Local Secrets – Duchy of Cornwall Nursery Café, Lostwithiel

Going out for breakfast or brunch is one of our favourite treats – I suppose because it’s something so out of the ordinary in our day to day life that it always feels like a special occasion. And, since going out for breakfast is usually far cheaper than going out for lunch or dinner, it can be a particularly affordable luxury.

Smoked salmon with poached eggs & hollandaise sauce

We just love the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery Café . Tucked up a tiny country lane near the historic Cornish town of Lostwithiel, the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery sells an amazing range of plants, as well as garden supplies and great selection of homewares. Keen gardeners and fans of beautiful things alike will find more than enough excuse to empty their wallets here, but for me, despite all of that, the main reason to visit is the Café. Open from 9am Monday to Saturday and from 10am on Sundays, it’s the perfect spot for a relaxed breakfast with friends and family.

View from the terraceThrough the summer, and on sunny days in spring and autumn, sit and eat on the terrace and enjoy panoramic views of the Cornish countryside looking out over the nursery and towards the historic Restormel Castle. On winter days, it’s may be wiser to stay indoors, where there’s usually a big log fire burning to keep the cold at bay.

Duchy of Cornwall NurseriesThe Nursery prides itself on it’s green credentials – as you might expect from one of Prince Charles’s ‘pet projects’ – and the café menu is very much focused on provenance, sourcing extensively from Cornish producers. The food is really excellent, freshly made from the best local ingredients. I have never been disappointed here, from the simplest thing on the menu – toast with butter and jam or marmalade – to the wide choice of more sophisticated offerings such as the smoked salmon with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce (pictured above) which I enjoyed on my most recent visit. When the quality of the ingredients and produce is so good, it’s hard to go wrong. And their coffees are excellent.

What next?

Once you’ve enjoyed a relaxed breakfast, and picked up a couple of souvenirs from the nursery or shop, what can you do with the rest of your day?

Fore Street, LostwithielNearby Lostwithiel, with its ancient stone bridge straddling the River Fowey, is well worth a visit, especially if you’re keen on antiques. It boasts a number of antique shops and dealers, some with nationwide reputations. Drive down Fore Street into the centre of town, and turn right past the Co-op onto Quay Street, where you can park in the free car park by the river. Most of the antique shops are on Fore Street, with one on Quay Street and a couple on the main A390 Edgecumbe Road. It’s worth knowing that many of the antique dealers are closed on Sunday and Monday.

Every other Wednesday, Jeffrey’s Auctions hold an antique sale in their Lostwithiel auction rooms – a great opportunity to bag a bargain but finding somewhere to park can be a real challenge on auction days. Lostwithiel has a number of good cafés and restaurants – and a really excellent fish & chip shop (also closed Sundays & Mondays) – so if you’re already feeling up to lunch, you have plenty of options.

Why not make a day of it?

Loswithiel’s convenient location in Mid-Cornwall makes it a useful ‘jumping-off’ point, and you won’t struggle to find something to do in the afternoon. Lostwithiel has a main-line railway station, which means you can even explore car-free from here, if you prefer.

The coastal towns of Fowey and Looe are both nearby – allow about 20 minutes drive to Fowey and 30 minutes to Looe. Looe can also be reached by train on a rather scenic little branch line from Liskeard. Of the two harbour towns, Fowey is the more gentrified – it boasts some of the highest property prices in the county –  and you will find all the usual shopping suspects here you might expect at Padstow or St Ives. Looe has a decent town beach, which Fowey, due to its location on the Fowey River estuary, lacks.

Like many historic Cornish towns, both Fowey and Looe are extremely ‘snug’ in the centre and not built for cars. Drivers have been known to get into trouble, in the middle of Fowey particularly. Please do follow directions to the car parks at the top of town and walk down to the harbour, it’s really not worth the trouble, and there’s nowhere more convenient to park anyway.

If the coast isn’t to your taste, it’s not far from Lostwithiel to China Clay Country, around the town of St Austell. This is also where you will find the Eden Project with its striking biosphere domes – a great all-weather option, particularly for families. Opening times at Eden are complex, and vary quite a bit through the year, so it’s always worth checking before you visit.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan – famously restored in recent years – are also easily accessible from St Austell. The gardens at Heligan are open every day except Christmas Day, with different attractions depending on the season.

Planning to visit this part of Cornwall? Why not stay at Little Crifts Cottage, near Altarnun, Bodmin Moor. Conveniently located with easy access to the A30, it makes a great base for visiting all of Cornwall and West Devon and discovering everything this really special part of the world has to offer. For more details, and to book, click here.

Little Crifts Cottage – Raising the Roof

What a difference a fortnight can make!

Site webcam from Monday 14 SeptemberLast Wednesday morning, less than three weeks ago, the cottage consisted of completed foundations, a block and beam floor, and a single course of block-work marking out the internal and external walls.

This was a little frustrating, as we had been anticipating that the wall panels would arrive on site and start to be assembled on Tuesday.

The walls in question had in fact appeared, as scheduled, on the back of a lorry on Tuesday morning. But despite the hauliers promising that their lorry would definitely fit through our narrow entrance and over the cattle grid… Well, it didn’t – and wasn’t going to, at least not without us demolishing our neighbour’s fence. Late in the afternoon one of our friendly local farmers kindly came to save us with a tractor and a bale handler, and at least the panels were finally safely on site. Continue reading

Little Crifts Cottage – finding our footings

After discussions with Mark, our architect, and Ellie, our project manager from the timber frame company, we decided on an approach which would both minimise the number of heavy vehicles which needed access to the site, and which reduced the amount of concrete being poured or otherwise assembled into the ground to an absolute minimum. These priorities came from pragmatism (our access is a bit narrow, and shared with our neighbours – it was important to minimise damage to the drive and above all nuisance to our neighbours) and also out of our desire wherever possible to make environmentally responsible choices.

Digging the trenches

We hoped to minimise excavations; thankfully the building regulations inspector came and peered into our relatively shallow foundation trenches and was content with what he found there – a subsoil commonly found locally known as ‘shillet’, made up of broken up soft slate and shale. This meant we could get on with pouring a relatively small amount of concrete – a layer about 20cm deep. Continue reading

Little Crifts Cottage – clearing the ground

The old barn, sadly, was a hopeless case, timbers rotten through and barely held together by the equally rusted corrugated panels. It’s been some time since we’ve been happy to step inside it for any length of time, and I’m quite surprised that last winter’s storms didn’t do for it completely – they did however leave some quite impressive gaping holes, and, what with the increasingly obvious double-pitch roof ‘feature’, it was clear that the structure was becoming increasingly unsafe and something had to be done to deal with it.

The old barn
On one of the warmest days of the year, at the end of June, some good friends came to give us a hand to take the barn down. In the end, the old building put up surprisingly little resistance, the rotten timbers came away more or less painlessly at ground level after we removed the corrugated metal, eventually leaving just the concrete base slab. The corrugated sheeting was taken away for recycling. Any sound timbers and wooden cladding will find a use around the property somewhere, as will the door of the shed. The rotten and wood-wormed timbers will go for firewood, so there’s nothing wasted. In due course, the concrete slab itself will be broken up and form part of the hardcore for drainage around the foundations. Continue reading

Little Crifts Cottage – how the story began

In June of 2014, a little over a year ago, we arrived in our new home in North Cornwall, just outside the lovely moorland village of Altarnun. The move to this beautiful part of the world is something that we had spoken about doing for many years, though in truth we rather suspected it might need to wait for our retirement! But life had other ideas, and when some kind Whitehall bureaucrat decided that they needed a high speed rail line to Birmingham, and that this line – the HS2 high speed railway – would be going straight through the garden of our pretty Northamptonshire cottage, it was time to take things into our own hands, and take the plunge.

The old barn

We were incredibly lucky to find a home on the very edge of Bodmin Moor, one of Cornwall’s wild beauty spots and an AONB, tucked away but within easy reach of the rugged and glorious North Cornish coast. As part of the new property came a paddock, a couple of stables, and a tumble-down metal-clad small barn, which the previous owner had obtained planning permission to demolish and replace with a rather basic little bungalow, to use as a holiday let. Continue reading