By Jane Wilson
Feathers all a flutter, bold and colourful. Derek, the resident peacock, was there in all his finery to welcome me to this idyllic location in Heddon Valley, in the heart of Exmoor National Park in North Devon.
Surrounded by trees and fields in a full palette of green, edged by hedgerows with splashes of wild flowers on display, I’m in nature’s wilderness under the protection of the National Trust. There are very few hints of civilisation in this valley except for a National Trust information office and The Hunters Inn, standing proudly at the intersection of narrow roads, camouflaged, hidden from afar.
The earliest record of The Hunters Inn is back in 1823 when it was a large 18th century thatched building. Its main purpose then was to provide pints of ale to shooting parties. When tourism came along lodging rooms were added. Sadly, in 1895 a fire destroyed most of the building. Today the Hunters Inn has ten rooms and an apartment, a restaurant and bar. A lounge offers board games, chairs you sink into and a guest book that dates back years. A fascinating read!
The National Trust acquired Hunters Inn in 2018 and has teamed up with Bespoke Hotels. Together with other partners, such as the Butterfly Conservation, they work together to save the High Brown Fritillary from extinction and the conservation of the area. A worthy collaboration and a worthy cause.
The rooms have recently been refurbished to a very stylish standard. Room seven, affectionately named, Brown Fritillary, looks out over the front of the Inn. It is decked out in an attractive dark blue shade, has a walk-in wardrobe and a spacious ultra-modern white bathroom. All comfortable and cosy. Each room has been individually styled. It’s very quiet and restful and more so from my weak phone signal adding the benefit of a digital detox. And at night the rhythmic ripples of the stream below prove to be an appreciated aid to sleep.
You won’t go hungry here. The food is excellent from a creative menu which is varied and of a high standard. Charred mackerel with rhubarb chutney with a slice of pickled turnip shaped like a hat hiding homemade tartar sauce was delicious, a personal favourite. Exmoor steak, Plaistow trout, West County cheeses, Exmoor cider sauce and wild foraged pesto, all evidence of the choice of fresh, local ingredients.
The grounds, both at the front and back cater for dining outside, taking full advantage of the natural elements, the tranquil setting and the silence, apart from Derek of course. Wherever you sit the views are uninterrupted. In the restaurant floor to ceiling windows stare onto trees of all kinds, walking trails weaving through into the distance and a copper beach tree adds that dash of contrasting colour to the overall picture postcard view. It is no wonder that this area inspired the romantic poets, Wordsworth and Coleridge.
Hunters Inn attracts a variety of guests. For hikers and walkers, it provides a welcome retreat after treading miles over breath-taking views of towering cliffs, coves and varied terrains around the area and nearby where trails lead to Heddons Mouth just a mile away. Although some of the roads are narrow and at times rather scary, it’s worth a drive to the Valley of the Rocks, a destination of a rather barren yet impressive landscape and to the coastal path. (Hunters Inn has a private car park).
The River Heddon runs to Heddon’s Mouth beach where catching and releasing trout along the 1km open access double bank Exmoor stream is a popular activity. Arlington Court, a National Trust property, is in the vicinity with a bird hide to spot herons. At Lynton you can take the historical cliff railway down to the sea front in Lynmouth. There are a number of specialist operators which offer canoeing and kayaking. Cycling and horse riding are also popular in this sheltered valley.
The National Trust is working with its partners to preserve the decline in the UK wildlife, aiming to restore 25,000 hectars of wildlife-rich habitat by 2025. Aside from enjoying the warm hospitality, staying at The Hunters Inn is like giving back to conservation, preserving our countryside and the escape it provides from our daily, hurried routines. Staying here makes life stand still, a place to breathe, our minds to stop and our eyes to see the purity of our natural world. And there’s Derek, his decorative coat of arms, a dazzling walking wardrobe, as he stomps around reminding us that there are other living species hiding in this wilderness of Exmoor National Park.
Tel: 01598 763230
Jane Wilson is a travel journalist and editor of TheWellnessTraveller.co.uk
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