah’s own private, secluded beach on the Helford River.
Rated amongst the top 80 gardens of the world, Trebah’s garden was started nearly 200 years ago and must have been a glorious place to be - until WW2. Not only was maintenance scaled back then but the beach was also used as an embarkation point for the D-Day assault on Omaha Beach by 7,500 soldiers of the 29th US Infantry Division.
After the war Trebah had a succession of owners including Donald Healey, the racing driver and car designer who used some of the outbuildings here to develop his cars. He also helped to restore the post-war beach and lower gardens.
If you’ve never been here before the obvious route to take is down through the glen following the water garden but there are around 4 miles of paths here altogether if you have more time.
There are plenty of gardens to visit in this part of the world and I certainly haven’t seen them all, but what I particularly like about Trebah is the way that the exotic trees, shrubs and plants seem to almost belong here in a way that seems so natural - and of course there’s the beach as well.
The gardens are open throughout the year and each season has its own appeal. There are all the facilities you would expect including a garden centre, café and beach hut that sells ice creams and drinks in the summer.
As always, for all the latest info please see their website.
After two failed attempts to take the Falmouth Pleasure Cruises trip to the Helford River I decided not to try using them again. On both occasions I rang up to make sure they were operating the trip and on both occasions they said they were - but they didn’t.
In the end I opted to use Helford River Cruises, a small outfit with a small boat that departs from the Budock Vean Hotel, which is situated in Porth Navas Creek on the Helford River itself.
If you’re based in Falmouth then it means that you need your own transport to get there, and of course you miss out on viewing the coastline in between.
Like Carrick Roads, the Helford River is a Ria, or drowned river valley, and stretches from the mouth of the estuary up to Gweek. Although it’s had use as an industrial waterway in the past, this beautiful stretch of water is a Marine Conservation Area nowadays and you’ll see more yachts than fishing boats.
Helford River Cruises appear to have an association with the hotel and you can park in the hotel car park for free before walking down through the grounds to the foreshore. The boat is quite tiny and holds just 12 people. Being such a small craft it’s inevitable that there are restrictions. Firstly you need to put on a life-saving vest (which I found uncomfortable) and for obvious reasons no standing is allowed. There is no room for facilities on board so make sure you’re fed, watered and whatever else you need to do before boarding. The trip takes 1½ hours.
Being so restricted on the boat obviously makes it difficult to take decent pictures, but on the plus side there is a more intimate feel with your surroundings. The boat leaves the foreshore and navigates its way down Porth Navas Creek and into the Helford River where it takes a course eastwards towards the mouth of the estuary. There are some lovely houses overlooking the river, including one belonging to the Queen drummer Roger Taylor. At least he won’t annoy the neighbours here. Helford Passage soon comes into view with its popular Ferry Boat Inn next to the landing stage of the passenger ferry across to Helford.
After passing Polgwidden Cove at Trebah Gardens (tip to come), the boat turns round at Durgan and ventures back up stream. It makes its way past Helford village and Frenchman’s Creek before turning around again.
The main feature at this point is Merthen Wood with its sessile oaks that reach down to the water - and have done for centuries. The boat then returns to - and up - Frenchman’s Creek, made famous by the novel of the same name by Daphne du Maurier. The final leg of the trip takes us back up Porth Navas Creek to the village of Porth Navas where the Duchy of Cornwall operates an oyster business.
Back at the foreshore, the steady climb back up to the hotel may give you a thirst, and if the prices don’t put you off, you can relax at the hotel for a while.
All in all I really enjoyed this trip. The boat only does 15 knots which makes for a leisurely outing, and although there isn’t a huge amount of interest along its course there is a real sense of peace in the Helford River, which is what it’s really all about.
Bearing in mind that the boat trip costs £20pp (June 2014), the journey to Helford Passage, and the lack of facilities on board I reckon you’re better off getting the boat from Falmouth - if it’s running - but whatever you do make sure you allow yourself enough time to visit this beautiful part of Cornwall. You really shouldn’t miss it.
- Sailing and Boating
Visit Falmouth and other villages at Land's End. I found it to have an isolated feeling, but it was lovely, nonetheless, even to this city girl.
This is a typical English garden.