Being met in the hallway of one of the nation's most unique stately homes by the chatelaine is something of a treat.
Port Eliot is a mix of ancient monastic with remnants of tiled floors dating back to the 3rd century, 9th century foundations, 13th century windows, bit like ours really...windows done in 1996, floor laid in 1998 you know the sort of thing. In the 18th century Sir John Soane and Humphrey Repton arrived and the real fun began.
Why be dependent on the tides and have to arrive at your front door by boat when you can divert the estuary and create a park? Now by park, I mean park as in huge, stunning landscaped vista drawing the eye from tree to tree and on to the horizon as far as it can see.
The paintings are truly jaw-dropping in their importance and every one seemed to be by Sir Joshua Reynolds. I think the one which captured all our imaginations was that of Hester Booth dressed in harlequin who has been termed 'England's first ballerina.' Hester danced privately for both the Kings of England and of France and by various means (ie a daughter by the man behind the South Sea Bubble financial swindle) Hester brought great fortune to the Eliot family and they continued to prosper.
Imagine walking into your sitting room and saying 'That's a Van Dyke over the fireplace', Catherine St Germans can, in fact it's ten little Van Dyke's (and as if that wasn't enough the frame was made by Robert Lenkiewicz) and it is clear she adores everything about this house and so did I. As the 10th Earl says in his introduction to the most honest and informative guide book you will ever read (I was up until 2am reading it)
'Some might say Port Eliot is a tip; others may say it is a classic example of gilded decay.My wife and I love it as it is.'
It's not difficult to see why.
Even as I sat in a chair, leather worn bare, horsehair stuffing peeking out at me, that George Bernard Shaw had sat in,(there's a photo of him sitting in it ) in a real country house library housing some priceless books and even one called The Book of Dove Magic, I could sense the voices whispering from the walls. It was surreal. The atmosphere is wonderfully benign and tangible, it's all nurtured with love and completely cherished, this is a house that just feels as honest as the day is long when you walk inside.
Like our house, nothing has ever been thrown away.
The difference is Port Eliot is vast, 11 staircases, 15 back doors, and 82 chimneys and half an acre of roof which has never knowingly been watertight in its entire history so there's plenty of room to store it all and every day is yielding new discoveries.
We loved the museum standard Louis 14th Boule ormulu-mounted brass inlaid armoire in the Morning Room, far too precious too touch you'd think, but no, we could stroke it and what a joy to see it houses the family's collection of vinyl records.
Everything is lived in and loved and has the patina of a million fingerprints that nothing could ever achieve but time and daily use, and now in the light of my visit, I'm completely reappraising our Wilton rug.
It measures a mere 14ft by 10 ft but it was old when it was given too us and already going threadbare. I love it but for years I have juggled it round to hide the fast-growing loss of pattern and exposure of weave.
Threadbare is excellent and I'm now quite keen for it to move into the actual hole-in-the-rug phase which for some reason I had been dreading.
This is the Port Eliot look and I've realised, forget new immaculate, this is the look that all the best, most loved homes should emulate.
I haven't even told you about my trip to the loo or Justine's talk on Daphne yet, and you'll have to forgive me because I have to dash back for a slap-up Rebecca style cream tea in the rhododendron gardens, a look at the du Maurier archive exhibition, a better look around the house, a chat with Anne from Bookends in Fowey who will be there and I must gather some more reassuring tips on the Port Eliot look which I think we are some way to achieving though unwittingly.
Tonight can you believe it, we will be drinking Daphnes, a Nigella Lawson cocktail concocted for the evening, plus a trip around the basements and a Michael Howells haunting. Michael is the resident designer of Ballet Rambert and set designer for John Galliano, Christian Dior and Mario Testino...can you even begin to imagine what lies in wait?
If you are anywhere near or even distant, you've still got time to get there and I can guarantee your journey will not be wasted. Ring 01503-230211 to check ticket availability, say dovegreyreader and you will be transformed into a student and pay student rates accordingly.