A Taste of Times Gone By on the Devon Moorlands
Bovey Castle is a Splendid Sanctuary on Dartmoor
Review by Lara Protheroe
Sweeping up the drive to Bovey Castle, I was surprised and impressed by the looming, dark granite building. It certainly has a presence and imposing character in keeping with its striking and slightly bleak location. A valet in long socks and tweed awaited us in the grand entranceway. Surely the only more fitting greeting at such a place might have been a welcome line of the entire domestic staff – but a betweeded valet felt quite sufficient to our needs.
Bovey Castle was built by the son of W. H. Smith (historic purveyor of newspapers and Crunchie bars) as one of numerous grand family retreats. It has a lavish neo-Elizabethan style and oozes wealth and opulence in a very British plenty-but-not-quite-too –much way. Death duties needed paying upon his sad demise, and the house was sold in 1928 to Great Western Railway for a reported sum of £15,000. The hotel and golf course opened two years later in 1930 and the hotel has been hosting and entertaining ever since. It is now owned by the Eden Hotel Collection, which has orchestrated a major refurbishment project.
Located on the edge of Dartmoor National Park in Devon, Bovey Castle sits in its 275 acres of countryside estate and one immediately feels part of the historic upper classes as one strolls along the south terrace, looking alternately up at the mighty edifice and out across the imperious views that it commands of the surrounding moorland. The ceilings are high and the rooms are ornate, with roaring fires and waiting staff discreetly on hand to cater to any whim that may arise.
We were staying in one of the 26 newly redeveloped bedrooms. It was beautifully decorated and finished with impeccable taste. There was loads of room for us and our eight-month-old, who raced around the floor exploring everything; the immaculate cleanliness of the place being underscored by baby’s disappointing (to him, at least) failure to find any stash of fluff and/or grit to shovel into his mouth and pensively chew upon.
The centrepiece was a glorious four-poster bed, surrounded (at a spacious distance) by wooden wardrobe (in which one could probably have hoisted a sail and set out to sea), enormous floor mirror, traditional desk and inviting sofa; and the stone window overlooking a stunning vista with minimal intrusion from the discreetly integrated golf course. The bathroom was like an opulent marble barn – grand and yet light – with twin sinks, twin rain showers (a rare treat!), a freestanding bath and loads of crawling room for baby.
The swimming pool is housed in the old orangery and is Art Deco in style, looking out at one end over the sun terrace. Large with dark tiles, the water appears moody and enticing, and we didn’t hesitate to take a dip before supper. The spa has also been redeveloped and features a sauna, steam-room and gym.
There is a treatment area – The Gentlemen’s Quarter – dedicated exclusively to the fellas, with treatments including a massage using Bovey Castle golf balls. Sounds eye-watering, but, nevertheless the general air of relaxation amongst our fellow guests would indicate that the spa was having its intended effect and more.
The small decanter of sherry in the room was a classy touch and proved an excellent pre-prandial, warming our spirits as we prepared to make our way to hotel brasserie for supper. The Smith Brasserie, named after the house’s former owner, favours local produce; sourcing ingredients are from the moorland area and nearby coastline to create seasonal menus. It has a relaxed and unpretentious atmosphere; fortuitously as it turned out, given that baby decided eating was cheating that evening and just wanted to shriek at the world and his wife. Our lovely waitresses took it in turns to entertain him whilst I enjoyed my goat’s cheese salad, and in turn, a crab risotto. Both were excellent and we chatted away with guests and staff alike. A generous sticky toffee pudding perfectly rounded off this simple but satisfying repast.
One good night’s sleep and a luxurious bath (and subsequent snooze) later, the breakfast was also excellent. I plumped for a full English and with a kipper on the side (because I fancied it and because I could!).
After breakfast we were treated to a falconry display of exceptional quality on the terrace. Such displays are a daily event; and clearly a number of guests who were enjoying longer stays were making a point of attending each morning. Which proved to be no surprise once we experienced it ourselves: the birds themselves were predictably enthralling and the display was absolutely first rate, in the main thanks to the hilarious patter and endless (but never gratuitous) jokes and asides from the gruff and unassuming falconer; a man with a somewhat unlikely yet striking comic touch, and an enviable ability to intersperse fascinating fact with irresistible humour.
The hotel offers a whole host of other activities including pond dipping, egg painting and rolling and ferret racing. The list of other outdoor activities on offer is almost endless; including archery, clay pigeon shooting, hot air ballooning, mountain biking, off-road driving and fly fishing. And after all of that one can even attend a sloe gin-making (and drinking!) session – sign me up!
Lara was hosted by Bovey Castle, part of the Eden Hotel Collection – a privately-owned portfolio of eight beautiful properties in the UK. Situated in the spectacular Dartmoor National Park, the luxurious hotel has 60 bedrooms, 22 lodges, an impressive Elan Spa and 18-hole championship golf course. Stay overnight from £179 per room (two sharing; room only), including access to the Elan Spa.
Enquiries: Bovey Castle, North Bovey, Newton Abbot TQ13 8RE / 01647 445000 / www.boveycastle.com