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Mining Landmarks

Sometimes the Lovely Wife and I like to go away for a bit of countryside and walking and this last weekend was another such mini adventure. At this time of year you have to take the weather as it comes and accept most things are closed, but at least it gives you a chance to get out on your own and away from people (sounds anti-social I know, but the biggest obstacle to connecting with the countryside is having to share it with a lot of other people). You can also get to stay in interesting places. This time we were renewing our longstanding love of Landmark Trust properties. Landmarks are a slightly weird and very British set of holiday homes, epitomised by the lack of providing even the most basic of communication devices – no TV, DVD player or Wi-Fi here – and in most cases providing accommodation in buildings that were never really meant to live in, even for short periods.

We have stayed in dozens of the things, but this was the first time we have stayed in an industrial mining building. Danescombe mine is the engine house of an old abandoned Victorian arsenic and copper mine down a track on the National Trust Cothele estate on the Cornish banks of the Tamar. As we cautiously approached (the pothole strewn track was somewhat perilous for our non 4×4 conveyance) it seemed to loom up out of the dark woods like some kind of Industrial cyclops (one big window left illuminated by the housekeeper).

Inside the rear of the building is filled with a massive metal staircase entirely in keeping with the original use of the building while the rest of the three floors are the comfortable if basic accommodation. About the only thing that made us slightly nervous was the car parking space was on a concrete platform above what the logbook described as a ‘small stream’ but which with current weather as a fast flowing torrent. On the Friday night, as the rain battered down on the roof seemingly all night, it is fair to say that it was with some relief that I looked out in the morning and saw that our car was not in fact washed halfway down the valley.

The appeal of these places to me is based on a number of things. First, the conservation part of me would rather see quirky buildings like this converted and used for something rather than have them disappear – the Trust specialises mostly in unloved buildings that are otherwise good examples of their type and are in danger. Sometimes they are more obviously historically important (e.g. Pugin’s The Grange in Ramsgate for example) but often just forgotten gems, such as the Music Room in Lancaster, where a tiny enclosed square in the centre of the town contains of all things an abandoned garden pavilion that somehow has avoided demolition as the rest of the town grew around it obliterating the house and garden in once belonged to.

The most exciting recent Trust acquisition is Belmont in Lyme Regis. It seems incredible to me that we were in danger of losing such an important little house. In more recent times it was the home of the novelist John Fowles but its most historically important owner was Eleanor Coade. The artificial stone that she perfected (Google ‘Coade stone’) and marketed dominates so many houses and monuments up and down the country that the (equally decorated) house of the person who invented it should fall into disrepair and be threatened with demolition is very sad, so it is nice to know that it has now been saved.

We love our Landmark stays and this one was no exception, even if the walking involved random hailstorms. Unfortunately returns to the real world are inevitable, but made easier having generated good memories.



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