• Reclaiming Heligan

An unpromising early weather forecast yesterday didn’t deter us from making an excursion to The Lost Gardens of Heligan.  Pouring rain en route was not encouraging.  On arrival, it seemed wise to take the opportunity to have a coffee-break with the few other visitors who had braved the elements.  But the forecast was right – it cleared up.  Yet the gardens remained virtually deserted.  We had the Northern Summerhouse to ourselves (rain-soaked views to the sea) and even, an hour or so later, the Italian Garden (above).  These two spots are particularly atmospheric, fit for contemplation from their open-fronted summerhouses.  Yesterday, this really was possible.

 Why, at the height of the tourist season, were there so few visitors?  I hope that it wasn’t a result of the appallingly feeble BBC2 documentary last Wednesday (produced and narrated by Philippa Forrester).  I’ve been to Heligan over half-a-dozen times in the last couple of years and have been continually amazed by its variety, its surprises, its seasonal beauty, the vigour of its spirit, the rigour of its restoration and the dedicated discipline of its workforce.  Its magic lies, I think, in the unusual combination of man-made structures with both tamed and untamed nature.  The last thing it needed was some slack TV team making a twee, toothless travesty of a nature programme about it.

Natural World: Heligan – Secrets of a Lost Garden (no secrets were revealed) was soft-focus, slow-motion and hugely overextended (its hour’s content could have been contained in a programme a third of its length).  It did Heligan no service and, a few episodes of mildly interesting visuals aside (mating toads, seaweed gathering), added nothing to existing widespread knowledge of the place nor of the lives of the few animal species upon which it set its blinkered gaze.

When you go to the Hide, for example, you’ll see Heligan’s own films of its wildlife that knock spots off the BBC’s.  The programme’s music tracks were almost uniformly distracting and inappropriate, with the saccharine tone of the spoken commentary seemingly about to break into the phrase “This is not just Heligan.  This is Your Heligan”.  And who is it with two brain cells who can’t see through the ludicrously anthropomorphised text and visuals concerning the death of a young fox or the Great Spotted Woodpeckers, which we were supposed to believe might be laying a few extra eggs especially so that Nice Mr Grey Squirrel could have a few?  Surely the world and the rest of the BBC have long moved on from (the inimitable) Beatrix Potter when it comes to discussing wildlife.  Not even the coverage of the restoration of Heligan came anywhere near adequate.  It was just plain lazy.

So, if you haven’t already been to Heligan, go soon, no matter what the weather, walk the grounds and reclaim its history and marvel at its living character.  You’ll find it an infinitely more intense, real and fascinating experience than this low-grade gift-shop souvenir would have you believe.

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