After an illustrious rallying and racing career, Donald Healey was famous for designing and building sports cars in Warwick. However, he was born in Perranporth, Cornwall and between 1961 and 1971, the Healey family home was Trebah just above the Helford River in the county of his birth. I suspect he didn’t commute from Trebah to Warwick on a daily basis. Even for an ex-rally driver, the 520 mile round trip would have been a bit of a drag. In fact, if you lived at Trebah you probably wouldn’t want to leave at all because it’s a bit of a paradise. Trebah had been set out as a pleasure garden in the mid-1800s with a large colonial-style house sitting at the top of a wooded valley leading down to a small beach.
During World War II, the beach was concreted over and used as the embarkation point for 7,500 men of the 29th US Infantry Division heading for the infamous Omaha beach as part of the D-Day landings. When Donald Healey purchased Trebah in 1961, he removed the concrete and military infrastructure, built a new boat house on the beach and set about restoring the gardens. That restoration work was later continued by Major Tony Hibbert (a veteran of Arnhem and other World War II campaigns) and his wife, Eira over a period of almost 25 years.
Today, Trebah is a stunning subtropical garden open to the public (unfortunately, no discount for Austin-Healey owners) and you definitely don’t have to be a green-fingered god or goddess to enjoy it. There’s something for everyone as you work your way down from the smart visitor centre and restaurant (decent Cornish pasties!) at the top of the valley. Kids will love the Tarzan play area and probably The Bamboozle (39 varieties of bamboo – mostly very tall) and Gunnera Passage too. Walking under the green umbrella created by the mass of giant Gunnera (like monster rhubarb) is quite something. Can’t decide whether it’s like a set from Avatar or Jurassic Park. Maybe a bit of both. There are several routes through the garden and you’ll spot various ponds, waterfalls, bridges and statues amongst the plants, flowers and trees.
Eventually, you’ll reach an ornamental lake and then the secluded, private beach set in a gorgeous sheltered bay with crystal clear water. In Healey’s Boat House (teas, coffees and ice cream), there is a large board with a time line of Donald Healey’s life and career. His early working life was spent in aviation – an apprentice with Sopwith Aviation then joining the Royal Flying Corps in World War I. Intriguingly, after opening his first garage in Perranporth in 1919, he also established the Perraphone Radio Company (no more information given!). His later exploits racing and building cars are more well known, including winning the 1931 Monte Carlo Rally. In 1973, he was awarded the CBE by the Queen for services to export (i.e. selling lots of cars to the US). He died in 1988, aged 89 in Truro, Cornwall.