Explore Cornwall’s Great Gardens

Cornwall’s Great Gardens

Do you dream of walking barefoot on a perfect lawn?

To to be surrounded by magnolias as the wonder of spring bursts out from winter?

Or to go dog walking in woodlands covered in a carpet of bluebells? 

spring flowers at Heligan

One of the most poignant stories is that of the Lost Gardens of Heligan.

Rediscovered in the 1990’s by Tim Smit, the story of this garden is a story reflected through the many gardens in Cornwall and beyond. 

When Tim Smit wandered into the garden in 1990 – it was completed overgrown and ‘lost’. Those who had created the original garden had gone off to fight in the first world war and had never come back. The garden had literally been lost and reclaimed by nature until that day Tim Smit found their names carved into the wall in a toilet block. 

In the years that have followed, the garden has been painstakingly restored. Amazingly the garden’s heart was there all along, just waiting to be pruned back and revealed for us all to see. The magic of a gardener’s green fingers have brought this garden back to life and made it one of the county’s finest gardens to explore with a rope bridge through the tropical valley, a pineapple house and fantastic rhododendrons.

Through the restoration of Heligan, all the gardens of Cornwall have been enhanced and elevated. In a way, they have all been a little bit hidden (and some of the best ones continue to be so!)

We will only tell you about a few here. Firstly, because we want to whet your appetite and secondly because there are so many it is just impossible to introduce you to them all.

We have lived here for 45 years and we are still visiting and finding new gardens to explore around Cornwall!

In our current climate emergency, there has never been a more pertinent time to focus on and enjoy the wonder of the garden.

Of course, in many ways, everything that English gardens have aspired to do have been shaped by colonialism and there is a massive contradiction between the wonder of these gardens and the methods by which the plants have been brought to the UK. Yet on the other hand, they promote biodiversity and provide a museum of plants from around the world. It was such an interesting concept that the Victorian gardeners wanted to create. 

The breadth and depth of the gardens in Cornwall is down to another great contradiction as they have been built on the massive wealth created through tin mining in Cornwall. At one point, Cornwall was one of the richest places on earth due to its massive mineral wealth. It was at this time that these landowners created their paradise gardens to enjoy. 

Lanhydrock, Trelissick, Trengwainton and Glendurgan – gardens full of the most spectacular trees and plants and each with their own idiosyncracies.

From, the national magnolia collection at Caerhays, to the rhododendrons, ferns and camellias at Trengwainton. Walking through the fern forest at Trengwainton, you feel like you could be in a prehistoric land.

The climate in Cornwall just happens to be perfect for these gardens. With steep sided coastal valleys creating mini rainforests. The Atlantic gulf stream ensures fairly constant temperatures all year round. Yes, of course, we all know it can rain a bit in England – but then that is why it is so green!   

One of the greatest things we have discovered through taking our students to wonderful gardens around Cornwall is that it is not just for adults!

All ages love exploring these gardens, we all love what nature provides – that fresh air, the grass between our toes, picnics in the sunshine.

Language Experience to Lanhydrock House for a small group of language students
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Wonderful St Ives

Looking down on St Ives town and harbour from the hill

Art, culture, food & beach heaven!

Strolling through St Ives high street

From our point of view at Language Tree, St Ives is definitely the most fun town to explore in Cornwall!

Its narrow little streets create a wonderful maze of hidden shops, art spaces, cafes, pubs and restaurants.

We have been coming to St Ives since we were children and there are still little nooks and crannies that we discover whenever we visit the town!

One thing you can always guarantee on a trip to St Ives is an incredible variety of food and drink options! From the tastiest Cornish pasties to fine dining and fresh seafood.

(plus, there’s the best coffee and ice-cream shacks dotted around the harbour. But beware! When snacking around the harbour, the seagulls will swoop and nick your treats if you are not careful 😉 

Once you leave the harbour to explore a little winding, cobbled street, you are back in the maze of St Ives. If you’re clever you can find 4, possibly even 5, different beaches to enjoy – each with their own special atmosphere. 

At the bottom end of town (from where you can walk the coast path to Zennor if you join our South-West Coast path adventure), you find Porthmeor beach. On a good day, it is one of the finest surf beaches in Cornwall. And with the backdrop of Tate St Ives, it is a perfect place to hang out and explore. 

Surf lesson in St Ives

Art & St Ives

At the start of the 20th century, with the arrival of the railway, an important modern art movement developed in St Ives.

sculptures in Barbara Hepworth garden

Once you have visited the sculpture garden, you are in the perfect spot to get lost down some more cobbled streets!

Take your time wandering in and out of shops, have a drink in a café, find some of the many mini art galleries that you can browse.

For kids and teenagers, the arcade is a must 🙂 – they have a brilliant selection of video games and machines that teenagers love – and you are right next to the best ice-cream in town too. 

One of the nicest ways to arrive in the St Ives is by train. It is a 15 min train ride from St Erth. Even though it is short, it is one of the UK’s most scenic train journeys as you roll along the tracks around Carbis Bay. 

After the short journey, you arrive in the top end of St Ives, right next to Porthminster Beach – this beach has a more relaxed atmosphere compared to the centre of town. The sea here is normally crystal clear and calm making it the perfect spot for a dip in the sea or even some paddleboarding. Then, after your refreshing dip, there is nothing better than lying on the golden sand to watch the world go by. And with a beach café and restaurant within 100m what more could you need!

St Ives is the town for all ages – there really is something here for everyone!

St Ives train line and Carbis Bay
Porthminster beach in St Ives
Aerial view of St Ives

Amazing water sports around Cornwall

Adult language students enjoying a SUP adventure around St Michael's Mount

Probably the best place in the world for a watersports holiday!

Junior surf lesson in Cornwall

I know we are blowing our own trumpet and we are undoubtedly completely biased!


Please show me somewhere in the world that can beat Cornwall for its range of coastal locations for different types of watersports?!

There is nowhere better to come and enjoy a watersports holiday full of variety and fun. We have our wonderful north coast, facing the Atlantic Ocean with headlands and bays pointing in different directions to ensure there are nearly always some surfable waves somewhere. 

As you travel along this coastline, you find stretches with cliffs towering 200 feet from the beach up to fields above where you can gaze out and wonder at the distant lands out there beyond the horizon.

Then, there are the glorious sandy beaches, some 5km long that are just perfect for meditative walks…

…or even horse riding!

(For those who dream of galloping along a deserted beach at low tide early in the morning, click here for a beautiful horse riding video on Perranporth beach.)

All along this coastline, we have developed partnerships with local companies who we know and trust to provide a fantastic day out for our students.

At Watergate Bay, we work with Westcountry Surf School. Here, you can literally get off the plane at Newquay and be surfing in the sea within 15 minutes of your arrival! 

Then in Newquay – the UK’s capital of surfing – there is Fistral Beach Surf School who have provided many great afternoons of surfing for our students on Cornwall’s most famous surfing beach.

Just around the corner is the Big Green Surf School who can offer both surfing and paddleboarding on the beautiful Crantock beach and the Gannel estuary depending on the conditions.

Summer school students enjoying a SUP lesson at Swanpool beach, Falmouth

One of our main go-to locations is St Ives bay with Godrevy beach at one end and the beautiful picturesque town of St Ives at the other.

At Godrevy, we have one our favourite partners – Shore Surf – who provide surfing lessons along the beach at Godrevy and Gwithian. Then, right in the centre of St Ives, is St Ives Surf School where students can enjoy an afternoon surfing alongside visiting the Tate Art Gallery and the town of St Ives.

Surf lesson in Gwithian with group of summer school students

As you get closer to Land’s End – the UK’s most westerly point, the cliffs are at their most dramatic – on a clear day you can actually see the Isles of Scilly in the distance. 

Here there are special hidden beaches like Nanjizal, with its famous Song of the Sea cave, where you can bathe in crystal clear waters!

OK, we know the water is chilly 🙂 But once you relax your mind to accept the cold water, you will understand its special healing & cleansing power!

Keep going a few miles around this spectacular coastline and you reach the magical Minack Theatre – while we digress slightly from watersports – it is nonetheless part of one of our beach days out.

From Porthcurno onwards, we are now on the south coast of Cornwall. The beaches along this part of the coastline are far more sheltered, but no less spectacular. From Penzance with St Michael’s Mount in the bay to Kynance Cove – Cornwall’s most photographed beach for magazine covers and Instagram posts – these beaches are wonderful for sea swimming, paddleboarding and sailing. On a calm day, there is nothing better than paddleboarding around St Michael’s Mount with Ocean High, our partner watersports school in Marazion. 

Further along the south coast, Falmouth is the main town and harbour. With a long and illustrious maritime history, it is home to one of our summer school centres on the Falmouth University campus. It is such a great location both on and off the water. The vibrant town centre is home to the National Maritime Museum where you can learn about the rich maritime history of this region. 

This stretch of water has been the training ground for many British Olympic champions for rowing and sailing. Carrick Roads, the river estuary that leads from Falmouth to Truro is renowned as one of the world’s best places for sailing with perfect conditions for enjoying days on the water.

Sunset photo of St Michael's Mount with reflections on the water
Beautiful summer's day looking down on Kynance Cove
Falmouth bay and Carrick Roads
School group jumping in the sea at Swanpool - coasteering adventure

From their base on Swanpool beach near Falmouth, they offer brilliant afternoons on the water with their amazing team of staff.

Whether it’s paddleboarding or coasteering their team are inspiring at giving students the confidence to try new things on the water in a safe, engaging way.

And this is the key to all our watersports activities: safe & fun! 

We want to help develop the confidence and skills of our students through trying new things in a safe and fun way.

We have carefully chosen all the partners we work with to ensure their staff provide this high quality service. 

All our watersports partners are fully insured and they provide the highest quality equipment for the sports the students will enjoy. We take our time to understand any additional needs our students have, so we do not put anyone in a situation where they do not feel comfortable. 

Family summer programme - surf lesson at Gwithian beach

While all of these watersports are on the open sea all around Cornwall, there is one more amazing provider of watersports in Cornwall that we use and that is Kernow Adventure Park!

Situated in an old quarry a few miles inland from Falmouth, there is an amazing lake full of inflatables that students love to climb up and jump off.

We hope you’re amazed and excited about all the watersports on offer here in Cornwall! We’ve only scratched the surface of what is available in the region. There is sailing galore, gig rowing, kite surfing, foil and windsurfing, to name just a few.

Make Cornwall the destination for your next watersports holiday 🙂

  • Teenage students relaxing on inflatables in the waterpark
  • Teenage students jumping off inflatables in Kernow waterpark
  • Summer School students climbing up inflatables in Kernow waterpark

Follow in the footsteps of King Arthur

A magical excursion to the legendary birthplace of King Arthur at Tintagel Castle

When we talk about legendary characters, they don’t come much bigger than King Arthur!

The legend and stories of King Arthur are so quintessentially English, they are so embedded in our history.

When visiting the castles and places associated with King Arthur there is a magical feeling of travelling through time. And one of the most atmospheric castle locations in the UK has got to be Tintagel Castle on Cornwall’s north coast. 

There has been a castle perched on the jagged cliffs at Tintagel since at least the 5th Century. The legend goes that it was here that King Arthur was born and living in the cave under the castle was Merlin himself. 

Over the years relics have been found, but like so much of history during the Dark Ages, it is only fragments that have ever been discovered. The rest is filled in with myth and legend. 

We will let you decide if you think this is the birthplace of King Arthur when you visit the castle yourself.

Regardless of how much of the legend you believe to be true, we hope you will agree when you set foot in Tintagel that you are in a special place.

Firstly, the landscape is dramatic: huge cliffs topped with fantastic ruins, views out across the Atlantic Ocean, waves crashing against the rocks and ancient pathways to guide you around the remains of the castle and village. 

Then, there is the energy in the air and the light – you get a feeling of the history and why a castle was sited in this amazing location. 

We love to visit Tintagel Castle with our students all year round with each season bringing a different atmosphere.

On sunny days, we will find a perfect place to enjoy our picnic on the island and soak up the views and atmosphere. 

On chillier days, we will wander back into the ancient town of Tintagel to wander through its brilliant shops full of magic and wizardry. Perfect for those who enjoy little magic trinkets, semi-precious stones or healing scents and candles. 

Like most Cornish towns, Tintagel has a couple of great pasty shops where we can get a delicious Cornish pasty and a cake to enjoy. It’s a fun and quirky town to walk through with references to King Arthur all around.

Tintagel town centre

Alongside our trip to Tintagel Castle, we also like to include an extra little walk to St Nectan’s Glen.

It is the perfect accompaniment to the visit to the castle and the town. 

As you delve deeper into the ancient woodland, you can hear the waterfall in the distance. 

It is such a special waterfall to enjoy. There is time to dip your toes in the healing water and take photos of the waterfall as it cascades down the hillside and through a stone hole. 

Like Tintagel, St Nectan’s Glen is also full of legend and magic and people put their wishes on special ribbons next to the waterfall.

It is a perfect end to our day trip to Tintagel. 

The rebirth of Bodmin Jail

Derelict picture of Bodmin Jail

From ‘modern’ Victorian gaol, to derelict ruins…

and now one of Cornwall’s most fascinating tourist attractions.

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A vivid memory I have from growing up in Cornwall was a school trip to Bodmin Jail! It was one of the worst school trips we ever had.

The place was dreary, damp and dark. The building was derelict. There was basically nothing there – what an awful school trip it was 🙁

However, a couple of years ago, I heard that the Jail had been renovated into a spectacular new visitor attraction which included a luxury hotel.

I couldn’t quite believe it and wondered why anyone would think about reconstructing that dreadful place?

However, someone obviously had a wonderful vision for what Bodmin Jail could be because the renovated site is absolutely amazing!

Before Summer 2022, I took my family on a recce to see what this new Bodmin Jail could be like. Could it really be an interesting new destination on our excursion programme?!

The answer was a resounding yes!

My teenage kids can be hard to please, but they loved the tour of Bodmin Jail and learning about its fascinating history – they had also been victim of the previously awful school trip – but now it is something altogether different.

Renovated luxury hotel at Bodmin Jail
Student in the stocks at Bodmin Jail

The reconstruction of the jail has been done so methodically and completely that no stone has been unturned in returning the jail to its former ‘glory’.

Bodmin Jail was actually one of the first prisons in the world to be designed around the principles of the Howard Penal Reforms which strove to move jails beyond being a dungeon of pure misery into a place where prisoners were treated with a semblance of humanity and their time in prison was designed to be productive in some way.

The luxury hotel part of the prison allows you to stay in former cells to relive the prison experience?! While this is definitely not my cup of tea, we had a little peek around the hotel and it is truly amazing. It is like staying in the Ritz within the walls of a prison.

With a price tag of around £300 per night, a stay in the hotel is definitely not part of our excursion programme. However, the new Bodmin Jail tour most certainly is!

The interactive tour provides a fascinating window back in time as you follow the journey of four criminals from Victorian Britain. You learn about their crimes, the judicial process and their punishments at Bodmin Jail – these are all true stories brought vividly to life through the tour.

It is a brilliant experience, with brilliant guides. A perfect mix of education, culture and history. Absolutely perfect for our summer school programme.

Of course, before arriving, the focus on Cornish history is a perfect topic for us in class to bring the excursion to life for the students and help them to fully enjoy the experience of visiting Bodmin Jail.

original keys for the cells at Bodmin Jail
Students at a desk in Bodmin Jail
Organising a school group at Bodmin Jail

Just to top off our visit to Bodmin Jail, we also make full use of the fact that it is located on the Camel Trail.

This is one of the most popular cycle trails in the UK. It is completely safe and off-road. We join the cycle trail at Wadebridge and then make the final journey to the Jail by bike. It is a 45min cycle on level ground through beautiful woods and following the river all the way to Bodmin Jail.

Students cycling on a trail near Bodmin

A day trip to St Michael’s Mount

Sunset photo of St Michael's Mount with reflections on the water

Where better to start our 2023 blog than at St Michael’s Mount!

Group walking across the beach to St Michael's Mount

It is one of Cornwall’s most famous landmarks and is one of our favourite destinations with our students.

So to St Michael’s Mount…

Situated in Mount’s Bay, St Michael’s Mount has a long history rich in legend and with links to its sister island Mont St Michel, 200 miles away off the coast of France.

Both sites were said to have been visited by St Michael and are part of a long tradition of early churches and monasteries being located in isolated places with their origins going back over thousands of years.

St Michael’s Mount is a tidal island which creates an ever-changing landscape to navigate across the 200 metres to the island.

At low tide, you can walk along the causeway to reach the Mount. And then, as the tide comes in, there is a regular boat service to carry you across the short stretch of water. For those who like a little more of a challenge, it is fun to walk the causeway as the tide comes in with the water around your feet!

Old map of St Michael's Mount
Students having fun wading through the incoming tide on the causeway - St Michael's Mount

Once on the mount, the target is the Chapel of St Michael.

This is the oldest building on the island and dates back to at least the 15th Century. Over the years, the castle like house has been built around the chapel. Walking around its rooms is fascinating and there are always new stories to discover. Throughout the building, you will find National Trust guides who love telling you stories of what has happened in these rooms over the past 500+ years.

In its history it has been visited by kings and queens, including Queen Elizabeth II in 2013. In fact, her footprints have been left in gold near the harbour so you can follow in her footsteps!

The journey up to the castle takes you up an ancient pathway, you feel like you are stepping back in time as you pass through the garden up to the mount.

For those with keen eyes, look out for the Giant’s Heart, embedded in the rocky path.

Legend has it that this is the heart of Cormoran the Giant who caused havoc with the local community in Penzance and Marazion. Eventually, a local lad – Jack the Giant Killer – sorted out the giant once and for all and the people could live in peace again. (Read more about Jack & Cormoran here: https://cornishbirdblog.com/a-giants-heart/)

Once you’re past the giant’s heart, it is not much further to get to the top of the Mount. The amazing views across the bay open up. With Penzance in the distance, it is one of the most beautiful views in the world. Relax and soak it all in. While exploring the house, look out of the windows to see how the views change. And then at the top of the castle, of course, the best views of all.

View from St Michael's Mount across Mount's Bay
Looking for the heart stone at St Michael's Mount

Our tour of St Michael’s Mount takes around four hours. This gives you plenty of time to walk around the Mount, explore the castle and also enjoy an ice-cream in the garden.

There’s also time to relax on the beach and enjoy a little wander around Marazion if you would like to.

SUP group at St Michael's Mount