Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

Emma Rubach faced a month of tofu and soya. Was she hungry for more?

The regular barrage of doom-laden environmental stories can often make the most optimistic green's heart sink. It's a shame that news must usually be bad before it becomes news, because there are so many positive environmental initiatives springing up around the country with very little fanfare.

One such is the stunning green transformation of the Trelowarren estate in Cornwall, whose dramatic history goes back to the Iron Age. Owned by the same family since 1427, the estate consists of 1,000 acres of unspoilt pasture leading down to the Helford River. There are rococo gardens designed by Dionysus Williams, acres of woodland plus the Halliggye Fogou, a mysterious neolithic chamber.

It's all very Daphne du Maurier, so it comes as no surprise to learn she was a family friend who regularly stayed at Trelowarren, which was the inspiration behind Frenchman's Creek.

However, history doesn't bring in a cash flow and when the estate was inherited by the trepidatious Sir Ferrers Vyvyan, in 1995, the place had fallen into disrepair and was completely bankrupt.

Fortunately Sir Ferrers is an enthusiastic environmentalist and quickly began the Herculean task of creating a sustainable tourist business with the aim of reviving the local community and saving the estate. His darkest hour came when he was chopping firewood and delivering it to the local post office just for a daily cash flow.

Trelowarren is now a green holiday idyll with the hotel, holiday cottages, swimming pool, restaurant and estate receiving all their heating and hot water from a huge carbon-neutral woodchip boiler fired up with chippings from the estate's own coppiced woodland and waste wood from a local sawmill.

The estate has installed rainwater-harvesting systems and is self-sufficient in water. We arrived by train and were even met by a taxi firm which runs on biodiesel made with waste cooking oil.

During our stay we had a guided tour with Sir Ferrers. Striding through the mud, faithful hound at his side, I was quite undone by the swirling mists, wild flowers and eerie silence. It was just the sort of place for an otherworldly encounter for which Cornwall is so famous.

"Have you seen a ghost?" I asked, hopefully.

"I don't do ghosts or God," thundered the Lord of the Manor, stalking past the family chapel (so Brideshead Revisited!) before fading into the Celtic gloom. I'm not sure I believe him, but the trouble with ghosts is everyone knows someone who's seen one, but nobody has actually seen one themselves.

Now Sir Ferrers has got his own place shipshape I'm thinking he's just the chap to mastermind my own eco-conversion, which I keep putting off. I've a much smaller estate just four rooms, in fact, and I have no neolithic chamber. I do, however, have Peter Jones, the Mother Ship, within sabre-tossing distance, which in the London smog can also appear mysterious in its own way. Here's hoping.