We take our children and dog to explore this once secret garden in Cornwall
The Lost Gardens of Heligan
What is it?
The Lost Gardens of Heligan are Europe’s largest garden restoration project.
This secret garden was lost for decades until a door to a walled garden was discovered in 1990.
After an award-winning restoration, there are now 200 acres of subtropical gardens, woodland and jungle to explore.
Where is it?
The gardens cover steep ground in Cornwall, near the town of Mevagissey, not far from St Austell. It is in quite a remote location with small lanes leading to the entrance.
What did we think?
This is a wonderful place for children with a huge playground, lots of space, a farm and a brilliant jungle area. It’s a lot of walking and some of it is steep so younger children may get tired.
A giant’s head
This is the best area, jungle plants in a valley with boardwalks to explore and a wobbly rope bridge to cross. This was the part which captured our children’s imaginations the most.
Crossing the rope bridge
*East Lawn playground
This large playground has a lot of modern equipment and plenty of space to run around. There are also great views and it is a good spot for children to let off some steam
A small farm with pigs, sheep, chickens and horses. Ideal for younger children to get up close with farm animals. It is also near toilets and food outlets.
A fun stroll through woodland you can do either at the start of end of your visit. There is a small play area called the Giant’s Adventure Trail and look out for the Mud Maid sculpture.
The Mud Maid
Our top tips
*Plan your route
There is a lot of walking involved so we suggest making your way to the furthest point of the site initially and working backwards towards the entrance. That way you will avoid the crowds and won’t be too tired when you are furthest away from the way out!
*It’s uphill on the way back
Take into account that all the routes back to the entrance are uphill. It is a very steep walk back, so plan your route accordingly.
*A manageable route
The simplest way for families to see the most child-friendly parts of the gardens is as follows: Go down the Woodland Walk and then head for The Jungle, go around that area and then visit the East Lawn playground, then you can use the toilets and facilities at the Steward’s House Cafe and enjoy the farm before making your way to the exit through the beautiful Flora’s Green.
*The rope bridge
The rope bridge in the jungle area is 100ft high and among the longest in Britain.
Crossing it is a wobbly, fantastic experience.
But dogs are not allowed across it and people with a fear of heights might not fancy it either.
Fear not, there are ways around it, then you may also be able to get a picture of family members crossing towards you.
There are only two areas with toilet and facilities – at the entrance and then near Home Farm. There are large parts of the gardens with no facilities.
Dogs are welcome on a lead and it is a great place for them to enjoy and explore. The Lost Valley is the quietest area and a good one for those coming with dogs who want a more strenuous walk.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan information
*Near the ticket office – Heligan Kitchen, Coffee Bar, Ice-cream Hut.
*In the Steward’s Garden near Home Farm – Steward’s House Cafe, BBQ Hut, Ice-cream Hut.
*Picnics are welcome and there are lots of benches to sit on.
Opening hours: Daily April to September 10am to 6pm, October to March 10am to 5pm.
Cost: Adults £17.50, children aged 5 to 15 £8.50, under 5s free. Family ticket £48. Book here.
Best for: Children aged 5-15, you do need some stamina to get around so younger ones may get tired.
Time needed: Minimum of 3 to 4 hours to explore the best parts of the site. You could easily spend a whole day here though.
Access and restrictions: Mostly accessible but some steep slopes to navigate. The Jungle and wider garden routes are not accessible and not open to wheelchairs. Accessible Maps available from the ticket office.
Address: The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Pentewan, St Austell, PL26 6EN.
We have a family holiday at a complex of luxury self-catering cottages in the middle of Cornwall
The Valley, Cornwall.
Where is it?
The Valley is in a fabulous location in the centre of Cornwall near to Truro and Falmouth – perfect for exploring in all directions.
What is it?
A 13-acre complex of 46 luxury self-catering cottages and exclusive leisure facilities including an indoor pool, outdoor pool and tennis court.
Cottages at The Valley
Is it family-friendly?
Yes, it feels safe and secure and there are facilities for children including an outdoor play area, games room and swimming pools.
The Valley provides lots for free including highchairs, stair gates, bed guards and travel cots. There are toys and books to borrow from a room next to the reception too.
Plus, babysitters can be arranged if needed.
The 5-star two and three-bedroom cottages are spaced out across the site.
There are six types, we stayed in a Villa Gallery and absolutely loved it – we felt at home straight away.
It was modern and clean and spread over three levels as it is set on a hill.
The kitchen/dining room was on a mezzanine floor overlooking the lounge, all under a high ceiling with beams.
Off the kitchen was a balcony overlooking the pool.
The beds were really comfortable – our double bedroom had a desk, television and en-suite. The children’s twin room also had a desk and there was a separate bathroom.
There was a warm laundry room with washing machine and a third toilet in a cloakroom next to the front door.
It all felt really fresh and clean, with loads of room and storage.
Food and drink
The cottages are self-catering and our kitchen was well-equipped with everything we needed.
The on-site restaurant, called Azura, opens from March 30 until October half-term. It was closed when we visited but serves children’s meals and has an area where you can sit with your dog.
There are also restaurants and takeaway options in nearby Truro and Falmouth.
The outdoor pool heated from mid-June to mid-September.
There is also a heated indoor pool, with a spa pool next to it.
There is a small fitness suite in a room next to the pool.
*Tennis and squash courts
You can borrow rackets and balls from reception to enjoy games of tennis or squash or teach your children to play.
The games room has a table tennis table, pool table and table football.
There is a lovely play park with equipment for different ages, including swings, slides and climbing walls.
Is it dog-friendly?
Yes, dogs are really welcome here, which we really appreciated, this being our first holiday with our puppy Charlie.
Dog walks around The Valley
Ours was one of several dog-friendly cottages. Charlie received his own welcome letter, box of luxury food, ball and dog basket. Our cottage was near to an entrance to a dog footpath.
Lots of attractions and beaches nearby are dog-friendly so we could take him with us everywhere. The Valley can provide details of dog sitters if needed.
As The Valley is in central Cornwall, it is easy to reach dozens of beaches, gardens, towns and attractions.
Both north and south coasts are easily accessible.
This huge tropical garden and massively popular tourist attraction has been recognised by the British Travel Awards as the best UK Leisure Attraction for five years’ running.
Beaches – we were blown away by the spectacular beaches and beautiful blue sea. We visited during the Easter holidays and they weren’t too busy.
Cartwheels on Holywell Bay, where Poldark was filmed
Nearby beaches include Perranporth on the North coast, Holywell Bay near Newquay (which features in Poldark), Gwithian near Hayle and Gyllyngvase (Gylly Beach) in Falmouth.
We also visited Carne Beach on the south coast and Porthmeor Beach in St Ives.
We caught the King Harry car ferry to visit this small, pretty fishing village on the south coast.
St Mawes Castle
Our children enjoyed exploring St Mawes Castle, one of Henry VIII’s coastal fortresses, now run by English Heritage.
This National Trust garden on its own peninsula has stunning views over the Fal estuary as well as woodland walks. There is also an art gallery, cafe and gift shop.
A few minutes’ drive away from The Valley is the cathedral city of Truro, with shops, restaurants, parks, streams, a theatre and museum.
The port of Falmouth is a 15-minute drive from The Valley.
There are walks you can take from and around The Valley – itineraries are available from reception.
Enjoying the view at Tintagel Castle
Further afield but worth the trip, we visited these ruins of a 13th century Cornish castle with links to the stories of King Arthur set high on the coast in north Cornwall with fabulous views, read about it here.
A tourist attraction for families with younger children – with visitors catching a steam train from the car park to the site, filled with outdoor play areas. Read our report on it here.
We stay in a beautiful cottage and explore the area and discover if Cornwall is dog-friendly as well as child-friendly
Our dog is barking furiously, drowning out the sound of waves washing the rocky Cornish shoreline below, as our daughter approaches a huge, sword-wielding man.
High on a rocky headland, peaceful family picnics are interrupted by what Charlie, our nine-month-old golden retriever, believes to be an urgent life-or-death situation.
Thankfully, the rest of us can see the the sword-wielding giant is only a statue – that of the warrior Gallos at Tintagel Castle.
It’s the first day of our dog-friendly family break to Cornwall and we’re exploring the dramatic castle, mythical home of King Arthur.
It’s a site which tests dog and human stamina. There are steep walks from the village to the castle and then down to the beach which houses Merlin’s Cave. It’s a challenging spot to visit but a worthwhile one, don’t miss our full review.
In fact, steep Cornish hills are quite a feature of our break, especially at our accommodation.
The aptly-named The Valley is in – yes – a valley, near the village of Carnon Downs just outside Truro.
It’s perfect for children and dogs. For the kids, there are indoor and outdoor pools, a tennis court, brand-new playground, games room and activities laid on during school holiday periods.
Swimmng pool and play area at The Valley, Truro, Cornwall
For the dogs there’s a range of walks on footpaths around the site, a cosy bed, welcome treats and his or her own comprehensive guide of dog-friendly activities, all waiting in our holiday cottage.
A walk near our cottage
The cottage, one of 46 on the site, is clean, fresh and very well equipped. Ours is a two-bedroom Villa Gallery over three levels.
There’s two bedrooms and bathrooms on the ground floor, then a lounge, toilet and utility room on the middle tier with a kitchen-diner on the top level complete with balcony overlooking the swimming pool and green fields.
Our cottage at The Valley
Read our full review of the accommodation for more details.
The staff are happy and efficient, their reception has a treasure trove of books, DVDs and games you can borrow. Every evening, a note drops through the door of our cottage with suggestions for activities around Cornwall.
We take Charlie to a range of dog-friendly attractions. As well as Tintagel Castle, we visited Lappa Valley to enjoy his first ride on a steam train and the Lost Gardens of Heligan where he could sniff out plants from around the globe.
But could he run free on the beaches? The answer is yes on most of them. Our handy cottage guide showed more than 60 beaches welcoming dogs across the county and we found some gems.
Charlie on Holywell Bay beach
Probably our favourite was Holywell Bay with huge sand dunes protecting a stunning beach framed by cliffs. Rock pools, caves and streams kept the children happy and there was space for Charlie to stretch his legs and chase balls – mainly those belonging to other dogs unfortunately.
Holywell Bay beach is where some of Poldark was filmed
Among the other sandy spots we loved were Carne beach on the Roseland Peninsula, Porthmeor at bustling St Ives and dramatic Gwithian with acres of wide-open space.
The Valley is centrally located in Cornwall meaning none of the county’s attractions – or its beaches – are that far away.
But one of the most spectacular sights is just a few miles from our cottage via ferry.
The King Harry car ferry gently delivers your vehicle across the River Fal on the way to the pretty village of St Mawes.
King Harry ferry
Once there, the stony shoreline, working harbour and gorgeous views lead up the St Mawes Castle, which overlooks the bay and has protected the area since it was built by Henry VIII.
There are benches in the grounds where we all sit and relax with the sun on our faces, Charlie gently snoozing at our feet, finally worn out by our Cornish adventures.
St Mawes Castle
We decide to let sleeping dogs lie and reflect on the truth that Cornwall is definitely dog and family friendly – unless you come face-to-face with an eight-foot high warrior statue.
We take our children and dog to explore the historical Tintagel Castle in north Cornwall
What is Tintagel Castle?
The ruins of a 13th century Cornish castle with links to the stories of King Arthur and Merlin the magician.
Where is Tintagel Castle?
This English heritage site is in north Cornwall (south-west England), set high on the coast next to the village of Tintagel with stunning views over the Atlantic.
It lies half on the mainland, half on a peninsula in the sea, known as Tintagel Island.
What did we think?
This was a memorable trip, the link to the myth of King Arthur captured the imagination of my son. He also enjoyed reading all the historical information dotted around.
But it is the stunning views from these clifftop ruins that will stay with me (along with the memory of all the steps)!
We all thought our picnic spot was our best ever – we found a little private bit away from the path with the most incredible views over the turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Best picnic spot
Our children’s verdict: amazing.
Tintagel is thought to have been where Cornish kings lived between the 5th and 7th century.
Then the 12th-century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth named it in his History of the Kings of Britain as the place where King Arthur was conceived.
These legends are said to have inspired Richard, Earl of Cornwall, to build the castle here in the 1230s.
Tintagel Castle Bridge
This stunning footbridge, finished in August 2019, links the two halves of the castle for the first time in over 500 years since an original crossing was lost.
We cross the bridge
Before this, visitors had to climb steps and queue for a small bridge at the base of the cliff.
If you fear heights look away now – the bridge travels over a 58-metre drop.
Tintagel Castle bridge
This bronze statue of an ancient king stands high on the cliff – popular with photographers, not so much with our dog who didn’t know what to make of it!
The beach and Merlin’s Cave
Below the castle is a secluded beach known as Tintagel Haven with rocks and a waterfall.
Best of all, it is where you can explore Merlin’s Cave .
This large cave in the cliffs under the castle is said to have been home to Merlin, the wizard of Arthurian legend. (See our top tips for information about access to the beach).
Tintagel Castle top tips
Mobility and fear of height
This site is not suitable for anyone with mobility issues or a big fear of heights – there are steep paths and sheer drops.
When we went, a one-way system was in place due to Coronavirus restrictions and the route included a LOT of steep steps.
The path from the village to the castle and back is steep – so make use of the Land Rover service if you need to, particularly on the way back up. There is a small charge for people and dogs.
Check the tide times and visit when the tide is out. That way you can get to the beach and go into Merlin’s Cave.
The beach is accessed via steep steps and when we went, we also had to clamber over rocks.
Try to visit on a fine day – the ruins are all outdoors and the area is exposed.
The castle sometimes closes due to bad weather or high winds, so check before you travel, via the website, Facebook or by calling 01870 770328.
Dogs are welcome – we took ours – but they need to be kept on leads due to the steps, cliff edges and nesting birds. Water is available for dogs at the cafe.
Tintagel Castle information
Food: There is a cafe at the bottom of the hill (Castle Road) near to the beach. You can also take picnics.
Opening hours: From 10am to 4, 5 or 6pm, depending on the time of year.
Cost: English Heritage members are free. Adults are £15.70 (off-peak £14.50. Children are from £9.40 (£8.70 off-peak). Concessions are £14.10 (£13.10 off-peak)
A family of two adults and up to three children costs £40.80 (£37.70 off-peak) and a family of one adult and up to three children is £25.10 (£23.20 off-peak).
Best for: Children who can cope with the hilly site.
Time needed: We spent three hours here including the beach.
Toilets: At the bottom of Castle Road near to the beach are toilets. And there are others in the village.
Other facilities: A small shop and an exhibition exploring the stories linking Tintagel to King Arthur which includes a 3D model of the site showing how it has changed over the centuries.
Parking: There are pay and display car parks in Tintagel Village, 600 metres away from the site.
Access and restrictions: This site is set on a steep hill and there are uneven surfaces, drops and slopes. A Land Rover service is available along the road – Castle Road – down to the cafe and exhibition and back,. There is a charge and there may be queues. It doesn’t run during winter.