The tradition of making a garland for the Tudor Hall at Cotehele House only started in the 1950s, but has since become a firm annual favourite at Christmastime.
People come from miles around to see this 18 metre (60 foot) long decoration that starts its life in the Cut Flower Garden at Cotehele. The seeds are sown in February, the flowers cut in the summer, and then hung in the potting shed to dry until the Autumn.
The aim is to get around 30,000 stems, but it will depend on the conditions which can vary from year to year.
In early November a 12mm diameter rope is laid out on the floor where bunches of evergreen pittosporum are attached and then hoisted up to the ceiling where it is hung in swags.
The flowers are then cut, sorted, and placed individually amongst the evergreen.
Apparently, the process from planting the seeds to the last flower being attached involves staff and volunteers working an equivalent number of hours to one full time employee a year.
The garland is usually on display from around the middle of November until the 12th night (Jan 6th), except Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
A pleasant 10-15 minute walk from the quay alongside Morden stream leads to Cotehele Mill. As part of the Cotehele Estate run by the National Trust (NT), you’ll need a ticket to see the mill in action.
If your legs aren’t up to it, there’s a small shuttle bus that runs between the mill, the quay and the house. It’s a useful service, for which a small donation is respectfully asked for.
This working mill is in a picturesque setting and a worthwhile detour from the house and quay.
An overshot water wheel is fed by a leat which is controlled by a man made weir and sluice gate. This leat also feeds a modern hydroelectric turbine.
The estate at Cotehele covers some 1,300 acres and I’m assuming that time will preclude you from seeing everything, and so it’s worth explaining what’s here.
The gardens are an obvious thing to include. They’re not as old or as extensive as some other National Trust properties, but worth taking a look at all the same. The nearest ones to the house are the terraces below the East Range, and the Upper Garden with its lily pond.
Behind the Upper Garden is an area which is used to grow the flowers that are specifically cut and used for the Christmas Garland, and behind that again are a couple of orchards which continue the tradition of growing different varieties of apples for the production of cider.
What I particularly like about Cotehele House is the way that the combination of buildings sit harmoniously together.
From 1485 until 1562 successive members of the Edgcumbe family built this complex out of local slate and granite, and even with Stuart and Victorian modifications, nothing really changed the overall exterior Tudor appearance.
The way that the house and its associated buildings seem to blend unobtrusively into the surrounding Cornish countryside is one of its main endearing features.
Entry into the house is through the Gatehouse Tower, Hall Court, and straight into the most distinctively Tudor room of the house – The Hall. Armour and swords decorate the walls, but the highlight of this room comes every Christmas when the Hall is bedecked with dried flowers known as the Cotehele Garland.
The Hall is undoubtedly the most impressive room in the house, but it’s also worth making sure that you don’t miss the kitchen and the chapel with its unusual turret clock, both of which are of Tudor origin. There’s no point in going into the details of all the other rooms, some of which are quite dark, partly due to the tapestries that seem to hang on so many of the walls.
The National Trust (NT) are responsible for looking after a multitude of properties throughout the West Country, and Cotehele is without doubt one of my favourites.
The estate at Cotehele includes the Tudor House, Gardens, Mill, Estate and the Quay, and the Quay is the first thing that most people will encounter.
The Estate has been in the Edgcumbe family since 1353 when William Edgcumbe married into the de Cotehele family. Anybody who is familiar with this part of the world may well have heard about ( or been to) Mount Edgcumbe, which was the family’s main home for many years.
As you can probably imagine, Cotehele Quay would have been a hive of activity in years gone by, not just in its involvement with the local mining industry, but also with market gardening.
The lush landscape along the river valley suited the production of flowers and fruit, such as apples, strawberries and cherries, and so it’s not surprising to find limekilns on the quay. Coal from Bristol, and limestone from Plymouth, would have been brought upriver to be turned into lime for fertilising the fields.