15 AUG 2019: You don’t have to have the eyes of one of Martin Whitley’s eagles or falcons to see that Bovey Castle is something special. Whitley, who runs Dartmoor Hawking is on site at the historic establishment every day introducing his collection of birds of prey to visitors, but his unique presence is only the tip of the iceberg for guests of the estate, which has been part of the Eden Hotel Collection since 2014.

Located less than an hour from Exeter and Plymouth in England’s West Country, and about three hours from London, five-star Bovey is located within Devon’s Dartmoor National Park, commanding 111 hectares of beautiful countryside, upon which sits the majestic manor and 22 self-catering cottages, all overlooking a lake and the Bovey River.

Built at the turn of the 20th century as a country retreat for bookseller and newsagent William Henry Smith (better known as WH Smith and later Viscount Hambleden), the lavish neo-Elizabethan North Bovey Manor was first launched as a hotel and golf resort in 1930 by Great Western Railways. With extensions over the years, the structure was reclassified as a castle in 2003 and today retains its historic charm with oak-panelled rooms, ornate plaster ceilings and inviting fireplaces, while adhering to a style of “understated elegance of a bygone era” and “subtle grandeur” through attentive service, sumptuous décor, modern fixtures and the latest amenities.

Featuring 60 individually designed ensuite rooms that were refurbished in 2017 and the three-storey cottages, there are also two newly renovated restaurants, the luxurious Elan Spa, indoor pool and award-winning 18-hole championship golf course designed by JF Abercromby in 1926 and a sister course to Gleneagles and Turnberry.

There’s also a lengthy list of activity options, many inspired by the hotel’s former life as a country retreat, such as deer park tours, cider and sloe gin making, off-road driving tours, archery, tennis, fishing, horseback riding, and the aforementioned falconry. Or simply walking or hiking the estate, or taking an afternoon tea.

Younger guests can drop in at the Den or join the Bovey Rangers program, which introduces them to Dartmoor park through activities such as learning survival skills, the woodland challenge and archery.

Meals at both the 3 AA rosette award-winning Great Western fine dining restaurant and the 1 AA rosette Smith’s Brasserie are overseen by noted executive chef Mark Budd, who populates his dishes with locally sourced ingredients.

If there was ever any reason to leave Bovey – and there is – the castle is just a hop, skip or bike ride to the quaint thatched village of North Bovey and the “Hounds of the Baskerville” setting of rugged Dartmoor park – one of England’s “last great wild places.” Or further into Devonshire, which boasts 13,000 kilometres of winding lines, farmsteads and generally epitomizes rural British life and country living. The county is also considered “heart attack country” for its renowned cream teas, featuring scones with clotted cream and jam.

“If you’re rushing around [in Devon], you’re not welcome,” laughs Mark Lakeman of Unique Devon Tours, which offers a range of curated and bespoke tours of the area. Though he hails from the coast and has lived in Devon his entire life, Lakeman says his favourite area is Dartmoor.

“It’s a barren beautiful land that changes colour, changes nature, but never changes,” he says, adding that in some places, hikers can “walk for three days and not see a house.”

And with sheep-dotted slopes, ancient ruins (that can be visited for free), lambing season in spring, and so much purple heather in the late summer and fall that “it feels like you’re walking through a dream,” Dartmoor suits, amongst others, walkers/hikers, cyclists, painters, and photographers, says Lakeman, who adds, “It’s a slice of life for everybody.”

Even those who want to just relax or visit a pub, the tour guide/ photographer notes. “There’s nothing better,” he says, “than just sitting and watching the clouds rush across the vista.”

Count Goway Travel’s Craig Canvin among the fans of both Devon and Bovey. “It’s an iconic castle,” says the company’s VP Europe, who visited in May. “And there are all the activities – golf, archery, lawn bowling, hiking trails… And you’re close to everything in Devon and Cornwall. It’s a nice way to explore a whole region without packing and unpacking every night.”

Canvin says for Goway, “it’s all about flow and not running around all the time,” and Bovey is ideally situated to explore the region’s coast, villages and backroads, and especially Dartmoor.

“It is,” he says, “the quintessential England!”

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Michael Baginski

Editor, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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