Travel: Why Devon is great for a UK break this autumn
Adam Jacot de Boinod
- Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
People understandably travel for miles to delight in the harsh wilderness that is Dartmoor and equally in the softer drama of Exmoor.
But don’t be surprised that in the area between these two moors and untrammelled by travellers is a wonderful patchwork of rolling hills, of glorious farmland dotted with quaint villages, in the true heart of Devon.
For it was here, refreshingly a mere ten minutes off the M5 motorway, that was my first port of call at The Hartnoll Hotel.
It’s a member of Heavenly Devon Hotels and a mile north of Tiverton at Bolham, one of those lovely sleepy characterful rustic villages.
Here I only had to cross the road to set off up designated footpaths to the top of a hill to feast my eye down over a gorgeous panoramic view of the hills above the Exe valley.
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The hotel is perfect for weddings with services performed beneath a special pagoda, with choice seats scattered around the grounds for photographs, with a large playful metal sculpture of a leaping frog beside the stream and a long ancient vegetable garden wall framing the spacious lawn.
The interior felt joyously expansive with lots of light and height.
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The public rooms had a lovely use of rich colours and velvet textures to evoke a heart-warming ambiance in which to sit back and be wined and dined.
The decor in my room was tasteful and luxuriating with stylish and funky furnishings, all the mod-cons and a bed with one of those extra-firm, supportive mattresses.
The restaurant is extremely popular and where people come from far and wide for a celebration or anniversary.
Families gather in the afternoon in the sitting room for cream tea.
Fine dining in the evening is housed in a beautiful large conservatory offering an indoors-outdoors feel.
The food is excellent, the staff attentive and fun and the vibe is great.
And if that’s not enough there’s a spa in which to be pampered.
I enjoyed choosing from the thoughtful menu from local suppliers for its wine, ale, meat, fisheries, coffee, dairy and forest produce.
My locally-reared steak was delicious as was of course my (perhaps from farther afield) mango and rum pannacotta.
The next day I walked back across the same road and up to Knightshayes Court, a National Trust Victorian country house with the most exquisite of gardens: half-landscaped, half-wild. Beautifully kept and full of nooks and crannies for perfect seclusion.
But soon it was time to move on to enjoy the contrast of some self-catering accommodation 20 minutes down the road and just outside Witheridge.
My home was part of Sykes Holiday Cottages and is set in rolling green fields seemingly in the middle of nowhere.
I was welcomed by the sight of a preserved barn, harmonious stone outhouses and an impressive metal statue of a stag as a centrepiece in the driveway.
The farm is home to three holiday cottages: Tembridge House, which can sleep eight and Lower and Upper Red Down which can sleep four and was where I stayed.
What an absolutely divine little getaway and hideaway.
Serenity, peace and quiet.
Just the right size to feel homely and cosy.
So clean and pristine it felt like I was the first person to stay there and it possesses an upbeat, cheerful vibe.
Inside the open-plan living area, there’s a wood-burning stove and tasteful pictures on the wall depicting local natural spots.
The blues and grey hues of the walls blend harmoniously and the tasteful furniture allowed my time here to be effortless not to mention motionless as a result of the welcome pack with its homemade sponge cake.
I had four fabulous nights’ sleep here, cradled beneath a skylight in true silence, snug amongst my plush Egyptian white sheets.
The doors open up to an outside patio perfect for my breakfast and where I communed with nature, with the most stunning of uninterrupted views of a quilt of hills across the valley to the village of Witheridge where, for a local escape from cooking at home, I popped into the Two Moors Gallery and Café (www.twomoorsgallery.com).
It’s very obviously the heart and soul of the village, where ladies who lunch and walkers rest their feet: a hidden treasure for travellers.
There’s even an indoor pink art gallery with cheerful paintings by local artists and a fair-trade store with nick-nacks from around the world.
I loved sitting in the outdoor patio to tuck into my broccoli and pea soup followed by my veggie burger chatting away to all and sundry.
But there was also much for me to explore locally: such is the joy of rural Mid Devon with her Two Moors Way, the Tarr Steps of Exmoor and the market town of South Molton with its Pannier Market, quaint tea rooms and antiques shops in which to rummage around and lose myself.
Out on the moors it’s certainly breathtaking, gorgeous and varied.
The hills roll, the valleys swoop down and the moss-backed trees and neatly-trimmed hedgerows all boast an ancient history of their own.
Curly trees stand alongside tall, straight conifers as they resemble a Tolkein landscape of the mystic and the mythical.
The colours are synchronised with green pastures, yellow gorse and blue sea and sky, with the brown heather turning purple in the summer.
And there’s certainly theatre as I watched the day transform one morning from the mist covering the top of the moors to its dispersal when I descended into the valleys for the sun to shine and the landscape to emerge.
For here I heard the music of the dawn chorus and bleating lambs, the sheep dogs and farm machinery and above all the mesmeric trickle of the streams as they evolve into rivulets and then rivers, collecting the proceeds of other streams on their route.
A 20-minute drive west from Witheridge down wiggly lanes and I was in the real heart of Devon.
I stretched my head above the hedges to see the savanna-like expanse of ten of miles to the edges of Dartmoor.
I descended upon Old Malt Scoop Inn in Lapford Bridge (phone 01363 83330).
It’s a lovely characterful Inn and popular with the locals which is always a good sign.
Tempted by a hot smoked salmon fillet I chose, as a starter, some asparagus spears followed by a wonderful chicken breast wrapped in spinach and parma ham.
There was also much on offer for vegetarians.
The staff are very friendly, operating in this stripped-back stone wall interior around a neutral grey colour within the three cosy rooms.
The grand atmospheric roaring fire acts as a centrepiece behind two large leather Chesterfield chairs with a “let’s eat and be merry” sign above.
But the plaque I really enjoyed was above the alcove next to it stating: “The man who says it can’t be done shouldn’t interrupt the woman doing it”!
A timeless truth from the middle of nowhere.
Plan your trip
Rooms at the Hartnoll Hotel cost £140 per night, devonhotels.com
Seven nights at Upper Red Down costs £506, sykescottages.co.uk