Craig Gibbons' Lifeblog lifeblog://tri.eat.net

30Jan/060

Bovey Castle, opulence in every stone

This past weekend, four of us made the journey into the West Country to Bovey Castle in Devon to celebrate, a little belatedly, the birthday of my housemate and friend, Frame, aged 29. I’d never been to Devon, about which I have heard many good things, and it was with no small amount of excitement that I awoke on Saturday morning, very early and strangely with no fuzz head, to commence the journey to Paddington to meet up with the other members of the weekends travel party; Laura, Melinda and of course Frame, who at that point had no idea where he was going and indeed with whom. The look of incredulousness on his face at bumping into familiar faces at the Starbucks, in an obviously non-coincidental way, was matched only by our bemusement.

After we’d all gotten our fix we were off on the 9:05 to Exeter St. Davids, the closest station to Bovey Castle, where we were met by our driver in a spacious new Land Rover and it was obvious from that point the Castle would not fail to impress. Some 30 minutes later we entered Dartmoor National Park, 368 square miles in size, home to Bovey Castle and according to our driver, the last true wilderness in England. Shortly thereafter we arrived at Bovey Castle, turned into the drive and passed a helipad and several holes of the estate golf course while winding our way up to the house. Our driver, a very informed and also informative chap, as the reader may by now have deduced, told us the estate was originally built and owned by the Viscount Hambledon, son of W.H Smith, First Sea Lord of the Admiralty and more familiarly, namesake of the stationers and book sellers we now see all over Britain. Later it was purchased by First Great Western rail and converted into a hotel and it is in this capacity which it continues to exist today. Bovey Castle is exactly the type of place one might expect it to be, yet the impact of first laying eyes upon it is at once inspiring and profound. One is awestruck by the largesse and opulence of the place. It appeals to all the senses simultaneously. One can almost taste the scones at high tea, something which in fact we did taste the very next day.

But first things first, after checking in, we wandered the grounds, savouring (viz. photographing) them fully, while waiting for our rooms to ready. It was crisp out. Fly casting lessons were being held on the lawn. The mature golf course unfolded below. The stream at the bottom of the hill glistened with effervescent clarity and ice splinters. The air smelled of the country. Everything was green.

Later we walked to the town of North Bovey, half a mile away along a riverside, where we had lunch (and several glasses of Merlot) at a delightfully quintessential country pub called the Ring of Bells. Pub food can often be boring and bland or else on the other hand, gastro excellence. This pub fell somewhere between the two and made for an excellent afternoons pastime. Merrily we walked back down the lane, through the woods, over the river and up the hill to our rooms which were, as expected, perfect. The hotel is themed strongly in 1920’s style, from the décor, to the font used on the room numbers. A “Hits of the 20’s” CD was playing in the room and at no time was there any compulsion to reach for the iPod and the music of more recent decades.

Dinner that night took place in the hotel dining room. There were high expectations all round but Bovey Castle once again delivered with each course extracting uncontrollable aah’s and biblical references from each diner in our dinner party. I think I may have shed a small tear over the apple crumble such was its perfection.

Sunday morning dawned and it was sunny, a perfect day for exploring. One of the hotel staff had offered us a tour of the Castle the day before and he met us at breakfast to say he’d made arrangements. After watching a charming falconry display we set off in a 6-seater golf car with one of the grounds keepers, an enthusiastic individual, former golf and tennis coach and clearly avid outdoorsman. He proudly showed us the Bovey Castle he knew and loved. The sentiment rubbed off, a lot.

Careful not to lose or waste any time, Frame hatched a plan to take a country walk and our driver was nice enough to take us out to the moor, commenting quite nonchalantly as he went on landmarks of the area, a 500 year old granite cross here, a 3000 year old bridge there. One can begin to feel quite humble amongst things built during the Iron Age. The moor was desolately beautiful.

At last the day was drawing near its close and we departed Bovey Castle after the most excellent and obligatory tea and scones. There was less talk in the car this time.

Bovey Castle is a bastion of English countryside opulence. It stands for the way things used to be and perhaps the way they ought to be. It is an experience not to be soon forgotten and hopefully soon repeated.

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