Simply heaven in unspoilt Devon; with the delights of Castle Bovey and coastal walks on the doorstep, Magpie editor Georgina Heffernan walks off city stresses in the English countryside.
We swept through the gates to a sight of such grandeur; I couldn’t help a shiver of excitement. To our left, idled a vintage Rolls Royce; to the right, a troupe of prancing bloodhounds. And before us loomed the castle, all towers and cornices, and flags fluttering in the breeze.
Still open-mouthed, we were ushered inside to a vision of old-world opulence: sparkling chandeliers, art deco prints, and plush leather furnishings only missing Hercule Poirot turning the screws on a few shifty-eyed aristocrats. Such was our unforgettable entrance into Bovey Castle, set in 368 square miles of Dartmoor National Park in Devon in the southwest of England.
The castle was built for Viscount Hambledon, the heir to the WH Smith fortune, who took up residence in 1906. In the 1920s, it was turned into a hotel, however, as with the aristocracy, it fell into disrepair. It was a shadow of its former self when Peter de Savary spent millions restoring it to its past glories and beyond.
And glorious it now is, from its Edwardian gardens to the indoor pool and luxury spa. My 1920s-style boudoir had a view over the lakes and I felt transported to a bygone era as I stretched out on the double bed to the sounds of Billie Holiday.
Before a dinner of crab linguine and fresh scallops, we were treated to a wine tasting in the cellar; later we retired to the lounge to a duet of piano and crackling log fire.The castle is full of hidden nooks – there’s a ‘cigar cave’ full of Havanas and beaten-up armchairs. Kids will love the pool room, leaving mum to indulge in a treatment – or three – at the spa.
Most thrilling, however, is the daily display of falconry. Martin arrived wearing tweed knickerbockers and leather boots – looking every inch the country squire as he put his Harris hawk, barn owl and European eagle owl through their paces. It was spectacular to watch the hawk soar high above the castle and swoop at great speed at the lake below.
At noon, I packed my bags for Percy’s Hotel and organic farm in the charming hamlet of Virginstow. Sandwiched between Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor, this romantic getaway , opened in 1996 , has won acclaim for its exceptional, locally produced organic food. Tina Bricknell-Webb is the chef and creator-in-chief.
The farm teems with wildlife; the menu is a feast of home-reared lamb, eggs and pork. Tina has a litter of organic ‘Large Blacks’, pedigree pigs kept in dense woodland where they devour everything from birch nuts to fallen acorns, giving them a unique rich flavour.
She is evangelical about giving the livestock a stress-free existence, which she says helps to produce better meat. And it’s true – the produce tastes astounding. The textures are a world away from crate-reared, fast-matured supermarket food.
Tina runs cookery courses from her kitchen at the hotel and novices can try their hand under her expert direction.I’m a complete novice but under Tina’s guidance I produced a fish extravaganza that tasted just wonderful … now that’s a first.
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