Pen­til­lie Cas­tle SHOOT

Take a size­able acreage on the tidal River Ta­mar, sprin­kled with deep wooded val­leys, strong fly­ing pheas­ants and a small cas­tle, and you have all the in­gre­di­ents of a Cor­nish gem you have to see to be­lieve. CORN­WALL

Shooting Gazette - - On the shoot - WORDS: JOHN WALKER PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: FARLAP PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

The 2,500-acre Pen­til­lie Cas­tle Es­tate in the parish of St. Mel­lion is what re­mains of a 20,000-acre hold­ing once ex­tend­ing from the south east of Ply­mouth to the out­skirts of Liskeard in the west. The es­tate is owned and man­aged with some style by Ted and Sarah Co­ry­ton, whose fam­ily has oc­cu­pied the land for more than 230 years. The Co­ry­tons have al­ways been in­volved in the coun­try sport­ing world, one fore­bear be­ing an en­thu­si­as­tic hunt­ing man and re­spected Mas­ter of the Dart­moor fox­hounds, with oth­ers en­joy­ing pheas­ant shoot­ing, which had been taken pri­vately on the es­tate for more than 100 years.

All that changed around 30 years ago when Pen­til­lie’s chate­laine, not be­ing a sport­ing lady her­self, agreed to let the shoot­ing to Tony Kennedy. Pre­sid­ing over the Bis­ley Gun­room for many years, Kennedy is the doyen of the be­spoke Ital­ian gun trade, rep­re­sent­ing the in­ter­ests of Piotti, Fab­bri and Ber­tuzzi in the UK with an in­ter­est­ing side­line in cus­tomised Berettas. Hav­ing sold his re­tail busi­ness to Wil­liam Evans, he had re­cently re­lo­cated to Corn­wall where he con­tin­ued, and con­tin­ues, to rep­re­sent the Ital­ians.

By now as fa­mil­iar in Launce­s­ton as Gar­done Val Trompia, it is his hand that has largely shaped the shoot­ing at Pen­til­lie over three decades. It there­fore seemed ap­pro­pri­ate that it was Tony who hosted a rov­ing syn­di­cate from the Home Coun­ties and a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor from Swe­den dur­ing a Jan­uary day among the tall timber and plashy marshes be­side the River Ta­mar.

The res­i­dent keeper for the past 10 years has been the im­mensely ex­pe­ri­enced David Lo­vatt, who joined Kennedy at Pen­til­lie from Tony Ball when he sur­ren­dered the Up Cerne shoot, hav­ing pre­vi­ously keep­ered for Ge­orge Crouch at Bury Hill. He’s there­fore a man who has seen it all, and the es­tate works well for his style of man­age­ment.

“This land rises in one ma­jor val­ley with smaller off­shoots on the marshes to around 200 me­tres on the downs, but most of our shoot­ing is be­low the 150-me­tre con­tour. We shoot around 50 days a sea­son, of which all but 10 are on the main ground, with shoot days av­er­ag­ing around 250-300 birds. Us­ing all the val­leys gives me ac­cess to around 20 drives and I could

“Tony Kennedy is the doyen of the be­spoke Ital­ian gun trade, rep­re­sent­ing Piotti and Fab­bri, with a side­line in cus­tomised Berettas.”

run three or four days suc­ces­sively with­out du­pli­ca­tion,” said David.

Sur­pris­ingly, the an­nual rain­fall av­er­age comes in at a mod­est 550mm, but there is plenty of spring-fed ground wa­ter and feeder streams to the es­tu­ary in all the val­leys, though there is no or­gan­ised wild­fowl­ing or other shoot­ing on the tidal reach. Un­der­ly­ing soil is clay loam, the five ten­ant farms have mixed graz­ing to sup­port live­stock and around 60 acres of cover crop, in­clud­ing lin­seed, kale and quinoa.

The Co­ry­tons have trans­formed the cas­tle in their 10 years of oc­cu­pa­tion and cater su­perbly for shoot­ing groups, who ef­fec­tively take over the place as a house party. So it was that on a toe-tin­glingly frosty Jan­uary morn­ing, in bright sun­shine and with pre­cious lit­tle wind, the team made their way past the es­tu­ary fore­shore to peg out on Bit­tle­ford – a heav­ily shaded, long and flat val­ley floor run­ning back to the river, with sun-dap­pled leaf­strewn drives ris­ing among stands of tall fir di­ag­o­nally on each side.

With any sem­blance of wind the birds would have been ex­pected to cover the line, but on this cold, still morn­ing their flight line favoured the pegs in the wood­land drive to the right. Though there were some good birds seen and dealt with

by the guns on the cen­tre and left flank, they were mostly spec­ta­tors and the drive con­cluded with a rea­son­able num­ber of pheas­ant in the cart, gath­ered ef­fi­ciently by the eight pick­ers-up and their en­thu­si­as­tic dogs. Kennedy made the point that in this heav­ily wooded ter­ri­tory, with much un­der­growth, his team had to work their dogs through­out the drives to avoid los­ing some of the fallen birds and ob­vi­ously, run­ners.

Blindwell had guns pegged out in an ‘L’ shape on a track sit­u­ated within the gloom of the fir wood. By now the sun was beam­ing down – low and from the left. The 15 beat­ers worked the cover crop and wood­land well to pro­duce a steady flow of em­i­nently shootable birds which, be­cause of the dis­po­si­tion of pegs, gave those on the left flank flight lines from ahead and over­head, while the right flankers en­joyed a suc­ces­sion of very quick birds jink­ing their way down the ride among the tree­tops.

The team dealt with them very well and re­tired to a wooded glade to take their elevenses and, in the break from pro­ceed­ings, Kennedy ex­panded on the shoot that he has made his own.

“I have very good re­la­tions with the ten­ant farm­ers and par­tic­u­larly the own­ers, who ap­pre­ci­ate what their keeper and I are try­ing to achieve. Over­all, I let around 40 days ex­ter­nally and run the rest for the home syn­di­cate and fam­ily. We get a high per­cent­age of re­peat book­ings from teams all over the world, par­tic­u­larly Amer­ica.

Blindwell is one of the es­tate sig­na­tures in the later part of the sea­son when the leaf is lost, but most of our drives are in val­leys be­tween blocks of wood­land so the guns need to be on their game. That’s what makes this ground so chal­leng­ing.”

To un­der­line the Amer­i­can in­ter­ests, the team were joined by Kennedy reg­u­lar Jack Cheatham, vis­it­ing from Vir­ginia. Suit­ably re­fu­elled, they made their way to Brents Wood, and pegged amongst reed beds on marshy ground

“Most of our drives are in val­leys be­tween blocks of wood­land so the guns need to be on their game.”

fac­ing a for­mi­da­ble grassy bank topped by a stand of timber over which the birds flushed.

With the sun in their eyes and no wind to take on, the early birds rose ma­jes­ti­cally from their flush­ing point, but then dropped to fol­low the con­tours or took the side exit over the left flank. The birds that did take it on were high-class and tax­ing, and with spent shot rat­tling on the icy marsh, it was clear that on a bet­ter day, the pre­sen­ta­tion would have left no one in any doubt of their dif­fi­culty – but shoot­ing game birds is cer­tainly not a pre­cise sci­ence.

Af­ter lunch in the cas­tle and with the tem­per­a­ture drop­ping again, the team ven­tured back into the fray on the epony­mous Marsh. Guns pegged in a ra­dius with their backs to the reeds and fac­ing a sub­stan­tial wooded bank where the beat­ers be­gan their work to the far right of the line, bring­ing the birds from above and along the wood to al­low them to flush pro­gres­sively as they en­coun­tered the guns. It was an in­di­ca­tion of the prox­im­ity of the river that the drive was ac­com­pa­nied by the in­sis­tent friendly sound of the ebbing tide gur­gling along the car­ri­ers im­me­di­ately astern of the line.

Most con­sis­tent ac­tion here was on the right, but by this time in the sea­son, the re­main­ing pheas­ants, of which there was no ob­vi­ous short­age, were both wily and re­sent­ful. With no wind to fight or drive them, the brighter ones flit­ted and flirted along the tree­tops, frus­trat­ingly just out of range, be­fore curl­ing back to­wards the near­est pen. Those of lesser in­tel­li­gence made their way di­rectly over the guns in the hope of reach­ing the pas­ture on the other side of the marsh. Many of them didn’t and the sound of wet and muddy labradors and spaniels squelch­ing through the un­der­growth to pick up be­came a fa­mil­iar sound.

Pen­til­lie Cas­tle Es­tate – an­cient and mod­ern

Corn­wall has a strong culi­nary her­itage and not just for the pasty. How­ever, those with a yen for this clas­sic lo­cal del­i­cacy are in luck –the Hel­luva shop, close to the es­tate en­trance, is a pur­veyor of some of the best tid­die og­gies to be had west of the Ta­mar. Cli­mat­i­cally, this county is one of the sun­ni­est ar­eas of the UK and ex­treme tem­per­a­tures and weather events are rare, but this Jan­uary day il­lus­trated perfectly the va­garies of shoot­ing later in the sea­son when the weather is not al­ways help­ful.

There is some­thing im­mensely re­as­sur­ing about shoot­ing an es­tate that has been as­so­ci­ated with one fam­ily for sev­eral gen­er­a­tions. It could be the per­ma­nence, the prove­nance, the un­der­stated seam­less­ness of the whole op­er­a­tion, the un­der­ly­ing knowl­edge of the hold­ing or the bet­ter-thanaver­age coun­try house stand­ing foursquare within its cur­tilage. But what­ever it is, Pen­til­lie has it in spades. In truth, the story of the es­tate and its fam­ily own­ers has mea­sures of flam­boy­ance, ec­cen­tric­ity and con­vo­lu­tion that might use­fully form the ba­sis of a Jef­fery Archer novel.

Knighted in 1687 by King James II, James Til­lie had made his way up the lo­cal landown­ing peck­ing or­der in a spec­tac­u­lar, if pos­si­bly ques­tion­able fash­ion, sashay­ing seam­lessly from land agent on Sir John Co­ry­ton’s neigh­bour­ing New­ton Fer­rers Es­tate to pro­pi­tiously mar­ry­ing his em­ployer’s widow on his un­timely demise and ac­quir­ing the en­tire land hold­ing now known as Pen­til­lie. The re­cently en­no­bled Sir James was minded to build him­self a small cas­tle on the west­ern bank of the tidal Ta­mar, which was as flam­boy­ant as the man him­self.

Clearly in the be­lief he should try and take his new­found as­sets

“With the sun in their eyes and no wind to take on, the early birds rose ma­jes­ti­cally from their flush­ing point, but then dropped to fol­low the con­tours or take a side exit.”

with him when he died in 1713, his Will in­structed that his body should be dressed in his finest clothes, se­cured to a comfy chair and sur­rounded by his favourite books, wines and pipes, be­fore be­ing placed in a build­ing on the high­est point of the es­tate to gently de­com­pose whilst con­tin­u­ing to over­see his land – ec­cen­tric, to say the least.

Be­ing with­out an heir, the es­tate was be­queathed to a nephew who promptly changed his name to Til­lie and oc­cu­pied the cas­tle, sub­se­quently leav­ing it to his grand­daugh­ter. The neigh­bour­ing Co­ry­ton Es­tate of New­ton Fer­rers had also passed to a male cousin who changed his name to Co­ry­ton, be­fore the two fam­i­lies were joined in mar­riage.

The scale of their com­bined land hold­ing was im­pres­sive by any stan­dards, for by the early part of the 19th cen­tury, it cov­ered 20,000 acres of the Ta­mar Val­ley. Humphrey Rep­ton was re­tained to land­scape the grounds and re-model the cas­tle and by 1810, the ar­chi­tect, Wil­liam Wilkins, whose Gothic flair when de­sign­ing the Na­tional Gallery was widely ad­mired, had re­built the orig­i­nal house and added three wings, 18 bed­rooms, but only one bath­room.

The es­tate re­mained in the Co­ry­ton fam­ily for two cen­turies and in 1965, with the fab­ric of the ram­bling build­ing in bad re­pair, the new in­cum­bents, Jef­fery and Kit, re­moved the later ad­di­tions to the house to make it more man­age­able and pos­si­bly more com­fort­able. Their land agent was a cousin, Ted Spencer, and on Jef­fery’s un­ex­pected death in 1980, Ted’s role changed. Be­fore she with­drew into the con­fines of the cas­tle, where she spent the rest of her life as a recluse, the griev­ing widow made him heir to the en­tire es­tate on the con­di­tion that he changed his name to Co­ry­ton, which he did.

Fol­low­ing an ex­ten­sive ren­o­va­tion, which Sarah Co­ry­ton over­sees with ev­i­dent style, Pen­til­lie is now a gen­teel manor house that is the cen­tre of the re­gen­er­a­tion of the es­tate and the per­fect base for shoot­ing par­ties.

Head­keeper David Lo­vatt has been in his post for 10 years, coming over from Bury Hill and Up Cerne.

Shoot ten­ant Tony Kennedy has been at Pen­til­lie for 30 years.

Digby Flower ex­er­cis­ing his back on Marsh.

Four of the eight in­valu­able pick­ers-up and their en­thu­si­as­tic dogs who are so im­por­tant to the smooth run­ning of the days at Pen­til­lie.

One picker-up added a touch of flair to her shoot-day wardrobe.

John Richards col­lects more birds for the bag.

Ste­fan Ni­co­laidis has shot reg­u­larly with this syn­di­cate, but was see­ing the high Pen­til­lie birds for the first time.

Lun­cheon was taken in the cas­tle.

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