On my last day in sunny Cornwall, I decided to spend some time getting back to nature by viewing one of the region’s beautiful gardens. So I journeyed east through St Austell to the small fishing village of Megavissey in search of The Lost Gardens of Heligan.
The first thing you should know about Heligan is that The Lost Gardens are well and truly lost. Set in the midst of the Cornish countryside, this work in progress is an ever-changing landscape, meaning you will never see the same gardens twice. With sections dedicated to different plantlife from around the World, you can find yourself emerging into an Italian kitchen garden or a New Zealand rockery within just a few steps.
Stroll to The Jungle and stand surrounded by lofty bamboo and pineapple plants before navigating the rope bridge across the vale below. The lost valley opens up with glistening lily pad pools, ferns, grasses and heady oaks creating an immersive setting to walk through. Log tree benches are dotted around, providing a restful spot to sit and take in the views around you. Butterflies drift lazily around and the air is filled with the gentle buzz of bees busy at work from their white, wooden beehives. It feel like you have stumbled into a still, sunlit dream world.
The Lost gardens were accidentally uncovered by the owner of the house along with an architect friend in 1990. Upon the owner showing the architect the door, they are said to have managed to push it open halfway and seen glimpses of ferns and exotic looking plants on the other side. Once inside, the pair discovered derelict outbuildings and greenhouses, one with a pair of gardening scissors still hanging on the wall. This was the start of the Heligan garden restoration project that continues on to this day and today we see the sprouting fruits of years of labour.
Do not miss the variety of garden sculpture dotted around the gardens with the majority found in the Woodland walk. Favourites amongst visitors included a charcoal piece, akin to the twisted tree in the movie Sleepy Hollow and the Mud Maid asleep in her grassy bed.
Find your way to Flora’s green for views of the magnificent rhododendron collection that helped Heligan gain its National Collection status and is the perfect place for a picnic. The Victorian gardens continue close by, along with glimpses of the privately kept Heligan House that is home to the 14th generation of the Heligan family.
As the journeys ends its circle, see how many farm animals you can spot in the estate’s rare breeding fields. I was lucky enough to visit during lambing season and the fluffy, bleeting bundles skipping about were just adorable. Lastly the Heligan shop and cafe offer many regional delights with the farm shop across the road, stocked full of fresh produce from the estate.
While The Lost Gardens of Heligan are well and truly lost, once you arrive to unlock its treasures, you will discover a secret garden that is well and truly worth the finding.
Bus from Newquay to St Austell. St Austell to Mevagissey. 40 min walk – journey time from Newquay approx 2.5 hours.
Tips for travelling to Heligan – if you want to find them don’t walk there unless you really enjoy navigating mud and no signs most of the way. If you are, like me, an explorer happy to walk on the less trodden paths, I would recommend visiting on a lovely sunny day and be sure to wear some proper walking boots. Or at least shoes that you wouldn’t mind getting muddy. The walk is 40 minutes and some of that is very steep. Inside the gardens there are steep peaks and troughs to hike through.
Allow extra time to find your bearings. If you find yourself in Mevagissey village you have gone the wrong way! The signs are sporadic, but find the one that takes you down the path by the activity centre and keep going ignoring the signs to the paths of the houses along the way. You will also find yourself walking past some of the garden, don’t peek you are close!
Words on Cornwall
The transport links around Cornwall are excellent with a bus and train network that links all of the major towns and attractions. As always, allow some extra time in case of delays.
Whatever your timespan is for a Cornwall visit, spend some time planning your days and always have a rainy day back-up! Bear in mind that things a lot of attractions close around 6pm, so stay flexible and take stock at the end of each day.
Go with your own flow when it comes to the weather. Locals are somewhat weather-resistant and yes, you may stand out shivering in your coat in the 10 degree sun, but if you feel the cold take the coat. Don’t judge the temperatures by what people are wearing outside!
Relaaaaaax! It is a different pace of life out here and that is part of what makes Cornwall such a great holiday location.