“ Address: Torpoint, Cornwall PL11 2QA / Tel: 01752 812191 „
Antony House is a National Trust property located just outside the small town of Torpoint in Cornwall, across the river from Plymouth.
Coming down the drive to Antony, there's a view of the picturesque Maryfield church to the right and further on, a stunning glimpse of the Hamoaze with the road & Brunel rail bridges spanning the Tamar. The drive is lined with sweeping lime trees that dapple the lane with soft light.
The main car-park is to the left, in a field above the estate's gardens. It has a gravelled lane to take you down to the main parking area. The disabled car park is further down the drive, closer to reception. There is a set of toilets there, and a second set diagonally opposite the tea-rooms.
Dogs aren't allowed in the grounds of the property, but you can walk them on the public foot-paths nearby and along the drive. You are also recommended to park at the top of the main car-park in shade, if you do bring a dog, but it's not really set-up for visiting canines. Best to leave them home.
You walk down a gravelled path under gorgeous horse-chestnut trees, looking across the rear lawns of the property. You enter via reception, which is combined with the National Trust shop. This is a fairly small space, so when busy, it feels quite cramped and awkward. The merchandise there is the usual NT products, from books to ornaments to toys.
Having paid up or shown your NT membership and got stickered up, you walk out to the lawn with a view up through woodland to a wrought iron gate & fence, and enter another iron gate to the circular lawn between the colonnades of the brick wings. This perfect circle of lawn is beautifully kept. To the right, between columns there are the outdoor tables of the tea-room, while the porch where you begin your tour of the house stands ahead.
Antony House's most recent claim to fame was being the primary real-life location of Tim Burton's 'Alice in Wonderland' film, released in 2010. Fans of the film will be able to find where scenes took place: in the house, outside on the terraces where the white roses bloomed and the rabbit ran, on the lawn between yew hedges where Hamish proposed, and the main lawn where the dance-floor stood. In the woodland garden, you can find where the rabbit-hole was created.
The Carew Pole family, whose ancestors built the house, still reside there, which means that the property is still developing - it's a living house rather than a museum. It retains all historical interest, but over the years, each Carew Pole has made their mark. The current Baronet and his wife have added modern sculptures and designed parts of the garden, such as the Knot garden. I like the blend of new and old very much.
The house is a fine example of an 18th Century mansion and is a silvery grey stone building. Entrance to it is on a timed-ticket basis on busy days. For wheelchair users, unfortunately only the ground floor of the house is accessible, entering through a side-door rather than the porch, but there are photo-books of upstairs to look over.
Around the house, there are room guides who can tell you about interesting features of the house. These include panelling, tapestries and portraits. One of the portraits is of Rachel Carew, which supposedly inspired Daphne Du Maurier's novel 'My Cousin Rachel'. I couldn't relate to what Du Maurier saw in this portrait: Rachel looked pretty unprepossessing to me! Another interesting picture is that of one of the Carew ancestors, whose portrait was once cut out of its frame by angry relatives when he chose the 'wrong' side in the Civil War.
I have to keep the part of the review about the house fairly short, as I can't say I'm massively interested in the houses themselves when I visit National Trust properties. I much prefer exploring the gardens with the children. Inside the houses I just stress about what the children might touch! I have noticed, however, in the last few years that the National Trust seem to have changed their mindset and are promoting interactive exhibits and family activities more than ever before. This makes them much better to visit with children.
Antony is no exception to this change, and supplies children's trails & quizzes as well as events designed with them in mind. There are puppets and dressing-up in a room for children to try in the house. Last year, the theme was understandably 'Alice in Wonderland', with installations such as mushrooms, the Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar, not to mention regular Tea-Party events for children. This year much of the Alice theming has gone and they have broadened it to story-telling. When we visited during the Easter holidays, there were art and crafts in a marquee on the cork oak lawn and a story-teller by the dovecote. It was £1.50 per child for the arts & crafts and £2.50 for the story-telling, which were a series of Cornish legends and folk tales courtesy of an eccentrically dressed Irish-man, who managed the heckling of some small children (not mine, I hasten to add!) with aplomb. He was very good and kept us enthralled. There will be other events throughout the year, especially in holiday periods, so worth checking ahead if you're interested.
The gardens to the front of the house are gorgeous, with a huge undulating lawn and long vistas, which lead to views of the river Lynher and various other points of interest. As I understand it, these vistas are a particular feature of gardens designed by great landscape designer Humphry Repton. There's a fantastic old black walnut tree that twists low partway down the main lawn and looks incredibly tempting to climb on - but probably better not! There's a suggested route around the garden for wheel-chair users, that you can take from reception, as there are a number of steps and inclines.
As you first come out into the formal gardens, there's a modern art bronze water feature in a cone shape, which is just lovely - and irresistible to children! The water-cone aligns with the massive, magnificent topiary yew-cone on the cork oak lawn to the left. This yew cone has a hollow cut out, apparently originally intended for one of the previous ladies of the house to watch tennis from, but it attracted too many flying bugs so was never used much. It still has a seat inside, and if you sit - strange things happen! Instead of a tennis court, it now looks out onto the art & craft marquee and the croquet set, which anyone can use.
There are long lines of well-kept yew hedges dividing areas of the gardens: within one, the Summer garden, filled with beautiful plants, a sun-dial, another modern sculpture and the Knot garden. Walking round the gardens, you come across all sorts of interesting things: an ancient Burmese bell, a huge metal chess Knight, a pair of mirrored doors leading to ... well, I won't spoil it. There is also the dovecote, beside which the story-telling chair, benches and a slide sit. When we went, the Japanese pond nearby was alive with tadpoles, which kept us fascinated for ages.
For those interested in plants, Antony is home to the National collection of Daylilies, and also has a fine collection of magnolias and camellias. There are various 'prize' trees & plants and the garden team put on guided tours & trails throughout the open season to appeal to those with special interest in aspects such as the camellias, wildlife or even fungus.
The formal gardens are extensive, but if you're hungry for more, the woodland garden is also open to the public. This still belongs to the Carew Pole family, but when the house is open, NT members can go free or you can buy a combined ticket. You can also go around the woodland garden separately; it has its own designated car-park further down the main drive. Within the woodland gardens are fantastic magnolias, sculptures, the Bath House and shady walks by the river Lynher.
On the way out, we visited the tea-rooms for a drink and ice-lollies. There are various areas of seating, indoor and out, with some in the family museum room, where you can find out more about the Carew Poles. It was pleasant, although fairly dear: 3 drinks and 2 lollies set me back around £7 (admittedly one drink was a fancy juice).
I'd recommend a visit to Antony House to anyone really, especially families.
Admission prices and Opening Times (as available from NT website):
Standard Admission House and garden: adult £7.90, child £5, family £20.80, family (1 adult) £12.90.
Garden only: adult £4, child £2.
Joint garden only: adult £8.
Woodland Garden, not National Trust (Standard Admission)*: £5, child free. Woodland Garden season ticket: £25.
*NT Members free only on days when house is open
29 Mar - 26 May 11 1 - 5 Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays
29 May - 30 Oct 11 1 - 5 Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays
Garden, shop and tea-room
29 Mar - 26 May 11 11 - 5 Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays
28 May - 30 Oct 11 11 - 5 Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays & Sundays
Woodland Garden (Not NT)
1 Mar - 30 Oct 11 11 - 5 Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays & Sundays
Also open Sundays 17 April, 24 April (Easter) and 1 May, plus Bank Holiday Mondays and Good Friday. Bath Pond House interior can only be seen, by written application to the Property Manager, on days house is open. At peak times, timed tickets for entry to the house will be in operation. Last admission 30 minutes before closing.