Maybe Agatha Christie missed a trick. Sat gloriously high on a ridge between Dartmoor and Exmoor, bordered by the Rivers Mole and Taw, sits Highbullen, a Victorian Gothic house made for a murder mystery.
Those steep gabled roofs, those deep porches and those dark-shadow-throwing-arches are just waiting to whisper, “The Lady with the pearls did it …” Back in Agatha’s day, Highbullen boasted a viewing gallery giving views to Lundy Island and beyond.
Since 1879, Highbullen has been the classic country house, a tribute to the Arts and Craft Movement, exquisitely remote from whatever the contemporary century happened to be: idyllically isolated in 127 acres of huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ territory. Down below, on the River Mole, the hotel still has two private beats for angling if you fancy hooking a salmon. Legend has it, that after poaching a 45lb salmon, a local lad rolled the fish home in a milk churn to escape detection.
In the 1960s, still without electricity and gas, Highbullen became a hotel. As they retired to bed, guests were given a candle numbered for their bedroom. Somehow, next morning, guests did not always return the same numbered candle …
Despite the shenanigans (or perhaps because of the shenanigans?) the hotel began to attract the great and the good, including the former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing and the supermodel Elle Macpherson, though probably not at the same time.
Sir Lawrence Oliver loved Highbullen Hotel, sometimes sneaking behind the bar to surprise guests by playing an impromptu role as barmen. Relishing Devonian peace, he wrote portions of his memoirs in what is now the grandiose Olivier Suite. For a ground floor suite, misty early morning views of sepulchral oaks and the Mole Valley are ridiculously magical.
Today, Highbullen has become an all year round holiday resort. Visitors can park up for days and weeks on end. Indoor and outdoor pools, a well-equipped gym, an Elemis spa, an 18 hole golf course, 7 outdoor tennis courts, a games simulator, a billiards room and those private fishing rights along the River Mole keep everyone busy.
There’s accommodation for all tastes. In the Manor House, there are feature rooms with vast four-poster beds, crystal chandeliers, restful wingback chairs and spacious bathrooms. For those preferring contemporary decor the luxurious Loft Suite, which won an award for its designer, has earthy tones brightened with flashes of gold soft-furnishings. As well as a lounge, a sauna for two and a steam room, the main living space is open plan bathroom/bedroom. And then there’s luxury 5* self-catering accommodation available too. One apartment even has an Aga for extreme self-caterers.
A Devon stay isn’t a Devon stay without a cream tea. The Laura Ashley tearoom, complete with the Laura Ashley decor of curtains, cutlery, crockery and wallpaper serves Champagne Afternoon Tea and Savoury Afternoon Tea both including classic scones, cream and strawberry jam.
Once Highbullen had developed its cellars into an innovative restaurant it attracted some big names. Delia Smith, looking for West Country inspiration, was an early visitor. More recently, Mary Berry has enjoyed the food and panoramic vista at the AA 2 Rosette Devon View restaurant. The menu changes daily to take advantage of the best of the fish landed that day. Even though the seasons change lookout for local beef, pork and lamb. Vegans and vegetarians are well cared for with an entire page of options.
Although desserts are tempting it’s hard to resist a menu of ten cheeses including some organic choices too: Cornish Smuggler, Fosseway Fleece, Sharpham Brie, Gunstone Goat and more.
Ultimately, Highbullen Hotel is about location and escaping. It’s way down there in the West Country, past Exeter, just a dozen miles short of Barnstaple. Highbullen is country living, 127 acres for rest and recreation, pleasure and play. Spectacular views across the Devon landscape for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. A slice of Devon life for dog walkers, golfers, anglers and everyone.
Tell Me More About Highbullen Hotel
Highbullen Hotel, Chittlehamholt Umberleigh EX37 9HD
T: 01769 540561
Rooms, including breakfast, from around £100