Cotehele stands just on the Cornwall side of the river Tamar that forms the boundary with Devon. The estate was the ancient seat of the Edgcumbes, but by the 18th century it was a secondary residence, with the family preferring nearby Mount Edgcumbe, overlooking Plymouth Sound. On high ground above the house at Cotehele stands this solitary three-sided tower, of which little seems to be known. No inscriptions give even a hint of its history.
In the middle of the 18th century the area around Dunston was unenclosed heath, and travel was a dirty and dangerous business, especially in the dark winter months. Sir Francis Dashwood (1708-1781), 2nd baronet, of West Wycombe and Hell-fire Club fame, came into property in the area when he married Sarah Ellys of nearby Nocton in 1745. Dashwood erected the Dunston Pillar in 1751 as a beacon to guide ‘the peasant, the wayfaring stranger, and the horseman with his dame on pillion’.