Anthea Gerrie discovers the wild side of Devon on a visit to Bovey Castle
First it was the unexpected sight of a foal on the road as we turned off the A30 onto the edge of Dartmoor approaching the hotel now known as Bovey Castle. The next day it was wild ponies running towards us and sheep with new-born lambs lining the lane crossing the national park which led south to our next stop at Dartmouth.
Bovey Castle lies within one of the most picturesque and fauna-populated areas of Devon, an extra attraction for visitors choosing an inland rather than a coastal stay in this prettiest of English counties. But the animal life spotted within the extensive grounds of the hotel during our stay was limited to a charming assortment of pooches and some very well-trained birds of prey
This resolutely old-fashioned pile, built as a home in 1907, has lived through many changes of ownership since becoming a Great Western railway hotel in 1930. It got its name from entrepreneur Peter de Savary, who bought it and refurbished it in 2003 and was sold twice more before becoming a member of the Eden Hotel Collection.
The house itself, which still retains the ambience of a grand but homely residence, is just the lynchpin of a full-scale resort. The Lodge – a collection of self-contained dwellings in lovely woodland leading down to the lake
behind the hotel – offers seclusion, privacy and ample romping space for large families, the challenging 18-hole championship golf course designed by the redoubtable JF Abercromby nearly a century ago is a draw for visiting as well as resident golfers, and for all guests there is a slew of activities on offer, including off-road driving, archery, air-rifle and clay pigeon shooting, horse-drawn carriage rides, fawn and ferret-feeding and regular appearances of those beautiful birds of prey put through their paces by an expert wrangler. The dog-friendly resort also fields tennis courts, a croquet lawn, putting green, spa, pool, steam room and sauna.
We stayed in the main hotel building in one of several rooms retaining their original Edwardian accoutrements but discreetly modernised to cater for 21st century needs. Our large bedroom, apparently a favourite with brides because of the huge full-length free-standing mirror, may have boasted a four-poster, but it also had a Nespresso machine. And while a huge pair of bathroom sinks were surely vintage early 20th century, no doubt with today’s honeymooners in mind the large walk-in shower had new twin rainfall heads. The bright, unusually spacious bathroom was also large enough to hold a free-standing vintage tub.
The bedroom was also pretty vast; it had room for a sofa, a long coffee table, cupboards containing catering equipment, a double wardrobe, and the large dog bed we brought with us because those provided by hotels are rarely large enough. We greatly appreciated the food and water bowls left in the room, the packet of treats and the roll of poop-bags, however.
We could have dined in the attractive Smiths Brasserie overlooking the grounds but were happy to try the Tasting Room which is a new addition to Bovey Castle’s dining facilities. A rarefied selection of innovative small dishes was served, along with a wine flight pairing some unusual bottles with each course.
A good breakfast was soured only by a waiter being unwilling at first to clear a table by the window when there were less appealing ones already set up in the gloomier bowels of the restaurant. Morgan, who looked after us in the Tasting Room and reappeared to supervise the breakfast service, swiftly put things right; just a shame he was the only member of staff to greet us with a cheery Good Morning when the previous day every member of staff encountered had been so warm and welcoming.
It was the after-experience which most gave us a desire to return to Bovey Castle, perhaps stationing ourselves in the adjacent Lodge. The road across Dartmoor brought wildlife into view within 10 minutes of leaving the hotel, and the views across this loveliest of national parks were spellbinding. There were impossibly pretty villages buried within the park as unexpected as the sheep and ponies; a trip into the moorland would make a fine day out for those staying two nights at the hotel. But given the compact run from north to south across the east of the county, the lovely harbour town of Dartmouth and excellent Dart craft centre near Totnes could easily be included in a day trip.
Tell Me More About Bovey Castle in Devon
Bovey Castle, Dartmoor National Park
North Bovey, Devon TQ13 8RE
T: 01647 445000
Double rooms from £325 B&B