Your outdoor nation

We’re keen to develop what we can offer in terms of outdoor spaces and experiences, so we’ve launched a 6 month campaign to raise awareness of the outdoors.

We’re well known for our work with houses, but less known for our work with the outdoors. Yet we manage great swathes of countryside and coastline which are available for people to use for walking, cycling, camping and simply enjoying being outside. The majority of our houses have spectacular outdoor spaces and places that are available throughout the year too, yet many people believe everything stops in October when most of our houses close for winter cleaning and restoration.

Outdoor Nation Plym Woods

We’ve extended our opening hours so people can enjoy our gardens, parklands and woods and we’re opening many of our shops, tea rooms and restaurants throughout the winter months. So we’re creating a debate – conversation not consultation – to gather people’s views on what Britain feels about outdoors, whether we are losing touch with the countryside and what we need to do to rekindle that love affair

Please visit www.outdoornation.org.uk to let us know your views or you can let us know what you think here on your South West blog.

Stay in one of the National Trust’s oldest buildings

Holidaymakers will have the chance to stay in a medieval manor house thanks to a transformation that has created the grandest and oldest holiday property in the National Trust’s portfolio.

Shute Barton, near Axminster in east Devon, dates back to the 13th century and is part of what was a larger family house owned by the Bonville family. It has stood through a staggering amount of history from the dissolution of the monasteries through to the Second World War.

Shute Barton nr Axminster

Come and stay in one the Trust's oldest buildings

The house – which has reputedly the largest fireplace in England where two oxen could be roasted at once – was given to the National Trust in 1959 by the Carew Pole family. Cousins of this family, the Pole Carews, lived there until 2009.

The features include 17th century panelling in one of the master bedrooms and a great hall on the top floor dating from 1450 and reached by a tiny spiral staircase. The room has a garderobe in the corner and an incredible hammer beam roof which can be enjoyed by guests today when they holiday at Shute Barton.

Guests can dine under original paintings belonging to the Carew Pole family, sleep in antique beds and look out of the original lead windows to views little altered over the centuries. The house is approached through an ornate gatehouse – a scheduled monument in its own right – and there are formal gardens which stretch out to the back of the building.

The house, which accommodates ten people, is an ideal venue for a special family holiday in incredible surroundings, and is well located for the sites such as the Jurassic Coast and the attractive coastal villages of Beer and Seaton. It is available for bookings from February 2011.

To book go to http://www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk/south_west/south_devon_and_dartmoor/shute_barton/459 or call the National Trust holiday cottages booking office on: 0844 8002070

panelled bedroom at Shute Barton

The Master bedroom has wonderful views over the garden

The kitchen at Shute Barton

Shute's well equipped kitchen

You’re Hired!

Five new 16- and 17-year-old apprentices have recently started work with the Trust’s direct labour teams based at Killerton, Cotehele (pictured) and Bodmin. They will work alongside skilled craftsmen for three years, learning and practising traditional trades such as stone masonry, brickwork, carpentry, joinery, plumbing/leadwork, painting and decoration – all essential in helping to protect the buildings cared for by the Trust.

New National Trust Apprentices

Pictured outside Cotehele

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.