The traditional granite longhouse at Weeke Barton might be a 500-year-old rural home, but its interiors are pure modern city chic. The owners, a creative pair who hail from London’s hip Hackney, have packed plenty of East London style into their historic guesthouse… and it works.
Cots are £10 a night for under-threes; under-14s sleep in an extra bed (£20 a night), and public areas are easy to access with a pram or pushchair. There’s an early tea served for kids before adults-only dinner time (both must be booked before arrival).
Ecologically sound cleaning products, bath products and light bulbs are in use throughout the house, and most ingredients are sourced locally. Heating is provided by a biomass boiler.
Sit wherever you like at the dining room’s long communal table.
You can’t get much more laid-back than this rural guesthouse, so aim for comfy country cool.
Chef (and co-owner) Jo Gossett serves home-cooked British classics (think Dartmoor lamb with potato gratin, with pear and brioche butter pudding for dessert). All dinners need to be booked in advance of your arrival.
Pour yourself whatever you like from the fully stocked honesty bar in the Snug. You can also bring your own booze (there's a small corckage fee of £10 a bottle).
Breakfast is served in the dining room from 9am–10am, or earlier on request. Dinner is from 7.30pm, with a children’s supper served at 5.30pm.
Devon, in England’s southwestern corner, has all the sandy beaches and rugged moorland you need for a traditional British country holiday. It’s home to Dartmoor National Park, on the edge of which you’ll find Weeke Barton.
The closest airport is Exeter (www.exeter-airport.co.uk), a 25-minute drive from the hotel. You’ll be able to fly here from many UK cities, including Manchester, Newcastle and Edinburgh.
Great Western trains from London, Bristol, Bath and Birmingham pull into Exeter St David’s station, 20 minutes from the hotel by car (www.nationalrail.co.uk/stations/exd/details.html).
If you’re planning some scenic country drives or heading down to the beaches, bring your car; there’s free parking on-site. Exeter’s about four hours from London via the A303.
Worth getting out of bed for
Devon is a wonderland if you like getting outdoors: from sandcastle building to horse riding, you can do it here. Borrow a map from the hotel if you’re heading out for a roam around.
Rent a bike from Forest Cycle Hireand explore Devon on two wheels: take a guided riding tour or use one of the purpose-built cycle tracks, suitable for everyone from novices to advanced riders. Or, hit the water and go fly fishing on the five well-stocked lakes, fed by the River Tavy, at the Tavistock Trout Fishery. The record catch is 16lb 4oz… Alternatively, tee off on the 18-hole Teign Valley Golf Course, open year-round.
The Horse, a family-friendly pub, restaurant and pizzeria on George Street in Moretonhampstead is a relaxed spot for dinner or lunch. The garden at The Manor Inn in Lower Ashton makes this laid-back restaurant a great sunny-day place to eat lunch or dinner.
The Nobody Inn in Doddiscombsleigh – a 10-minute drive from the hotel – serves fine Devonshire fare in 17th-century surroundings. Get comfy among the blackened beams, antique knick-knacks and inglenook fire, and tuck into their steak and local ale pie (just one of the menu's meaty marvels) followed by a Pimm's o' clock jelly or something slathered in clotted cream. Book a taxi there and back – it's hard to resist lining up a few of the 240 malts on the bar's impressive whisky list.
Spain? No. France? Mais non. Italy? Non tanto… I can’t put my finger on where this feels like. But, I’m quite sure it doesn’t feel like Devon. I’ve been to Devon before, and usually it’s far more bucket-and-Breton-stripes. Which, while superb, is a world away from this.
Outside, the mist is rolling in over the mother-of-all hills (even here in the South West of England it is ridonculously big), covered from brow to foot in a forest-full of trees, forming the most spectacular view and feeling so very alpine. In fact, it’s so alpine that snow wouldn’t surprise me, and neither would a steaming hot chocolate laced with whisky (admittedly in August, snow would be a stretch, but the hot chocolate I’d take willingly).
I’ve obviously got nothing better to do that ruminate on where exactly in the world it feels like I am, because this is what I’ve spent the last 10 minutes doing. You could say this is testament to the magic bestowed on me by Weeke Barton.
Mr Smith and I are only here for two days, but thanks to its transporting qualities, it feels like I’ve travelled further, and for longer. It’s as though we trekked for days to arrive. Not like we hopped off the A38 and wound round remote country lanes for a few minutes (roads so remote, may I add, that our phone’s ‘no service’ had us thinking that if we broke down we’d walk for miles before seeing a sign of life, which prompted us to relay hitchhiking ghost stories en route giving ourselves a case of severe heebie-jeebies. Just saying).
Where am I? Oh yes. I’ve found ‘my spot’ – a cosy grey armchair perfectly positioned to gaze at the Dartmoor hill, by the window in the living room. The splendidly solid, unevenly walled, wooden-floored farmhouse that is Weeke Barton, reminds me of a gîte my parents might have rented in the South of France in my girlhood, but with a whole lot more style. No naff lino floors or lilac walls here; this place has lashings of interior-design idiosyncrasies, with furnishings that look plucked from an East London apartment by a cool couple and planted in an atmospherically creaky 500-year-old house.
Of course, that is what’s happened, in essence, as owners Sam and Jo are DFLs (Down From Londoners), hailing from Hackney seven years ago. And, their DFLness oozes from the pores of Weeke Barton. It’s found in the hip decor, the just-right soundtrack, the tastemaker art hanging on the walls, and their mi-casa-es-tu-casa approach to hosting.
Don’t expect an over-exuberant Devonshire welcome, Sam and Jo are more laid-back, which means that, yes, sometimes you can’t find them if you need assistance, and yes, you may feel like you’re staying at a friend-of-a-friend’s house. But, once you get them chatting, they’re really friendly, and you can tell that Weeke Barton is a true labour of love. Which, fact fans, the previous owner, a farmer and a gambler, won in a game of cards, and which on buying, Sam and Jo (and Sam’s dad Barry) spent a year renovating before opening to guests.
And, oh what a house! Our room – Orla, she’s called – is up a wooden spiral staircase and has oodles of space, the high points being handsome beams, industrial metal lights, a bathtub and a massive bed – the kind you can really stretch out in and not bother each other. The bath is raised on a platform beneath the window, so when I’m not in ‘my spot’ downstairs, I’m bathing amid steam and suds, while I view-gaze with a glass of prosecco, or a G&T, procured from the snug honesty bar downstairs. This is also where we’ve plundered the DVD collection, and admired a fetching stag-head wall light.
Food is another plus point at Weeke Barton. Breakfast is usually served 9am to 10am, but Sam and Jo happily cater for early risers like us, and laid on an 8am feast at the slate-topped dining table (which was made bespoke locally, and which I wanted to take home with me). This was a full English fit for kings, with local organic produce and perfect portions. The veggie (me) was as happy as the meat eater (him), and the coffee was just right.
While breakfast is included, evening meals have to be booked in advance (my tip is to request dinner when booking, so you don’t forget). Try not to make the mistake we did of thinking dinner happens naturally, and so avoid an unexpected trip to a pub on your first night. On our second evening, experiencing dinner at Weeke Barton proved a highlight of our stay. Jo expertly crafted a mushroom-and-tarragon pie for me, and a pork-and-chorizo pie for Mr Smith from ‘what she had in the kitchen’ followed by homemade melt-in-the-mouth-obscenely good lemon curd ice-cream. While Mr Smith and I dined, we pondered life, sipped prosecco and listened to Bob Marley, while rain pattered on the windows outside. It felt blissfully comforting with the bonus of only have to roll upstairs afterwards.
Oh, and if you’re wondering what we did, other than lazing, gazing and eating… Well, we wandered in the beautiful, wild, gardens and played with the irrepressibly friendly spaniel, Coco; possibly the world’s best ball-retrieving dog, ever. And, we also ventured further afield: to lunch at Riverford Organic; crabbing at Stoke Gabriel; a quayside wander in Exeter; and a roam up on deepest Dartmoor. It is all a world away from the Devon bucket-and-Breton-stripes brigade, and what a wonderful thing that was! Now, don't ask how on earth we find our way home again...