Most people who know me know I love the great outdoors and expansive coastlines and I have a penchant for country manor houses - especially those with a relaxing spa and an abundance of oversized sofas that invite you to curl up with a good book and glass of red, post outdoor adventure, of course.
After my recent visit to the breathtaking Isle of Anglesey in North Wales for the Zest Life retreat, a trip East to the northern coastline of Devon seemed like the perfect next step in my exploration of the wonderful UK isle.
The vibe and location
Located in North Devon, Highbullen Hotel is the ideal base for exploring Exmoor and beyond. Dating back to 1879, this contemporary manor house set within a sprawling 127-acre estate boasts magnificent views across the Mole Valley and Exmoor National Park. Exceptionally inviting, this classic country manor offers sumptuous living quarters and a relaxed atmosphere combined with modern luxuries, making it the ideal place for a much needed respite, and when ready, the perfect spot to explore North Devon.
The country house lobby offers classically decorated drawing rooms off the main hall and invites you to drop your bags at the front desk and sprint to find your best viewing spot.
The main building, a Victorian Arts and Craft manor house, is home to 12 beautiful bedrooms, all individually decorated with their own charm. The spectacular award-winning Loft Suite comes complete with its own steam room and infrared sauna, while a further 30 bedrooms can be found throughout the Estate in The Courtyard, Gardener’s Row, Golf View and Stable Cottage. Highbullen also offers four luxurious self-catering cottages.
It’s the little touches that make each room welcoming; the classic William Morris style fabrics, beautiful floral and old English styled rooms, very super comfy beds, with a higher than normal level, definitely made me feel like a princess in a castle; a room with a view. Each room has tea and coffee making facilities and bright airy bathrooms with ample space to indulge in those well needed self-spa moments; a lovely hot bubble bath while enjoying cosmetic minis from The White Company. There was even a spot to carefully rest my iPad and catch up on Netflix - bliss.
The spa and leisure centre at Highbullen Hotel is a dream, especially in the warmer months, which provide plenty of possibilities to enjoy the outdoors. A short walk from the main house, facilities include seven all-weather tennis courts, an outdoor swimming pool and an 18-hole golf course set in a wooded parkland. Indoors, guests can make use of a 20-metre indoor swimming pool with a sauna, steam-room and Jacuzzi.
Highbullen Hotel has partnered with leading skincare brand, ELEMIS to offer a wide range of wonderful spa treatments. I indulged in the pool, steam and sauna before enjoying a great ELEMIS collagen facial, hoping to erase some of the years! It was a very calming, enjoyable treatment, so much so I almost fell asleep and needless to say, my skin felt exceptional for a few days afterwards. I will definitely be diving into one of those treatments again very soon.
Food and Drink
There are plenty of dining options at Highbullen. Formal dining takes place in the 2 AA Rosette Devon View Restaurant, under the careful watch of head chef Stephen Walker. The elegant dining room features floor-to-ceiling windows, granting spectacular panoramic views. The menu showcases seasonal and local produce with a modern British theme across all dishes. An extensive wine list offers wines from the old and new worlds and staff can suggest wine pairings. We enjoyed a night in the restaurant and dined on the a la carte menu and enjoyed a delicious selection of courses. The chef served up an amuse-bouche of tomato soup, with snippets of coriander, a burst of flavours and rich tomato flavour and creativity point of view. We followed this with a choice of steak, and local Hake with spring green risotto, served with care and consideration; an impressive bouquet of flavours
Highbullen recently opened Laura Ashley The Tea Room. Designed in the distinctive Laura Ashley style, the room accommodates 74 covers, providing guests with unrivalled views bringing together the quintessence of England: the timelessness of afternoon tea, elegant country living and one of the most iconic English brands. This space is converted into The Supper Room between 6pm and 10pm daily. The casual dining menu here includes a wide style of dining options that will entice everyone including; ‘small plates and sharing platters’ priced from £4.50, ‘big eats’ priced from £12.50, ‘pizza and pasta’ priced from £11.00, ‘salads’ and ‘desserts’ priced from £6.50.
We enjoyed the Champagne Afternoon Tea, I requested a gluten free option and it was exceptionally a like for like with my dining partners non-gluten free option and the staff were very accommodating.
The Local Area
Highbullen Hotel’s location in North Devon is the ideal base for exploring Exmoor and beyond. The walks in this area are particularly spectacular in the warmer months when the sun sets later in the day, allowing more time to discover this magical part of Devon.
Travelling further afield
With the coastal resort of Ilfracombe only a short drive away, we recommend a trip to see the old Victorian bathing tunnels and beaches, the Damien Hirst Verity statue or indulge in some real Devon ice cream from Hockings; a local family run business, of course after a classic paper-wrapped portion of fish and chips. And if you are in the car, take the coastal road on to Croyde, a route that's not be missed for some of the best views of the coastline.
There is an intimate green charm to walks around Exmoor. The Moors also provide plenty of myth and legend to explore. But walking here is a joy and walkers will encounter subtle blends of prehistoric past and wilderness present. Highbullen can provide written and mapped walk details for 6 walks local to the hotel.
With its exceptional location, this hotel may be suited for the traveller with a penchant for classic country comfort teamed with adventure for the outdoors.
Bed and Breakfast is priced from £110 per room per night
A luxury stately home for hire in Devon that will make you feel like a lady or lord of the manor...
It was a chilly weekend in March when we trundled out of Paddington station down to Tiverton Parkway to spend a weekend at Huntsham Court, a glorious award-winning Baronial Mansion situated in the rolling Devon countryside on the borders of Exmoor National Park.
Now celebrating her 150th birthday, Huntsham has been given a new lease of life by her latest owners who have filled the property with stunning home furnishings and art, as well as personality and lashings of love. Restoring it to its former glory could have been no mean feat and yet the house feels as though it could have been in its current welcoming state forever.
With 35 bedrooms sleeping up to 85 people, it makes an ideal event venue, however, this isn’t your usual party pad. Although it’s packed with period character and oozing sophistication from every nook and cranny, it is essentially the ultimate home away from home (though potentially slightly larger than your actual home) … With weekend and weekday bookings available, guests can choose to go completely self-catered or opt for the fully staffed silver service with staff being as hands-on or hands-off as you please, meaning it’s perfectly possible to have the run of the house and play host for the weekend (i.e. pretend it is actually yours). What’s more, the owners have carefully handpicked a network of local suppliers in the years they’ve been there, so whether you’re looking for a catered curry night for a weekend with friends, or a full-on wedding banquet for 130 people with flowers, entertainment, activities, hair and make-up or on-site spa treatments, it can be all be arranged, though of course clients can (and do) also bring their own trusted suppliers.
Upon arrival our bags were whisked upstairs and as I swept down the staircase bedecked in black-tie finery with a glass of champagne in hand on my way to join fellow guests for a celebratory dinner to mark 150 years, it’s easy to see why I fell in love with this grand dame of country houses.
The spectacular dinner catered by Peter Mundy was the perfect opportunity to show off the Tapestry Dining Room to its full potential; sparkling under the light of dozens of candles, parties like that are what the room was meant for. We cavorted into the wee hours, indulging in piano-side singalongs and barricading ourselves into the Snug Bar as one by one the house’s guests tiptoed off to bed, those remaining wanting to squeeze every last moment of magic out of our weekend in this marvelous house.
For such a gargantuan property it’s incredibly cosy; from the roaring log fires to the library full of boxes, the shelves stacked with board games to the all-day help-yourself butler’s pantry fully stocked with snacks, it’s begging to welcome you at the turn of every door handle.
Each of the 35 bedrooms has its own distinct personality, from sumptuous Victorian-style rooms on the first floors, resplendent with romantic four poster beds, roll top bathtubs and views out across the five-acre private gardens, to spacious rooms in the attic with their own special homely touches. There’s even a dormitory-style space in the eaves, with a row of beds just begging for a party of bridesmaids or a gaggle of teens to throw a slumber party up there. One can only imagine the fun that would be had filling such a property with friends and family for a special occasion.
It’s impossible to be bored at Huntsham Court, even when spending an afternoon indoors. Whether curling up on the Snug Bar sofa watching the rugby, G&T in hand with the Saturday papers, pouring over the plentiful tomes in the library, nailing your rivals at chess or tinkling the ivories of the Great Hall’s baby grand, there’s more than enough to keep guests entertained.
Local entertainment - Clay pigeon shooting at the Shaldon Shooting School
The morning after our arrival, we enjoyed a hearty cooked breakfast buffet in the extraordinary Tapestry Dining Room and with bellies full, we prepared for a day of clay pigeon shooting. With snow forecasted for the day, we wrapped up warm in all the layers we could find and headed to the Shaldon Shooting School, one of several local activities the Huntsham Court team are able to arrange for you and your guests. Fun as it was busting some clays (and narrowly missing a pheasant) we were relieved when they called time on our efforts, given the mercury continued to plummet while the snow pelted down in flurries.
Enjoy a spot of lunch in Bampton
If you can pry yourself away from the house, head to the nearby village of Bampton. Here you’ll find The Ginger Peanut, a local restaurant with rooms from chef Peter Mundy, which is striving to become the best restaurant in Devon. The Ginger Peanut may be small but it’s dishes are big on taste, with every dish focusing on fine, locally-sourced ingredients served in a relaxed restaurant. With an enviable wine list and an impressive offering of gins it would be all too easy to while away an evening stuffing oneself silly with Peter’s mouthwatering fare before retiring upstairs to one’s chambers.
During our visit we dined on a veritable feast, a shared platter of starters boasting a sumptuous deep fried poached duck egg with pancetta; baby fennel and butter dressing; Portuguese-style pan-fried sardines with crispy shallots; ham hock ballotine with pickled carrots; Welsh rarebit toasts and curried dressing and a beetroot salad with candied walnuts; blue cheese mousse and balsamic dressing. My chosen main of a potato gnocchi filled with pesto, wild mushrooms, sun blush tomatoes, courgettes and white wine was a hearty bowl of comfort - just the ticket given the weather outside. The appreciative sounds emanating from every corner of the dining room however would imply that the pan-fried venison loin, rump of lamb, fillet of sea trout and 28 day matured Himalayan salt-aged rib eyes were all deemed more than satisfactory also.
This is a house that’s built for entertaining, a place that manages to feel both grand and lavish while also incredibly cosy and welcoming; I imagine even when packed to the rafters with guests it still wouldn’t feel imposing. There is a wealth of options when it comes to booking dependent on how many rooms you want and the level of board, but with prices akin to a three-star B&B for what is a five-star experience like no other with the chance to be your own Lord or Lady of the manor, Huntsham Court should be top of your list.
Prices from £127 pp per night (based on full hire of all 35 bedrooms for a two-night midweek dry hire).
A summary of our stay at Huntsham Court
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