After a week in London checking out the galleries and seeing the new production of ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, a controversial play about sibling incest and murder in 1629 at Shakespeare’s Globe, which is charmingly lit entirely by candlelight and dancing on the stage of Here Lies Love, the exuberant musical by David Byrne about Imelda Marcos, I was ready for a weekend in the country. There are lots of intriguing choices, including a newly opened cottage on the grounds of Downtown Abby that you can rent year around. I choose Bovey Castle, which is a scenic two-hour ride from London in Devon. This part of England has some of the most beautiful and bucolic countryside in the United Kingdom, replete with rolling hills, dales and meandering rivers. Nearby in Dartmoor National Park are the wild and mysterious moors where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set his iconic Sherlock Holmes book The Hound of The Baskervilles. Rich in history and exuding English country house glamour, Bovey Castle is a beloved landmark that has stood the test of time. It was built for the second Viscount Hambleden in 1907 by Detmar Blow, an English architect who designed for the aristocracy.
This grand Jacobean pile sits on 275 acres on the edge of the endlessly breathtaking Dartmoor countryside. In 1930, it was converted into the Manor House Hotel and was popular with the rich and famous of the period who wanted a traditional country house experience and all of its associated pursuits without the exorbitant upkeep. In 2003, debonair entrepreneur and hotelier Peter de Savary bought and painstakingly refurbished the property and renamed it Bovey Castle. To reach the imposing gates of Bovey Castle, you drive down a winding road alongside one of the fairways of the castles championship 19,000-foot golf course. It was created in 1926 by J.F. Abercromby, one of the last century’s most renowned designers to rival its sister courses at Gleneagles and Turnberry. The Bovey and Bowden Rivers meander through the course, making it all the more attractive to play or walk on. The castle hosted the PGA Lombard Challenge in 2013, which was won by Albert MacKenzie. Others who have played here include Gary Emerson, Simon Thornton and PGA Euro-Pro record breaker Christopher Hanson. If you aren’t in the mood to play 18 holes try the 9-hole putting green that’s perched on the terrace of the castle’s front lawn with a view of the river or jump in a golf cart and take a tour of the lush gardens and ponds that surround the estate.
Do drive down to the driving range with a basket of balls and your clubs; it’s fun and no one’s keeping score. Although the castle is large, it has a charming intimacy that reveals its roots as a private home. Off the entrance where the antlers of various animals are displayed are two drawings rooms each with its own distinct décor and a welcoming fireplace where you can have tea, read the paper or play cards. There is also a well-stocked wood paneled bar where you can have a cocktail or a hot toddy depending on the season. The historic ambiance of each room is evoked by its neo-Elizabethan style with oak paneled chambers, period portraits, antiques, gilded mirrors and comfortable furnishings.
There are 64 uniquely designed rooms in the castle and 14 three-story stone lodges on the grounds, perfect for a family or a group of friends. I recommend staying on the top floor of the castle in the Chairman’s Suite. The lead-paned windows face the lush green of the golf course and the hills and dales that dot the horizon. This spacious and perfectly appointed suite has views to the front and the back of the castle and a bathroom with a soaking tub with it own spectacular vista. This cozy suite has its own entrance hall and a second bedroom. Because this is a family friendly hotel, do bring the kids and the dogs.
It is the only hotel in the world to offer a LEGO Room Service Menu, where children can choose from a selection of toys and have them delivered right to their doors. There are also a myriad of youth-geared activities to give younger guests a sense of life in Dartmoor. Among the pastimes offered are survival skill classes, ferret racing, apple pressing, raft building and a visit to the Dartmoor Miniature Pony Centre.
Every morning there is a thrilling falconry display by Mr. Martin Whitley. If it’s raining, they do the show indoors in the Great Room. He will organize your own expedition if you book ahead so the birds will be hungry enough to hunt and then you can roam the countryside in search of rabbits and pheasants. All the traditional country purists are offered here: game shooting and deer stalking, archery, skeet shooting, rock climbing, gliding, horseback riding, hot-air ballooning, tennis and fly-fishing but sadly it’s a strictly catch and release policy on the property’s well-stocked ponds. The scenery is the main attraction here and walking through the woods, along the stream and climbing over a stone wall or two to the Ring of Bells Inn for fish and chips and a pint of lager makes for a pleasant afternoon. The enchanting village with its cobblestone streets and thatched roof cottages where the window boxes are stuffed with geraniums is the classic England you read about in books and see in the movies. After lunch, walk across the village green and visit the ancient Parish Church of St. John the Baptist and the cemetery with graves dating back to the 14th century.
On the way home, you’ll walk by pastures with grazing cows and horses behind high stone fences. Take an apple or two from the pub and toss it to a grateful mare or feed her a lump of sugar if no one’s looking. In 2011, Steven Spielberg used the pastoral countryside surrounding the Castle as the backdrop for his movie War Horsestarring Jeremy Irvine and Emily Watson.
Dining at Bovey Castle is as much of an experience as the rest of the estate. The breakfast buffet is a hearty delight and Head Chef Marc Hardiman serves up culinary magic with ingredients fresh from the grounds and the nearby coastline to create seasonal menus in both The Edwardian Grill and Castle Bistro restaurants. The hotel’s expansive wine cellar offers the perfect pairings for every meal. Afternoon tea here is a quintessential English tradition. One day choose the grandeur of the wood paneled Cathedral Room with its high ceiling and panoramic window views; the next choose a chintz covered couch in front of the crackling fire in the cozy cream colored Adam Room while you nibble on scones and sip your tea from delicate china cups. One reason this warm and enchanting room is my favorite is because the castle’s friendly and colorful parrot Beaky lives here. He never fails to greet you with a brisk, “Hello.”
The flagship SUNDÃRI spa is also within the castle and offers an extensive array of healing treatments, utilizing the Ayurvedic products created by Christy Turlington. SUNDÃRI means ‘beautiful woman’ in Sanskrit and they draw on the 5,000-year-old Ayurvedic practice from India. Their signature rituals begin with yoga stretches and breathing in one of the private spa suites. The facilities also include a Jacuzzi, steam room, full gym and an Art Deco styled swimming pool that overlooks the sun terrace with magnificent views of the River Bovey and the surrounding moorland.
At Bovey Castle you can live out your dreams of a classic English weekend in the country with it’s many pursuits or just put your feet up and relax.