The Tamar Valley is a fascinating place to explore if you enjoy visiting historic houses, buildings and gardens, with so many well-preserved and unique houses and estates not far apart, offering a rich experience of Old Devon and Cornwall right back to Tudor times.
Tudor and Elizabethan Houses
The Tamar Valley has an impressive Tudor heritage, with a number of very beautiful houses dating to this fascinating period that are open to visitors.
Perhaps the best preserved Tudor building in the valley is Cotehele House. Tucked away in a peaceful wooded side valley above the river Tamar, the squat granite house has changed little since the reign of Henry VIII. The atmospheric Great Hall with its open hearth, and the small cosy rooms with their small-paned windows give a real feeling of stepping back into Tudor times.
Image copyright The National Trust.
Another Tamar Valley house with a fascinating Tudor background is Buckland Abbey on the Devon side of the river. Converted to a family home from a Cistercian foundation after Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, this fine house was later home to Sir Francis Drake. The house has an Elizabethan garden to complement the house, and is also home to an Elizabethan costume group which creates authentic Elizabethan clothes which visitors can try on.
Image copyright The National Trust.
Mount Edgecumbe, looking out across Plymouth Sound to Drake's Island and the Hoe, is also a Tudor house, and one that has perhaps the best views in Cornwall.
Looking out from Mount Edgecumbe: photograph copyright Victoria Clare
Sadly, the interior of the house at Mount Edgecumbe was badly damaged during the Second World War but it has been completely restored and is well worth a visit. The house retains much of its Tudor charm externally .
The grounds offer miles of attractive walks and a spectacular folly looking out over Plymouth Sound, and there are two cafes each full of character: one in the converted stable yard near the house, and one in the orangery, set among the elegance of the formal gardens.
A smaller Tudor house which still gives a wonderful picture of life in the Tamar valley in Elizabethan times is Mary Newman's Cottage in Saltash. The cottage, with its stone floors, narrow twisting stairs and original fireplaces, may once have been the home of Francis Drake's wife Mary. Mary Newman's cottage is part of the Saltash Heritage Trail.
As well as visiting the houses, you may wish to travel into Plymouth (perhaps via our wonderful little railway, the Tamar Valley Line).
In Plymouth, you can walk on Plymouth Hoe where Sir Francis Drake was reputedly playing a game of bowls when he heard the news the that Spanish Armada was on its way, and explore the old Barbican, which still preserves some lovely buildings of the Tudor period, including the Merchant's House museum and the Elizabethan House.
On the Barbican, you can also visit the site where the Pilgrim Fathers set out from the Mayflower Steps to settle in New Plymouth in America in 1620. (Well, very nearly. There are some wild storms that come crashing into Plymouth, and the old causeway has long been demolished. But Pilgrim's Point and the Mayflower Steps have a fabulous archway over the water and a commemorative plaque. ) From the Barbican, you can take a boat trip up the River Tamar to visit Calstock or a tour around the historic dockyard at Devonport.
Smeaton's Tower on Plymouth Hoe : once the Eddystone Lighthouse from 1757 to 1877, this iconic building was moved to the Hoe in 1882, and has stood here ever since, surviving even the Plymouth Blitz during World War II.
Photo by Victoria Clare
Another wonderful Plymouth site to explore is the old Royal William Victualling Yard. This was the center for provisioning the Royal Navy in Plymouth, built between 1826 and 1835. Most of the 16-acre site has now been restored and converted, with cafes, art galleries and wide promenades to enjoy the views. There are regular ferries which will take you here from the Barbican.
Other Houses and Gardens in the Tamar Valley
Although Port Eliot is only open to the public during spring and summer, it is well worth a visit. A Grade 1 listed house, the house is another of the Tamar Valley's converted ecclesiastical buildings with a history that stretches back 1,500 years.
Port Eliot: the famous Round Room.
Also on Cornwall's Rame Peninsula is Antony House, a National Trust property dating to the early 18th Century, and home to the Carew-Pole family. It is open to the public between March and October. The house features an extensive art collection (including several works by Sir Joshua Reynolds) and the grounds were landscaped by Humphry Repton. The grounds featured in the Tim Burton directed film 'Alice in Wonderland'.
Image Copyright The National Trust
Saltram House is a Georgian mansion not far from Plymouth, regarded as one of Britain's best preserved Georgian houses, with wide estates which run down to the banks of the River Plym.
Saltram House : Copyright The National Trust.
The Garden House near Yelverton is one of the finest gardens in Britain, with lots to see all year round. From the formal walled terrace gardens to the sprawling colours of the cottage garden and the delicate beauty of the bulb meadow, there is always something new to see. The gardens are built around the remains of an old medieval house and barn, and delicious teas are available in the 18th century vicarage building.
Not far from the quiet reaches of the upper Tamar , you will find the Coombe Trenchard Edwardian Estate at Lewtrenchard. Although the estate is only open to the public for special events, the annual Arts & Crafts Garden Festival held in June deserves a special mention.
Pentillie Castle, near Pillaton, also has gardens open to the public on certain days of the year.
Garden Centres & Nurseries in the Tamar Valley
If you are a garden enthusiast, why not visit some of the specialist nurseries and garden centres of the Tamar Valley? You'll find expert staff and unusual plants, some of them heritage varieties unique to the Valley.