Shadows and Tall Trees
Lerryn, Lerryn River and Tivoli Gardens
Leryon, Dowr Leryon, Lowarth Tivoli
Re-living childhood days, I suggest Lerryn as our next walk around places that I know and love.
Lerryn is an historic village, appearing in the Assize Roll of 1284 it falls under two parishes separated by the River Lerryn; with the south bank of the river falling in St. Veep and the north bank in St Winnow. These ancient and beautiful parishes are both mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086.
The Lerryn River is a fast flowing tributary into the River Fowey and boasts the original Cornish name of Dowr Leryon - ‘river of floods’, very fitting for our visit as the tide is rapidly rising under vehicles parked beside and, very quickly, in the water. The river is spanned by a medieval granite bridge - a listed Grade 2 Ancient Monument, the bridge is documented as far back as 1573 when Queen Elizabeth 1 ordered the bailiffs and constables of the time to levy a rate to pay for extensive repairs to the bridge. At low tide, crossing from one side of the river to the other is possible via a series of stepping stones, but these are already under water when we arrive and the river is alive with people enjoying messing about in boats and canoes.
Lerryn maintains a thriving village store and Post Office, a village hall and the 16th Century Ship Inn – I recently read a review suggesting ‘you can still hear the rich voices of the locals as they make their living from the land, river and sea’. All the locals have left today as the only Cornish accent I recognise is my own.
Lerryn holds a really special place in my heart, Dad was a Lerryn boy and I fondly recall visiting Great Granny Libby in her one up one down cottage alongside the river; regularly a victim of the high tides, Granny Libby’s sandbags were a permanent fixture at the front door. New money and ‘architectural visions’ mean that Granny Libby’s cottage is no longer recognisable and therefore impossible to pick out from the modern conversions along the riverbank. My sister and I grew up on hilarious stories of Dad and his brothers’ scrumping around the village, while their hangovers from indulging in the famous green Lerryn cider are legendary. I once enjoyed a brilliant night on Lerryn cider, forced to spend the next day in the bathroom I did not revisit the experience; in defence of the local cider industry I’m sure things have changed a lot since the murky greenish product of the 60’s and 70’s, but I’m not risking it!
Another gloriously sunny day has brought hundreds of people to the village, but we fight our way through the crowds and follow the path alongside the river. We are only a few minutes down the path before the crowds have dispersed, we can hear birds singing and the river lapping against the path. The old black shed standing beside the river has been there for as long as I can remember; I reckon the layers of bitumen paint are the only thing holding it together. The Heath Robinsonesque building is a familiar landmark, always leaning precariously on the bank and keeping watch over the river.
Button has been enjoying doggy paddles jumping in and out of the water as we stroll along to the end of the path, he is reluctant to leave the water, but quickly perks up when he realises we are headed for the woods. Sandie and I wander along following behind the dog, oblivious to our surroundings until we suddenly realise that we are a long way from the village, with the river which is now getting much wider. Thinking that we can’t be far from the gardens, we plough on as the woodland becomes thicker and we are climbing up banks and over fallen branches until we think maybe we are heading in the wrong direction. We are discussing whether to keep going or turn back when a lovely dog bounds at us closely followed by his owners, who kindly inform us that we need to go all the way back on ourselves and take a different path. Button is burrowing his way through a pile of leaves and, as we turn to retrace our steps, Sandie spots a pair of egrets quietly resting on a fallen branch in the river. It is impossible to get a good photo of them through the trees, so I scramble down the steep bank to get a better view – just as I get close enough they both take off across the river and reveal themselves to be seagulls. What can I say? They looked like egrets through the trees from the top of the bank! My endeavours in pursuit of a good wildlife shot have come to nothing and I discover that clambering back up from the river is a young woman’s game. No more adventurous explorations for me, next time Sandie can do the climbing and I will stay safely with the dog!
Retracing our walk through the woods, we are almost back at our starting point before we find the path that finally takes us into Tivoli Gardens. My sister and I spent many happy hours in Lerryn enjoying the regatta and village life as kids, but neither of us can remember visiting the exotic gardens. Sandie and I have no illusions about the gardens of today, their demise is well documented, but as we walk through the trees and undergrowth there is an aura surrounding us. As we break through the path into the open we find the relics we are searching for; despite their decline it is easy to picture how magnificent the creations must have been 100 years ago. Imagine living in a poor Cornish village and suddenly having the freedom to enjoy cascading fountains and pools, surrounded by elaborate statues and artistic creations on a grand scale. On closer inspection, the decaying remnants of the fountain and bandstand reveal ugly constructions of bricks and cement decorated with broken bits of granite. Nevertheless, they would have been spectacular in their day.
Tivoli Gardens were the brainchild and dream of Frank Parkyn, a Lerryn boy who became a Tin and China Clay magnate. Frank was so enchanted by a visit to Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens that he set about clearing woodland in Lerryn to create a Cornish version with water fountains, ornate statues, arches, band stand and even an octagonal plunge pool. The elaborate gardens were completed in 1920 when Frank opened them to the public; the gardens became an integral part of Lerryn’s annual regatta, an event that Frank was founder and committee member of for many years. The first regatta was held in 1870 and ran every year until the 1st World War, it was revived in 1919 and kept going until the 2nd World War, revived again in 1953 and survived until the last regatta in 1968. I have so many memories of the laughter and fun surrounding the regatta, but best of all was the greasy pole event when the men of the village faced off, beating opponents with pillows, forcing them off the greasy pole and down into the river. Yes, it was very sad when the final chapter closed on Lerryn Regatta, but it somehow wouldn’t be the same today with H&S operatives keeping a beady eye on the fun with their clipboards and hi vis jackets. Throw in current rules on social distancing and face masks and there would be no fun left.
Tivoli Gardens today are a peaceful oasis behind a village teeming with tourists; it seems the tranquillity of the woods and the history they contain doesn’t hold the same allure as the pub and the river. Having been a patient boy while we take too many photos, Button is starting to fidget and we follow him along expecting to find more relics, but instead discover a different way back to the village taking us past quaint cottages and colourful gardens.
Most of the visitors have gone by the time we reach the pub, so we enjoy a quiet drink by the river. Folklore has it that Kenneth Grahame based his wonderful ‘Tales From The Riverbank’ and ‘The Wind In The Willows’ on Lerryn. Sitting by the Dowr Leryon as the sun goes down its easy to imagine Toad, Ratty, Badger and Mole’s adventures in this ancient and picturesque Cornish village.
The visit to the woods and Tivoli Gardens is not suitable for wheelchairs or pushchairs, but there are lovely flat walks around the village and alongside the river which everyone can enjoy.
The length and time of the walk through the woods and the gardens is up to individual walkers, our wander lasted almost 3 hours as we took the path deeper into the woods. The gardens themselves are literally a 5 minute walk from the village!
Lerryn is situated 3 miles from Lostwithiel and 10 miles from Liskeard Starting in Lostwithiel, take the A390 signposted to Lerryn, the road is narrow and winding, please watch your speed. You are likely to meet tractors, horses, walkers and cyclists.
Starting in Liskeard, take the A390 through Dobwalls, Doublebois, and the Taphouses until the outskirts of Lostwithiel where you pick up the signposted route to Lerryn.
There is a limited Bus Service between Lostwithiel and Lerryn, run by volunteers. This service has been suspended throughout Covid, for further updates and timetables visit - www.lostwithiel.org.uk/about-the-town/bus-train-schedule
Lostwithiel Railway Station is on the main line and regular time tables are available
Please Be Aware of the high tide warnings, the tide rises very quickly.