Travel: Past and pleasant in Cornwall

The restored Boconnoc House. Picture: Esme Allen
The restored Boconnoc House. Picture: Esme Allen
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From a historic hotel to the ultra-modern Eden Project, Esme Allen finds a perfect mix of old and new on a trip to Cornwall

As someone who relishes every element of the grandeur of stately homes, I felt I was going to have a wonderful stay with my two children at Boconnoc House, one of the most historic estates in Cornwall. From the minute you clap eyes on the elegant Boconnoc House set deep within 20 acres of gardens, to the moment you ascend the creaky wooden stairs in the 17th century converted stable block where two beautifully restored holiday apartments are located, you get an overwhelming sense of the past.

The Eden Project, Cornwall. Picture: Esme Allen

The Eden Project, Cornwall. Picture: Esme Allen

Thomas Pitt bought the house in 1717 with the money he got from the sale of the Pitt Diamond which now sits in the hilt of Napoleon’s sword in the Louvre. This influential and political family had the house until 1864 when it passed into the hands of the Fortescue family who still own it today. The house also acted as the headquarters for Charles I in the Civil War and in the Second World War it was occupied by American soldiers.

Over the past 11 years the Fortescue family have worked to restore the house, which had fallen into neglect. The house is now also available to rent and is a popular wedding venue.

On a smaller scale, the estate’s four-bedroom Dairy House and enclosed garden is also being prepared for holiday lets.

If you can drag yourself away from the estate with its country walks, quaint church, lake and deer park, there is plenty to explore nearby.

We took a picnic and walked along the South West Coast Path at Lantivet Bay; the sun was shining and there were plenty of pretty bays to paddle in. Also nearby are a number of the fishing villages and ports for which Cornwall is famous. One of these is Fowey, which visitors are reminded is pronounced to rhyme with joy. This busy port town has links to the literature of one-time resident Daphne du Maurier, and the Wind in the Willows creator Kenneth Grahame is rumoured to have used the estuary in which Fowey sits, as inspiration for his books.

A hidden gem is the little aquarium which was a big hit with my children. It has only fish from British waters but, as residents included small sharks, huge eels and giant crabs, the lack of the exotic didn’t matter.

On most to-do lists when visiting Cornwall is the Eden Project. Only a 20-minute drive from Boconnoc, the garden and conservation centre has attracted 9.5 million visitors since opening in 2001. We arrived as the gates opened and we certainly had no problem filling our day. Although the Project, with its iconic domes, is aimed at families, one of its newest attractions is the gardener-for-a-day course, which is for adults only. Only one or two people are allowed to work with the gardeners at any one time, but you can even have your lunch and a tea break with them in the staff rooms. As the day starts at 8am, you also see the centre before the public arrive. The other new attraction is the zip wire, which runs across the top of what is essentially a massive crater. Although this was marketed for over eight-year-olds, you have to weigh more than 6st to go on it, which, even in this era of obesity, is quite large for an eight-year-old. Alas, my 4st nine-year-old was disappointed.

Although it was busy – we visited in August – we didn’t feel overwhelmed. The gardens outside the domes were a vibrant sea of colour, and, as the Project is on different levels within an old quarry, we experienced an excellent sense of place as we walked around, with the domes towering overhead. The children loved the new butterfly area in the Rainforest biome where you can see them hatch out of their cocoons, and they also liked looking for the tree frogs which seem to prefer hiding between the notice boards rather than taking refuge in the trees overhead. One of the simplest attractions and one the dads seemed to enjoy even more than the children was to build a den with masses of equipment on hand in the covered stage area and outside biome.

Having thoroughly enjoyed our trip to the Eden Project, our coastal walks and our visit to Fowey, not to mention our comfortable stay at the wonderful Boconnoc House, we all agreed, as we boarded our train back to Scotland, to return to Cornwall as soon as possible.

• Direct trains are available from Scotland to Cornwall. A one way ticket from Edinburgh to Bodmin Parkway, starts from around £61,; a family railcard would give a discount,

A week’s stay in the three-bedroom apartment in the converted stable block at Boconnoc House starts from £800,

Eden Centre, Bodelva, St Austells,, a family ticket for two adults and two children costs £58 if bought online in advance.