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Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Great Gardens of Cornwall

Day 1

I'm off on my travels again today, staying in Falmouth for 5 days. I know Cornwall quite well and very little of this weeks itinerary will be new to me so I am looking forward to an easy time. 

A lot of the people travelling with us on this tour, I have met before. It's always nice to see some familiar faces. We didn't leave our depot today until 10am so we are going to have to press on today so that we arrive at our hotel at a reasonable time. We had a short comfort stop at motorway services before arriving at Endsleigh Garden Centre for a late lunch. Garden Centres are always a good choice when there is little time to spare, there is always good food and at a much more reasonable price than at motorway services.

I was born and grew up in this area and my family are still local here so my parents met me here for lunch and an old school friend who I haven't seen for nearly 20 years! (Oh my god, am I really that old!) 

From here we travelled directly to our hotel, arriving at 5 o'clock. For the next 4 nights we will be staying at the Falmouth Hotel.

The Falmouth Hotel is located in the historic harbour town of Falmouth and overlooks Falmouth Bay.  It boasts beautiful period architecture and spacious interiors and claims to offer the perfect base for a holiday in Cornwall.

The 5 acres of landscaped gardens are perfect for taking time out to relax and families can enjoy the close proximity to Castle Beach. I quote, "We offer a warm welcome with excellent service, comfortable accommodation, a range of facilities and award-winning food." I don't think we received a warm welcome. Nobody came onto the coach to welcome us and give the usual spiel of thank you for coming to stay with us. The courier collected the keys from reception and we handed them out on the coach. Even as our passengers walked past the reception to their rooms there was no one there saying hello, in fact, they were ignored. None of the passengers mentioned this to me but having stayed in some very nice hotels, I notice these little things which all add to an enjoyable stay.

Our evening meal was very nice but the service was a bit of a shambles. No one seemed to know what they should be doing, crockery was being dropped, but they managed to blunder their way through service in a reasonable time. There seems to have been a lack of staff training and a lack of direction from the management. Maybe I'm just getting too fussy. No one else has mentioned it and have all enjoyed their food. So long as they are happy, that is all that matters.

Day 2

I only have one criticism of breakfast this morning and that is that it was plated rather than buffet. I do like a buffet breakfast!

Ok, let's get this show on the road! Today we are heading for Trebah Gardens. This beautiful Cornish valley garden has over four miles of footpath. You can explore under canopies bursting with exotic blooms and follow vibrant tunnels of colour that cascade down to their very own secluded beach on the Helford River.

Trebah offers visitors a year round experience. In spring, Trebah comes alive with a colourful array of 100-year-old rhododendrons, magnolias and camellias; in summer, the giant gunnera is a must see for young and old. In autumn, Hydrangea Valley casts clouds of china blue and soft white across Mallard Pond and in winter, the spectacular champion trees dominate the landscape, whist plants from the southern hemisphere flower.

The group were split into two for a guided tour of the garden with two very passionate, informative guides who work here at the garden. I have done the guided tour here before so I opted to go to the beach and have an ice cream.

We stayed for long enough to make use of the cafe for lunch before we headed back to Falmouth where the group were booked on a 2 1/2hr circular boat trip. I would have liked to do this but I couldn't park the coach and get back on time so I missed out. The route took in views of Falmouth Harbour (the third natural deepest waters in the world), Falmouth Docks, Pendennis & St Mawes Castles, St Anthony's Lighthouse, (from the childrens programme Fraggle Rock), Black Rock, Beaches from the sea, Castle, Gyllyngvase, Swanpool & Maenporth; Rosemullion point, The Manacles, Durgan, Trebah beach (embarkation point for American troops on D Day, Manderley House (famed by the author Daphne Du Maurier, the film and book "Rebecca"), Helford Passage, Helford Village, Port Navas, (Duchy Oyster Farm) and finally a view of Daphne Du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek and many more places of interest. Plus the Wildlife: Dolphins, Basking Sharks, Seals but no one spotted any wildlife today.

Everyone enjoyed the trip and they now had a couple of hours to relax before dinner. Dinner service was a lot better this evening but that may have had something to do with them having to cater for a school prom after we had eaten and so they had to be switched on to get it done. Dinner was a lot more pleasurable this evening.

Day 3

The garden we are visiting today is Trelissick, a tranquil, varied garden in a fabulous position, with a superb collection of tender and exotic plants. On its own peninsula with ever-changing views of the estuary of the River Fal, Trelissick has one of the most amazing natural settings in the country.

There are more than 12 hectares (30 acres) of elevated garden to explore, with twisting paths that lead you through significant collections of hydrangeas, rhododendrons, camellias, ginger lilies and year-round exciting woodland plants.

As well as the garden, the 121-hectare (300-acre) estate, with its countryside, woodlands and coast, makes for breathtaking walks.

As well as the garden and countryside Trelissick has its own renowned art gallery with a wide range of work from local Cornish artists. Crofters café offers a range of light refreshments, hot luncheons and afternoon cream teas using seasonal and local produce. Trelissick also has a gift shop, second-hand bookshop and six of the best National Trust holiday cottages located around the Trelissick estate.

After spending 4hrs here we returned to Falmouth for a free afternoon where I enjoyed a glass of wine in the sun in the hotel garden.

Once again, the food was lovely at dinner this evening but the service was back to chaos. It was time to have a word but all the staff have disappeared!

Day 4

At breakfast this morning there was a familiar face. Jo, a waitress who I remember from my last stay here who was the one to resolve all our little niggles. We had a good chat, she took notes and I am confident tonight's dinner will go swimmingly!

Today we are going to Truro for some free time. I don't think there is a Cornish tour we do where we don't visit Truro so in my opinion, for this to be in the itinerary of a gardens tour is very boring and unimaginitive. I only gave them 1 1/2 hrs here, enough time to visit the cathedral and have a coffee before we move on to do what we have come here to do, and that is to visit another garden, The Lost Gardens of Heligan.

The award winning Lost Gardens of Heligan, asleep for more than seventy years, are the scene of the largest garden restoration project in Europe. In the spring of 1991, the Gardens of Heligan lay under a blanket of bramble, ivy, rampant laurel and fallen timber. A year later, the restoration team opened the gardens to enable the public to share in the excitement of their discovery. In the northern gardens are two and a half miles of footpaths, an Elizabethan mount, rockeries, summer houses, a crystal grotto, an Italian garden, a fine set of bee-boles, a wishing well and a superb collection of walled gardens. Remarkably much of the original plant collection has survived, sometimes to record sizes.

To the south lies 'Lost Valley' and 'The Jungle', a sub-tropical valley overlooking the picturesque fishing harbour of Mevagissey, and overflowing with palms, tree ferns, bamboos, gunnera and numerous exotic trees and shrubs. If The Secret Garden and Peter Rabbit captured your childhood imagination, then Heligan will not disappoint you. The story boards make the visit interesting even to the non-gardener!

The majority of my passengers have said that from the gardens they have visited this week, Heligan has been their favourite.

We returned to the hotel and as I expected, dinner ran like clockwork under the watchful eye of Jo. It's only taken them 4 days to get it right but they got there in the end! All the private guests I've spoken to have said how wonderful the hotel is so it seems that they haven't been too concerned about us because we are 'just the coach'! Which is the same attitude they had towards us the last time I stayed here.

Day 5

There is nothing planned for us today according to our itinerary other than to get home so today is down to me and I have a very nice day planned. I have delayed our arrival home this afternoon by one hour so that hopefully, the passengers will find today to be more comfortable and enjoyable than our day of doing nothing on departure day.

We left the hotel at 9:30 and travelled up to Bolventor on Bodmin Moor where we had an extended comfort stop for 45mins at Jamaica Inn, Cornwall's most famous Smugglers Inn.

Immortalised in Daphne du Maurier's eponymous tale of smugglers, rogues and pirates, this historic coaching house has welcomed travellers crossing Bodmin Moor for nearly 300 years. Full of legend, mystery, romance and even, according to folklore, the odd friendly spirit, Jamaica Inn is set in one of the most evocative moorland locations in Britain.

Coming in at number two of the Most Haunted Pubs in Britain in the Metro, the article refers to the numerous reports of ghostly goings on at the Inn which include previous managers of the Inn hearing conversations uttered in a foreign tongue, suggested to be Olde Worlde Cornish, and the sound of horses’ hooves and the metal rims of wheels on the rough cobbles, even when the courtyard is empty.  Who can be behind the uneasy footsteps heard pacing the corridors in the dead of night? Who is the strange man in a tricorne hat and cloak who appears and then walks through solid doors? To mention just a couple of the mysteries surrounding Jamaica Inn.

From here we travelled for another hour before stopping for lunch at Exeter Quay, where I had arranged to meet my parents again.

Exeter's Historic Quayside is one of the most attractive areas of the city, popular with locals and visitors alike for its fascinating history, interesting architecture and lively pubs and restaurants.

The Quayside has been enhanced to provide a fascinating mix of historic and contemporary design. It is the ideal place to browse in antique shops, walk and cycle, take a relaxing boat trip or find something good to eat. Our visit here went down very well with the group. 

From here we headed home with a quick comfort stop at motorway services, rolling in on time with a lot of happy people. Although I have done very little driving this week, I have had a lot more to do and think about outside of my role as a driver, than I expected. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed the week and I am satisfied with another good job done.