It was late September. My wife and I were feeling overworked and overstressed — our mental states not helped by the fact that we hadn’t managed to get away for a proper summer holiday. We couldn’t face the prospect of middle-of-the-night flights or airport queues, so we looked for somewhere in the UK where we could drive to.
We hit upon Wheel Farm cottages near Combe Martin in rural north Devon.
The journey there was an adventure in itself, taking us over seven hours from our Oxfordshire home. The A39 coastal road was closed at one point, meaning a long detour along single track roads on Exmoor in the dark. We got to Wheel Farm at 11 o’clock at night but were already feeling more cheerful than when we’d set out. And it was a case of love at first sight when we opened the door of Mill Farm cottage. There was a large open-plan kitchen and living room, two large sofas, a wood-burning stove, wooden beams, and stone walls. Our new home was part of a renovated 17th-century water mill. The word ‘cosy’ didn’t really do it justice.
For the first two days we just crashed. In between the sofa sessions, we went for gentle walks around the farm following the nature trail, and relaxed in the sauna and swimming pool. The fact that there was no internet or mobile phone reception helped us to switch off. It was bliss, just for once, to be disconnected from the outside world.
On Monday, restored, we felt ready to do some exploring. We drove to nearby Exmoor. At Simonsbath we parked the car and walked up to Birch Cleave, the highest beech wood in Britain. Nowhere in Britain do you get the same wonderful combination of woods, cliffs, moorland and sea that you get in Exmoor. We stopped for lunch in the 16th-century White Horse Inn at Exford and enjoyed a delicious venison pie before a leisurely drive back to Wheel Farm, stopping every now and then to admire the amazing views. Back at base, we moved a few hundred yards to the Farmhouse — even bigger than Mill Farm cottage but just as comfortable. It had a lovely walled garden and the baby rabbits frolicking on the lawn only added to the Arcadian charm.
On our final day, we visited Lynton and Lynmouth. ‘Lynmouth,’ wrote Southey, ‘is the finest spot, except Cintra and the Arrabida, that I ever saw.’ Shelley was impressed too, and no wonder. Pull up at the lay-by just east of the town on the A39 and gaze at the sight in front of you and you’ll think you’ve gone to heaven.
We returned home feeling totally refreshed. The best thing about a break in north Devon is that you can do all the disconnecting you need, but if you do feel a bit more active in between, there’s still plenty to see and do. Not least, enjoying arguably the finest coastal scenery in England.
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A three-night weekend break in a Wheel Farm cottage costs from £309 (www.wheelfarmcottages.co.uk or 0800 247 1445).
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