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Short stay: Highbullen Hotel, North Devon, UK

Highbullen Hotel sits high on a ridge in North Devon with views across 127 acres of beautiful country towards Exmoor. Built in Victorian Gothic style in 1879, the interior of the house with its tiled floors, elegant carved staircase and grandiose fireplaces plays tribute to the skills of the late-Victorian Arts and Craft movement. The main house features 12 large rooms five of which are Manor House Feature Rooms. For The Sir Laurence Olivier Room on the ground floor and the four rooms on the first floor think crystal chandeliers, epic proportions, grand country views and wide, wide beds. Often used for honeymooning couples, The Louise Seize Room sets the tone for regal opulence. The welcome There’s a warm, small hotel welcome from the friendly staff. Most live locally – and have done so for many years – so it is worth listening to their advice on where to sample the local ales and ciders as well as where to visit. The room Highbullen is a Victorian fest of bound books, butterfly collections, carriage clocks, grandfather clocks, logs crackling on fires, portraits and tapestries – until you come to the Loft Suite. This is cutting edge contemporary with an open plan bathroom / bedroom, a colour palette inspired by North Devon earthy tones but brightened by soft furnishings flashes of gold. Push-button velux window blinds epitomise the high-tech finish.  A glamorous central feature wall serves as both a stylish headboard and a screen to the bathing area. Bespoke designed antique mirrored cabinets, built into the eaves provide plenty of storage space and a home for the beverage point – obviously with coffee-maker and fresh milk in the fridge. Lights come on as you open cabinet doors. In addition, there’s a study / lounge / second bedroom equipped with both a 3D television and a sound system. It’s a stylish spacious suite that would easily sleep four and won design team Park Grove an award. The bathroom Which bathroom? As you enter on the ground floor, before you ascend the stairs, there is a sauna for two. Heading towards the master bedroom there’s a high tech and large shower room, another water-closet room and then finally the open plan master bedroom / bathroom with deep, deep bath set against a marble feature wall. Throughout the bathing facilities there are plentiful toiletries from The White Company, numerous towels and probably the fluffiest dress gowns west of Exeter. The facilities Highbullen Hotel is an all year round resort in its own right. The Elemis Spa sits alongside a large and well-equipped gym. There’s a busy programme of exercise classes and an indoor pool to relax in. Come balmy summer days an outdoor pool is in operation too. A sports simulator keeps many visitors occupied when it is too wet for tennis on the seven outdoor courts or golf on the 18 hole course. And there’s a billiards table too. Down on the River Mole the Hotel has two private beats for fishing: legend has it that a boy once poached a 45lb salmon and rolled his catch away in a milk churn to escape detection. The Devon View Restaurant provides AA 2 Rosette fine dining with astounding views across the local landscape. Fish freshly landed from the nearby quays and locally sourced beef and lamb star on the menu – though there is also a full page of vegan and vegetarian options. Go a little easy on starter and mains as you can create your own cheese board from a choice of ten cheeses. The Full English Breakfasts are so good that guests in self-catering accommodation are lured in to the Devon View Restaurant by the aroma of locally sourced bacon, black pudding and sausages. Location Set within its own extensive 127 acres of grounds most guests are content to explore what is a dog walkers’ paradise. Moreover, Highbullen offers dog-friendly accommodation too. It’s just 30 minutes to the Royal Horticultural Society gardens at Rosemoor and about the same time to Barnstaple on the North Devon coast. Betwixt Dartmoor and Exmoor, Highbullen is a great base for moor explorations. Other nice touches A Devon Cream tea is an essential part of the West Country experience with Highbullen’s Laura Ashley Tearoom providing supreme Devon views. As well as Cream Teas there are options of Afternoon Tea, Champagne Afternoon Tea and a Savoury Afternoon Tea. Cost Rooms, including breakfast, start from around £90. The best bit Off the beaten-track, way down in the West Country, Highbullen Hotel has always been a luxurious and peaceful retreat. Early in her career Delia Smith relaxed and learnt from the local West Country cuisine, Elle Macpherson stepped out of the pressures of modelling to recharge and Former French President Valery Giscard D’Estaing also chose this quiet corner of Devon. Sir Laurence Olivier loved Highbullen so much that he booked in to write chapters of his autobiography. The final verdict Highbullen is glorious on days when the sun shines and  the beaches and moors call. But with so many activities to keep visitors occupied, Highbullen really is a hotel for all seasons. Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by Highbullen Hotel.

Michael Edwards

Michael Edwards is a travel writer from Oxfordshire, UK. Although Michael had his first travel pieces published nearly four decades ago, he is still finding new luxury destinations to visit and write on.

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  1. I went down to this part of Devon a couple of summers ago. In some ways it’s remote so you get your peace and quiet. As the roads are usually quiet to you can get into North Devon quickly. What I’m saying is that it’s fairly accessible for a long weekend from the Midlands or South. Such a beautiful part of Britain.

    1. Jean – you are right. Highbullen and that part of Devon are easily accessible. If you head down the M5, past Exeter, and along to the “English Riviera” the traffic can be very heavy. North Devon is far less stressful. We left the M5 and then cruised along, bypassing Tiverton, until we got to South Moulton and then dropped down about 8 miles to Highbullen. Quite an easy journey for such a relaxing country escape.

  2. I think Highbullen shows the way that hotels are going in Britain. They know that we want a lot to do on hand, so there are more and more spas, gyms and pools about. So many of us drive a lot more than we really want to in our everyday lives.

    Parking the car for the week and forgetting about it would be a real draw for us, we spend too many hours each week commuting.

    All those acres give Highbullen a big advantage. I could happily play golf 2 of 3 times in a week there. It looks a beautiful course to play.

  3. I’ve stayed in a couple of these hotels now with the open plan bathroom linking into bedroom. I’ve been OK with it as if you’re sharing a double room with someone you probably have a fairly intimate relationship anyway.

    I must admit that where I’ve seen it done is in old buildings with largish rooms but without the flexibility to put in a big bathroom. My real concern would be trying to hear the radio or television whilst my partner was running his bath. How does that work?

    1. Yes, I first came across the bathroom-cum-bedroom in a hotel that I’d better not name and my wife complained that she couldn’t hear the television whilst I run the bath. At Highbullen, in the Loft Suite, the headboard / room divider does its job so you can still hear the television. Even if you couldn’t hear, you’ve still got a lounge with another television and sound system. So you’ve got entertainment options. Alternatively there are another 11 rooms in the main Manor House with conventional bathrooms.

  4. I love the the rooms have names. I’ve been to one place that named all the bedrooms and thought that was quite quirky. I was thinking of Devon or Cornwall for a staycation this year but hadn’t got any further on the decision-making than that. I like the elegantly modern decor of the rooms, and I’ve never been anywhere with a 3D TV, that’s pretty cool. I can see why the design team got an award. The bathroom set-up is interesting. I’m not sure what the water closet room is but I’m liking the sound of a private sauna and luxury bath. I could quite happily spend half the day in there.

    Nice to see a healthy menu too with local food and vegetarian options. Of course no Devon stay would be the same without cream tea, yum. I’ll keep this one in mind, especially as it’s a little more out in the open for some peace and quiet, and easy to get to and park. A better price than I’d expected for a room including breakfast too.

  5. I’m surprised at the cost to stay here. It seems really elegant and lavish, I figured it would be a little more expensive. Good to know!

  6. I’ve been to Devon quite a few times but have never come across Highbullen Hotel. Glad I did now. Wow, a bathroom with a sauna for two? That’s something you don’t see every day. Actually it is not very common and certainly makes Highbullen a very interesting place to stay. Price is also perfect considering you are getting all these amazing amenities and services, plus breakfast. Also, can’t beat that location close to both the coast and gardens. Best of both worlds.

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