Afternoon sun blazes on Pentillie Castle’s terrace above the sinuous river Tamar. Scores of cars ease up the drive. Ruth Watson would be proud.
When TV’s former Hotel Inspector turned her attention from hapless hoteliers to grand houses (and their often eccentric owners), in Channel 4’s Country House Rescue series, Pentillie’s new occupants, Sarah and Ted Coryton, were only too keen to trade privacy for cameras and Watson’s no-nonsense business strategies for saving their country pile.
Today’s “cream tea and open-house” is a headline-catcher – just the sort of stunt Ruth Watson loves her mentorees to pull. The event is for 185 sexagenarian “Pentillie Babies” who have the castle on their birth certificate. It was requisitioned, you see, in 1941, as an emergency maternity hospital, when Plymouth was under attack from the Luftwaffe. Today’s crowd, now balancing bone china and scones among the peacocks in the garden, contacted the Corytons after the programme fanfared Pentillie’s new dawn as a B&B and wedding venue, and the idea of a reunion was born.
Sarah and Ted had barely been permitted entry to Pentillie before they inherited it from a reclusive elderly relative in 2007. Now, after refurbishment, they – and daughter Sammie – have thrown open its doors.
The castle was built in 1698 by James Tillie (whose wealthy wife’s first husband died in suspicious circumstances). Tillie decreed that on his own death, his body be displayed in a mausoleum until resurrection (within two years, he reckoned). Faced with ghoulish decomposition (rather than the predicted second coming), the spooked servants took matters into their own hands, but never recorded the whereabouts of his buried remains.
The estate then passed to the Coryton family. In 1809 they hired Humphry Repton, the great landscape designer. His Red Book (so-called for the bindings Repton used for watercolour before-and-after plans) is still in the Corytons’ possession, his legacy low-walled terracing, a lime avenue – possibly the original drive – and gloriously enhanced vistas.
Painted an exuberant cantaloupe shade (against Ruth’s advice) the crenellated exterior seems humanised and humourised. Indoors it is filled with paintings, many by Sarah’s grandfather, writer and English impressionist Wynford Dewhurst. The drawing room is welcoming, and bedrooms hotel standard: sink-into carpet, ditto the bed, modern bathrooms (Christy towels, irresistibly fragrant Cath Collins bath products).
I love the quiet decor – a contentious issue during filming, fuelling ratings-boosting verbal combat between Ruth and Sarah. I’m glad Sarah didn’t go down the contemporary route she was urged to take – it dates faster than you can say inheritance tax and the interior of a historic house must sit right with the characters who inhabit it.
Characters they are. Saturday night’s dinner (guests and the Corytons around the dining table) comes with an amuse bouche of tales of the cold-shouldering and disowning which pepper the family history. Ted and Sarah make eating with strangers easy. The food – crab and aioli with cold summer vegetables, ragout of Cornish lemon sole with pinot, butter and basil, Tamar strawberries – is delicious.
“The castle is part of Cornwall,” says Ted, before I depart. The excited melee of Pentillie Babies seems to agree.
Don’t miss A walk to the stone-mullioned bathing hut and riverside “beach”.
• St Mellion, Saltash, Cornwall (01579 350044, pentillie.co.uk). From £120-£165 per night, B&B. There is 10% off two-night midweek bookings until end August for Guardian readers. Dinner £25 per head.
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