National Trust inquiry into the outdoors hits the road

The National Trust’s Outdoor Nation project will be touring the country from today to find out if the UK public thinks it’s losing touch with the outdoors and, if so, what might be done about it.

Over the next three months, Leni Hatcher, the Outdoor Nation roaming reporter, will be based in a specially created California campervan loaned to the project by Volkswagen.

Leni will be travelling the country, meeting experts, outdoors organisations and the general public, asking them about their views on the outdoors.

All the views, comments and research will be posted on the Outdoor Nation blog at www.outdoornation.org.uk with visitors invited to post and tweet their replies.

The blog has highlighted recent research showing that one in four children never play outside and that a sharp rise in rickets in British has been partly caused by playing indoors on computer games.

The outcomes of the project will help shape the future activities of the National Trust, which is focusing activities around helping more people spend more time outdoors.

Leni Hatcher said: “It’s great to be mobile and be able to use the campervan as my new base.  I will be following up on our Outdoor Nation blog user’s comments and tweets to see both what we are doing as a nation to improve access to and what the barriers are which prevent people from getting outside.

“Outdoor Nation runs for another three months so there is plenty of time for the public to make their voices heard and suggest what the National Trust and other organisations can do to help people get outside and enjoy the fresh air.”

The Outdoor Nation journey is reported at www.outdoornation.org.uk with video interviews and a blog, users can comment on the findings, put forward ideas and suggest avenues for investigation. Leni’s own journey can also be followed on Twitter by following @outdoor_nation.

Nicola Gates, Communications Manager for Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles UK, said:  “Volkswagen UK is proud to support Leni and the National Trust’s Outdoor Nation project.  We believe that there’s nothing better than exploring the outdoors and the Volkswagen California is the perfect vehicle to do this in.  We hope that Leni has a fun-filled adventure in her California and look forward to keeping up with her updates as she progresses on her journey.”

The project also aims to explore how changes introduced by the Government could present opportunities for ‘Big Society’ partnerships between NGOs and local community groups to help provide greater access to local green space.

So far the Outdoor Nation blog has generated nearly 20,000 views, attracted nearly 200 comments and 40 invitations have been received for items to film. Prominent figures interviewed include Ben Fogle and Simon King.

Searching for the elusive sleepers

James Robbins has been working as a warden with the countryside team at Cotehele, on the banks of the Tamar in east Cornwall, for four years. His personal interest in dormouse ecology and conservation, and his enthusiastic championing of this cause on the estate, has led to him being known as Cotehele’s ‘dormouse warden’

But, ‘are there dormice on the Cotehele estate?’, this question has no quick or easy answer…

‘Back in 2007 there were no confirmed records of dormice on the estate, but there were rumours of a rogue dormouse hanging out in the gardener’s potting shed. The countryside team and volunteers had been searching for their characteristic signs: opened hazel nuts – with no luck. The presence or absence of dormice can be hard to prove.

‘Late that year, however, we found the telltale opened hazel nuts in an outlying area of the estate called Cadsonbury, two miles south-west of Callington. This beautiful spot includes an Iron Age hill fort overlooking the valley of the River Lynher. The lower slopes of the hill are covered in scrub and woodland, and that’s where the opened hazel nuts were found. There are very few mature trees in this woodland, which could mean a shortage of natural holes for the dormice to use for daytime shelter and breeding, so we decided to provide them with dormice boxes both to give them shelter and to help us to monitor their population.

‘Sixty boxes were made from local larch, with the help of volunteers and the children from Calstock primary school; 40 went to Cadsonbury and the remaining 20 stayed at Cotehele.

‘The first season’s monitoring of the boxes found only breeding blue tits and great tits – no dormice. Then in late December 2008, whilst cleaning debris out of the boxes, we found a hibernating dormouse buried in the remains of a blue tit’s nest – the first confirmed record of a dormouse on the Cotehele estate! It was a strange sighting as dormice don’t usually hibernate above ground – they need the high humidity found in damp leaf litter to survive. It’s possible that this dormouse woke up during a warm spell and left its hibernation site, then when the cold weather returned it was forced to use the box for shelter.

‘Since then, we’ve found several dormice in the boxes – along with nuthatches and a brown long-eared bat – but no evidence of breeding, as yet. Fingers crossed!’

Great strides made as Britons step out

More than 350,000 walks, or one every one and a half minutes, were downloaded from the National Trust website over the last year.

And four of the top ten walks were in the South West, including the most popular – a walk along the Bath Skyline, which was the most popular for the second year running with 14,000 downloads.

The other top South West walks were Stourhead in Wiltshire (seventh with 4,964 downloads), Brownsea Island in Dorset (eighth with 4,724 downloads) and Lansallos in Cornwall (10th with 4,177downloads). All of the walks are free to download and include a map and details of the things that you might see en route.

Walking on the South West coast path between Pencarrow Head and Lansallos Cove, Cornwall.

In 2010 and the total number of downloads increased by 40 per cent compared to 2009 as more Britons sought out walking routes for days out or during weekends away.

Jo Burgon, Outdoor Programme Director at the National Trust, said: “We have seen a remarkable growth in the popularity of walking in the past couple of years.  Our downloadable walks cater for a wide range of walkers with everything from short circular routes to the more challenging hill walks.

“We’re finding that more people want to get out into the great outdoors but often need to be pointed in the right direction. You don’t have to be an expert to go walking, you just need to enjoy getting outside.”

There are 72 different walks to choose from on the website in the South West out of a total of 240 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  Together, the 240 walks cover a total of 858 miles, the distance between Lands End and John O’ Groats. All of the walks can be downloaded for free from www.nationaltrust.org.uk/walks

New South West entries on the website include five walks near Arlington Court in Devon, Lacock and Avebury in Wiltshire, Ebworth, near Stroud in Gloucestershire, Lamberts Castle in Dorset, and routes at Cotehele, Trelissick and Fowey in Cornwall.

August was the most popular month for walking with more than 50,000 downloads, or more than one every minute, with the Saturday of the bank holiday weekend the most popular day of the year.

The Bath skyline walk topped the walks chart for the second successive year with over 14,000 downloads during 2010, fifty per cent more than the second placed walk Alderley Edge in Cheshire.

This popular six mile circular walk has spectacular panoramic views of the world heritage city and a short diversion takes you to the stunning Prior Park gardens.

In third place was Flatford Mill in Suffolk, made famous by Constable’s landscape paintings.

An ambitious target has been set to have 1,000 downloadable trails on the National Trust website by spring 2012.  These will include the popular walks together with cycle routes, horse-riding routes and canoe trails.

The first ever National Trust walking festival is set to take place this year between the 22 October 30 October.

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

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.

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.

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.