The History of Pentewan Sands and Heligan Campsite


The History of Pentewan Sands and Heligan Campsite

One of Cornwall’s best-loved holiday parks is already making preparations when it will celebrate a major milestone anniversary after successfully establishing itself as a staple destination for holidaymakers visiting the south coast.

Family-owned Pentewan Sands first opened its doors almost three quarters of a century ago, with the five-star holiday park, based in an unbeatable location on its own, private beach overlooking Mevagissey Bay, due to mark its 75th anniversary in 2020.

The park’s sister site, the equally popular Heligan Caravan and Camping Park sited just a few miles away alongside the famous gardens in Heligan, is celebrating its own milestone anniversary this year, with the park reaching its 16th year of operation in 2019, after first opening in 2003.

Both venues are still owned by the same family which originally opened Pentewan Sands and have become well-established holiday parks in the UK over the years, beloved of guests who often return every year, with some regular visitors to Pentewan Sands having holidayed consecutively at the park for more than 30 years.

John Tremayne Willis, Owner and Director of both Pentewan Sands Holiday Park and Heligan Caravan and Camping Park, said:

“Both sites have been part of our family for almost three-quarters of a century, and, for us, that’s the draw. We are an independent, family-owned business, and our parks have a huge focus on being family-friendly, where everyone is welcome. I think that’s why people return time and time again, year after year, wanting to spend a summer with us in our own slice of paradise.

“Pentewan and Heligan are both in stunning locations, completely individual, offering something that little bit different for guests visiting Cornwall.”

Located between St Austell and Mevagissey, Pentewan was once home to a thriving harbour. The harbour fell into decline during the 1940s however, and a decision was made to transform the beautiful Pentewan Sands into a holiday destination.

The park was the brainchild of Air Marshal Sir John Tremayne, his World War One air force observer Sir Victor Sasson and submariner Cecil Malleson VC. Incorporated on 5 April 1945, the trio set out to welcome holidaymakers to their paradise by the sea and the holiday park opened later that year.

Situated on a privately-owned beach with unparalleled views of the beautiful Mevagissey Bay, it isn’t hard to see why Pentewan Sands was an instant success.

Almost 75 years on, the five-star holiday park is still under the ownership of the Tremayne/Willis family, relatives of the original founder Sir John Tremayne.

And the park has gone from strength to strength thanks to ongoing investment in continually expanding and updating the first-class facilities on site and ensuring the peaceful, unspoilt park enjoys a relaxed, family-friendly focus.

Today Pentewan Sands offers more than 400 pitches for tents, caravans or motorhomes, and 131 modern holiday homes which are available to rent each year, including new flagship home Antibes which replaces The Lookout. In 2019, the park added another wheelchair-friendly holiday home to its offering.

Many are booked in advance by the park’s long-standing regular visitors – Pentewan enjoys 79 per cent of repeat and recommended visitor bookings year on year, with a long waiting list for peak dates in school holidays.

One couple, Shirl and Merv Randall from Churchdown, Gloucestershire, have been visiting Pentewan Sands Holiday Park for 37 years.

Shirl said:

“Even on our very first visit to Pentewan Sands 37 years ago it was a beautiful place to holiday, but since then, the site facilities have grown so much, and it all makes our holidays very enjoyable.

“All the staff are incredibly pleasant, helpful and very accommodating. The static caravans are very modern and comfortable and the touring pitches are large and level. Best of all, we have made many friends who return every year. Pentewan Sands is like the magnet of the West Country and it just draws you back again and again.”

The Burston family from Wellington are also long-term visitors to the park and have been staying at Pentewan for almost 30 years.

Glenda Burston said:

“All of the staff from those in the office through to the workmen and cleaners on site, are really friendly and helpful and that’s a large part of the appeal for us. Over the years, we have made some really good friends through coming to Pentewan, who we see year in and year out, and that makes it very special.

“Having a holiday park like this, with its own fantastic beach, has kept enticing us back to this part of Cornwall over the past 29 years. All our family has grown up loving Pentewan Sands as much as we do and we all look forward to coming down every summer.”

Judith Coyle and her family, from Pontllanfraith in Wales, are also frequent visitors to the park, returning time and time again to visit Pentewan Sands.

Judith said:

“We have been coming to Pentewan Sands for 25 years. The park just gets under your skin, and you are drawn to visit it at every opportunity. We are on the third generation of our family who have holidayed here at Pentewan Sands, and we all love coming. Our family memories here are simply the best!”

As well as its privately-owned glorious mile and half long beach, Pentewan Sands’ appeal includes its strong watersports offer – holidaymakers can hire kayaks and paddleboards from the watersports centre by the beach. There is also cycle hire available for those wanting to explore further afield, tennis courts, and the South West Coastal Footpath crosses right through the park perimeter.

Families flock to Pentewan year after year to enjoy the peaceful beachside surroundings, but there is plenty to keep the kids entertained in all weathers too, with an outdoor play park on the beach and excellent facilities at The Seahorse leisure centre, a state-of-the-art clubhouse which boasts two large indoor swimming pools, a 200-seat restaurant and entertainment area, a soft-play centre, a modern arcade and a large exterior balcony overlooking the beach.

Other on-site facilities include a fish and chip shop, a small supermarket, and a branch of the popular Cornish burger chain HUBBOX, which opens from a beach venue each season.

Testament to the hard work and ongoing investment in facilities and service levels, the park was awarded a 5 Star accolade from Quality in Tourism and scored an impressive 96% in a recent report from Visit England, The AA, Quality Assessment Scheme. This year, Pentewan Sands Holiday Park were finalists in the Cornwall Tourism Awards, taking home a Silver in the Access and Inclusivity Award category and a Bronze in the Holiday Park of the Year category.  In 2016 and 2017, it also earned a Silver Tourism Award in Cornwall and South West levels.

There are 34 members of staff employed all year round, increasing to over 120 in peak season, and Pentewan Sands supports the local community in nearby St Austell and Mevagissey by providing seasonal work.

Just a couple of miles down the road from Pentewan Sands lies the park’s picturesque sister site, the five-star Heligan Caravan and Camping Park.

Heligan is slightly quieter than Pentewan but benefits enormously from its position situated right next door to the famous Lost Gardens of Heligan. The park has actually been owned by the Tremayne family for more than 400 years, as the land on which it now resides was part of the original Heligan estate.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan were consigned to history, having been lost for decades, until it was rediscovered thanks to a chance discovery in 1990. A long restoration enabled these 200 acres of magnificent gardens, ancient woodlands and rare wildlife to become firmly acknowledged as one of the finest garden sites in Cornwall today.

The land on which the holiday park now sits originally formed the driveway to the Heligan estate and the area was put aside for accommodation use during the restoration.

Following a stint as an owner-occupied caravan site, the decision was made in 2003 to set up a quality camping and caravan park for those couples and families looking for an especially quiet, relaxing break in beautiful surroundings.

The site began with a handful of pitches and initially opened for the short summer season. Experiencing rapid growth, it’s now open for 11 months of the year and boasts 90 touring and camping pitches and 18 beautiful, modern holiday homes.

On site, there is a well-stocked shop and a children’s play area. Plans for a brand new amenity block complete with a dog shower, laundrette and drying room for campers, are also underway. The new block is due to open in late spring 2020.

Heligan’s appeal is its simplicity and peace however, with no clubhouse or on-site entertainment facilities – holidaymakers can use The Seahorse facilities at Pentewan if required – making the park an appealing destination for campers looking to get back to nature and escape noisy entertainments. It’s also dog-friendly, and welcomes a large number of holidaymakers keen to caravan or camp with the pet pooch in tow. The flagship holiday home, Caerhays, is now completely dog friendly.

The park has grown year on year, and, in 2019, retained its five-star rating from Quality in Tourism. It also scored 94% from Visit England, The AA, Quality Assessment Scheme.

As at Pentewan, the site is still owned and run by the Tremayne/Willis family, descendants of the original owners of the Heligan estate, and a team of hardworking, dedicated employees are employed on site.

Embracing the park’s rich heritage, a skilled in-house gardener maintains the beautiful natural environment of Heligan for present and future generations.

Sandra and Andy Frith are Head Wardens at Heligan Caravan and Camping Park. Sandra said:

“All of the team at Heligan love working here because it’s such a beautiful place to come to work; we enjoy coming in every single day.

“We are a friendly team here, and we like to make sure we do all we can to make our guests’ visits as enjoyable as possible.

“Heligan also offers real peace and tranquillity in a truly stunning location – we think that is why the park continues to grow and flourish.”

The future

The owners of both parks are continuing to invest in facilities and amenities as they prepare to celebrate both of the upcoming anniversaries.

Already in 2019, Pentewan Sands has opened a brand new, top-of-the-range amenities block; a refurbished laundrette; four modern new family-friendly beachfront cabins, and a fully-accessible holiday home especially designed for wheelchair users.

Over the past two years, the park has also purchased 32 new static caravans and upgraded existing models to keep replenishing and modernising.

Heligan too has sought to continually improve, and the team has refurbished the reception and shop; installed eight new static caravans, including a fully-accessible model; continued refurbishment of all its older caravan models, and installed a new and improved play area in response to growth in the family market.

For 2020, Heligan are excited to announce the construction of a brand new amenity block, complete with a drying room and dog shower!

Both sites have update the online booking portal which allows guests to pay for their holiday completely online, make booking a stay at either park much more efficient. Both are also continuing to become more sustainable and environmentally-friendly.

Pentewan Sands Holiday Park and Heligan Caravan and Camping Park are firm fixtures along the stunning south Cornish coast and with visitors returning again and again, it looks like they will stay that way for a very long time to come.