The best way to approach Cothele is by the River Tamar. A few miles up from Plymouth Sound, there is a small slaty quay in the lee of soft woods,  just as Queen Charlotte ,(the wife of George 111), described in her diary in 1789,” ….[we] landed at the woods of Cotehill half an hour after 10 where we found Lrd and Ldy Mount Edgecombe ready to receive Us. We went in their coach up to this old family seat of theirs …At breakfast we Eat off Old Family Pewter, used Silver Knives Forks Spoons  which have been time immemorial in the Family [and] have always been kept at this place….”  The family pewter is still in the kitchen and a tall masted boat moored at the quay.

Cothele stands on an east facing shelf of land high above a sweeping bend in the river and looks across to the distant village of Calstock  on the opposite bank and a grand viaduct marching loftily across the disappearing Tamar. The magical sheltered gardens falls away to the woods in  terraces and hode  a lily filled stewpond, a dovecot , secret doors in walls , a chapel  and  an ancient orchard of lichen encrusted apple trees. To add to it a  new “Mother Orchard”  has recently been planted which harbours over a 100 rare  Cornish and Devon varieties  which would otherwise be lost.

The welcoming,silvery house feels secure and peaceful: the sort of place you want to come home to. It is all of a  comfortably intimate scale , even the hall – its great showpiece with the massive moulded granite fireplace- feels full of light and warmth. Rooms lead off one another at angles with beeswax polished floors, tapestries  and little windows giving onto different views  of the garden or into courtyards, over sills tufted with ivy leaved toadflax. There are winding stairs and  tiny squints  into the chapel and hall.

Cothele was the first house to be taken on by the National Trust in lieu of death duties. When Jim Leess Milne, who was working for the Trust at the time, visited it in the May of 1947, he wrote in his diary, “ Lord Mount Edgecombe is in bed with a temperature, but his Countess, a little, gentle, sweet and pathetic old lady, was about. Their story is a tragic one. They inherited during the war, and their only son was killed at Dunkirk. They are now packing up to leave Cothele which, since the thirteenth century, as been in their family.”

For four centuries the family  held a seat in the West Country in nearly every parliament but it was Richard Edgecombe  who put his head highest over the parapet. When he heard that Richard 111 had murdered the two sons of Edward 1V in the Tower of London he declared himself in league against the Crown. He was pursued by the King’s local agent, Sir Henry Trenowth, (a fearsome man, much hated by the Cornish)  who eventually encircled Cothele with his men. Because he knew the place so well Richard managed to slip the net and scrambled down through the steep woods to the river’s edge. He threw a large boulder into the water followed by his hat and led his pursuers to believe he had drowned. After a spell in Brittainy, he returned to Cothele and, to thank God for his life, built a chapel in the woods in the late 1480’s. It was Richard,  followed by his son Piers, who transformed the house into what stands here today with its three courtyards , sparkling granite dressings. slate roofs and high chimneys.


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