31 July 1998

WORLD OF A DIFFERENCE IN CORNWALL

An imaginative mix of adventure, nature and

innovative technology await visitors who take the long

and winding Cornish lane to Peter Joness farm

attraction, as Tessa Gates discovered

FARMERS son Peter Jones has a vivid imagination which he has put to great use creating a diversification on the family farm deep in the Cornish countryside at St Thomas, near Launceston.

The aptly named Hidden Valley Nature World is a place both adults and children can enjoy.

"I want everyone to have a good time and enjoy the idea that they have to explore it and draw out its pleasures. If you keep people interested they will come back again and again," says Peter, who started the enterprise five years ago with little more than a wooden shed and a few cut-out characters. Now it has smart tea rooms and a range of attractions that stimulate, amuse and educate, spread over 6.5ha (16 acres) of the farms 106ha (262acres).

Visitors can tackle the Great Jones Adventure which starts inside Creepy Cottage – a cottage furnished in the period of the 1830s-40s and complete with sound and lighting effects, all Peters own work. The adventure consists of solving clues and these and the plot are changed regularly.

When Farmlife called you had to find out the fate of the lady seamstress who inhabited Creepy Cottage and the clues led adventurers round the Hidden Valley collecting answers which resulted in a number. This had to be dialled on the phone in the red telephone box outside the cottage which, if your addition was up to scratch, connected you to a recorded message providing the location of the final clue and the solution to the mystery.

For children, the Scavenger Trail is great fun. Each child gets a bag and a list of a dozen items to find as they go round a nature trail – things such as a piece of sheeps wool, an empty snail shell, a Scots pine needle. "It is the simplest but most popular thing because children love collecting," says Peter. They also love climbing and he has constructed some super play equipment and even a tin mine, complete with dripping ceiling and wagon rails, for them to explore.

Fascinating to all ages are the environmental exhibits. A fountain and a waterfall, powered by a solar panel, burst into life every time the sun glints between the scudding clouds. Wind power is explained simply – a boon to tourists who see the huge turbines of the wind farms that are now a feature of Cornwalls landscape. A wormery proves irresistible to children, who love to plunge their hands into the muck heap to find the wriggling compost makers.

While the worms recycle apple pulp, like the much bigger wormery in the walled garden of the main farm, litter is recycled with the help of visitors. "We do not have litter bins we have mushrooms," says Peter, pointing out the colourful fungi-shaped bins. "We have separate ones for paper, plastic and metal and the kids love them and look round for something to put into them."

No farm attraction is complete without some animals and the Hickory Farm area has a friendly selection including pot-bellied pigs which will sit when offered a piece of bread. A collection of exotic waterfowl is also kept.

Peters parents, Graham and Catherine, keep sheep and beef and grow linseed, oil seed rape, wheat and barley. They also let a house and granary and the coarse fishing on two stocked lakes at the farm.

"Hidden Valley Nature World grew out of the need to provide something for mums and children to do while the dads were fishing but now the Hidden Valley side is bigger," explains Peter, who has created it without any grants or help. It is a fascinating place and in a more accessible location would be packed day in and day out. However it is a long way down a single track lane and not that far from another open farm that has the benefit of a roadside location.

"We attract different people and I try not to tread on their feet but location and marketing are our problems although we learn a little more each year."

Hidden Valley Nature World is open daily from April to the end of Sept, 10.30am to 6pm. Entrance is adults £3, children £2.50 with discounts for groups.

"We attract families and people who appreciate nature and a bit of a challenge. I change things five or six times a year as the last thing I want is for visitors to say I have done that before. You have to have a good imagination for something like this or it goes dead," say Peter. " Luckily my imagination is untamed!" Inquiries (01566 86288).