The Armstrong's Celebrate 45 Years At The Headland

Celebrating 45 years of family ownership

In 1979, John and Carolyn Armstrong bought the iconic Victorian hotel, rescuing it from decades of decline and disrepair. The couple embarked on what has become an ongoing labour of love to restore The Headland’s amazing architectural heritage and invest in turning it into an informal, five-star, family-run destination hotel.

Forty-five years and more than £50m later The Headland has been transformed from a dilapidated building to a multi-award-winning destination hotel, complete with 86 five-star bedrooms, a five-bubble-rated spa, a six-pool AquaClub, and four restaurants, including the stunning new RenMor, with, arguably, the best sea views in Cornwall. To celebrate this milestone, we sat down with Carolyn Armstrong to find out more about the family’s enduring love affair with The Headland and to get a glimpse behind the scenes of one of the South West’s finest hotels.

What is your earliest memory of The Headland?

When I was 10 years old, I attended my friend Susan Davey’s birthday party which was held in The Ballroom and I remember looking down towards a gloomy Fistral Beach, from the little bay window near the stage.

We also had our engagement lunch at The Headland with my late mother and father-in-law and the Whittington family.

What inspired/persuaded you to buy The Headland in the first place?

The Headland was about to be sold, and as John is the third-generation Cornish hotelier in the family, we thought it was in the perfect position to own a hotel in Cornwall.

What are you most proud of?

Preserving the heritage of The Headland - We rescued a building in dire need of fixing and we continue to invest in it.

We are always humbled by guests and team members’ stories of their experiences at The Headland.

We achieved a number of firsts for a Cornish business and inspired others to follow suit – Investors In People accreditation is one example. We have always offered proper training and development and have been a year-round employer in hospitality.

What was the toughest part of transforming and running The Headland?

Dealing with the age of the building which is an ongoing project. The roof was leaking and one gentleman’s Lobb shoes were ruined by the water overnight when he put them out for polishing by the night porter – and he was on the second floor!

Who has been your nicest guest?

I couldn’t choose just one, so many are so charming and appreciative. I am always very touched when families bring someone back for their last visit or ask to spread their ashes here. We also like the guests who sympathise when we had our ‘Fawlty Towers’ moments in the early days!

What would be your advice to other potential hoteliers?

It was so much easier to run the business when we bought it, far less legislation and red tape. I would definitely advise having experience in running a business before buying a hotel and have working capital available – we had none.

What has changed most about the industry in that time?

Technology and how we operate as a result. There has also been a big change in guest expectations.

Which is your favourite part of the hotel and why?

The Front Hall – whenever I am there, I will meet someone I know locally or some of our guests from over the decades and I love to chat to them.

Are you excited about The Headland’s future?

Yes – because of the way we look after the building and the business, we are always ready, especially when times are hard. We keep investing and moving forward, and always ready for the good times!

I think it’s the personal touch which makes it a special place and now we have family members still involved to carry on the ethos.

Tell us something no one else knows about The Headland

I don’t have any secrets about The Headland, I love to share all of its amazing stories with everyone, except for when we have a famous person staying on a private visit – and that stays private!