Monday, 15 February 2010

Dartmoor rocks

Having spent many an unhappy childhood holiday doing what I considered to be "trudging" up tors on Dartmoor, I was excited to head back to Devon's moorlands for a visit last week to write a piece on cycling for the Guardian and challenge my perceptions of a place I used to think miserable.

Not generally the most outdoorsy of people I was slightly nervous about the prospect of spending a full blustery February day on the moors with nothing but a bike for company but I needn't have worried - amidst the rolling hills and striking tors are numerous cosy self-catering cottages, luxurious hotels and five-star restaurants to sooth those weary limbs and make the great outdoors a little bit greater.

I stayed in two very different places, both of which were luxurious in very different ways. Old Tavistock Railway Cottages were a revelation. As soon as I saw the website I knew I had to stay there - three five-star luxury self-catering cottages carved out of the old railway station, a listed building which has been lovingly preserved, retaining its original platform canopy and station doors. Everything was very new and all mod cons were in place, but the charm remained and I was really taken with the original fireplaces, restored stained glass windows and beautiful antique furniture. This is a place with true character but that doesn't compromise on modern facilities - I could have cooked a full Sunday roast in the kitchen and the rolltop bath was a heavenly addition to the otherwise very modern wet-room bathroom.

My other accommodation was the Kingston Estate, where I slept in what felt like a stately home with all the red velvet cords removed from the doorways. The fantastically old-school owners Elizabeth and Michael Corfield made me feel thoroughly at home - something which was helped by the fact that I was the only person staying there! No TV in the rooms, all open log fires and a wonderfully traditional attitude to dinner made me actually slow down for once - a refreshing change in pace I was sorry to say goodbye to when I eventually dragged myself away the next morning.

It wasn't just accommodation where Dartmoor impressed me either. The wonderful Two Bridges Inn right in the centre of the moor was serving up fabulous local produce including the freshest of lamb and the local Jail Ale from the brewery down the road in its warm lounge. I sunk a bit too far into the sofa in front of the log fire but sadly didn't have time to stay the night. I did have a peek in the rooms though and found just the right blend of the luxury and the traditional. For those who like a celebrity connection, one was even a favourite of Vivien Leigh's who stayed here a few times.

Of course, the main attraction on Dartmoor is the superlative scenery and I was truly taken aback by its beauty. Clearly as a child I had my eyes shut because I never appreciated it, I just remember a lot of moaning! There was no moaning on this trip though, just lots of pulling up at the roadside, mouth open, to take in the view. It seems there really is a fine line between love and hate and for me, this time, that line was a cycle path. I'll be back.

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