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
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.
Four of the eight invaluable pickers-up and their enthusiastic dogs who are so important to the smooth running of the days at Pentillie.
Digby Flower exercising his back on Marsh.
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.
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.