Old Beams is a luxurious three bedroom cottage in the secluded hamlet of Upcott, which hugs the highest ridge between Dartmoor and Exmoor with panoramic views down the Torridge valley and over the moor. The famous Tarka Trail runs right past the front door, linking Dartmoor to the sea, and you can be hiking on High Willhays or surfing at Saunton Sands within 45 minutes’ drive.
About the cottage:
Old Beams is a mediaeval farmworkers’ cottage, with thick stone walls, oak beams and a huge inglenook fireplace. It was sympathetically restored and extended by my grandparents in the mid-20th century and the house was completely refurbished in 2014, putting in a high-specification kitchen and bathrooms.
The original stone building now contains a large sitting room downstairs with a wood burner and two bedrooms and a family bathroom upstairs. The modern extension adds a ground floor bedroom and a full kitchen (with eye-level oven, microwave, induction hob, larder fridge with ice-box and double sink), utility room (with washing machine and dishwasher) and downstairs cloakroom. All the bedrooms have zip-and-link super-king size beds from Millbrook, who supply hand-made beds for 10 Downing Street, the Houses of Parliament, luxury hotels and ocean liners. An independent outbuilding provides a garage and a garden room, with views of Dartmoor. Between the house and outbuilding is a courtyard garden, planted in a country cottage style and furnished with table and chairs, parasol and barbecue. A small field up the lane provides families with space for a kick-around or to walk the dog.
About the local area:
Follow Tarka the Otter south, through the fields and deep lanes all the way to Dartmoor for a swim in Cranmere Pool or just as far as the famous Duke of York pub in the next village of Iddesleigh for a pint of local Otter ale. North on the trail lies Dolton, with its river meadows and bluebell woods along the Torridge itself at Halsdon nature reserve. Here you can see kingfishers, otters and even Rolling Stones drummers: Charlie Watts has lived here since the 1970’s.
Other famous inhabitants include Joey the War Horse, who was born and raised on our cousin’s farm in Iddesleigh, and his biographer, the children’s writer Michael Morpurgo; Ted Hughes, our former neighbour, whose experiences as a local farmer inspired his Moortown Diary and James Ravilious, the photographer, whose work celebrates the unspoilt countryside and timeless villages of deepest Devon. It is the perfect place to get away from it all and not just for writers and artists; the Great Train Robbers infamously hid out nearby in a hotel at Beaford and had the police digging up the local fields looking for their loot!
Activities within a mile of home include fly-fishing on the Torridge, coarse fishing at Stafford Moor fishery, horse riding and, of course, walking (ask us for more details). Our cousin’s farm at Iddesleigh is the original centre for Farms for City Children and has recently opened a War Horse Valley centre, with museums of WWI and rural life and farming, farm machinery exhibits and an opportunity to meet some farm animals, including Joey the war horse. A genuine farmhouse tea is available, in a genuine farmhouse, with scones and clotted cream and jam.
About the wider area:
RHS Rosemoor is a major attraction just 9 miles north (15 minutes’ drive) outside Torrington. Laid out by our friend Lady Anne Berry, she gave the house and garden to the RHS in 1988 to create a “Wisley of the West” and today it attracts nearly 200,000 visitors a year. The 16 hectare site today comprises Lady Anne’s original mid-20th century planting of rare and unusual specimens and a large late-20th century riverside extension of water gardens, parkland garden, meadows and a sequence of formal garden rooms exhibiting various styles of ornamental and productive horticulture. There is also a visitor centre with regular exhibitions and events, a refectory serving local produce and an excellent plant and gift shop. Other attractions at Torrington include the civil war museum (site of an early military disaster when ammunition blew up the local church and the prisoners of war in it), the leper fields and the famous Dartington Glass works, where visitors can tour the production line, watch fine glassware being blown and purchase items at factory prices from the shop on site.
To the south at Okehampton, gateway to the moor, is a great ruined castle, once the largest Norman castle in Devon and home of the Courtenays, the Earls of Devon. To its east at Drewsteignton is Castle Drogo, the last castle to be built in Britain in the early 20th century by a retail millionaire and now a National Trust property famous for its gardens and woodland valley walks. Okehampton is also the home of the Dartmoor railway, a preserved railway that runs regular services to Exeter daily in summer, some under steam. The wider area is also comically rich in off-beat museums like Barometer World (Merton), the Gnome Reserve (Bradworthy), the Combat Collection of army vehicles (Cobbaton) and the Quince honey farm (South Molton); the last also has a children’s soft-play barn with slides and climbing frames etc.
To the north, at the mouth of the Torridge, lies Bideford, Charles Kingsley’s “little white town that slopes upwards from its broad tide” with its a famous mediaeval Long Bridge over the river. Bideford is a departure point for ferries to Lundy. Beyond Bideford, major attractions include the Big Sheep at Westward Ho! and the Milky Way at Clovelly to the west, which are sheep and dairy theme parks respectively with amusement rides, children’s activities, petting zoos and even sheep racing. Clovelly itself is a charming cliff-side fishing village, one of the postcard views in Devon, and Westward Ho! is a kiss-me-quick seaside resort, famous for its punctuation and its spectacular pebble ridge separating the beach from a first class golf links on Northam Burrows, where the hazards include sheep and ponies as well as bunkers. Beyond Clovelly lies Hartland, remote even by the standards of Devon and infamous for its twisted cliffs and shipwrecks. Sense and Sensibility was filmed at Hartland Abbey, with its secret valley to the sea.
The southwest coastal path connects Bideford to Clovelly and Hartland in the west and to Barnstaple, Braunton and the surfing beaches of Saunton, Woolacombe and Croyde in the east. There is a cycle track from Meeth, just across the Torridge from Old Beams, which follows the trackbed of the old railway down the Torridge to Bideford via Torrington and around the estuary to Barnstaple and Braunton. The first section from Meeth to Torrington is unsealed and requires a mountain bike but the section from Torrington is metalled. The cycle track connects to the coastal footpath at Bideford and Barnstaple.