Cotehele, Cornwall

Snuggled into the Tamar valley, within a maze of winding narrow lanes, Cotehele stands virtually untouched by time. The Tudor house, began in 1485 by Sir Richard Edgcumbe, appears somewhat dour and foreboding initially, but it was more important at that time to provide a family home with adequate defensive measures, rather than to be concerned about whether it was cosmetically pleasing. Built from brown and grey slatestone rubble with coarse granite dressing stones, this large house is laid out in several ranges around three internal courtyards.

The estate came to the Edgcumbes through marriage in 1353, and remained with the family for nearly six centuries. In 1947 the National Trust acquired Cotehele in lieu of death duties, but the family had long since moved to their principal seat at Plymouth. Sir Richard's grandson built the new family home at Mount Edgcumbe in the middle of the 16th century, with his inherited wealth, and before the end of the 17th century Cotehele had been virtually abandoned as a home.

Apart from a few improvements in the first half of the 17th century, and the re-modelling of one wing 200 years later, the fabric of the house is pure Tudor. This is nowhere more apparent than in the magnificent Great Hall, the hub of medieval life, which was commonly used for both domestic and business purposes. In the Chapel a clock, installed by Sir Richard when he first built the house, remains in its original position and is still in working order. This is considered to be the earliest domestic clock in England. Many other features of Cotehele draw the visitor into this period, but the furnishings are mainly of a later origin.The beautiful grounds just beg to be explored, and yet more surprises await the adventurous. In the colourful terraced gardens an old domed-roof dovecote is now inhabited by a 21st century family of doves. Following the woodland walk brings the hiker to the Quay, where a restored Tamar sailing barge is berthed, and a group of interesting Quayside buildings house an art and crafts gallery. Further on still and another range of agricultural buildings have been converted to local craft workshops, and a restored water mill occasionally bursts into action with corn-grinding displays.

As one of only a few surviving houses that have remained traditionally medieval, Cornwall is fortunate to have such a superb example as Cotehele featuring among the varied heritage of the county. Even today there is no electric light in the house, and the dark passageways leading into the many dimly-lit rooms provide the visitor with atmospheric glimpses of life among the land-owning gentry of the Middle Ages.

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