Hazel McHaffie

Childhood revisited

Wow! What a weekend.

I’m one of six children, and we grew up in an idyllic setting in Cornwall, a mile from a main road, six miles from shops, surrounded by the magnificent scenery of the Tamar Valley.Tamar ValleyOur father was head gardener at Pentillie Castle and we lived a quarter of a mile from the castle itself in this cottage …The cottageIn time we six all grew up and moved away, and Dad retired. The male owner died, the widow became a recluse and closed the estate to everyone (including the heir, Ted Coryton) for decades, the beautiful gardens went to rack and ruin. It’s a long and painful story, but suffice to say, the latest generation of Corytons eventually inherited a crumbling dysfunctional property and massive death duties.the entrance to the estateSerious questions as to viability followed, but eventually the family applied themselves with energy and vision to the task of reclaiming the estate, and converting the castle into a rather posh B&B, so successfully indeed that it has won several prestigious awards. And it was this same castle that formed the focal point for our family reunion this weekend … well, perhaps ‘same’ isn’t quite the right word. When we were children it looked like this: The castle of my childhoodToday it looks like this:The castle todayThe original plan was to get the six of us together, plus any other family who cared to join in. We would wallow in nostalgia and marvel at the changes since our day. And here we are doing just that on the terrace wall – totally out of bounds in our day! (That’s me second from left.)The original sixIn the event, 43 of us gathered, all immediate family of the original six.The whole clanThe sun shone the entire day, perfect for retracing our childhood steps along the avenues of trees that still take my breath away …Lime Walkdown to the old boat house …The old Boathousethrough the fields where we scampered as kids …Fields behind the cottageup to the mausoleum where Sir James Tillie was allegedly placed in his leather chair to await the resurrection – so the story went. His remains were excavated only this year, so removing the air of mystery and intrigue along with the overgrowth of brambles, ivy and ferns.

The MausoleumWe were trained to creep past the castle, speaking only in whispers, and I wove many a story in my head of strange goings on behind those massive doors and battlements. It felt decidedly weird this week to walk in the front door, roam freely through its corridors, lunch in the dining room …The Dining room set for our partyand even sleep in the Tillie room with its palatial ensuite …The Tillie room ensuiteIs there perhaps a new, more adult novel waiting to be written about Pentillie? Or even a series?!

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