There are different ways of making an entrance to Bovey Castle. One is through imposing gates, sweeping down past the immaculate greens of the championship golf course, crunching to a halt outside the front door, to be greeted by liveried staff that whisk the car and luggage away.
The other is by helicopter.
Damn! Someone had upstaged us. But not to worry, we were treated impeccably and soon ensconced in our Valley Castle Room with a gorgeous view through the mullioned windows of terraces, a croquet lawn, and beyond, the spire of the C13th St John the Baptist church at North Bovey. This is high Dartmoor country; soft deep valleys with rolling moorland above. Just as welcome was a bottle of Bovey Castle Sloe Gin to relax the mind and body before sampling the Spa and Pool.
There’s a wide range of treatments for both sexes, one of the most popular being the ‘Hero’, a back, face and scalp treatment using ESPA products…after 85 minutes of that and several pre-treatment gins total relaxation was achieved. Then, just about enough energy for the Art Deco swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna, steam room.
The building was created for the son of W.H.Smith (yes, that one) who later moved up in the world and transmogrified into Lord Hambledon. Originally rather uninspiringly named the Manor House and designed in the neo-Elizabethan style, it was rarely visited by the owner, and, upon his death, was snapped up by the Great Western Railway at a knock-down £15,000, and opened as a Golfing Hotel in 1930.
The current hotel, renamed Bovey Castle in 2003, now holds 5 stars with 60 bedrooms and 22 lodges set in 275 acres. It also has on-site experiences including falconry, cider and sloe gin-making, 4×4 off-road driving and a new Deer Park within the estate. The Great Western Restaurant holds a deserved 3 AA Rosettes.
Afternoon tea is a glorious affair. Descend the grand staircase to the lofty sitting room with its head-high open-fireplace and sink into comfy armchairs. The genteel clinking of fine bone-china and muted conversation harks back to a more refined era; that pause before dressing for dinner, then cocktails, followed by a candlelit meal.
We did, of course, ‘dapper up’ for dinner. Executive Chef Mark Budd presides over the kitchen here. Mark grew up in nearby Totnes and has never forgotten his roots. His dream job at Bovey Castle came via an exacting apprenticeship at The Ritz and The Dorchester in London. His palette: local game, Dartmoor lamb, aged Exmoor beef, seafood sourced from the coves of Devon and Cornwall, and kitchen-garden herbs and vegetables.
I chose Seared Hand-Dived Scallops in an Oyster Emulsion, followed by Roast White Chicken, with Wye Valley Asparagus and Gewurztraminer sauce. A nice touch is the suggestion on the menu of pairing wines to complement each course. The cheeseboard is a joyful celebration of local gems: Kinderton Goat, Stinking Bishop, Devon Blue, Wookie Hole, and Elmhurst. Who says we British can’t produce some of the finest cheeses in the world?
Feeling happily indolent after such self-indulgence we settled down in the bar with its clubby Woosterish vibe for night-caps and thence blameless (certainly in my case) sleep.
A pre-breakfast swim sharpened up the appetite for Scrambled Eggs and Smoked Salmon with a glass of bubbly, followed by…falconry.
Yes, you have read correctly. Each day after brekkie, Martin Whitley of Dartmoor Hawking, flies his exceptional collection of birds for guests. The birds range from tiny owls to Artemis and Rosie, Bovey Castle’s eagles. Parents hung on to their small children as the incredible creatures were put through their paces on the terrace. Martin has them trained to swoop at speeds of up to 60 mph at hair-parting height to be rewarded with their breakfast…a tasty chick (deceased of course) Each to his own.
A brisk walk was called for to help the digestion. With extensive Castle grounds to explore, or the 368 square miles of Dartmoor for the taking, there’s plenty to choose from. Wellies for guests and towels for wet dogs are on hand. A goodly half-hours stroll to the C13th Ring O Bells Inn next to North Bovey Church was in general keeping with the food and drink themed sojourn.
Time then to drink in the tranquillity of this bolt-hole, only 45 minutes by car from Exeter, even less by helicopter. As we left, the landing ground was empty. We never did find out who we’d been sharing our Castle with.
Bovey Castle Hotel and Spa
Dartmoor National Park
Luxury Bovey Break: Stay for two nights at Bovey Castle from £599 per room/£300 pp (two sharing) including two nights’ accommodation in a Classic Room with full English breakfast, dinner on one night in the Great Western restaurant (£65 pp allocation) and dinner on the second night in the Smith’s Brasserie (£40 pp allocation), a bottle of Champagne upon arrival, a tour of the deer park and access to the Elan spa. Offer valid until 30 June, subject to availability. Call Bovey Castle on 01647 445 000 (www.boveycastle.com).