Cornwall has a long history of the exceptionally wealthy and the exceptionally poor living side by side – if you’ve seen Poldark, you know what we’re talking about – and as such, there are countless engine houses and estates hidden in valleys and on cliff edges, just waiting to be explored.
The Egyptian House at the top of Chapel Street in Penzance is starkly out of place in the traditional Cornish town. Nonetheless, this survivor of the Egyptian style which was fashionable after Napoleon’s campaign in 1798 is still standing strong. This former museum and geological repository is not only a stunning oddity, but has three holiday flats in it too.
St Senara Church
In this village which has been overtaken by tales of mermaids and is often whiplashed by strong Atlantic winds, sits a church which dates back to the 12th century. Entry is through a thick and heavy wooden door and inside is cool and so wonderfully old you can almost smell the past. Look for the mermaid.
St Winwaloe Church
Most churches built on the beach come to a timely demise sooner rather than later and although a lot of effort goes into conservation, the sea usually reclaims the bricks and mortar for herself eventually. Not so in Gunwalloe, where St Winwaloe, with its steeple built separate to the main church, still stands tall. Locally, it’s known as the Church of Storms and although the building by itself seems as though there is little to behold, with a backdrop of cliffs it seems as though it has risen straight out of the stone.
Clinging onto the edge of Cornwall opposite Plymouth on the Tamar Estuary is the grand and beautiful Mount Edgecumbe Estate. The house is the former home of the Earls of Mount Edgecumbe and was first built in the 1500s. It was restored after the Second World War to its former pre-war glory and is set within 865 acres of ground, which are free to the public to roam.
Port Eliot is a rare, odd and whimsical place. It has 11 staircases, 15 back doors and 82 chimneys. The roof covers half an acre of space and not once in the property’s history has it been completely watertight. The house is thought to be the oldest continually inhabited building in the United Kingdom and is full of treasures and art. There’s a yearly festival in the grounds too, which is debauchery at its finest, and wine tastings and foodie events are commonplace.
Straight out of the rabbit hole, Antony House was used in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland adaptation and still retains its charm of English country gent, with just a touch of naughtiness thrown in. The early 18th century house sits at the top of the sweeping grounds, which descend down to the towards the Lynher Estuary, making Antony the prettiest of cake toppings you ever did see.
Clinging to the cliffs in defiance against the sea are two of Cornwall’s most iconic engine houses. On the north cliffs at Botallack, these weather-beaten buildings are not only a symbol of the decline of Cornish mining, but the great risks that those in the industry once went to in order to make money. Now, you can walk down to the engine houses in hope of bumping into Aidan Turner with his broody smile, rather than in fear of going underground and never returning again.
Carn Brea Castle
As a literal translation, Carn Brea means hill of rocks in Cornish and Carn Brea is indeed, a hill of rocks. Rising out of Redruth in Cornwall’s mining heart is this huge hunk of land with views to the coast and all the way to St Ives. On top of this rocky hill is Carn Brea Castle, which is built half on the ground and half on top of a pile of rocks, giving the impression that it’s slowly but surely morphing into the ground from whence it came.
St Michael’s Mount
Stuck off shore in Mount’s Bay and only accessible by a tidal causeway or boat, St Michael’s Mount – not to be confused with Mont Saint Michel in Brittany – is a rocky island crowned by a medieval church and castle. As with most places in Cornwall, St Michael’s Mount is said to be the product of a giant enduring heartbreak, although nobody has yet proven this. A walk around the battlements provides excellent views of the area.
Tate St Ives
Almost touching Porthmeor Beach, the Tate St Ives is a modernistic splendour of white and curves against the higgledy-piggledy houses haphazardly stumbling up the hill behind it. The lines of the Tate are clean and on a good day, it could blend in with the clouds lazily chugging across the summer sky.
This Gothic cathedral which stands head and shoulders above picturesque Truro, has been around since 1259, at least part of it anyway. The original church built on this site was always intended to be knocked down, but the architect managed to keep the original South Aisle, so that the Mother Church can always keep a protective arm around the church.
Not only is Tregothnan House beautiful and the private garden is one of the finest in the country, but the team at Tregothnan make gorgeous tea on site. The grounds themselves are only open to the public once a year and tickets get scooped up like the last pasty going for £1 on a Friday afternoon, but it’s worth the battle. The tea, however, is sold all year round online and from many shops and tearooms around the county.