Defending Drogo from the drips

2011 is all set to be quite a year for Castle Drogo on Dartmoor, with the celebration of its 100th birthday and the launch of a major fundraising appeal to help save this unique national treasure.

The self-made millionaire Julius Drewe laid his castle’s foundation stone on his 55th birthday, 4 April 1911: the first of hundreds of thousands of blocks of Dartmoor granite that were to follow in the construction of an extraordinary building – the last castle to be built in England – which took 20 years to complete.

Castle Drogo nestling in the autumnal trees under a cloudy sky

The enthralling story of the castle’s construction – at the core of which is the complex relationship of two fascinating men: Julius Drewe and his architect, the mercurial genius Edwin Lutyens – is brilliantly told in the Castle Drogo souvenir guide. You can pick up a copy at the visitor centre (open all year) or buy it online at www.nationaltrustbooks.co.uk

The castle remains the only 20th-century building in Devon to be listed Grade I, and it was the first 20th-century building to be accepted by the National Trust, with its doors thrown open to the public for the first time in 1975. Since then more than 4 million people have visited and become captivated by Castle Drogo, and its beautiful garden and estate, and last autumn it deservedly won Visit Devon’s Gold Award for the best visitor attraction in 2010, and Silver in South West Tourism’s Excellence Awards.

building castle drogo

Perhaps one of the reasons why Drogo is such an evocative place, and loved by so many people, is that it vividly and poignantly encapsulates so much of the story of the 20th century, with its startling social changes. From the solid certainties of the Edwardian era when that first stone was laid – a time of confidence, of old ways and new wealth – to the devastating blow of the First World War that cut down an entire generation of young men; through the struggles and changed realities of the inter-war years, when the Drewe family were at last able to move into part of the building and make it their home, to the Second World War, when the now-completed castle sheltered children made homeless by the Blitz; and so on to the 1970s when the Drewes took the decision to give their home to the National Trust.

What lies ahead?

It’s been an amazing story so far, and now Drogo is embarking upon an exciting new phase in its life as the Trust aims to save it from ruin – an unimaginable fate for such an important building, but the shadow of which has hung over it from the very beginning. The castle looks mighty and strong, rising up out of the craggy landscape of the Teign Gorge like a tor hewn by men, but at its heart there is a tragic flaw. Julius Drewe’s dream was for Lutyens to build him a proper medieval fortress, not a pretend castle, and one of its most authentic features – its flat roof – became its inherent weakness. Lutyens tried to seal the roof using asphalt (relatively new and untested at the time), but contraction and expansion of the concrete beneath resulted in it cracking, and before the castle was even finished it had begun to leak. Add to this Drewe’s determination that there should be no windowsills or guttering to compromise the design, and so you have a building that has leaked through its roof, its walls and its windows for its entire existence.

After several unsuccessful attempts over the years to make the castle watertight, at last the Trust has found a permanent solution using modern materials, which has been tried and tested on the chapel roof since its application four years ago – with total success.

A public appeal to raise £1.5million – called A Design for Life? – has now been launched to help seal the leaks for good. Work will begin in 2012 and it will be conservation on a monumental scale: there are 2,355 granite blocks weighing 680 tonnes to be removed from the roof, and replaced once the new roof system has been installed; 900 windows with over 13,000 separate panes of glass to be refurbished; and over 60,000 metres of pointing to be replaced. Throughout it all, Castle Drogo will remain open and you will have some very exciting opportunities (of which more later…) to see the work going on, to discover different parts and aspects of the castle – including the roof itself – and to experience Drogo’s story in a totally new way.

To get involved,  find out about the appeal or to make a donation, please go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/savedrogo or come along to Castle Drogo itself and ask any member of staff or volunteer to tell you more. You can also keep in touch with the save Castle Drogo appeal by following them on twitter www.twitter.com/savecastledrogo

Let’s hear it for Val!

There is no greater accolade for a working gardener than to be invited by the Royal Horticultural Society to become an Associate of Honour. Val Anderson, Head Gardener at Antony in Cornwall, recently received this award in recognition both of her 35 years of outstanding work at Antony and of her passion and dedication to the training of the gardeners of the future. Many current National Trust gardeners owe their start in horticulture to Val’s inspirational guidance, encouragement and commitment during their three-year traineeships at Antony.

There are never more than 100 RHS Associates of Honour at any one time, so this truly is a rare and distinguished achievement. Val collected her gold medal at Hampton Court last summer in exalted horticultural company, including Sir Roy Strong, Alan Titchmarsh and Roy Lancaster (who took the photograph, left). ‘It was’, Val said, ‘really special, great fun and one of the best days of my life’. Her proudest moment came when John Sales, formerly the Trust’s chief gardens adviser, said that her award was ‘richly deserved’, to which we would all say: hear hear!

Val Anderson

Val at the awards ceremony, flanked by former National Trust colleagues Peter Hall (left), who also received the Assoiciate of Honour, and Michael Hickson (right), formerly Head Gardener at Knightshayes Court, who received the Victoria Medal of Honour.

At the start of her career, Val worked in commercial nurseries and her main interest was in propagating; she never expected to become involved in amenity horticulture and says of Antony ‘when I came here, I wasn’t stopping’. But it got to her, as it does to so many visitors who return again and again to enjoy the beautiful formal garden around the 18th-century house, and the huge and glorious woodland garden that is owned by the Carew-Pole family who gave Antony to the Trust in 1961 and still live here today. Val says: ‘It’s the whole thing: the setting, the staff and volunteers who work here, the plant collection, the way that the garden has developed so much… it just draws me back all the time.’

The woodland garden reopens on 1 March; the house and garden on 29 March. The year-long Alice Experience, inspired by the filming of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland here, is no more but Alice fans will be still be able to discover the rabbit hole in the garden.

…and more success down west!

The tea-room in the walled garden at Trengwainton, near Penzance, beat all comers to win the coveted ‘2010 Café of the Year’ at the Cornwall Tourism Awards. The very next day they discovered that Cornwall Council had also awarded them a ‘Gold’ Cornwall Healthier Eating and Food Safety Award. Not only are the goodies made here full of healthy ingredients, but when it comes to using local produce many of the raw materials are grown in Trengwainton’s kitchen garden, so they tend to talk in terms of food yards, rather than food miles.

Tea room staff with award

Proprietor Nicola Osborne said: ‘The team [pictured left / right] simply cannot hide their excitement at winning such prestigious awards and we would like to thank all our customers who have visited us this season. We look forward to seeing you in 2011 to sample our delicious home-made savouries, cakes, and cream teas’

Trengwainton garden and tea-room reopen on Sunday 13 February.

Listening in the orchards

If you didn’t get the chance to experience it last year, the wonderful‘talking trees trail’ is up and running again from 12 March onwards in the orchards at Cotehele, near Saltash. The trail brings traditional orchards to life in an entirely new way that is fun for all ages, and full of fascinating facts, but doesn’t impinge upon the beauty of the landscape.

Talking Trees

Pick up a ‘talking pen’ from reception, and then you can just wander at will through the old and new orchards, stopping at random trees to activate their ‘voices’ and hear their stories. Amongst the audio clips – recorded with the help of local people – you can hear the Cornish cider apple ‘Colloggett Pippin’ talk in dialect about its breeding; bees talking about their short busy lives in orchards and how they make honey; a wassailing song and a recipe for apple crumble.

Cotehele’s old orchard was planted before 1731 and is an atmospheric place, full of character and mystery. The ‘Mother Orchard’, which contains 300 trees and 120 different apples, was planted by the local community in 2007 to establish a gene pool of historic varieties.

Other apples featured in the trail include the Beauty of Bath, an early dessert apple raised in Somerset in 1864; Cotehele Beauty, a dessert apple grown from a seedling found at Cotehele; Mère de Menage, a cooking apple known locally as ‘Blackrock’ (once widespread throughout the Tamar Valley but down to one tree in 1980); and Bramley Seedling, perhaps the most famous cooking apple, which celebrated its 200th anniversary last year.

For more information on the joint National Trust / Natural England project to protect England’s traditional orchards, go to: nationaltrust.org.uk/orchards

Exploring the past along the path

The South West Coast Path (SWCP) is a regional ‘icon’ and a major tourist attraction in its own right, appealing to everyone from families on outings to serious walkers from all over the UK and beyond. With the National Trust owning more than 420 miles of the South West coast, we play an important role in maintaining and managing the SWCP.

The SWCP team, in partnership with the National Trust, AONB services (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) and many other organisations, has just received a significant grant of £2.1million from the Rural Development Programme for England (Sustainable Tourism Theme) towards its ‘Unlocking our Coastal Heritage’ project. This exciting project aims to understand more about our coastal history, repair some key archaeological and historic sites and investigate others threatened by coastal change. It will also provide improved access to certain routes, and interpretation and information at a series of new ‘discovery points’.

National Trust archaeologist James Parry writes: ‘The site of St Anthony Fort & Battery seen here on the headland just above St Anthony Lighthouse, overlooking Carrick Roads and Falmouth beyond, has long played an important strategic role in defending Falmouth and the estuary from coastal attack. It includes what is possibly the best surviving early breech-loading artillery fortress in the United Kingdom. The position and historic nature of this site is unique; the current tranquillity of the coastal walk is suddenly interrupted by the realisation that the site was once a noisy and dramatic place.

St Anthony Battery

‘The black and white photo shows St Antony Head as it was in 1942. The “Unlocking our Coastal Heritage” project will enable the excavation and interpretation of one of the previously inaccessible Second World War gun emplacements as well as essential conservation work to the shell hoists, significantly adding to the understanding and enjoyment of the site.’


Meet your native ponies

Calling pony-mad people everywhere: not only do you have the Shetland pony rides to look forward to at Arlington Court (see ‘What’s new for you to discover this spring?’), but this Easter sees the opening of an exciting new venture at Parke, near Bovey Tracey in Devon, which you will definitely want to visit.

The Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust (DPHT) is a charity that was set up in 2005 to protect and conserve the indigenous moorland ponies that have roamed Dartmoor for thousands of years. Opening at Easter is the DPHT’s visitor centre on the National Trust’s Parke estate on the southern edge of Dartmoor. The centre will include a classroom and internal pony pens, so that visitors can enjoy meeting the ponies in even the wettest weather.

The National Trust has been working with the DPHT since 2007, offering training for our wardens and rangers to help them deal with semi-feral ponies on conservation grazing sites throughout the country. Dartmoor ponies are widely used by the Trust to graze coastal scrub and areas of heathland. Versatile and adaptable beasts with fantastic temperaments, they are able to graze poor vegetation to the benefit of all manner of native wildlife needing cropped turf to thrive, including birds, butterflies and wildflowers.

Conservation grazing at Pencarrow Head, near Polruan, Cornwall.

Pictured are Dartmoor ponies grazing the south Cornish coast at Lantic Bay.

For more information on the work of the Dartmoor Pony Heritage Trust, visit their website: dpht.co.uk

Whilst you’re at Parke seeing the ponies, why not have a go at one of our orienteering routes? They’re great fun for families – find out more at: nationaltrust.org.uk/parkeestate.

Oh! Roses and lilies are fair to see;

But the wild bluebell is the flower for me. Louisa A. Meredith

National Trust bluebell wood

Imagine yourself here, walking along this path on the Godolphin estate in west Cornwall… Kathy Doyle posted from Godolphin last year: 'I can see the very first flowers starting to come through, very exciting, still awaiting the grand show.'

There’s something about bluebell time, isn’t there? Those rolling carpets of purpley-blue under new beech leaves, that sweet fresh green scent, bring a spring to your step and a feeling that winter is past. The Trust looks after some of the country’s most important bluebell woods; a quarter of the woodland we own is ancient or semi-natural – the perfect environment for our native bluebells to flourish in.

The first appearance of the flowers is keenly awaited and anticipated, but whether it’s going to be mid-April or mid-May depends on all kinds of factors such as how cold the winter has been and whereabouts in the country you are. This is why the Trust gives a helping hand with its online Bluebell Watch. Keep an eye on the Trust’s website from late March onwards, and you will start to see updates from staff at gardens and woodlands throughout the South West letting you know where are the best places to see bluebells this spring. You can also follow updates on our Twitter page and our South West blog, and upload your favourite bluebell photos.

A glance through last year’s Bluebell Watch postings shows that the first in the country was made by Andrew Wrayford, warden at Buckland Abbey in the sheltered Tavy Valley, who wrote on 14 April: ‘I spotted the first few bluebells out yesterday – follow our “Blue Walk” to see them…’. He was followed two days later by Mike Hardy, warden on the Lizard, who had seen them on the Penrose estate, near Helston: ‘The first flowers are finally showing today, in full sunshine but still with a chilly easterly wind. Will they all be in full bloom for Flora Day, Helston’s celebration of the arrival of spring on 8 May? The clock is ticking…’.

Ode to the Bluebell by Ian Wright, Garden Adviser for Devon and Cornwall

England without bluebells? It would be like cancelling spring and going straight to summer! Can anything actually beat walking through a bluebell wood on a warm spring day with all your senses in total overdrive?

But for the bluebell, that time of glory is the commutation of months of preparation, much of it going on unseen. The bluebell starts to grow in the late summer, hidden away underground, its clock ticking towards spring. The bluebell’s sole aim is to set its flowers before other plants that are more temperature-dependant can compete, and before the tree canopy above shades out the forest floor.

You would be mistaken if you thought this iconic plant of spring is untouchable. It faces real challenges in the form of climate change which may give other plants a chance to compete at the same time or even losing its unique identity by hybridising with its invasive Spanish cousin.

But for all this, the bluebell remains one of our real champions of spring, so I urge you to make the effort to go and visit a wood near you, and stand still in awe at nature’s sheer beauty.

The joys of a good walk

‘I have two doctors: my left leg and my right’ G.M Trevelyan.

After the indoor excesses of Christmas, what could feel better for body, senses and soul than to put on a pair of boots and go for a good walk? A blast of air so fresh you can taste it, a favourite landscape all to yourself, curious things washed up on an empty beach, the first touch of spring colour amidst the bare bones of winter, an unfamiliar bit of country to discover with friends, sharing a flask of soup in a sheltered hollow on the cliffs: walking at this time of the year has to be one of the great joys of living in the South West.

If you need a new idea, or want to explore a place you’ve never been before, why not have a look at the many downloadable walks on the Trust’s website? Go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/walks and you will find them listed by theme and by area. New walks are being added all the time, so keep an eye out.

For the extra encouragement of a sociable walk, plus the chance to learn new insights, you could join one of the guided walks led by Trust staff or volunteers around a patch they know well. Coming up soon are walks at Lanhydrock, Loe Pool, Godolphin and Cotehele in Cornwall and Plymbridge woods near Plymouth; guided garden tours at Greenway in South Devon and at Dunster Castle and Montacute in Somerset, and there’s still a few of the popular ‘Sunday Rambles and Roasts’ to catch at Montacute.

Festivals of walks

Now in its 11th year, the North Devon and Exmoor Walking Festival takes place in spring and autumn. This spring, National Trust rangers will be leading walks at Baggy Point, Watersmeet and Bucks Mills in Devon on 29 April and 4 May, and the Holnicote estate and the Quantocks in Somerset on 5 and 7 May, looking at birds and other wildlife, history and archaeology as well as just enjoying some magnificent views. More info. at exmoorwalkingfestival.co.uk

Cotehele is running a festival of walks in April, with a variety of themes and covering different places on the large estate including the outlying Iron Age hill fort at Cadsonbury. For details, see your events bulletin or contact Cotehele direct.

Later in the year, look out for details of a new walking festival being planned by the Trust for the Lizard area in September.

And now for a few of our favourite early spring walks…

Lucy Parkins, Visitor Services Manager for North Cornwall

Top of my list has to be the stunning circular walk that includes the Valency Valley in Boscastle. The smell of wild garlic combined with the simple but beautiful sight of bluebells emerging never fails to put a smile on my face. One of the great things about this walk is the inclusion of a section of coast path as well, and so it ticks all the boxes! If I really fancy treating myself, I’ll pop into one of the pubs on the route to enjoy a pint of the local brew.

Download this walk at: nationaltrust.org.uk/walks, or pick up the Trust’s ‘Coast of Cornwall’ leaflet no.3 Boscastle from local outlets.

Janet and John Stitson, Volunteer ‘Weekend Wardens’ at Saltram, nr Plymouth

One of our favourite walks takes us from Saltram car park, up a pathway between fields to the old road which ran from Plymstock to Plympton. This is now a peaceful path with stunning views towards the city of Plymouth and the sea beyond. We continue through the woods towards Stag Lodge, where snowdrops, wood anemones and, later, bluebells abound. We walk down the Dell, enjoying the magnificent rhododendrons and trees bursting into new life, and on down to the estuary at Point Cottage. The estuary itself is always interesting for its varied wildlife; we pass by the Amphitheatre and the bird hide and walk across to see the snowdrops and daffodils in Longbridge Drive before returning to the car park.

Saltram estate walks guide available from…

Sam Arthur, Volunteer Warden at Lanhydrock, nr Bodmin

My personal spring favourite starts out from in front of the great house and heads up along the edge of the woodland garden, with its vivid colours from the flowering camellias, rhododendrons and magnolias. Having passed the old head gardener’s cottage, you’re rewarded by a bench with glorious views across the Fowey valley. Heading downhill, and taking a hard left at the hairpin bend, you find yourself surrounded by huge beech trees. Their translucent lime-green spring leaves shed dappled light across a sea of bluebells, celandines, stitchwort and wood anemones: it’s by far my favourite spot on the whole estate. Over to your right you can see the remains of old tin workings, as well as leats feeding a historic mill and stretches of the 8ft wall that kept herds of deer inside the 17th-century deer park.

Turning down to the Fowey River, you’re surrounded by primroses and the distinctive smelling wild garlic (if you’re feeling adventurous, try nibbling on the young leaves). Walking upstream, through masses of wild daffodils, keep an eye out for dippers – and you might even catch a glimpse of an elusive otter or kingfisher. On reaching the ancient Respryn Bridge, cross back over the river and head for Lanhydrock house up the avenue with its double row of over 300 enormous beeches. Ahead is the gatehouse, one of the oldest buildings on the estate, and beyond it the possibility of a warm drink and cake in the cosy café as a perfect end to your walk.

Estate walks guide available from Lanhydrock shop (open weekends Jan & Feb, then daily from 19 Feb).

Tom Wood, Ranger for the Teign Valley

Tom Wood National Trust

Tom Wood, Ranger for Teign Valley

I like to walk the classic circular route from the car park by Castle Drogo, over Piddledown Common (where the gorse is always in flower) and along the spectacular Hunter’s Path, where on frosty mornings you can look down and see the trees in the valley encased in ice crystals and looking like something from a book. The route drops down through the woods to where Fingle Bridge crosses the River Teign and it is here that you notice the flushes of new green buds on the trees, not yet open but ready to spring into being. That sudden change can happen rapidly in this part of the world; one day the scene is wintry and bare, and the next trees are in leaf and spring is well and truly here.

As I walk from Fingle Bridge upstream, the river still has its winter level but the water is stained not by mud but by the tannins of the trees and the peat which make the Teign look like a fine cup of tea. Approaching the edge of the old deer park, you can see the deer wall alongside the route; then I cross the river again on the suspension bridge, with great views up and down the river along the pool created by the builder of Castle Drogo partly as an area for him to fish. Then it’s the long slow climb back up though the woods, spurred on by promise of something tasty to look forward to in the Drogo café.

Walks leaflet available at Drogo visitor centre (open daily).


Homely tips for lovely loaves

Is there a better smell in the world than freshly baked bread, just out of the oven? Drop in for a bite to eat at Cotehele in Cornwall or Killerton in Devon and you could find yourself enveloped in that warm enticing fragrance, stealing out from the kitchens. The skills of the master baker are kept very much alive at Cotehele and Killerton, where bread is made regularly for their restaurants and tea-rooms using flour ground traditionally at Cotehele Mill and Clyston Mill respectively.

If you come away filled with the urge to bake your own bread, here are some inside tips for great bread-making from Cotehele’s Tim Bennett:

Cotehele flour

‘Starting with raw ingredients, you need to make sure you get good quality ingredients. We prefer to use a mixture of Cotehele’s own wholemeal flour and organic white flour. The white flour keeps the bread light and soft whilst the wholemeal flour adds a different texture and flavour.

‘Bread-making is a bit of a science and it’s good to experiment and find the recipe that works best for you, and then try adding in different flavours. Flavour a bread to complement what you’re going to serve it with. Sugar is used to feed the yeast, and also adds to the colour of the crust, but too much will restrict the gluten development. Salt aids the texture and adds to the flavour, but too much will kill the yeast and the bread won’t rise. The quantity of water needed will depend on the flour and will tend to vary slightly throughout the year; warm water is used to keep the yeast active.

‘Once the bread dough is mixed it’s important to knead it well. This stretches out the gluten in the flour and will give a much better texture. You need to get really involved when kneading and it should leave you tired. It’s a good exercise!

bread made from cotehele flour

‘A splash of water over the bread just before you bake it gives you a nice crust.’

Check www.nationaltrust.org.uk for opening times for Cotehele’s Barn Restaurant and the Edgcumbe on the quay, and for Killerton’s Garden Tea-room and Orchard Tea-room. You can watch flour being made on certain days at the historic watermills at Cotehele from 15 March, and Clyston Mill at Killerton from 3 April.