A Cornish Tale

A Cornish Sojourn - now that is just the tonic after a gruelling winter, a sick house and flagging spirits....and so it was.    I am bubbling with inspiration from the sweeping coastline, the incredible gardens and the charming Cornish villages, peppered along the seashore.  It is a land of myth and legend and I can see why - the imagination is free to roam around rocky islands, smugglers coves and ancient castles.  

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Having lived away from the UK for many years, our return home has been a surprise in so many ways, and travelling around the country is one of the best.   In 2016 we visited Scotland and had a truly wonderful time (see link at the bottom of this post).  One of the things that struck me was how different Scotland was from England with it's own culture and identity.   Of course it has some very obvious signs of this, but the UK is not a large land mass really and in planning a trip to Cornwall, I had not imagined to find the same sort of individuality that I did.  Perhaps it is explained by Dr. Mark Stoyle when he writes "Physical isolation provides the key to Cornish history.  A rocky peninsula, jutting 90 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. surrounded by waves on all sides but one and it is practically severed from the adjoining lands to the east by the River Tamar which runs from sea to sea."  



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 Although originally inhabited by Celtic tribes, by 1337 the english monarchy had reigned it in, creating the 'Duchy of Cornwall' a title to be held by the heir to the throne.... as it still is today.    In the english civil war, it was a royalist stronghold, largely because it wanted to protect its royal rights and privileges tied into the ducal title.   Famous for it's tin mines, in later years, it hit hard times as the reserves dwindled and the men fled overseas in search of a better life.  Although tourism is the probably the mainstay of it's economy today,  it is also a hub for creatives...delightful galleries are everywhere featuring beautiful hand made pieces of pottery, jewellery, mixed media art and painting.  I am not surprised.  I found it inspiring and the sewing room here is bubbling with plans, but I am jumping ahead of myself a little.

We stayed with dear friends in Falmouth and were blessed with glorious weather all week.  We packed lots of adventures into our stay and on the very first day we were able to take a short boat trip over to St. Mawes, a quaint cornish town with layers of stonewashed houses in pastel hues, layered along the seashore.    

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I guess you cannot go to Cornwall without going to the Eden Project and it is impressive.  Two giant bubble wrapped domes (I think the technical name is biomes) house tropical gardens from around the world.  One is a rainforest and the other is a mediterranean environment.  They house the most fantastic array of plants and I particularly loved the Californian garden.  I am not gardener but I love the shapes and forms of plants and it was an embroiderer's paradise.  Here are a couple of my favourites.

Imagine this in silken thread.......

Imagine this in silken thread.......

Or this in woollen hues

Or this in woollen hues

Gardens are quite a thing in Cornwall.  The oceanic climate of the region allows more tropical like plants to grow and there are many places to visit and enjoy, but perhaps the most famous is the 'Lost Gardens of Heligan' - I was enthralled with this whole story.   

Situated near Mevagissey and owned by the Tremayne family, these gardens are part of an old country estate and were created from the mid 18th century to the beginning of the 20th century.  A vast area of spectacular gardens which include a 'jungle' area and an Italianate garden were all looked after by a team of 22 gardens before 1914.  The first world war took it's toll - by 1916 only 8 were left.   In the 1920's the owner Jack Tremayne moved to Italy and the house was rented out and the gardens started to fall into decay.  Jack had no children and after his death, the estate passed to a trust of extended family members.  The house was converted to apartments and sold off and the gardens remained ignored.  It wasn't until the 1990's when one of the trustees, John Willis along with landscape architect Tim Smit decided to investigate what was there.  It is a famous story that they found the door - a gateway into a secret lost garden.

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With a dedicated team of largely volunteers the restoration project began and is the subject of a famous Channel 4 documentary.   What you see today is the spectacular result of this epic story and it is glorious.  Not only is the jungle garden wildly enticing with it's palms and rope bridge, exotic ferns and colourful wacky plants, but there are just endless delights to discover.   

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I loved the way the viewing window was cut out of the hedge....

I loved the way the viewing window was cut out of the hedge....

The Italian Garden

The Italian Garden

Heligan also boasts Europe's only working Pineapple Pit - I had no idea Pineapple's grew this way.

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The Grand finale of our holiday was a visit to the Minack outdoor theatre.  This was simply superb....carved out of the granite cliffs in the 1920's, with a panoramic vista of the sea, it is a stunning setting.  We saw a Simon & Garfunkel Tribute concert and it was pure joy, watching the waves beyond ebb and flow to the haunting music.   I do not think I have ever been anywhere quite like this, it almost takes your breath away.

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So as you can imagine I have come back with oodles of inspiration and lots of plans in the sewing room.   My trip was not without a visit to a quilt shop (of course) and the Sewing Studio in Redruth is a large and friendly store.  I found these sashiko templates there, one of which is a clamshell and perfect for a seaside project.  When I got home, I remembered that I have in my stash a couple of 'Saltwater'(Tula Pink) layer cakes from ions ago and these seem to sum up the colours of Cornwall perfectly and combined with some delicious pastels from Oakshott fabrics, I have the beginnings of a quilt.

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So many of the botantical images I saw are etched in my mind and are wonderful subjects for an embroidery design.   The exotic plants and flowers of Cornwall add to the holiday feeling of this enchanting land and as for the lost gardens.....well, I think they are found ... in my sewing room at least!

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If you enjoyed this post you might also like to read my travel journal from Scotland here

You can read more about the Lost gardens of Heligan at http://heligan.com