The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday
‘Water was making its way through holes in the roof ’
Boconnoc, Cornwall Yoga and craft retreats, wine tasting, steam fairs
Boconnoc – a 7,500-acre Cornish estate near Lostwithiel – has a colourful past: former owner Sir Hugh Courtenay was a pirate; in 1717 it was bought by Thomas Pitt with the proceeds of the Pitt Diamond; it has been home to three prime ministers. But by 1997 it had been empty for decades, having been used as a munitions dump.
Boconnoc has been owned by the Fortescue family since 1864, but it wasn’t until 2000 that Anthony and Elizabeth Fortescue set about restoring it. “The estate was without life for so many years, it felt as though the heart was missing: water was making its way through holes in the roof,” recalls their daughter, Clare. “They sold a barn to start with. The money from that was spent on re-doing the roof. Projects were slow, one stage at a time.”
In 2012, Boconnoc received the prestigious Historic Houses Restoration Award, but tragedy followed when Anthony, who had suffered ill-health, was found shot dead on the estate in 2015. Boconnoc House Ltd was £387,000 in debt.
Today, Boconnoc is a thriving venue for retreats, weddings, events and filming, run by Elizabeth and her daughters, Clare and Sarah, who live in cottages on the estate.
The main house – which sleeps 19 – is available for private hire. While Clare’s focus is sustainability (a wood-chip boiler powers the house and thousands of trees are planted yearly), her sister, the interior designer Sarah Fortescue, has used her talents to give the interiors a contemporary feel.
“Sarah’s rooms are a joy to walk into,” says Clare. “The light streams in. She has a traditional sense of style, but a fresh take which doesn’t sit in the past. We use timber from the estate and reclaimed pieces. For the kitchen we’ve used Boconnoc oak crafted by the craftsmen at Mena Woodwork + Design, a business on the estate.”
The 800-year-old church and Georgian bath house (once an elaborate swimming pool) are used for wedding ceremonies, while Anthony established the Boconnoc Steam Fair, now an annual fixture. This year it takes place on July 22 to 24, from 10am-6pm. Visitors can camp on the grounds (£80 per adult based on three nights’ camping).
“Anthony, always inventive and inspirational, wanted to clear the silted lake,” says Elizabeth. “The budget was limited, so friends cleared it with steam engines and a huge bucket. The steam fair captured people’s hearts and has grown in popularity.”
Other events include cider runs, wine tastings, garden tours, nature photography, yoga retreats with Felicity Wood Yoga (felicitywoodyoga.com) and creative craft retreats with A Nest of Gentle Makers (anestofgentlemakers. co.uk). “It’s important to us for Boconnoc to be a space of sanctuary and celebration, whether people are attending retreats or spending time with family and friends,” says Clare.
“Guests feel part of the estate and enjoy the peace and calm here – swimming in the lake, picking raspberries from the kitchen garden, running around the deer park and discovering our ‘secret sundowner’ spots. After a quiet time during the Covid lockdowns, it’s wonderful to see visitors exploring the grounds.”
The pandemic forced the family to change their business model and diversify, she adds. “We were predominantly a wedding business; now, there’s a focus on holiday stays, intimate weddings in the Stewardry [a newly refurbished property which sleeps 14] and retreats.
“We added a games room, with a ping-pong table and table football, and we now sell produce boxes with fruit and veg from the kitchen garden, eggs from our chickens and Lantic Gin, which is distilled with gorse and water mint foraged on the estate.
“Our small, growing team feels like a big family, from our administration apprentice, Georgia, to our weddings and events bookings manager, Jess.”
‘Guests feel part of the estate and enjoy the calm – swimming in the lake; running in the deer park’