The Lost Gardens Of Heligan
Some time in the early 90s i visited Cornwall with my friend Emma to celebrate the end of our GCSE exams. Most of the details of that holiday remain hazy - I vaguely recall that I had spent most of my money on a ridiculous pair of baggy red trousers, so we had to live off peanut butter and jam sandwiches for a week. However, my abiding memory was discovering a small homemade leaflet in a post office for somewhere called The Lost Gardens Of Heligan. There was something magical about that piece of recycled A5 paper. I was instantly obsessed. Where or what was Heligan? How had they lost their gardens? Would I be able to find them? This was like The Lord of The Rings mashed up with The Secret Garden and The Mysterious Cities of Gold, but REAL. Right up my street in other words.
In a sort of delirium I told Emma that we must hire a pair of bicycles and cycle 25 miles across Cornwall, immediately. Emma has a stout and loyal nature, but she won't mind me telling you that she is not built for the saddle. She could see from the mad glint in my eyes that i was serious though, so she gamely followed me on my quest. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, on hired bikes.
25 miles across the flat plains of Essex would have been an easy ride, but the rugged dips and troughs of Cornwall are less forgiving to the amateur cyclist. At the top of every climb i would stop to give Emma words of encouragement, only to find that she was still just a small speck at the bottom of the hill, pushing her bike and swearing under her breath. I'm not sure how many miles we covered, but by the 7th or 8th hill, i had to face facts. I was going to have to abandon Sancho Panza and complete the quest on my own. Somewhere deep in my heart though, I knew it would be a hollow victory, and so i reluctantly turned my back on the Lost Gardens Of Heligan and headed back to the campsite. Besides, i had all the peanut butter & jam sandwiches in my bag.
The gardens remained lost to us that day. Emma has remained one of my closest friends, but she suspects (correctly) that i never truly forgave her for her poor hill climbing technique. She went someway to putting salve on the wound by giving me a book about the gardens for my recent birthday, but it turns out that 25 years hadn't dulled the pain. I put the book on the shelf, unopened.
But then some other close friends, Doug and Tracy, invited us up to Cornwall to stay with them for a long weekend last week, and top of the visit list was the Lost Gardens Of Heligan.
I'm happy to report that they were as magical as that 25 year old flyer intimated that they would be. I've been obsessing about them ever since. I won't tell the fascinating story of the gardens here - you should read the book that Emma got me instead. I opened it at soon as we got home. It's called The Lost Gardens Of Heligan by Tim Smit, and it's brilliant. I can highly recommend losing yourself in it, if you can't manage to find the gardens themselves.