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North Devon & Exmoor - Eating and sleeping
The taste of Devon is undoubtedly that of clotted cream. A Devon cream tea is as integral a part of a visit to this region as rain (indeed, the one often leads to the other). Clotted cream is quite unlike any other sort of cream, being as thick as butter and almost as yellow; it contains more fat (around 63%, while double cream is 48%), and traditionally was made by gradually heating fresh milk using steam or hot water, and allowing it to cool very slowly. The thick cream that rises to the top was then skimmed off. The original term was clouted cream, clout being the word for patch, referring to the thick crust that forms when the cream is heated. Clotted cream is only made in Devon and Cornwall, and we Devonians are not only convinced that ours is better but that we got there first. After all, it was one of the wives of the Dartmoor giant, Blunderbus, who won her husband’s affection by bringing the knowledge of clotted-creammaking to his kitchen. The story is slightly spoiled by the fact that Jennie was exiled to a cave in Cornwall at the time for being a lousy cook, and it was a Phoenician sea captain who taught her the process as a reward for saving his ship from wreckers.
Clotted cream is served with fresh scones, which should be warm from the oven not the microwave; purists prefer plain scones but others, myself included, love the fruit ones. In Devon we spread the cream on the scone first, instead of butter, and add strawberry or raspberry jam on top; in Cornwall it’s the opposite: jam first, then clotted cream. Either way it’s utterly delicious – and very filling. The Victorian prime minister William Gladstone was right when he called clotted cream ‘the food of the gods’.
Talking of jam, an Exmoor speciality is whortleberry jam. Whortleberry is the Exmoor name for bilberry, a heather relative which grows on the moor. Brendan Hill Crafts, a preserves specialist, makes an award-winning whortleberry jam which is sold in a wide range of outlets across North Devon and Exmoor.
Back to clotted cream which is, surprisingly, the accompaniment to a traditional savoury recipe, Devon squab pie. Medieval dovecots are still found in the grounds of the great West Country estates, so it’s not surprising that squab, or young pigeon, should feature in an ancient recipe. Except that it doesn’t. Devon squab pie is made with mutton. The likely explanation for this misnomer is that until the 17th century squab, a luxury food, could be consumed only by the lord of the manor and the parish priest. So perhaps the mixture of fruit and mutton tasted something like the sweet meat of a real squab. Be that as it may, this is a tasty dish composed of layers of mutton or lamb alternating with apples, prunes and spices. Some recipes add onion or leek. It’s easy to make and, to add the authentic Devon touch, you need to serve it with clotted cream on the side.
If clotted cream is Devon, then cider is Somerset although western Somerset is not in the heart of cider country. For this you need to go east to flatter areas where the cider-apple orchards flourish. A popular Somerset cider is Sheppy's near Taunton. But for a total cider indulgence pop into Peeble's Tavern in Watchet; they serve 20 varieties.
North Devon has five breweires listed by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). They are Barum (Barnstaple), Clearwater (Bideford), Country Life (Abbotsham), Forge (Hartland) and Wizard (Ilfracombe). See www.northdevoncamra.org.uk for more details. Exmoor's largest brewery is Exmoor Ales in Wiveliscombe. Their best-known cask ales are Exmoor Gold and Exmoor Beast but they do a total of ten, some permanent, some seasonal.
Foodies should try to visit Barnstaple in mid-October when the North Devon Foodfest is held in Pannier Market, and a few days later the North Devon Food Fair pops up in Bideford. Further east, the Lyn Food Festival is held in Lynton at the end of September.
The places to stay included here have been listed either with an eye to their location, because they are special or unusual in some way, because they encapsulate some aspect of Slow – or because they’re just wonderful and readers should know about them. The list is certainly not exhaustive, and inclusion doesn’t necessarily mean they are the best in the area – just places I came across or had recommended to me. I steer clear of prices, but most accommodation is cheaper off season or if you stay several nights; most self-catering places can only be let for four days or more. Campsites run the gamut of possibilities from a meadow that’s only open in July, to glamping in such luxury it hardly counts as camping. In Devon and Exmoor, by far the most popular holiday accommodation for families is self-catering. Two good websites for the area are http://exmoor-holidays.co.uk and www.devonfarms.co.uk. Others include Classic Cottages (www.classic.co.uk) which specialise in the southwest, as do Helpful Holidays (www.helpfulholidays.com). English Country Cottages (www.english-country-cottages.co.uk) also cover this region, and the luxury ‘private home custodians’, Unique Homestays (www.uniquehomestays.com) have a few places in the area. Trip Advisor is always worth checking, if only for some evocative phrases such as ‘Woke up watching sheep grazing in the most comfortable bed ever.’
Note that sat nav is often unreliable in North Devon and Exmoor (and in Exmoor there’s rarely a mobile phone signal). Always check the accommodation provider’s directions before heading out.
Hartland Point © ASC Photography, Shutterstock
New Inn Hotel High St, Clovelly EX39 5TQ; 01237 431303; www.clovelly.co.uk. You don’t stay here because you want a perfect hotel, you stay here because the New Inn is Clovelly. It’s been here a very long time (since the 17th century), and has hosted, among others, Charles Dickens. The New Inn is halfway down the only street so you can have a walk before anyone else is stirring and get a feel for how Clovelly was before it became such a popular tourist spot. The hotel is very comfortable, with eight en-suite rooms decorated in Arts & Crafts style. Across the road in New House is budget B&B accommodation, with a shared bathroom.
Yeoldon House Durrant Lane, Northam EX39 2RL; 01237 474400; www.yeoldonhouse.co.uk. A Victorian house converted to an elegant hotel with just ten individually furnished rooms. There is a lovely garden with spacious views, and the restaurant is outstanding, so this is the place for that special holiday treat when you are looking for more than just B&B. Note that because of the age of the building there is no lift to the bedrooms.
Elmscott Farm B&B & Youth Hostel Hartland EX39 6ES; 01237 441276; www.elmscott.org.uk. Perfectly located B&B and adjacent private youth hostel for the section of the coast path described in this book, giving you flexibility on price and comfort. Both share the same sociable atmosphere, with a big table for eating and a comfy lounge, but the B&B has a lovely big garden and private en-suite rooms.
Beara Farmhouse Buckland Brewer, Bideford EX39 5EH; 01237 451666; www.bearafarmhouse.co.uk. Buckland Brewer is a quiet, inland village with an excellent pub and this delightful whitewashed farmhouse with two self-catering places: Shippon, which sleeps four, and the larger Sparrows which accommodates six. Ann and Richard Dorsett also do B&B (two rooms, and a private lounge with an open fire) and their artistic flair is evident throughout the buildings. Richard is a carpenter, and has lavished his skill in restoring the derelict buildings, whilst Ann is an artist.
Blegberry Farm Hartland EX39 6AY; 01237 441713; www.blegberry.co.uk. This 700-acre working farm is in a terrific position just three miles from Hartland and the nearby beaches and walks, so its large (sleeps eight) Puffin House plus two smaller self-catering cottages are understandably popular. They range from complete luxury, with their own hot tubs, to a rather superior static caravan, Little Puffins, which sleeps four at a very economical rate.
Bridge Cottage Peppercombe; 01628 825925; www.landmarktrust.org.uk; firstname.lastname@example.org. A tiny, pink thatched cottage half-concealed in the combe that leads to a pebble beach: this is cliché-typical Devon. It sleeps three, is dog-friendly, and has an orchard and garden. Some of the best walks in northwest Devon are on the doorstep, including the classic stroll down Hobby Drive to Clovelly.
Poacher’s Cottage Appledore. Book through South Yeo; 01237 451218; www.southyeo.com. A charming two-roomed former fisherman’s cottage in a courtyard setting close to the quayside. There is no private parking (guests use the public car park) but this is a town where you can happily do without a car.
South Yeo Yeo Vale EX39 5ES; 01237 451218; www.southyeo.com. In the Yeo Valley south of Fairy Cross is this beautiful country estate, its 15 acres including two walled gardens and the River Yeo. Owned by Jo and Mike Wade, this is truly intimate, with just one room for B&B guests and a small self-catering cottage sleeping four. Little Yeo, the cottage, has two bedrooms and its own sunny garden and patio. B&B in the main house is in a lovely double bedroom with its own sitting room. This is a working farm with cattle and sheep – and chickens to provide the free-range eggs for breakfast.
Camping & glamping
Koa Tree Camp Hollacombe Farm, Welcombe EX39 6HE; 01225 858038; www.koatreecamp.com. Welcombe is west of the A39, close to the Cornish border. This luxury site has five Mongolian yurts and five bell tents, all beautifully furnished and with an eye to comfort, such as under-floor heating in the private bathrooms. The yurts are supplied with electricity, but heated by wood-burning stoves. The owners, Sam and Alex, are focused on sustainability, so the water is recycled and their shop is full of their own organic produce. In addition to the accommodation there are extensive activities available, from board games and table tennis in the ‘rainy day’ room to surfing lessons.
Loveland Farm Hartland EX39 6AT; 01237 441894; www.lovelandfarmcamping.co.uk. Open Mar–Oct. Loveland Farm is, on first appearance, a small campsite within a stone’s throw of the gorgeous scenery of Hartland Point. But it has a pièce de résistance: the Loveland Pod. This is a space-age geo-dome, with all the comforts of glamping: very comfy beds, a lounge and a wood-burning stove. It’s set on a high wooden deck, which deals with the sloping land, beside the kitchenette and eco-loo. Jeff and Karina Griffin are fashion designers – and have not given up this career since they moved to Devon – but the farm and campsite encapsulate their love of nature and commitment to sustainability and green technologies. The farm comprises six acres with a few farm animals such as chickens and – surprisingly! – two water buffalo. In addition to the pod there are, at present, 16 simple camping pitches where dogs are allowed (they are not allowed inside the pod) and there are plans for yurts and other glamping structures.
Pack o’ Cards High St, Combe Martin EX34 0ET; 01271 882300; www.packocards.co.uk. This world-famous folly has six rooms of various sizes and prices (one with a four-poster bed) and a good restaurant. Although built as a private residence it has been a pub since the 1800s. Chris and Debbie Batchelor bought it in 1992 because it ‘ticked all the boxes’ with a car park and garden. The rooms have a separate entrance from the pub and restaurant, and are quiet and comfortable. The hotel is frequently used by walkers doing the South West Coast Path so Chris and Debbie are used to arranging luggage transfers.
Langleigh Guest House Berrynarbor EX34 9SG; 01271 883410; www.langleighguesthouse.co.uk. Berrynarbor is a quintessential Devon village, set high above Combe Martin, so a stay here sets you apart from the main tourist traffic. The guest house has five well-furnished en-suite bedrooms and a family room. The garden is gorgeous, with plenty of outdoor seating; breakfast can be taken on the terrace if the sun is shining. Guests are greeted with a cream tea or homemade cakes by the very hospitable owners, Gill and Andy. Berrynarbor’s flowerpot men like it here, so that’s a good start.
Mill Cottage Braunton EX33 2EU; 01271 812671; www.millcottagebraunton.com. A 17th-century mill by the River Caen in the old part of this surfing town.Two double bedrooms, a small kitchen, a garden – everything you need for a cosy stay – and it’s dog-friendly. An added bonus is that Emma, next door, does beauty treatments including massage. A nice indulgence after being bashed by surf or walking the coastal path.
West Challacombe Manor Nr Combe Martin; 0844 335 1287; www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk. This 15th-century manor house is of national historical importance, with a fabulous oak hammer-beam ceiling in what is now an upstairs living room, but was once the Great Hall, as well as a splendid porch bearing a 16th-century coat of arms. It sits in a wild garden with picnic benches and splendid views, a stone’s throw from the South West Coast Path. Inside there is a Rayburn cooker, a farmhouse-style dining room, an open fire and three bedrooms (sleeping five people). Guests need to co-exist with the protected bat colony! No dogs allowed.
Camping & glamping
Little Meadow Watermouth, Ilfracombe EX34 9SJ; 01271 866862; www.littlemeadow.co.uk. Fifty pitches on a 100-acre organic farm in an excellent location for local walks. The well-supplied shop sells their own produce.
Longlands Farm Coulsworthy, Combe Martin EX34 0PD; 01271 882004; www.longlandsdevon.co.uk. Longlands has five luxury safari lodges, each sleeping six people, which give you a semblance of camping – nature all around, sitting in the sun on the deck in front of the lodge with views to the sea, a private barbecue platform – without any of the cramped discomfort. Inside there are very comfortable beds, wonderful showers and a separate loo. A wood-burning stove heats the lodge and doubles as a cooker, although there is also a gas ring, whilst a separate wood burner heats the water. Up to two dogs are allowed and can burn off all their surplus energy in the 17 acres of private land. There's even a private boating lake and on-site shop stocked with local produce. The farm is practically opposite the junction between the A3123 and the A399.
North Morte Farm Caravan & Camping Park Mortehoe EX34 7EG; 01271 870381; www.northmortefarm.co.uk. The position’s the thing, here. You are within a stone’s throw of Rockham Beach as well as the sandy bays of Barricane and Grunta, and the huge sweep of Woolacombe Sands. Not to mention one of the best stretches of the South West Coast Path. Perfect for families with kids willing to do some walking.
Under the Milky Way Combe Martin; 07851 246876; www.underthemilkyway.co.uk. Four pre-pitched luxury bell tents, well separated in ten acres of gently sloping fields and wooded valleys. The tents are furnished with rugs, futon/airbeds, wood-burning stove, tables and chairs, with light provided by solar-powered lanterns. Each has its own private shower with under-floor heating and toilet. A communal washing area, with electricity, deals with laundry and phone-charging requirements. It’s a quiet, peaceful area with, as the name suggests, wonderfully dark skies. You might want to consider hiring a telescope at the Lynmouth National Park Centre for proper star-gazing.
An Atlantic puffin landing in Lundy Island © Mark Caunt, Shutterstock
The Landmark Trust is responsible for all the Lundy accommodation options, and they are listed on its websites with full descriptions and photos; or you can ask for an illustrated brochure by post. All bookings are made through the Landmark Trust: 01628 825925; email@example.com; www.landmarktrust.org.uk or www.lundyisland.co.uk.There are 23 self-catering properties of various sizes available for short breaks and weekly holiday lets; these may be fully booked up to a year ahead. Lengths of stay available for each property are shown on the website, and in winter are dictated by the days (Mon & Fri) that the helicopter operates. There’s also a campsite near the village with space for 40 people, and a hostel (The Barn) with two rooms with eight and six single beds.
Here is a taster of the variety of properties available. For just one person there are two places: Old Light Cottage next to the Old Light, and the Radio Room behind the Tavern. Old Light Cottage was the lighthouse keepers’ store, solidly built of granite to the usual Trinity House standard; while the Radio Room is a small, granite-built cottage which once housed the island radio used to communicate with the mainland. In fact the old radio is still in there at the foot of the bed! For two people there's a wider choice, including the popular Old School, the island’s former Sunday school, a small building of corrugated iron with a snug matchboard-lined interior. A great place to stay, serenaded in June by the haunting sounds of the Manx shearwaters as they return to their nesting burrows during the night. The largest property on the island (sleeping 12) is Millcombe House, a large classical villa built for the Heaven family which looks down a wooded valley below the village and out to sea. It has a curious concave copper roof which caught rainwater for great tanks in the cellars. The most remote place is Tibbetts, which sleeps four; it's on one of the highest points of the island, nearly two miles from the village.
Broomhill Art Hotel Muddiford EX31 4EX; 01271 50262; www.broomhillart.co.uk. A gorgeous place which adds an award-winning restaurant (open to non-residents) to its eight rooms and wonderful sculpture garden. The building is late Victorian, set on a hill, with sculptures not only in the gardens but in the galleries which double as sitting rooms. Breakfast is served every day, and from Wednesday to Saturday guests can enjoy half-board with a fine three-course dinner in the evening. A tapas menu is available daily for lunch, also for early-evening meals for hotel residents on Monday and Tuesday. Or you can choose a lunch/B&B stay to include the three-course restaurant menu Tuesday–Saturday.
Hollamoor Farm Tawstock EX31 3NY; 01271 373466; www.devonhorsebedbreakfast.co.uk. A 300-year-old farmhouse in a lovely area for gentle sightseeing, owned by Sir Bourchier and Lady Caroline Wrey. Three rooms plus one in a separate barn and the others in the house. Delicious, organic evening meals on request. It’s dog and horse-friendly.
Lower Yelland Farm Fremington EX31 3EN; 01271 860101; www.loweryellandfarm.co.uk. Award-winning, dog-friendly accommodation in a 350-year-old farmhouse located between Bideford and Barnstaple, close to the Tarka Trail, with seven rooms including two singles. Breakfasts are a treat, with homemade bread and marmalade served in the splendid oak-beamed lounge. Two self-catering lodges, with hot tubs, are also available.
Anderton House Goodleigh (east of Barnstaple); 01628 825925; www.landmarktrust.org.uk; firstname.lastname@example.org. This ‘uncompromisingly modern’ house is a departure for the Landmark Trust which usually rescues old buildings. Designed in the 1970s by architect Peter Aldington who described it as ‘perhaps the nearest we came to an integration of inside and outside spaces’, it is open-plan with lots of glass allowing an unhindered view of the Devon countryside. Three rooms, sleeping five. Dogs allowed.
Rosemoor House Great Torrington EX38 8PH; 01805 626810; email@example.com; www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/rosemoor (click on ‘About Rosemoor’ and then ‘Holidays’). Three self-catering apartments in the gardens, sleeping two and four, giving a unique opportunity to wander in tranquillity outside Rosemoor's normal opening hours. Three-, four- and seven-night bookings are available, with arrivals and departures on Mondays and Fridays. Not surprisingly the apartments are booked up well ahead during the spring and summer.
Camping & glamping
Vintage Vardos Higher Fisherton Farm, nr Atherington, Umberleigh EX37 9JA; 07977 535233; www.fishertonfarm.com. A vardo is an old-fashioned gypsy caravan with a bow top. Here at Fisherton Farm three colourful vardos are gathered together in a clearing to provide accommodation with a difference. They are beautifully and individually decorated, and sleep two in comfort with the possible addition of two children or friendly adults. There’s a hot outdoor shower and a loo-with-a-view (full of reading matter). As an article in Devon Life exclaimed: ‘who wants en-suite when you can get off-grid?’ The vardos can only be rented together, so you need to be a group of six minimum. The owners, Gavin and Gemma, farm rare-breed sheep and cattle for their exceptional meat, and grow their own vegetables. They provide guests with a welcome basket with homemade bread, free-range eggs and milk, and other farm produce can be purchased. The cooking is done outside on an open fire.
Woodland Retreat Langtree, Great Torrington EX38 8NP; 01805 601532; www.summerdazecamping.co.uk. The name describes this place perfectly – a rustic ‘treehouse’ (more of a wooden building on stilts), it sits in an isolated four acres of woodland, and provides a double bed and a couple of bunks for children, and a wood-burning stove. Everything else is outside, though covered, including the compost loo at the end of a solar-lit woodland path. Nearby is a bell tent for additional people and space for those who want to bring their own tents. There’s a clearing in the centre where you can have an open fire with a tripod stove for outdoor cooking and firewood is there for the collecting – and for the cutting: a bow saw and axe are provided. This is camping as it used to be, but with a lot more comfort and sustainability, run by Lynda (an artist) and Alex (a musician) Duncan who want to share their rural dream.
Cross Lane House Allerford TA24 8HW; 01643 863276; www.crosslanehouse.com. I knew through word of mouth that this was an exceptional place, so when I was planning to take two of my contributors out for a very special meal, it didn’t take me long to decide on Cross Lane House. I love old buildings, and old buildings lovingly restored in the vernacular are especially appealing. Such was Cross Lane House. Built in the 15thcentury it has had many lives before being allowed to decay. When Andrew and Max bought it a couple of years ago it was semi derelict and, so locals tell them, haunted. The ghosts have retired, happy, now the house is loved and full of contented guests in its four exquisite rooms and comfortable lounge. Everything has been thought of, from the binoculars on the windowsill so you can watch the birds or the lambs gambolling in the meadow opposite, to the variety of books on the bedside table. Andrew and Max, and their manager Tim, are the perfect hosts: welcoming yet unobtrusive so you feel like a privileged house guest. Dinner more than lived up to expectations. My smoked salmon starter and my succulent piece of pork belly were equally beautifully presented. When it was time to go Andrew asked me if I’d seen the brick. It was found by one of the workman restoring the house and is now set into an interior wall where you can just read an inscription, carefully carved in copperplate handwriting: “Christina I love you dearly HB”. This surely must have been inscribed when the brick was still unfired clay, so is likely to be around 600 years old. Guests are waved off with a goodie bag containing essentials for a day on the moor: a bottle of water and some energy-giving sweeties. An exceptional place in a delightful Exmoor village.
Heasley House Heasley Mill EX36 3LE; 01598 740213; www.heasley-house.co.uk; closed Mon & Tue (after breakfast) & Sep–Apr when it becomes a shooting lodge. Heasley Mill is a very small, very compact village just inside Exmoor National Park. It says a lot that when I visited this elegant Georgian house mid-morning, Miles and Mandy Platt were still saying goodbye to guests who clearly wanted to stay until the last possible minute. The couple worked in brand marketing before buying the hotel in 2014, and they’ve got it absolutely right. Comfort and good food (including evening meals) are priorities here, so it’s a dog- and child-friendly place where you wouldn’t feel guilty tramping a bit of mud indoors, but when it comes to eating and sleeping – and chatting – it couldn’t be better. There are eight individually styled rooms with super-king-sized beds, and guests are encouraged to stay for a minimum of two nights.
Millers at the Anchor Porlock Weir TA24 8PB; 01643 862753; www.millersuk.com/anchor. The inn has been providing rooms and hospitality for over two centuries, and is an extraordinary place, crammed with books, paintings and antiquities. It even has a billiards room. Tariffs are per person, so it can work out quite expensive for couples, but there’s a variety of prices on offer, depending on the size of the room and the view. Note that the restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
New Place Bossington Lane, Porlock TA24 8ET; 01643 862321; www.newplace-exmoor.com. This is accommodation with a difference. Heather Elmhirst specialises in offering ‘rest and recuperation, with an opportunity to give yourself space and to nourish your spirit’. The large Victorian house is hidden from the road amid peaceful grounds. The vegetable garden provides the home-cooked vegetarian or vegan meals which are available on request, and resident chickens supply eggs.
The Old Rectory Hotel Martinhoe EX31 4QT; 01598 763368; www.oldrectoryhotel.co.uk; closed Oct–Apr. The owners, Huw Rees and Sam Prosser, have created the ultimate in country house ambience. Awarded the accolade ‘The Best Small Hotel in England’ by Visit England in 2014, the Old Rectory is a lovely place to stay for those wanting a country retreat. Set in three acres of gardens with its own river (otters visit in April) and spring to supply the hotel, and a sunny conservatory, there is every inducement to spend all day there if it weren’t for beautiful, hilly Exmoor on the doorstep. ‘Guests pay for the exclusivity’, Sam told me. The excellent home-cooked meals are at a set time and for guests only. Full or half-board is the only option and no under-14s are allowed, which has led to another award: the best kid-free hotel. There are 11 rooms in total, eight in the main house and three in the coach house; some rooms have both bath and shower. The hotel generally has full occupancy in the summer so book well in advance.
Rockford Inn Nr Brendon EX35 6PT; 01598 741214; www.therockfordinn.co.uk. An irresistible place for walkers, allowing you to take the footpath along the East Lyn River from Lynmouth, have a comfortable stay in this delightful rural inn hidden among the trees in a deep valley, and then continue to Oare and beyond. It has the advantage of having one single room, as well as the usual doubles. Special off-season rates available.
Tarr Farm Inn TA22 9QA; 01643 851507; www.tarrfarm.co.uk. You don’t expect such a rewarding place so close to Exmoor’s most popular attraction. They manage to cater for the large number of families that amble in during the day, whilst converting to a classy hotel with award-winning dining and very pleasant rooms come the evening. Dogs are allowed in some rooms (for an extra charge), but no children under the age of ten. During the shooting season you will notice quite a few guns: this is one of Exmoor’s most popular shooting hotels.
White Horse Inn Exford TA24 7PY; 01643 831229; www.exmoor-whitehorse.co.uk. Exford makes an excellent base for exploring central Exmoor, and the White Horse Inn is set up to help visitors get the most out of the moor. They even have their own guide who'll show you the best places and the Exmoor Safari company operates from here. There are 28 comfortable en-suite rooms, some of which allow dogs (for an extra charge).
Coombe Farm Countisbury EX35 6NF; 01598 741236; www.brendonvalley.co.uk/coombe_farm; open Mar – end Nov. This is the place to stay if you want to learn more about Devon’s traditional livestock. Coombe Farm rears Ruby Red Devon cattle and Exmoor horn sheep. The 17th-century stone-built farmhouse is as authentically Devon as the animals, and the location is about as good as you can get as a base for exploring the coast and rivers of west Exmoor. Four affordable rooms of different sizes including single; no dogs allowed inside the house.
Glen Lodge Hawkcombe, Porlock TA24 8LN; 01643 863371; www.glenlodge.net. A splendid Victorian country house set in 21 acres of beautiful gardens high on a hill overlooking Porlock. Hosts David and Meryl Slater bring both elegance and hominess to this lovely place, the five stylishly decorated rooms are extremely comfortable, breakfasts are sumptuous and multi-talented Meryl's evening meals (by request and with local ingredients) are an extra treat. She'll also provide packed lunches (and has even been known to create a birthday cake when appropriate!). For the energetic, there are also Fitness Weekends with a professional instructor.
Millslade House Hotel Brendon EX35 6PS; 01598 741322; www.millslade.co.uk. An unpretentious country hotel in this lovely valley abounding in good pubs and tea gardens – and footpaths. Five reasonably priced double rooms, dog-friendly, bed and breakfast (no main meals). They also have a self-catering cottage.
North Walk House North Walk, Lynton EX35 6HJ; 01598 753372; www.northwalkhouse.co.uk. The little lane that calls itself North Walk is one of the joys of Lynton; it leads to the cliff path which in turn leads to the Valley of Rocks with spectacular views. North Walk House is owned by the very hospitable Ian and Sarah Downing; arriving visitors are greeted with delicious cakes served in the cosy lounge or sun terrace, and the great breakfasts and optional dinners are cooked on the Aga. Ian and Sarah are members of Slow Food UK, so ingredients are organic and locally sourced, and guests are seated around one large table, which is what I like: I have never had a dull conversation while staying at North Walk House! For their own sanity, Ian and Sarah take a few nights off each week, but dinner is always available if booked in advance and is generally provided on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. There are six rooms (one is dog-friendly) and a self-catering, dog-friendly studio apartment for two people.
Tudor Cottage Bossington TA24 8HQ; 01643 862255; www.tudorcottage.net. West Country villages don’t come more charming than Bossington, with its squat thatched cottages and bulging bread-oven lateral chimneys, nor accommodation as cosy as the 15th-century Tudor Cottage. There are three modern rooms – two double, one twin/super king – and the village is a perfect base for a peaceful getaway. The cottage has a comfortable (small) lounge for guests, breakfasts are cooked on the Aga, and local knowledge is dispensed by the hospitable owners Ash and Anne Shaw. Evening meals are available on request (and they are licensed); and, for those walking the South West Coast Path which passes through the village, luggage transfers can be arranged.
Twitchen Farm Challacombe EX31 4TT; 01598 763568; www.twitchen.co.uk. Economically priced accommodation on this family-run farm with a good choice of rooms (eight) in the farmhouse and stone barn, including one that is wheelchair accessible and others that are dog-friendly. And if you want to bring your horse, there is stabling. Sisters Helen and Jaye produce delicious breakfasts with mostly organic produce, and for meals the Black Venus pub is just a short walk across the fields.
Cloud Farm Doone Valley EX35 6NU; 01598 741278; www.cloudfarmcamping.co.uk. The farm owns three self-catering cottages in the Doone Valley overlooking Badgeworthy Water, and one at the Lorna Doone Farm at Malmsmead. This sleeps six, whilst the others at Cloud Farm vary from two to six.
Hindon Organic Farm Nr Bratton TA24 8SH; 01643 705244; www.hindonfarm.co.uk. This 500-acre organic farm in a peaceful location between Minehead and Porlock has won a plethora of awards for conservation and its produce, and happy comments from the guests who love staying on a working farm. There is one self-catering cottage, and three bedrooms in the main house for B&B guests, who can indulge in the home-cooked breakfasts derived from the farm’s Gloucester Old Spot pigs and fruit from the garden. Dogs may stay for an extra charge. There is a hot tub in the garden, and it’s just a short walk to Selworthy or the South West Coast Path.
Martinhoe Manor Woody Bay EX31 4QX; 01598 763424; www.martinhoemanor.co.uk. The former manor was converted to a hotel in 1885 by Colonel Benjamin Lake, who had grand plans for the area. It has been reconverted into eight two-room apartments, set in one of the most stunning locations imaginable: 26 private acres and access to the beach (though it’s a steep descent) with both rockpools and sand, plus a waterfall and a part natural, part manmade swimming pool. Guests provide their own linen.
West Withy Farm Upton TA4 2JH; 01398 371322; www.exmoor-cottages.com. Ian and Lorena Mabbutt offer far more than self-catering in their two barn conversions (which sleep a total of nine). Their organic vegetable garden produces enough, in season, for each guest to receive a veg box; the welcome pack includes homemade jam, eggs and anything else that the farm has produced. It’s wonderfully family- and dog-friendly with masses of space to run around and no traffic danger. Children can collect eggs from the free-range chickens, pick their own vegetables, or give the pigs a special scratch behind the ear. But what makes West Withy Farm unique is that it is the Exmoor telescope hire base for Dark Sky Telescope Hire and where Seb Jay bases himself when he’s in Exmoor, so guests can have an expert guide to show them the stars.
Camping & glamping
Cloud Farm Camping Doone Valley EX35 6NU; 01598 741278; www.cloudfarmcamping.co.uk. Three riverside fields in an absolutely beautiful location. The facilities are fairly basic however. A camper’s tip: the closer you are to the river, the less sun you’ll have in this shady valley.
Leeford Farm Riverside Camping Brendon EX35 6PS; 01598 741231. A lovely peaceful location next to the East Lyn River and within easy reach of Brendon with its pub and tea garden. No-frills camping, which is just how it should be in this idyllic area, but there are hot showers, camp fires are allowed, and the farmer (Ray) supplies firewood and conversation on a daily basis.
Westermill Exford TA24 7NJ; 01643 831238; www.westermill.com. A large but secluded riverside campsite in the heart of Exmoor, on a working farm which primarily rears Aberdeen Angus cattle and sheep. There is stabling for your own horse, plenty of room for your dog, and you can fish in the river. The site is run sustainably with solar-powered hot water and a wood-chip biomass boiler. The farm shop stocks essential supplies plus their own high-quality meat products and free-range eggs.
West Lynch Country House Lynch, Allerford TA24 8HJ; 01643 862800; www.lynchcountryhouse.co.uk. This is an amazing former country estate, built at the turn of the century in Arts & Crafts style, in spacious grounds within the National Trust area. The gardens are a joy in themselves, seven acres of unusual plants and shrubs with the extra bonus of a lake. The six apartments sleep between two and eight people. Electricity, including heat, is charged extra.
Westland Farm Bratton Fleming, Barnstaple EX31 4SH; 01598 763301; www.westlandfarm.co.uk. Despite its address this small farm is close to Blackmoor Gate, so really handy for west Exmoor. They have a terrific variety of glamping possibilities: a Mongolian yurt, which sleeps six, a shepherd’s hut (appropriate, on this sheep farm) which sleeps two, and a new Drover’s Hut for five or six which is roomy enough to cook inside. There are also conventional tent pitches if you want to bring your own or, if even glamping turns out not to be for you, then there’s B&B in the farmhouse. Guests can collect their own breakfast eggs from the hen coop, and there’s a nearby shop selling fresh produce that’s open seven days a week.
Steam train from Minehead © i4lcocl2, Shutterstock
Cutthorne Luckwell Bridge, Wheddon Cross TA24 7EW; 01643 831255; www.cutthorne.co.uk. A family-run country hotel set in 25 acres and surrounded by glorious walking country, this is an all-inclusive retreat for those wanting to get away from it all. Three en-suite rooms in the house, and two separate cottages with meals (including home-grown vegetables) taken in the house. Dogs and horses welcome for a small additional charge. Special deals for longer stays.
Swain House Boutique B&B 48 Swain St, Watchet TA23 0AG; 01984 631038; www.swain-house.com. More hotel than B&B despite its name, this was once a shop, so you mustn’t mind being on view as you eat your breakfast – though you should be too busy chatting, since guests sit at one big table. In every way this is a hotel with a difference, with very stylish modern furnishings in the four double rooms (ideal for romantic couples) and amazing bathrooms with deep, luxurious baths. Located right in the middle of Watchet, it is wonderfully convenient for the town and railway, so you could happily stay here without a car.
Beverleigh B&B Beacon Rd, Minehead TA24 5SE; 01643 708450; www.beverleigh.co.uk. An Edwardian house set in a gorgeous garden in the North Hill area, away from the razzmatazz of seaside Minehead. Lovely rooms – one has a four-poster bed – with views over Minehead and the sea. Great hospitality and very good breakfasts. There are miles of North Hill footpaths on the doorstep and if you’re about to embark on the South West Coast Path, it’s an encouraging downhill walk to the ‘Hands Sculpture’. Leo and Janna will do luggage (and people) transfers, too.
Burnells Gardens Knowle Lane, nr Dunster TA24 6TX; 01643 822045 or 07796 833183; www.burnellsgardens.moonfruit.com. This very homely and welcoming farm has just two rooms (not en-suite but the smart bathroom is nearby and bathrobes are provided). The owner, Libby, has thought of everything so even though the rooms are small they are beautifully equipped and decorated. It's very much a working farm with animals part of the scenery. My Aga-cooked breakfast was delicious, and chatting to Libby about farming on Exmoor was one of the pleasures. This place specialises in welcoming dogs, Libby will dog-sit or dog-walk on request for a small extra charge, and you can also bring your own horse. The farm is very near Dunster and Minehead but hidden away down a narrow lane so you need to be a confident driver and able to reverse if you meet oncoming cars.
Exmoor House Wheddon Cross TA24 7DU; 01684 841432; www.exmoorhotel.co.uk A characterful, quirky guesthouse, originally a tailor’s shop and community reading room, in Exmoor’s highest village. In the five bedrooms, Edwardian wood panelling contrasts with light contemporary colours. The guest sitting room features an honesty bar, books and games and, in winter, cosy log fires. Food is a major part of the Exmoor House experience; dinner B&B breaks are a speciality. Rosi and Frank source good local produce and Frank – a trained chef – makes everything, from bread to ice cream.
Langtry Country House Washford, Watchet TA23 0NT; 01984 641200; www.langtrycountryhouse.co.uk. The owner, Susan, calls this splendid Victorian house a B&B but when I drove up its sweep of drive it seemed far more like a stately hotel. And indeed, Susan is a Cordon Bleu cook so the book-in-advance dinners should be part of the treat of staying here (bring your own wine since they are unlicensed). The house is as elegant inside as out, as are the three large bedrooms which have lovely views over the Quantocks. Breakfasts are scrumptious, with eggs from Susan and Penny’s own hens; cream teas and homemade cakes are on offer for residents and Thursday to Sunday for non-residents.
Streamcombe Farm Dulverton TA22 9SA; 01398 323775; www.streamcombefarm.co.uk. It’s all happening here! Karen and Ian Jarmarkier not only own a notable B&B, but Ian runs weekly one-day cookery workshops and provides delectable evening meals (not on Sunday or Wednesday) for their guests. The three luxury bedrooms are in a converted barn, which has its own entrance and a cosy lounge with wood-burning stove. Meals, which include Ian’s home-baked sourdough bread, are taken in the conservatory. As if all this weren’t enough, the farm has a celebrated campsite.
Town Mills 1 High St, Dulverton TA22 9HB; 01398 323124; www.townmillsdulverton.co.uk. This converted mill house, next to the river yet right in Dulverton, has six spacious rooms and hosts are Charles and Alison, whose care extends to a carafe of white port in each bedroom! Dulverton is a particularly agreeable small town with plenty to occupy you for a day or two, and a good centre for exploring southern Exmoor.
Railway Cottage Williton TA4 4LW; 01823 431622; www.lavenderhillholidays.co.uk. Do modern children still want to be engine drivers? If so this is for them or their grandfathers, but anyone fascinated by the whole heritage of steam will relish staying so close to the West Somerset Steam Railway in this former ganger’s cottage. It has been refurbished with an eye on luxury, and even has its own hot tub. The Railway Cottage sleeps six in three bedrooms, has two bathrooms, a large garden and can accommodate dogs.
Riverside Cottage Brompton Regis TA22 9NT; 01398 371366; www.pulhamsmill.co.uk. First, Pulhams Mill. This is an unexpected delight, which most people come across accidentally when driving to Wimbleball Lake. Set deep in a valley is an old mill, whose buildings have been converted into a café, craft shop and self-catering cottage. Riverside Cottage is a former shippon (cowhouse) and has been carefully converted by its owners Ian Mawby and Pauline Clements. It has one double and two twin bedrooms; many of the items here were made by Ian, a furniture maker. It is open throughout the year, heated by a wood-burning stove in the lounge.
Streamcombe Farm Dulverton TA22 9SA; 01398 323775; www.exmoorgreenandwild.co.uk. There’s a wide choice of sites here, all delightful. Nearest the farmhouse is the Paddock, properly set up with good loos and hot showers; the Woodland Combe has more simple tent pitches next to the stream; and if you’re a group wanting to hang out together you can hire the whole four-acre Wild Flower Meadow. No cars are allowed here – to reach it you cross the stream over stepping stones. Finally there’s a shepherd’s hut, sleeping two, with a double bed and wood-burning stove. The hut is old, late 19th century, but has been carefully modernised. The private wet room (in a stone barn) and chemical toilet are nearby, or a characterful compost loo for the eco-conscious.
Willowstream Camping Timberscombe TA24 7TR; 01643 841467; www.willowstreamcamping.co.uk; open Jul only. Somewhat eccentrically, this idyllic place is only open for 28 days in July, but if that's when you’re exploring eastern Exmoor and looking for a quiet spot for your tent, then it’s a perfect choice. Portaloo-style toilets, hot showers, and wood available to buy for campfires; no music allowed on site.