In the life of a food blogger, the chance to go outside of the box is rare. But recently we were given the opportunity to visit one of Devon’s most luxurious destinations to experience what happens between the walls and hedges at The Highbullen Hotel, Golf & Country Club at Chittlehamholt in North Devon.
The hotel is steadily becoming one of the top destinations in North Devon and its easy to see why. Its remote location, 18-hole USGA specification golf course and superior views, and taking in Exmoor, Dartmoor and down the Mole Valley, make Highbullen the ideal getaway for urbanites, golfers and a leisure destination for locals too. It has recently been featured in The North Devon Journal, Devon Life and Horse & Countryside after its 2013 renovation.
Built in 1879 by Exeter architect William Moore, its architecture is strongly influenced by Phillip Webb who was considered the father of Arts & Crafts architecture. Built from stone quarried on the 125 acre estate, it remained the Moore family home for forty years.
In the Second World War it housed an evacuated girls private school, then in 1963 it was bought by Hugh and Pam Neil who turned it in to a foodie destination that attracted some top names such as Delia Smith, who became a regular visitor to The Cellar Bar in the seventies. Some of Pam Neil’s (the founding chef) recipes appeared in Delia’s recipe books, and after their children Collette and Martin Neil (the actor) took over the reins, it continued its popularity as a destination for good food and its fantastic remote location. Legend has it that Laurence Olivier used to pretend to be a barman and serve guests who didn’t recognise who he was.
In 2012 it was bought by the timeshare pioneer Frank Chapman and now with the help of his daughter Susie Gowenlock, they have reincarnated the Arts & Crafts glory days from the bottom up. After a £1.4 million pound refurbishment, the hotel has risen from the ashes and now they’re ready to show exactly what luxury is all about.
You could be forgiven for walking in and that you have stepped through the doors in to someone’s front room, or you are about to take a tour around a National Trust property. The ‘hotelness’ of the decor is minimal, and the staff who looked after reception were all about smart casual, no stuffy uniforms, no feeling that we were anything but welcome. We were greeted by the Restaurant Manager, Douglas Muir who would give us a tour of the estate but first we needed to settle in to our room. And boy…what a room!
There are 36 rooms dotted across the estate that are bookable, 11 in The Manor House which are all given names to reflect the history of the room. Each room is designed to be individual, classically styled with a modern twist and we were lucky enough to stay in the Chinoiserie Room which overlooked the croquet lawn and the golf course. With a turn to the left, you could see down the valley to the hills beyond. Wherever you go in Highbullen, you cannot escape the views.
The four poster bed in white and gold was massive, double king or emperor size maybe? I could finally realise the joy of actually getting lost in a bed. A fine large bathroom and a large antique wardrobe with a wall mounted LCD TV topped off a very impressive room.
Douglas, the Restaurant Manager took us over to The Pavilion to show us some of the facilities that the Highbullen offers. We also got a chance to talk to Head Chef Dean Griffin who was preparing to cook Fish & Chips for a party of 35 golfers! Dean was recently appointed Head Chef and oversees the food at Highbullen’s five food outlets. “It’s all about getting the local community on board” Dean mentions when I ask him about the ingredients and sources that he is able to use in this part of the world. Fish comes fresh from a seller in St Ives, dairy and vegetables come from sources close by and bread is baked, where possible, on site.
The Pavilion includes a fully equipped gym, swimming pool, sauna, jacuzzi and bar area called The Club Bar that offers reasonably priced pub style food. All of which are all open to locals as well, as are the restaurants and the golf course itself. And Highbullen wouldn’t be a Country Club if you couldn’t shoot (clay and live), fish, play croquet and tennis. The remote location is perfect for walkers who want to walk around the surrounding countryside or even Dartmoor or Exmoor.
The Pavilion hosts functions and an ever increasing amount of wedding evenings/receptions in The Brasserie, but also acts as the place to go for the Sunday Carvery including the ‘Dip n Dine’ where the cost of a swim and the carvery is included together. Douglas mentioned that Highbullen Hotel is in the middle of building The Forum which will allow these sorts of functions to take place separately and will allow more guests and the creation of a Health Centre which will greatly widen the hotel’s appeal.
And you can’t accuse Highbullen of not trying to widen their appeal. Recently they created two new packages that would certainly appeal to dog-lovers and bike-lovers alike.
Hounds at Highbullen lets dog owners bring along their dog and provides the following:
- In-room dog basket with blanket and lead
- Two course “Dogs Dinner” of Chicken Casserole followed by Sirloin Steak with Vegetables and Jus
- Doggie bag of toys and treats tailored to size of dog (small, medium or large) including brush, toy, treats, bag for waste and a tennis ball
- Exmoor walking map
- Two nights for two owners on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis
And their Cycling Package looks like this:
- 2 night’s accommodation
- Dinner each night in the Devon View Restaurant
- A hearty Devon breakfast each morning
- Cycle routes
- Cycle clean
- Packed lunch on one day and 2 £10 lunch vouchers to use on the other
- 2 rounds of golf
Our tour took us next to The Cellar Bar and The Devon View Restaurant. Like the rest of the hotel, these have both been given a makeover and look fabulous. Unfortunately The Devon View Restaurant was set-up for the wedding the next morning, but happily enough The Cellar Bar was in full swing. In my next post I’ll talk more about the food and the breakfast with photos and me writing the word ‘mmmm’ a lot.