Trelissick House is a three-hundred acre country estate just outside Truro in Cornwall. Built in the 18th century by the Lawrance family, has had a chequered history, having been bought and sold several times over the intervening centuries. Today it is owned and run by the National Trust. The Trust has managed the gardens since 1955, but only took over the house about five years ago, when the previous owners auctioned off the family heirlooms and moved to a more manageable house in the area. It is rare to find a National Trust property that has been brought into the modern world. The vast kitchen was only upgraded a dozen years ago and has been turned into a coffee shop, with a little snug above it that overlooks the kitchen garden. It is amazing to step into such a grand old house, and yet be able imagine how it would feel to live in such a place in the 21st century.
Trelissick House sits on a narrow peninsula above Carrick Roads, the oddly named estuary of the River Fal, and is wrapped in acres of gorgeous gardens, designed like outdoor rooms that, even in winter, are a joy to wander through on a clear, blowy afternoon. All the reception rooms on the east side of the house have wisely been installed with tall, broad windows that provide beautiful views across green parkland and over the water. There is even a haha, a deep, dry ditch, lined with a stone wall, and thus concealed from sight. Used in landscaped gardens and parks in the eighteenth century, it was designed to give the illusion of a continuous rolling lawn, whilst providing boundaries for grazing livestock. The ha-ha got its name from the effect of this optical illusion, as any visitor approaching the hidden ditch would suddenly come across it and cry “Ah-ha!” in surprise.
We arrived on the morning it re-opened especially for the Christmas season. The stables had been set up with Christmas craft stalls, the rooms of Trelissick House had been decorated with huge Christmas trees and colourful flower arrangements. In the library, the Christmas tree was decorated in the green, white and purple, not for Wimbledon, but for the suffragettes, as this is not only the centenary year of the Armistice, but also of women’s right to vote in the UK, and one of the previous owners of Trelissick was an enthusiastic supporter of the Suffragettes. In the music room, a volunteer played Christmas carols on the grand piano, and the scent of pine suddenly made it feel a lot like Christmas. I found myself humming the tunes under my breath as we wandered through the vast reception rooms and gazed out over the fields.
Back in the garden, a sheltered tennis court overlooks the Fal, and I couldn’t help thinking that it was a thoroughly distracting view for potential tennis players. An arched wooden bridge crosses the deep lane that heads down to the King Harry ferry, and lands in the orchard, planted over twenty years ago to preserve several local, heirloom apple varieties. The gardens themselves are full of fascinating and exotic specimens, many garnered by one peripatetic son of the house from as far away as Australia and New Zealand. There is also a very decorative Rapunzel tower, which we thought at first was a pretty folly, but apparently started life as a water tower, and is now a quirky holiday rental.
Behind the house is an array of attractive farm buildings that have been converted into a café, an art gallery, the ubiquitous National Trust gift shop, a plant nursery and a large second-hand bookshop where I went completely mad and came home with an armload of books that cost the princely sum of £15.00!
Feeling in need of a longer walk, we headed into the parklands to follow a woodland path around the peninsula and along the edge of tidal creeks, catching glimpses of the river through beech and oak and wading through inches of fallen leaves. Oyster catchers vacuumed the sand for afternoon tea and a lone heron stood guard on a rock. Young, boisterous dogs charged past, gathering sticks in their mouths, while older ones paced slowly along behind, obviously longing for home and a cushion by the fire. Strolling through this ancient woodland, it is easy to imagine you have stepped back in time and will emerge to see horses and carts rolling down the lane. Much to my disappointment, my Thomas Hardy moment never happened, but it does feel as if little has changed here over the last two or three centuries. And like those older dogs, I can now curl up happily by the fire with plenty of reading material.
*With thanks to Google images for the photos, as the One & Only forgot his camera!