Earlier this month husband and I enjoyed a short break in North Devon. Husband had been keen to stay at Northcote Manor since we enjoyed a lovely break at its sister hotel, Lake Country House in Wales. We were lucky with the weather and had a fine if somewhat energetic few days away.
Pictured above is the entrance to the extensive grounds of the hotel, located pretty much opposite the Portsmouth Arms railway station on the A377. I mention this detail as Google Maps directed us along miles of narrow and winding country lanes before depositing us at the rear entrance of the hotel. The roads in this area may not be the easiest to drive around generally but the correct route to the hotel is not as bad as we first feared.
The eighteenth century manor house around which the hotel has been developed was built in the grounds of a former monastery, dating from 1000 AD. A Victorian wing was added and the house lived in by various well-to-do families until the middle of last century. It opened as a hotel in 1972, with the current owners adding a spa and upgrading all facilities to offer a tranquil and luxurious experience for guests. Three murals in the lounge and restaurant reflect this long and varied history.
Having checked into our large and comfortable bedroom, located at ground level in a recent extension, we set out to explore the grounds. Paths wind through gardens, an old orchard, and down into woodland. It is worth noting that some of the paved paths are particularly slippery. The views when they open up are something special.
The hotel is situated in a remote location – we found no walks we could do direct from the grounds. Thus we relied on our car more than we are used to. It is not, however, necessary to drive too far to reach a variety of rights of way. Devon is hilly so be prepared for many ascents and descents when out walking. The scenery makes up for this.
Knowing there was little else nearby, we had booked in on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis. As we like to take part in a Parkrun every Saturday, at check-in we requested some food in lieu of breakfast on the first morning of our stay – a banana perhaps, with a roll or some croissants, whatever was available. We were assured this should not be problem. At 7.30am I went to ask for our pre-run sustenance. The lovely waitress queried the kitchen but they knew nothing of our request. I was told they had no bananas so was given apples instead. Croissants were being made and the waitress told me she would bring some to our room in fifteen minutes. At 8am we had to leave. No further food had arrived and no staff could be located.
When I worked as a manager my bosses drummed into me the importance of ‘under promise and over deliver’. Had we been told no further food could be provided we would have accepted this. What was disappointing was the raising of expectations.
Dinners, on the other hand, were always excellent. Service, presentation and quality were a delight to experience. The only niggle I had was that the cheese board, which I regularly have instead of pudding, cost extra. This may not have been quite so irritating if the cheese selection had been more adventurous. We know from previous visits to the area that there are many delicious local cheeses available. Perhaps the hotel experiences little demand. They certainly appear to work hard to limit waste – a good thing that does not detract from what is made available on the changing menu.
Under the premise of environmental considerations, we were asked if we would be happy not to have our room serviced daily. As we were only there for three nights this did not bother us – and it was a choice. When items from our hospitality tray ran low, we were provided with top ups.
Having missed breakfast on our first morning, we were eager to partake on days two and three. I would normally enjoy smoked salmon with my eggs but this, again, came with a surcharge. I therefore opted for the Full English, giving husband items I did not wish to eat. As well as the cooked element there was a large bowl of delicious fresh fruit along with a selection of juices, toast and well made coffee. Quantity and quality were fine but I felt the menu lacked variety – probably because my first choice was not included in what we had already paid.
Northcote Manor Hotel is clean, comfortable and well maintained. The staff are friendly although not always available – we had to wait at times to retrieve our room key. There are pleasing touches – the tasty shortbread on arrival and fresh apples in the room. There are lounges to relax in with bookshelves and interesting artworks.
I must also mention the spa, available throughout the day for adult residents’ use. It has a lounge area where food and drinks may be purchased. The small pool is well heated and abuts a large hot tub – although take care if walking barefoot on the slippery tiles. There is a steam room and sauna. The small gym appeared to be well used, offering cardio machines and weights. At no time when we were there did this facility get too busy. Robes are provided in the bedrooms which proved useful as I prefer to change in my room. The spa is in a separate building from the hotel so a short walk outside is required. We were grateful for the warmth and ambience to relax in after our long walks.
The hot tub was particularly welcome as our ensuite did not have a bath for soaking tired legs. Our ground floor bedroom was obviously kitted out for those with mobility issues. There was plenty of room for a wheelchair user to access toilet and shower. Handrails were built in and a plastic seat provided, along with a pull cord in case of emergencies.
We enjoyed our few days away, Northcote Manor providing a relaxing base. Our bedroom was lovely and memories of the delicious dinners will linger. There is beautiful countryside to explore nearby and the coast is a short drive away. Recommended for those happy to stay in a peaceful if remote location.