A day in Cornwall: Hottentot fig, a vagrant heath and biomass boilers on the Lizard

After a day enjoying the intense colour and movement of the Eden Project, near St Austell, yesterday we savoured the winds and mists of The Lizard, that southernmost bit of mainland England.

Our host for today was Sir Ferrers Vyvyan whose family have owned the 1000-acre Trelowarren estate for 600 years. The family home dates back to the 1600s, but there are remains and remnants of the Iron and perhaps Bronze Ages, dating back 4000 years if I have my dates correct.

Today the property is a mix of self-catering and timeshare homes in a gorgeous setting and location. Sorry to sound like I'm selling it, but I was impressed. And there is plenty more to come, including the reinstatement of ‘the garden’ including the reconstruction of an 1820s walled systematic garden. Things do grow well here. The outdoor chair pictured at the top of the blog has been exposed to the Cornwall weather for just a few years, or so says Sir Ferrers.

What sets it apart (OK, I’m marketing again) is its greenness. Like all of Cornwall it’s green in a colour sense because it rains a lot, but this place is green environmentally because Sir Ferrers wants it be a model of sustainability. He wants it to be ‘carbon neutral’, but not simply through carbon credits.

It’s close to self-sufficiency in energy and water already. An ozone pool is kept warm by a biomass boiler that also warms the buildings, the ‘super insulated’ new houses are made from building materials sourced as locally as possible, there is high-profile and separated recycling, and nearly all fresh produce in the restaurant from local farms and producers – fish from St Ives and St Martyn, smoked fish from Penryn, dairy from St Keverne, honey from Lizard, eggs from Mullion and fruit from Gweek... (by the way, I can vouch for Annie’s pasties at Lizard if you are up this way).

Sir Ferrers is particularly, and justifiably, proud of his biomass boiler

The boiler uses wood chip from trees grown on site – waste from logging and special coppices.

It pumps out water at around 80 degrees C into three km of closed piping, returning to the boiler room about 16 degrees cooler.

Enough of the eco-engineering talk. Another reason to visit Trelowarren is to explore the Lizard Peninsula (‘The Lizard’). 

There you can see lots of Erica vagans, the Cornish or Wandering Heath, either white and pink in flower or rusty brown in post-flower (?fruit) as it was mostly on our visit. 

At Goonhilly Downs we also saw the Dry Tree Menhir, or Standing Stone, near the junction of five medieval parishes and nowadays a collection of radar dishes dating back to the Second World War and a few wind generators.  

An eerie but clearly strategic and windy place.

On a little further, around a bend or two, was the southernmost tip of mainland England, where we saw the southernmost shop in England, ate our Annie’s pasty and tracked down the Hottentot Fig (Carpobrotus edulis) or pigface as we like to call them in Australia - although this pig’s face was yellow rather than pink.

The Hottentot is not a fig but its fruit is edible and makes, I gather, a decent jam. It’s a South African species now well naturalised around south-western English coasts and featuring on local postcards – along with another naturalised ‘mesymbryanth’, Lampranthus. This brightly flowered succulent is popular with some locals, but does compete with local plants.

The rocky shore and browning heath made this a place perfect for windy and drizzly day.

Eden is more for a sunny day, which is what we had the day before. I’ll return to Eden, in a later post...