A ridiculously stylish & fun country B&B In East Devon
I’m beginning to notice a familiar pattern forming from my review trips: the weather is always grim. If there isn’t a thick blanket of fog, a force 10 gale and a flood somewhere en route then frankly, it ain’t a Muddy review. On my recent visit to Old Park Hall, near Axminster, all three criteria were effortlessly fulfilled – and I decided to throw in mild concussion for good measure, having managed to shut the car boot on my head. God, was I ready for some zeds.
And so it was that I performed a handbrake turn into the grounds of Old Park Hall, near Axminster in East Devon on a, now cliched, dark, wet and stormy Thursday night. Mrs Sat Nav had been amusing me all the way, with her pronunciation of places like Honi-tonn and Ax-Meinster; then she decided to freeze on the last stretch, probably in petulant protest, leaving me stranded. Anyway, I’d made it, now I just had to hope that my host Daisy, wouldn’t notice the egg-sized bump on my throbbing head.
The first thing that greeted me from outside this imposing, gothic-looking country pile (Scottish Baronial, I later learned), was a glimpse of neon light through a window; I was immediately intrigued.
And then, through the big old door, came the subtle waft of scented candles. While the ‘flattering’ lighting was filling me with hope that I’d manage to conceal my dented head, I still clocked a few promising first impressions. A fabulously proportioned hall decked out with some brilliantly curated pieces framed a grand piano, ahead of a sweeping staircase with a giant twinkly heart glimmering down from above.
There are some places where you must always remember to look up and look down so that you take it all in and this is one of them.
Then, out of the lounge, fresh from stoking the enormous fire, came Daisy, one of those hosts who manage to make you feel as though you’ve known each other for years. You would never guess that this was her first hospitality venture. This girl has got it nailed and, as I came to realise, is fiercely determined to please her guests.
I was given the full tour of downstairs, from the snug games room, to the quirky honesty bar and breakfast room.
Then I was invited to kick off my shoes and don a pair of slippers, so that I could pad up the stairs to my room. All aches and pains temporarily forgotten, I was deposited in my bedroom, slightly niggled by the fact that I had just passed the most awesome honesty snack station right outside my door and would need some serious willpower not to cave in to the midnight munchies later on.
My bedroom, one of four, was enormous, bigger than all three of mine at home put together. I took great delight in Facetiming Mr Muddy and walking him around my luxury digs. He, of course, was irritatingly nonchalant, until I showed him my tea tray:
Yep, that’s a Tunnocks Teacake alright and it was all mine, a fact that kicked him firmly into submission. I had everything I could dream of here: beautiful original features, the biggest bed I think I’ve ever slept in, gorgeous old shutters to close out the awful night, REN goodies and, and, and, a bottle of sloe gin for a nightcap, to take on the chaise if I so wished. There were other guests in, I knew, but it was so completely peaceful, you’d never have known.
Mind you, all thoughts of an early retreat had gone out the window (a gorgeous window, might I add). Daisy had mentioned she had an open bottle of Rose downstairs in the lounge and I suddenly had loads I wanted to talk to her about. How did Daisy wind up somewhere like Old Park Hall?
It soon clicked. Formerly a wedding planner in Sydney, Daisy has prior experience of pleasing discerning guests and catering to some hefty demands. She moved from London to the west country with her partner James and spied the potential to create a luxury country retreat, with plenty of space to evolve and grow when things started getting boring.
Not that that seems likely. There are piggies to look after, a treatment room and the couple are doing plenty to entice the locals in, like yoga and pilates in the summer house and regular suppers, as well as going for the young and restless crowd, offering breaks like a Glastonbury Survive and Revive. Plus, they’re woof-friendly and will happily dog-sit, should you want to go out for the night, unleashed, so to speak. In fact, I think Daisy has been tempted to dognap on more than one occasion, so fond of the pooch is she.
To call Old Park Hall a B&B seems weird, wrong even, since it is so much more. Every one of the public spaces seems to have access to treats and tipples; Daisy cooks everything herself, including supper if you want it, from scratch and breakfast is the kind of experience that you want to leave a good hour to enjoy (trust Daisy when she recommends her take on the Full English). The lounges are full of over-stuffed armchairs, plumpy cushions and crackling fires. It’s hospitality with a capital ‘h’, executed playfully, with impeccable style. With only four rooms, you feel as though you’ve been given the keys to a glam, eccentric old Aunt’s house, with all of the perks of a top-end hotel. At an extraordinarily reasonable price too, I think.
I would have loved to barricade myself in and hunker down for a few more hours, but I had to throw open the shutters, click on the Nespresso and head back out into the rain, to mend bridges with Mrs Sat Nav and hotfoot it to the (very) nearby River Cottage HQ for a cookery course. My review and my cookery book *cough* is coming soon, by the way. It’s just one of the reasons to visit this far eastern part of Devon. Axminster, where there is also a River Cottage Canteen is minutes away and the very easy-on-the-eye Lyme Regis is nearby too, so you’re deep in the country, yet close to the pretty spectacular Jurassic coast. It’s the perfect stopping off point for a night or two, before entering the gateway to the rest of Devon.
I’m bowled over. Bruised (still), but bowled over. And the Tunnocks Teacakes have, happily, sealed the deal for a return visit soon, with Mr Muddy. It’s a shame to have that much fun, alone.
The Muddy Verdict:
Good for: couples and groups wanting to get together for a glamorous knees-up; foodies, those seeking peace, quiet and pampering and guests who can’t bear to be parted from their four-legged waggy-tailed companions.
Not for: children under 12. It’s best enjoyed child-free, unless you’re taking the place exclusively as a group booking.
££: Suites are from £140 and king rooms are from £90. Good, huh?
Old Park Hall, Lyme Road, EX13 5SW. Tel: 01297 792763. www.oldparkhall.co.uk