The Moor, the Merrier
I’m speaking to Richard who is telling me about all the wonderful things you can do on Dartmoor, from walks to cycling routes, horse riding, shooting, fishing and falconry. But all I can think of is the scene from the film American Werewolf in London when they are at the inn, the slaughtered Lamb… "Go! And stay on the road. Keep clear of the moors. Beware the moon, lads!"
I can’t seem to get it out of my head... which is silly, because we couldn’t be in more pleasant surroundings. We are staying at the hotel Ilsington Country House, a splendid hotel in Dartmoor, Devon.
The Blue Tiger Inn is a bistro-style dining area located within the hotel and combines rustic charm with contemporary touches. We sat down to an excellent shared platter of home-smoked fish, cheese fondue and a selection of dips served with homemade flatbreads to start. Followed by a main course of Blue Tiger fish pie.
Halfway through our evening meal, with undisguised satisfaction, our waiter beckoned us to look out the window to watch a bat whirling balletically around over the moors. Typifying the hotel’s friendly staff. All finished off with a chocolate fondue served with fresh fruit. The fact that I was with my wife and it was our 30th wedding anniversary only served to add to the tsunami of brownie points that was sludging over me. I had pulled it off royally, thanks to the fabulous Ilsington Country House…
On a separate note, my learned friend Mr Peedya (I call him Wicky) seems to be in some confusion as to whether a 30th anniversary is ‘pearl’ or ‘diamond’; being a traditional sort of chap, I decided to be a diamond geezer. I offered to buy her a pint of Double Diamond. Imagine my surprise when it turned out they stopped brewing it about 30 years ago. Luckily, I had slipped a diamond card into my pocket, so that I could present it with a flourish and whisper, “You’re ace” over a nightcap.
The following morning, we got to make use of the fabulous leisure complex, with swimming pool, steam room and gym — al that we needed to work up an appetite for a superb cooked breakfast of locally sourced produce. The breakfast of champions, as I remarked to my wife, who raised her eyebrows and smiled in what I took to be broad agreement, though quietly loosening my belt a notch.
Will I be back? You bet. See you next year. Apparently, the theme for one’s 31st anniversary is ‘timepieces’, which is just fine, as I am something of an old crock myself.
Though next year, I might have to upgrade to the hotel’s acclaimed two AA Rosette restaurant. Wonder if I can sneak it past the editor on expenses… though to be fair, at just £36 for three courses, it is something of a steal, given the surroundings and exceptional food. And they have an unbeatable dinner, b&b offer available online. Might have to take one for the team. Again.
Ilsington Country House Hotel, Ilsington Village, near Newton Abbott, Devon TQ13 9RR; 01364 661 452; www.ilsington.co.uk;
b&b from £105 per room per night, based on two sharing; dinner at the two AA rosette restaurant, b&b, based on two sharing, from £125 per night
WHAT TO DO AND SEE AROUND DARTMOOR…
Warm welcome for walkers Ramble till your heart's content in the national park, or go fishing and shooting nearby. Come for foraging weekends in autumn and explore some of the villages and traditional pubs dotted around Dartmoor, where visitors can always be sure of a warm welcome and a place by the fire…
Dartmoor is the south of England's wildest, most expansive area of open country, and is known for its native ponies, who have run free across its 368 square miles for thousands of years.
Visit Staldon Row Standing Stones
Staldon Row & Cornwood Maidens, South-west Dartmoor The Staldon Row is one of the most spectacular stone rows in the world, with four person-sized stones crowning the summit and magnificent views (and on the next hill, the Upper Erme Row is the world's longest, at two miles).
A wonderful place to watch the sunset, especially if you are camping at Piles Copse (nearby ancient oak woodland with exquisite stream and waterfall, deep enough for a short swim), with the whole of Dartmoor at your feet.
Where to find it
Quickest access is from road end northeast of the hamlet of Tor. Follow track up and around waterworks, then bear north and make for the west edge of the summit. You should pick up the bottom of the row after 800m (15 mins).
See where ‘War Horse’ came from
The English countryside plays a starring role in the Hollywood adaptation of bestselling children's book War Horse. The film showcased Devon's dramatically beautiful Dartmoor National Park, where some of the original book was set.
'There's no place like it in the world,' said director Steven Spielberg. 'When I got to Dartmoor I realised I had a third character that I had to include in War Horse and that was the land and the sky, so Dartmoor plays a major role.'
Old Cragg Hall Barn-Yorkshire
Relax in one of Yorkshire’s most spellbinding rural areas with a stay at this award-winning barn in the heart of Cragg Vale. With lush, sweeping hills falling down into ancient wooded valleys, it is a mesmerising place oozing with a rich, natural beauty. Follow prancing deer through the winding lanes or watch colourful birds soar through the leafy canopy. Untouched, unspoilt and utterly sublime, it has a paradisal backdrop that is both elegant and wild.
The Old Cragg Hall Barn is an historic stone building that overlooks a flourishing Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Rescued and restored, it is now a luxurious retreat that has inspirational views out over the woodland vale. Eco-friendly systems make it natural and sustainable, while a contemporary upside-down design makes the most of its stunning background.
Enter on the ground floor through the flagstone hallway and you’ll find three comfortable bedrooms and a deluxe family bathroom. Boasting designer wallpaper and solid oak floorboards, they are sophisticated rooms that have sumptuous mattresses. The master en-suite double has a romantic edge, with a king-size four-poster bed and a sensuous atmosphere. The second and third rooms have a calm and relaxed-feel with double/twin beds looking out over the fields.
Upstairs in the rafters is the spacious open-plan living accommodation which has high vaulted ceilings and a modern, high-end finish. A breath-taking floor-to-ceiling window is the central focus and lets the epic Yorkshire landscapes flood into every corner. A super-sleek kitchen also adds some serious style and has black granite worktops and a glass-top dining table. Furnished with cosy sofas, a wood burning stove and a flat screen TV, it is an exquisite space that has everything you need.
The barn is located in the grounds of an old 17th Century Hall and is surrounded by miles of incredible countryside and interesting wildlife. The Pennine and Calderdale Way’s provide plenty of walking opportunities and can lead you through the enchanting Calder Valley and its magnificent scenery. A number of lovely places can also be found close-by including the Bronte sights at Haworth and the charming town of Hebden Bridge. Known for being one of Europe’s funkiest towns, Hebden Bridge has a cool and artistic vibe.
Written by: Gemma Edwards
£85-179 / night
Property charged @ GBP 595-1250 / week
3-7 night minimum stay
Knepp Tipi -West Sussex
Enjoy a great night’s sleep at this huge Tipi for two, found in the midst of 3,500 acres of Sussex countryside, with an exciting safari experience like no other to keep you entertained. Enjoy eating outdoors, the sounds of the wildlife that surrounds you, and seeing animals on your doorstep, at this campsite with a difference.
Step inside this huge Tipi to find a king-sized bed, carved from local stag oak, topped with luxurious pillows and Egyptian cotton bed linen. A raised floor of reclaimed scaffold boards and rugs keeps your feet dry, and you’ll appreciate your own fire-pit and barbeque grill for cooking up Knepp’s own delicious Wild Range produce. We recommend you order in advance to ensure you get to try the organic, pasture fed, free roaming Longhorn and venison steaks, burgers and sausages.
Close to the Tipi you’ll find hot showers and toilets with underfloor heating, or if you’re feeling brave why not try the open-air, wood-fired bucket-shower for a memorable experience! There is also a large, communal kitchen with everything you need, including an oven and fridge/freezer and a dining table so you can dine with your fellow guests should you wish. There is also mains electricity charging station for phones or laptops and a selection of games for rainy days.
When you’re done getting to know your home from home, take a safari in an Austrian open-sided Pinzgauer around the rewilding project. Depending on the season, expect to see species such as nightingales, cuckoos, turtle doves and purple emperor butterflies. There are also herds of free-roaming animals, including longhorn cattle, fallow, roe and red deer, Exmoor ponies and Tamworth pigs; the drivers of the rewilding project. Also on site are a selection of countryside walks, bypassing local good quality pubs.
Sleep on safari in your very own tipi for two at this unique wildlife park in West Sussex.
£95-101 / night
Property charged @ GBP 667-705 / week
Forget about your everyday worries with a stay at this ultimate, Devonshire treehouse hidden high up in the canopies. With stylish interiors and a deluxe open-air hot tub, it is a sleek city pad in a secluded woodland setting. Watch the friendly forest creatures play amongst the treetops before fishing in your private lake and its golden, shimmering waters. With nothing but the woodland whispers to interrupt your thoughts, you can enjoy an idyllic break with all the comforts of home.
Sunridge Treehouse is a beautiful cedar-cladded, stone house nestled in the branches of a picturesque, two acre wood. Its high-end finish is complete with state of the art technology, including free Wi-Fi, Bluetooth docks and a cinema snuggery.
The main living accommodation is found amongst the first floor canopy and boasts a glossy kitchen and a modern dining area. The designer kitchen has contemporary mod-cons, including a large gas hob with a dishwasher and oven. A vintage log burner joins the underfloor heating, while the dining area has panoramic views out over the woodland. A tranquil treetop balcony is perfect for al fresco dining and even has its own Weber BBQ for open-air cooking.
The two sumptuous bedrooms are located on either side of the lounge and include one gorgeous en-suite double and a lovely twin/double. With thick mattresses and a sophisticated design, they are calm and soothing rooms where you can relax and unwind.
Downstairs, there is also an incredible cinema snug that has a 3D HD projector and the latest games consoles. Furnished with chic sofas and two single pull-out beds, it is a high-tech hideaway in the heart of the shrubbery. From here, doors open out onto the peaceful ground floor deck where you can watch over the leafy floor and its natural inhabitants. Follow the lights around and make your one and only wish and you can even enjoy a midnight soak in the luxury, open-air hot tub.
The enchanting cabin is located on the outskirts of Yealmpton, South Hams and is surrounded by stunning scenery and magnificent wildlife. Head to Dartmoor National Park or to the dramatic Salcombe coast and you’ll see some of the area’s most breath-taking spots. Wild, sandy beaches and pretty coastal villages are joined by delicious seafood restaurants and exhilarating activities.
Written by: Gemma Edwards
£228-328 / night
Property charged @ GBP 1595-2295 / week
3 night minimum stay
Aberlemno nr Forfar - Scotland
Immerse yourself in the beauty of Scotland’s rugged pastoral backdrop with a stay at one of these luxury Steadings in the heart of rural Angus. Overlooking the glorious Angus Glens and the sparkling South Esk River, they have a truly spectacular location in an unspoilt natural setting. Traverse the ancient Cairngorm Mountains or seek out the enchanting hidden valleys, before gazing up at the atmospheric skies with their ever-changing colours.
The three adjoining Balbinny Steadings are part of a local farm and have been built with salvaged materials to enhance their rich, local charm. Recycled stone walls join large picture windows, while contemporary designs give them their own chic, modern style. With quality oak floors and a neutral colour scheme, they blend their historic roots with a sophisticated theme.
Each of the Steadings sleeps up to four people and has two stylish double/twin en-suite bedrooms. Located on the ground floor and with large bi-folding doors, they have lush, rolling views and private garden terraces.
An oak and glass staircase cascades up to the first floor where an open-plan living and dining area is waiting to be explored. With sleek kitchen worktops and sumptuous furnishings, it is a calm and relaxing space that has a luxurious character. Phenomenal views are on offer from floor-to-ceiling panes which open out onto a glass-fronted balcony space. Here you can enjoy a dram of whisky beneath the starry night vistas, while staying toasty and warm next to the outdoor heaters.
For an added piece of indulgence there are also deluxe spa facilities, which can be found hidden away in a stunning farmstead building. With enormous windows and a magnificent vantage point, it offers 180 degree views of the local countryside. Unwind in the bubbling Jacuzzi or take a dip in the heated indoor pool, before heading to the gym or enjoying a soothing spa treatment.
The area surrounding Balbinny is intensely beautiful and has many interesting sights to discover. The legendary Pictish Stones can be found within walking distance, along with the ruins of a Roman Fort and many well-worn mountain paths. The secluded beaches at Lunan Bay and St Cyrus are also well worth a visit, along with the characterful local towns of Forfar and Brechin. There are golf courses, ski slopes and city sighs to uncover, along with all sorts of country pursuits and outdoor activities.
Written by: Gemma Edwards
From £143 / night
Property charged @ GBP 1000 / week