Live life in clover: Orchard Retreat
Uber-charming yurts, wild meadows and a chance to bathe al fresco without shocking the neighbours - Orchard Retreat, here we come!
Hello, Orchard Retreat, I need you! I’m here for a much-needed glamping breather and to briefly unplug from Muddy Awards madness – with youngest daughter (14) and Mr Muddy in tow.
To say I’m looking forward to it is understatement of the decade. Let me at the hammock, goddammit!
We’re talking rural idyll. We’re in mid-Devon, among rolling fields and wildflower-filled hedgerows just on the outskirts of Cheriton Fitzpaine, with the ever-so slightly bohemian market town of Crediton a few miles down the road.
Even though (according to the bar maid in the local) no-one goes to Cheriton Fitzpaine except if they live here, everyone we pass on our walk to the local smiles and says hello. Proper friendly.
Family owned and run by Vicky, Nick and daughter Maddy, with waggy tails provided by their two friendly Jack Russells, Moon and Arlo. They live in a thatched cottage at the entrance, close enough to be helpful but not in your face. Vicky used to work in sales but this is now her full time labour of love – she even gets stuck in with helping the cleaners.
They came here from Cheltenham eight years ago, found a guy who lives in the village to hand-make the yurts and have been evolving and improving every year since.
There are just three yurts, each sleeping a family of four – Bramley, Russet and Pippin – each set in its own plot, with a picnic table and barbecue, and thoughtfully situated out of sight of the other yurts’ seating areas.
We stayed in Bramley. Open plan and bijou, furnished with vintage pieces – utterly charming.
Outside are ancient apple trees, meadows of buttercups, ragged robin teeming with dragonflies.
Think Wendy House for grown-ups, with a bed so comfortable you won’t want to get up in the morning, sheepskin rugs for cosy toes and a wood burner for out of season stays.
Vicky’s really thought about what you might need, from the torch to get you to the loos at night, to the binoculars for bat and owl spotting, to the cafetiere for your caffeine fix – everything is spot on.
The loos are located in a shared wooden lodge just a short stumble away, featuring a central communal kitchen and covered verandah where you can gather for drinks and meals.
Each yurt has its own named private lockable bathroom with sink, toilet and shower.
See what I mean about thoughtful touches? Check out the lovely soap, wrapped in raffia and hand made – in Devon of course.
So peaceful. The wifi passcode sums it up.
Glamping places really vary, from the rough and ready – where you’re constantly hoiking the kids out of cowpats and fending off sheep marauding into your tent at night (true story, I’ll tell you another time) – to over-manicured and twee, where countryside has been expunged and replaced with a few straggly hybrid teas.
Somehow here hits the sweet spot of retaining the charm of its wild setting and outdoorsiness, while making you feel comfy – and spoilt rotten.
I love this! There’s a bathing hut where you and your lover-boy (okay, probably the kids but still…) can take a side-by-side bath in old fashioned cast iron tub. It’s open topped so you can lie back in the bubbles looking at blue sky and tree branches. Now that’s forest bathing.
Heaven is an empty hammock! Someone peel me a grape – and pour me a gin while you’re at it.
SCOFF & QUAFF
For self-caterers, there is a well-kitted communal kitchen, as well as a little kitchenette in the yurt, complete with a two-ring hob to get your kettle a-whistling in the morning (no waiting for the woodburner like some clamping stays I could mention), plus pots, pans and a pretty comprehensive range of cookware.
For an extra £10 you can hire the outdoor pizza oven which includes a basket of wood, pizza paddle and detailed instructions on how to use it.
Can’t face the cooking? Just twenty minutes up the road in the village is The Ring of Bells, an excellent pub with a small but perfectly formed menu which changes regularly to keep the locals happy.
It’s one of those brilliant community-focussed pubs with owner Binka one of the first to start local deliveries during Covid, plus well-informed waiters, an excellent French Sauvignon, and pretty casement windows lined with pewters jugs and a lovely little garden. I’d go back like a shot.
When you’ve eaten fish and chips as often as Mr Muddy, you’re not easy to please but he said this beer-battered plate was one of the best he’s had. Crunchy, not oily, and so colourful and fresh.
I liked the way the play area was right next to the communal kitchen with seats for keeping eyes on the badminton, table tennis, and nearby treehouse, so you can cook, chat and enjoy a can of local Utopian lager or Sandford Cider (you get a couple on the house as a welcome gift) while the kids let off steam.
There are lots of little paths and bridges taking you thorough the trees and over babbling streams, as well as a fire pit for the obligatory marshmallow toasting.
It was also very secure, especially around areas to outside meadows and deep water, plus you can request a cot FOC if you have babe in tow.
It’s so disappointing when the honesty shop has supermarket stuff so full marks for uber-local Crediton Coffee, Dartmoor ice cream, jams, and Black Dog gin. It’s kept locked – and you’ve got your own the key – to stop the kids racking up the ice lolly bill when you’re snoozing in the hammock.
If there was a Muddy Award for Waggiest Tail, it would go to the two resident Jack Russells, Moon and Arlo, especially Moon (above). He’s been known to convert young dog-fearers in under a weekend. Good boy.
Phone reception was a bit sketchy, at least for me – mine kept dropping out though Mr M’s was fine. Great if you want to unplug for a few days, stressful if you can’t.
Top tip – there’s a wooden bench at the top of the stunning meadow behind the yurts should you need to escape for some me-time (or get phone reception.)
Practically next door is Thornes Farm Shop (above), an extensive pick your own people travel miles to come to, with a cafe pitstop, local fruit, veg and meat. It’s the sort of place you walk in and immediately grab a shopping basket – all good stuff.
OUT & ABOUT
If you want to explore the area beyond, it’s back on the car – for the North Devon coast or the city of Exeter, with its shopping and cathedral, Dartmoor’s eastern edge is half an hour away.
For foodies looking to swerve the self catering, there’s a few goodies worth booking in advance locally, including the award-winning Cadeleigh Arms for something special or cosy home cooking at The Lamb Inn at Sandford.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Reader, I bought the place (I wish). No, I just settled for block-booking all three yurts for a weekend away with friends next summer. There are also two cottages so if you wanted you could have three blissful nights for under £1400 between four families. Bargain.
Good for: anyone who needs to disconnect and unplug for a few nights; communing with the great outdoors – and the family; discovering the rural delights of mid-Devon; botanising, binge-reading a whole book back to front in a hammock; topping up that empty cup (preferably with local cider).
Not for: nature-phobes (apparently someone once asked if they could turn the wildlife down); walks to the beach, it’s. a car trip away; swinging from the chandeliers – it’s open plan so if you can’t keep your hands off each other for weekend (get you) then book the baby-sitter.
The damage: From £130 per night, with a min three-night stay. Threee nights, Friday to Monday costs £390, or the same for Monday to Friday.
Orchard Retreat, East Forde Farm, Cheriton Fitzpaine, Crediton EX17 4BA Tel: 01363 866058, email@example.com