AT HOME WITH DONALD HEALEY – TREBAH GARDEN, CORNWALL

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.
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Looking down the valley……
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…. and looking back up from the valley to the house at the top
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.
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Trebah’s private beach in a quiet picturesque bay
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.
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Be bamboozled by the bamboo
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Avatar or Jurassic Park? The passage through the monster, rhubarb-like gunnera.
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More killer rhubarb. When the gardens were first created in the 1800s, the lake was filled with custard.
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Nessie spends his holidays at Trebah. 
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.
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The fabulously clear water at Trebah’s private beach.
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One of Donald Healey’s creations. Quite appropriately, I snapped this beauty in Cornwall on the second day of our holiday.
Colin

HIDCOTE MANOR GARDEN & A PLUG FOR THE NATIONAL TRUST

Last Wednesday, when I had the day off from driving round the country, I, er, drove around the country. This time with my wife and we headed to Hidcote Manor Garden, a National Trust property near Chipping Campden in Gloucestershire (on the northern edge of the Cotswolds). I have mentioned the National Trust in a few of my posts and not everybody will know what it is, notably foreign readers (I know there are some – thank you so much for dropping by my blog!!). So, I have added a section further on in this post telling you what the National Trust is all about. If you are visiting the UK for an extended period of time and you are interested in historic buildings and gardens, becoming a member of the National Trust may be something to consider – it could save you money on admission charges.
Back to Hidcote Manor Garden which according to a website called Great British Gardens is a top ten British garden and “one of the greatest in England”. Now, gardening is not my thing; mowing the lawn, trimming hedges and digging where I’m told is about as green fingered as I get. But admiring someone else’s handiwork is a different deal, especially when it is hidden away in the depths of beautiful English countryside and lit up by glorious sunshine. Hidcote Manor Garden was created in the early decades of the 20th century, around a 17th century manor house, by a well-travelled horticulturalist, Major Lawrence Johnson.
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Near the house, the gardens are divided into several “outdoor rooms” each with a different feel. The gardens then open out into larger spaces, ending in some places at a ha-ha with far reaching views over the neighbouring countryside. There are some formal lines, man-made features and clean cut topiary (how do they do topiary? It’s so clever. Cutting hedge technology, no doubt) but just enough to counter-balance the many exuberantly overflowing informal borders that give the gardens a mostly tumbledown air (in a good way). During our visit last week, there were no real “riots of colour” (other than acres of vibrant greens) but splashes of subtle hues with just the occasional bright red or orange catching your eye. All very calming. Since my gardening vocabulary extends only marginally beyond that of Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men (flobadob, Little Weed), I’ll leave the photos of Hidcote to do the rest of the talking about the gardens.
Our day out was complemented by a tasty light lunch in the National Trust café in the company of my wife’s best friend from school days (who lives not far from Hidcote – in the quaint Worcestershire village of Inkberrow which I described in an earlier post). We then sat for a while in the shade of a tree looking out across the Cotswolds eating ice cream. Not bad.
As promised, there are a few words about the National Trust after the photos!
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THE NATIONAL TRUST
We have been members of the National Trust for many years now and feel we have certainly had our money’s worth. It is an organisation dedicated to preserving cultural heritage and areas of natural beauty in England, Wales and Northern Ireland (there is also a National Trust for Scotland). There are about 500(!) places run by the National Trust and membership also gives you access to the National Trust for Scotland. On the National Trust website (https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/) you can search for NT places to visit by county, town, postcode or place or view them on a map (remember to zoom in to your particular area of interest!).
The NT owns/preserves buildings of historical, architectural, industrial and/or social interest and also areas of countryside such as forest, woodland and coastline (most notably, Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland). As well as stately homes, abbeys, gardens and castles, the NT owns properties as diverse as a restored water mill in the centre of Winchester, a Victorian workhouse in Southwell (the guided tour was fascinating), a Roman gold mine in Wales and a lighthouse near Sunderland. Individual admission prices for non-members vary from property to property but can be around £15 per adult for a large house and garden such as Anglesey Abbey in Cambridgeshire. Smaller properties will be cheaper – for example, the fabulous Corfe Castle is £9.90 per adult and the Winchester watermill, £4. However, if you are a member, you get in to all these properties for free! Currently, joint membership for two adults costs £108 for 12 months (single adult £64.80, young person [25 and under] £32.40 and family membership just £114.60). This includes free entry not only to NT properties but also stand-alone NT-owned car parks (often found at the coast). Areas of countryside owned by the National Trust are usually free to access. So, if you plan to visit, say, four to six larger NT properties within a 12 month period, becoming a member could save you money. You can join the National Trust at any NT property.
Because the properties are free for members, we often use them as a place to break a long journey in preference to a motorway service station, even if we have no intention of doing the full tour of the property in question. Most properties have good quality restaurants and/or cafés, a shop (sometimes a second-hand bookshop and/or garden shop as well) and, very importantly, decent toilets!
If you are coming to the UK but to visit Scotland only, then I’m guessing membership of the National Trust for Scotland (http://www.nts.org.uk/Home/) may be cheaper but I have not researched this.
If anyone from the National Trust happens to be reading this (slim chance!), I accept payment by cheque, cash or any valuable commodity such as gold, coronation chicken or Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.
Colin