Things to do in Cornwall: Explore the gardens at Pencarrow House
August 7, 2018
Think of Cornwall, and you almost certainly think of beaches. And you’d be right. But you’d also be missing out on some beautiful landscapes if you only ever stick to the coast. Tucked away in farmland, moorland and ancient woodlands lie all sorts of delights, if you know where to look, and can be totally child friendly too.
Pencarrow House, which lies on the edge of Bodmin Moor between Bodmin and Wadebridge in North Cornwall, has been in the Molesworth-St. Aubyn family for more than 500 years. Observant readers will note the similarity between the names of the owners of St Michael’s Mount. Researching family genealogy is not my specialist subject, but, from what I can understand, St Michael’s Mount ownership and family descendants come from Sir John St Aubyn, 5th Baronet, who had a sister, Catherine St Aubyn. Catherine married her first cousin, The Reverend John Molesworth and had two children, John and Hender, who took the name Molesworth-St. Aubyn. The current Molesworth-St. Aubyn family who still reside at Pencarrow House are descended from The Reverend Hender Molesworth-St. Aubyn. Phew. Still with me? Anyway, suffice to say, Pencarrow House is steeped in 500 years of Cornish family history.
Saving the house visit for another, perhaps more rainy day, we headed to the gardens yesterday to spend the day. Pencarrow House is privately owned and isn’t open on Fridays and Saturdays, so you need to plan your trip accordingly, and it is worth noting you are able to visit the lovely Peacock Cafe and children’s playground without buying a house or garden ticket. The walled gardens are peaceful and sheltered and the children’s play area has a little wendy house which Pip and Buster would probably have spent the rest of the day in had I not wanted to look round the gardens.
Evn more observant readers will note that I actually took these photos over two days, as we popped in at closing time on Sunday to look at the cafe and playground before deciding to head back the following morning to spend the day! The gardens are a mix of formal landscaping and woodland planting and we gave ourselves two tasks.
The first was related to the sketching class that Pip and I are taking every Friday throughout August (more on that later) and we wanted to practice some of the mark making that we learnt last week. I packed each child a little clipboard with watercolour paper attached and brought them a case each with a pencil, brush, little pot of water, and brought along a couple of watercolour palettes. We set up on a picnic rug in a quiet area of the gardens near to the greenhouses and spent a happy hour or so collecting leaves, observing the plants and making little paintings. I won’t lie, Buster who refused to eat or sleep that day was pretty nightmarish and I have to admit that I rang M and had him collect him so that he could have a sleep. Sometimes even the best laid plans don’t work, but Pip and I carried on.
Fortified by another trip to the cafe, Pip and I then carried on to explore the rest of the gardens, following the Great Garden Hunt that we picked up at the shop at the entrance where you pay the fee to get in. Delightfully handmade, this hunt is almost impossible to follow without using the additional map on the leaflet that you get when you pay, but Pip and I enjoyed trying to work it out and making a start collecting the letters once we’d deciphered both the clues and the hard to read map. It took us through woodlands, around the lake, and triggered two fascinating conversations, one about the iron age hill fort and one about the Georgian era, both of which meant I desperately need to brush up on my historical knowledge. We explored the first Victorian rock garden in England, complete with grotto, and saved the American Garden, planted entirely with species for North America, for a further visit.
This ancient Cornish cross was found somewhere on the estate, and the garden includes many species which were not native to Cornwall which were painstakingly planted by a succession of Molesworths. It has to be said that August is not the best time to visit a formal garden, particularly not following such a period of dry weather, but the conifers and hydrangeas were splendid and we enjoyed the shade very much. The same couldn’t be said of the lawns which were exceedingly brown and dry but weirdly pleasant to walk on, and if nothing else, an excellent reminder of what a good summer we have had so far. This made it a great place to come with kids, and a respite from the rather hectic beaches and more well-known gardens. I am looking forward to seeing the gardens in autumn.
Entrance to the garden only is £5.75 for adults, entrance to house & garden is £10.75. I found this offer which gives you entrance to Pencarrow house & gardens for £10 for 2, which I will try next time we go.