Pentillie Castle was built by Sir James Tillie in 1698 – a man so vain and arrogant he bought his own knighthood from James II for the princely sum of £10,000 and had a statue of himself erected in front of his manor house.
The Coryton family, who married into the Tillies, inherited the estate and commanding views of the River Tamar in the late 1780s and have owned and managed the place ever since.
What was originally a tower was expanded and transformed throughout the ages, with the final works of the Victorian era creating what the castle and garden are today.
The castle fell into disrepair until Ted and Sarah Coryton inherited the place in the late Nineties from a cousin.
A military and civilian helicopter pilot who worked on oil projects all over Africa and the Middle East, in places too remote to access by roads, Ted was originally brought in to help Jeffrey Coryton run the estate in the mid-Nineties.
“I didn’t know how to farm,” he said. “I enrolled in a course at Seale-Hayne College near Newton Abbot but while I was on the course Jeffrey died and we ended up with the estate. Until the mid-Nineties I had never actually come to Pentillie in my life.”
Ted, who fully inherited the castle in 2007, sat the whole family down one Christmas Eve and asked them what they wanted to do with Pentillie.
“We could have sold the place up I suppose but it would have been whimsical to do so when the estate had been in our family for 300 years,” he said.
“We would have had to pay £5 million in inheritance tax and it would have been and gone and we would have been none the wiser. So to avoid having to pay this massive bill we created a business.”
Ted, Sarah and their daughter Sammie – their other two children are not involved in the business – decided to turn the castle into a luxurious wedding venue.
But to achieve the high-quality service they wanted to offer guests, the listed castle had to be brought up to modern standards. Nine bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms were created along with two more attic rooms.
The electrics and heating had to be redone and the building was made to comply with fire regulations – in all the family invested close to £2 million in dragging Pentillie into the 21st century.
“I hate Airbnb,” said Ted. “No one complies with any regulations and they don’t pay anything in business rates when I do.”
While the 1,500-acre estate continues to be farmed by tenant farmers, the main income generator is the wedding venue business and five-star B&B accommodation and has remained the case for ten years or so.
Sammie, who owns the business and runs it with her parents, said: “Going down the luxury wedding venue route was the easiest thing to market for Pentillie.
“Most of our guests have a connection to Cornwall. The estate is fabulous and the couple and their guests have the sole run of the place to themselves while our staff are there for them to make sure they have the best time ever.”
With most wedding bookings eating up three days of the week, it became apparent that going down the B&B route would generate further income for the estate. Pentillie employs between 14 and 20 staff at different times of the year.
“We’re successful because we’re still here,” said Ted. “People said we would go under within three years. But we’re very much still standing.”
Sammie added: “Our guests love being here. We consistently receive amazing reviews from our visitors, many of whom come back again and again.
“There is something special here. People love to experience the Pentillie magic. It’s like a home from home and more for our guests.
“Having said that, we can’t afford to live here, which is why we live off the estate. It may as well be an experience for other people.”
Not pitching themselves as a ‘wedding factory’ is also keeping the magic alive and the experience unique for guests too.
“We only do 25 weddings a year,” said Sammie. “We offer great customer service and the whole space inside and out is yours for the duration of your wedding.
“Pentillie is such a beautiful place but we’ve made sure there is not a bin or solar farm in sight so it makes for very Instagrammable weddings.”
In 2008, when the restoration work was in full swing, the plasterer involved in the work scratched a message in the fresh plaster in memory of the British soldiers who had lost their lives in the recent Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
Sammie said: “We realised through talking to him that he was a former Royal Marine and was suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). We offered him a stay at Pentillie, which is something we have been doing with other veterans ever since.”
Working with Armed Forces charities such as Help For Heroes, Pentillie now closes down twice a year for a week at a time so veterans can stay and find respite, solace and the space they need to breathe and clear their minds.
At first the Corytons helped organise ‘very macho things’ like biking, archery or kayaking, but this has evolved into more mindful and relaxing activities over the years, such as arts classes or yoga, which is what veterans, including women and older people, prefer.
“The feedback we have received has been tremendous,” said Ted. “One veteran wrote to us to say that staying at Pentillie had saved his life.
“We have a successful wedding business so we can close the estate down for two weeks to do these things for veterans.”
At the time the restoration work was under way, the estate enjoyed its first glimpse of TV glory with an appearance on the first season of Country House Rescue in December 2009.
The stately home has since acted as a backdrop for all three seasons of Sky One’s Delicious, with Dawn French, and has also featured in German TV adaptations of Rosamunde Pilcher’s romance books.
Appearing on TV shows like Delicious has helped the business with a 25% jump in demand.
Dawn French also stayed at Pentillie while filming ITV’s Glass Houses nearby, with many guests bumping into the actress in the corridors or at breakfast.
“We closed the estate for several weeks in the summer to facilitate the filming of Delicious,” said Sammie. “It wasn’t to some of our returning guests’ liking but it’s been a boon for the business.
“Dawn was incredibly generous in every sense, with our staff, the crews, our other guests. She was so unselfish.”
About 65% of guests are British, with Germans, Australians, Americans and Scandinavians forming the bulk of the foreign visitors.
Pentillie has been a popular hangout for celebrities, especially with artists playing at the Port Eliot Festival down the road.
Over the years the estate has also hosted Land Rover Defender days to which drivers come to rip it up around some of the tracks on the estate.
Every summer it also holds what has now been nicknamed Pengrillie – a barbecue festival with some 1,000 people attending.
“We have a lot of ideas for the future,” said Sammie. “But at the end of the day the house has to make money for all the other things to happen.
“One thing Pentillie is not though is Heligan. We have a nice garden, but if you come to Pentillie to see a lesser-spotted camellia or whatever, you will be disappointed. This is not what we are about.
“One thing we’re not about either is a wedding factory doing 120 weddings a year. That won’t change.”