Our failsafe way to find things to do in an unfamiliar place is to use the National Trust app, the single most useful and usable app on my iPhone. On the way back to our campsite from Pendennis Castle (a wholly dull excursion if, like Evan and me, you have no interest whatsoever in forts) the app practically screamed at us to stop at the stunning subtropical gardens at Glendurgan.
The gardens were built in the early 19th century and are set in a narrow, wooded valley which drops steeply to the shore of the Helford river. The microclimate of the area enables the garden to support a wide range of exotic trees and shrubs. Hydrangea (turned blue by the acidic soil, I believe) and giant rhubarb (which freaks me out) were most abundant plants whilst we were there.
The garden is known for its cherry laurel maze, built in 1830 on one of the slopes of the valley. This surprising and beautiful maze would look more at home on an Indian tea plantation I think. Richard and I sunbathed in the sun on the bank of the valley whilst the kids ran off to explore. They found their way out a little too quickly for my liking as I was enjoying a rather short respite from Evan’s constant chitter chatter – I don’t think I realised until I spent an entire week with him 24/7 quite how much he talks, whether anyone is listening or not).
We walked all the way down the valley to the picture perfect hamlet of Durgan that sits at the bottom. The hamlet and all the cottages are also owned by the National Trust and are let as holiday cottages (details here).
The hamlet sits on the shore of the river and has beautiful views. If you rented one of these cottages and hired a little wooden boat for the week you could explore the river by day and could motor over to either the Shipwright Arms or the Ferryboat Inn for dinner.
We also visited Trebah gardens the same day which is right next door and basically the same deal – a subtropical valley garden leading down the river – but I didn’t like it at all. I found it a busier, brasher, more gimmicky and commercialised version of Glendurgan. And it was expensive whereas Durgan is entirely free if you are a member so my advise would be to go to Glendurgan instead.