Delightful Devon

Steve McKennaThe West Australian
Boweman's Nose, Dartmoor.
Camera IconBoweman's Nose, Dartmoor. Credit: Blackstone Photos/Supplied

Speak to a proud Devonian and they’ll tell you that theirs is the only county in England with two coastlines and two national parks. It’s certainly food for thought when sketching out an itinerary.

If you’re after a pit stop that’s well-placed to discover the delights of Devon, and has dollops of charm and character, Kentisbury Grange ticks plenty of boxes. This four-star retreat is tucked down a country lane, just west of Exmoor National Park, a half-hour drive from the surf meccas of Woolacombe and Croyde and even closer to the resort town of Ilfracombe (where a surreal 20m-high sculpture by Damien Hirst towers over the harbour).

Surrounded by rolling farmland and manicured, hydrangea-festooned gardens, Kentisbury’s creeper-draped manor house was constructed in 1894 for a Lancashire cotton merchant and boasts Grade II-listed status by English Heritage, which says it was built to “a standard rarely seen in North Devon”.

Now it has the trappings of a contemporary boutique hotel (with Nespresso machine and super-comfy beds in the rooms), while retaining original architectural features that blend late-Victorian with Tudor and Georgian styles. The chequered stained-glass windows in the stairway above reception, the modern art hung on the hallways’ metallic wallpaper, and the elegant lounge with velvet sofas catch the eye.

Outside, sprinkling the gardens, are stylish new cottage suites and self-contained lodges and bungalows that families and groups may find more convenient (some have kitchens, hot tubs and private decking over the garden pond).

While it’s blissfully tranquil at Kentisbury Grange, you are out in the sticks, with limited food and drink options nearby. So you either self-cater, eat before you arrive (we have crab and lobster rolls and crab-loaded skinny fries by the water at Ilfracombe) or dine at Kentisbury’s on-site restaurant, which occupies the old coaching house, and serves classics like steak and triple-cooked chips, plus more refined options like crispy pork shoulder with caramelised apple and pickled walnut puree. Breakfast is also served here, and it’s generally superb: the nutty, chunky granola, ultra-creamy yoghurt and full English providing ample fuel for the day ahead (though the poached eggs, despite our pleas, are more sturdy than runny).

Kentisbury Grange.
Camera IconKentisbury Grange. Credit: Steve McKenna/Supplied

Checking out after our two-night stay at Kentisbury, we drive south towards Devon’s other coast, via the country’s other national park: Dartmoor — a name that conjures, for me, visions of a wild, bleak, misty, threatening expanse.

It’s mainly due to the Sherlock Holmes’ story, The Hound of the Baskervilles, which saw the private detective come to solve a mystery surrounding a demonic hound. Dartmoor’s myth-soaked landscapes were brought to life by Holmes’ creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who apparently penned the story while staying at the Old Duchy Hotel, now the national park’s visitor centre in Princetown, close to the foreboding Dartmoor Prison.

Tours retracing the author’s footsteps are among the myriad experiences you can enjoy in Dartmoor, which spreads across 950 square kilometres and marks its 70th anniversary as a national park in 2021.

Dartmoor is overcast, yet bright, for our journey, with its prevailing westerly winds — often the bringer of wet weather — seemingly dozing. Zipping along the twisting, bracken-fringed country lanes — watch out: there could be a tractor or a combine harvester around the corner — we pass contrasting landscapes; some gently cascading, quilted in luminous shades of green, speckled with grazing cattle and edged by farmsteads and thatched cottages; and the higher parts more exposed and barren, crawling with purple heather, and strewn with craggy granite tors (outcrops) and ancient sites.

There have been human settlements in Dartmoor for over 4000 years, with Bronze Age ceremonial standing stones, stone circles and Iron Age hill forts etching the region.

We spy, in the distance, hikers and climbers clambering along ridges, a group of mountain bikers, knees pumping, and the famous wild semi-nomadic Dartmoor ponies, which have been bred by the same families for generations and used to carry ore scooped from the local tin mines.

By a gorge near the old mining town of Chagford, we pass one of Dartmoor’s most popular attractions: Castle Drogo, a National Trust-managed country mansion and gardens designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens for self-made millionaire Julius Drewe. Driving south, we soon see another stately pile from the early 20th century: Bovey Castle, a luxury resort with a hotel, lodges, spa and championship golf course.

Reaching the heart of Dartmoor, we top the crest of a hill, and suddenly the view opens up magnificently. In the valley below, its spired church, known as the “Cathedral of the Moors”, piercing upwards, against an utterly idyllic, cascading backdrop, the village of Widecombe-in-the-Moor beckons us. Some drivers stop for a pub lunch (say, a beef and ale pie) by the open log fire at the Rugglestone Inn. Still a bit full from breakfast, we head instead to the cafe-tearoom by the village green and order soup of the day (coconut and lentil dhal) and a traditional Devon cream tea.

Devon cream tea at Widecombe in the Moor.
Camera IconDevon cream tea at Widecombe in the Moor. Credit: Steve McKenna

Minutes later, delivered to our table, are pots of loose-leaf tea, fluffy warm scones, raspberry jam and some of the loveliest, gooeist clotted cream you can imagine. As we tuck in, we agree it’s been a good trip so far, and later this afternoon, the south coast of Devon — and the English Riviera — awaits.

Steve McKenna was a guest of Visit Britain. They have not seen or approved this story.

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Rooms at Kentisbury Grange are available from around £140 ($263). See

For more information on exploring Devon and Britain, see and

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