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June 2010 - Pentillie

Dowsing an Evolving Estate

Pentillie Castle through the ages


As the Buddha is once reputed to have said ‘The only thing in life that can be guaranteed is change’. The house that has become Pentillie Castle is a classic example of the genre of the family residence in transition.


On an unexpectedly warm, dry Sunday morning in the Tamar Valley, a select group dowsers from Devon and Cornwall were given a very warm welcome by the current owners of Pentillie, Ted Coryton and his family. We were provided with some informative maps; we were asked to investigate some unresolved issues - and, in time-honoured fashion, the entourage set off in all directions.



The most obvious first target was to locate the position of the southern tower, which is shown on a plan drawn up for the 1809 reconfiguration of the site. However, no-one really knows if it was ever built. Some of us traced out a clearly dowsable outline of a structure, which seemed rather shorter and slimmer than the remaining northern tower. When Ted saw the results of our efforts, he took a few of us down into the subterranean realms of the castle to show us that what we had actually described - quite accurately I would tender – was the outline of the cellar under that part of the approach. We even had an internal dividing wall in precisely the right place. However, whether a tower once stood above this cellar . . . . Some progress, but must try harder!


Most of us took a healthy trek up to the Mausoleum, where James Tillie the flamboyant businessman, who was responsible for the 1689 version of the house, sat on a stone throne for two years after his death, but was eventually interred elsewhere. Despite the beautiful view, the site itself was energetically neutral, with just a couple of unrelated earth energy lines wandering past. Some of the group did however, set off in search of the final resting place of the late owner and confidently located a spot a few hundred metres to the south east of the structure, where two minor earth energy lines now cross.


On the way back, we investigated the ‘Ice House’ - allegedly where ice was gathered from ponds in the winter and stored for summer use. The small building dowsed as not having been built for that purpose and may rarely have been brought into service for that purpose. However, it does stand on top of a major water spiral and dowsed as having been used as a domestic well for some while from the 12th century onwards.


Of greater significance to the dowser was an investigation of the potential location of sacred sites in the grounds. In response to a request for information about the site of a ‘chapel’, we were led, somewhat incongruously, to a flat area next to the sawmill. Here, a small structure might once have stood, prior to mediaeval times, and may have been associated with the ecclesiastical settlement at St Germans.


A second spot, on the lawn near the modern car park, exhibited the trademark signature of concentric earth energy and water spirals - and a tangential line of consciousness - but subsequent makeovers had removed any physical evidence of previous religious or spiritual activity.


The third location was quite unexpected. Just across the road from the Bathing Hut is a beautifully stone-cut well or spring, complete with alcoves for lights or offerings and a secluded stone bench. The current well-head bears the crest of James Tillie, but the place itself dowsed as having hosted a stone structure from at least the 12th century and the excavated pool dated to at least the 3rd century. Substantial intersecting energy and water spirals encompass the site and the clear water dowsed as being quite drinkable at 8 on the scale of 1-10. Understandably, it had traces of impurity, but there was also a hint of white (in the Mager Wheel investigation), indicating that it may contain ‘holy’, or at least energetically-beneficial, water. As if to reinforce the point, a line of consciousness runs arrow straight down the Lime Avenue and takes much of the well into its ambit. I am not sure if this place has ever been recorded as a ‘Holy Well’ as such - and I would welcome the views of an authority on the subject.


On a related matter, one of our number had a rather strange experience, with his pendulum flying out of his hand, a little further east on that same line of consciousness. This was felt to be potentially attributable to the killing of a number of the estate’s horses at that point by the then owner, who was seeking to save them from facing a more gory death at the front in World War I.


Such is the interaction of construction and demolition phases that dating the main buildings themselves presented quite a challenge. We found the outline of the foundations of the southern wing, which accorded well with the 1809 plan. However, dowsing the construction of the older northern sections provided dates in the mid 15th century for the lower parts of the tower and in the 18th century for the upper sections, with later infill and restoration work.


Using a longer dowsing perspective, there appeared to have been a previous house on the site since the 11th century. On the lower terraces and the lawn below it, at least sixteen hut circles dating from the bronze and iron ages were easily dowsable, as was the site of an ancient well. This would have provided a benevolent, sheltered site with good woodland and river resources throughout the millennia - although successive garden landscaping has swept away any archaeological evidence of these previous inhabitants.


As something of a post-script, we traced the course of two water pipelines coming down from close to the ruined gatehouse - one of which followed the current access road, while the other tracked its way alongside the Rookery Walk before crossing the service road at an angle. Both ended up on the lawn in front of the house, where they may well join.


Many thanks to the Coryton family for making us welcome and for giving us the run of their estate for the day - and to Gordon Ratcliffe for setting up the event.


Nigel Twinn

Tamar Dowsers

June 2010

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