Plymouth Through the Looking Glass

by amsterdam

If you enjoyed Tim Burton’s recent 'Alice in Wonderland' film then head for Antony House, on the outskirts of Plymouth, for your own trip down the rabbit’s hole

Thanks to its lavish 3D effects, Alice in Wonderland is now the fifth highest grossing film of all time, however many of the live action scenes were shot over ten days at Antony House (Torpoint, Cornwall, PL11 2QA, TEL: 01752 812191, Adult £7.50, child £4.80, family £19.80).

What to see

The Grade I listed house was built in 1724 for Sir William Carew, but in 1961 the family gave the house and gardens to the National Trust ( on the condition they could still live there.  On arrival visitors are greeted by a giant statue of Absolum, the talking and smoking caterpillar voiced in the film by Alan Rickman. This is part of the Alice Experience running throughout the year to commemorate (and no doubt profit) from the house's role in the film. So in the garden lookout for sculptures and installations inspired by the books and film. See if you can find the Cheshire cat or spot the White Rabbit who seems to be late for an important date.

The grand country house and gardens were chosen by Tim Burton from a list of over 30 properties and many of the film's scenes were shot inside the house - such as Alice’s bedroom and the library. Useful placards describe which rooms were used and how they were adapted to make practical film sets. Of course there is plenty of non-film related stuff to see such as the home's original 18th century furnishings and many paintings - the highlight being a portrait of Charles I at his trial for treason.

The gardens were also extensively used for shooting many of the outdoor scenes such as Lord Ascot's party. The maze-like Summer Garden and huge gnarled oak tree on the main lawn provided the perfect set for Burton’s unique fantasy style. The 28 acre garden was designed in 1792 in consultation with the famous Georgian landscaper Humphry Repton and each generation of family has added their own features. Waiting to be discovered are manicured lawns, splendid terraces, sculptures, a Japanese pond and knot garden, the National Collection of Daylilies and many exotic trees and plants.

If you are taking children there is a Mad Hatter's Tea Party every weekend to keep them entertained. But sadly for all those adult fans no Johnny Depp, who never made it to Antony House as all his scenes were filmed in the studio. The house is 5 miles west of Plymouth city centre and the easiest and most entertaining route is via the Torpoint car Ferry (free from Plymouth, £1.50 from Torpoint) across the river Tamar.

Where to eat

For your own afternoon tea party (or lunch) Devon has some of the finest produce in the UK and few places harness this better then the Cafe at the Riverford Farm Shop at Kitley (Yealmpton, Plymouth, PL8 2LT, TEL: 01752 880925, A 20 minute drive east from Plymouth city centre, the cafe is surrounded by green valleys on the border of Dartmoor. Famous for their organic vegetable boxes this laid back open plan cafe provides excellent well priced pies, soups, pastries and cakes with the emphasis on good quality local organic ingredients.

The delicious scotch eggs and crab tarts are superb and a generous side salad can be added for a measly pound - a refreshing change from the four pounds you can pay in many restaurants for a small bowl of sad wilting leaves. But make sure you leave room for one of the homemade cakes (walnut, carrot or lemon and poppy seed to name but a few) the chunky slabs are enough for a mad hatter, hare and dormouse. Lunch, cake and a drink shouldn’t set you back more than £10.

Where to drink

Featured recently on James May and Oz Clarke’s recent series Drink to Britain the Plymouth Gin Distillery (60 Southside Street, Plymouth, PL1 2LQ, should definitely be on your port of call. Situated in the old harbour area known as the Barbican the building dates back to 1431 and gin has been produced on site here since 1793 to the same recipe. Like champagne, Plymouth Gin has geographical protection and can only be produced within the city’s ancient walls.

The excellent 40 minute tour (£6) gives you an entertaining insight into the history and distilling process and most importantly some tastings. Find out what makes Plymouth Gin the Rolls Royce of gins and why the navy had 57% proof gin! The tour also includes a gin and tonic in the trendy timber framed cocktail bar. Reputedly this former monastery is where the puritanical Pilgrim Fathers had their last meal in 1620 before setting sail abroad the Mayflower and settling in America - it’s unlikely they would approve of its current incarnation. If you fancy following their footsteps there is a very 21st century alternative on site, a celebrity chef brasserie, The Barbican Kitchen (Tel: 01752 604448, run by the Tanner Brothers of Ready, Steady Cook fame.

Where to stay

If you’ve ever fancied staying in one of those log cabins in the great outdoors featured in countless Hollywood films then try Yealm Cabins (Sunridge Nurseries, Worston, Yealmpton, Plymouth, PL8 2LN - from £50 per night). Overlooking the beautiful Yealm Valley, 8 miles outside Plymouth, in a postcard setting the cabin has bundles of character and all the mod cons. There is a bedroom, large lounge with TV, DVD and Hi-Fi, cooking stove and shower. It’s the ideal spot for a barbeque and chilled wine whilst watching the sun set over the Devon landscape.

But if you fancy yourself as A-list Hollywood royalty then try the apartment used by Tim Burton and wife Helena Bonham Carter - Staying Cool @ Royal William Yard (8 Royal William Yard, Plymouth, PL1 3QQ). Overlooking Plymouth Hoe and the Barbican the Grade I listing building dates back to 1828 and boasts 2 bedrooms, a 100ft lounge and a 12ft marble dining table. Sadly you’ll need an A list salary at a cool £500 per night, although you may be able to get a late deal.


Born in London, but living in Bristol, I became interested in travel as a student at Southampton University where I saw an advert to study abroad for a year. I jumped at the chance and spent 1997 as a fresh faced 21 year old studying European History and Politics at the Universiteit van Amsterdam. Having enjoyed immensely the buzz, nightlife and museums of Amsterdam, and meeting other students from around the globe I was inspired to see more of the world.