Highbullen Hotel sits high on a ridge in North Devon with views across 127 acres of beautiful country towards Exmoor. Built in Victorian Gothic style in 1879, the interior of the house with its tiled floors, elegant carved staircase and grandiose fireplaces plays tribute to the skills of the late-Victorian Arts and Craft movement.
The main house features 12 large rooms five of which are Manor House Feature Rooms. For The Sir Laurence Olivier Room on the ground floor and the four rooms on the first floor think crystal chandeliers, epic proportions, grand country views and wide, wide beds. Often used for honeymooning couples, The Louise Seize Room sets the tone for regal opulence.
There’s a warm, small hotel welcome from the friendly staff. Most live locally – and have done so for many years – so it is worth listening to their advice on where to sample the local ales and ciders as well as where to visit.
Highbullen is a Victorian fest of bound books, butterfly collections, carriage clocks, grandfather clocks, logs crackling on fires, portraits and tapestries – until you come to the Loft Suite.
This is cutting edge contemporary with an open plan bathroom / bedroom, a colour palette inspired by North Devon earthy tones but brightened by soft furnishings flashes of gold. Push-button velux window blinds epitomise the high-tech finish. A glamorous central feature wall serves as both a stylish headboard and a screen to the bathing area.
Bespoke designed antique mirrored cabinets, built into the eaves provide plenty of storage space and a home for the beverage point – obviously with coffee-maker and fresh milk in the fridge. Lights come on as you open cabinet doors.
In addition, there’s a study / lounge / second bedroom equipped with both a 3D television and a sound system. It’s a stylish spacious suite that would easily sleep four and won design team Park Grove an award.
Which bathroom? As you enter on the ground floor, before you ascend the stairs, there is a sauna for two. Heading towards the master bedroom there’s a high tech and large shower room, another water-closet room and then finally the open plan master bedroom / bathroom with deep, deep bath set against a marble feature wall.
Throughout the bathing facilities there are plentiful toiletries from The White Company, numerous towels and probably the fluffiest dress gowns west of Exeter.
Highbullen Hotel is an all year round resort in its own right. The Elemis Spa sits alongside a large and well-equipped gym. There’s a busy programme of exercise classes and an indoor pool to relax in. Come balmy summer days an outdoor pool is in operation too.
A sports simulator keeps many visitors occupied when it is too wet for tennis on the seven outdoor courts or golf on the 18 hole course. And there’s a billiards table too.
Down on the River Mole the Hotel has two private beats for fishing: legend has it that a boy once poached a 45lb salmon and rolled his catch away in a milk churn to escape detection.
The Devon View Restaurant provides AA 2 Rosette fine dining with astounding views across the local landscape. Fish freshly landed from the nearby quays and locally sourced beef and lamb star on the menu – though there is also a full page of vegan and vegetarian options. Go a little easy on starter and mains as you can create your own cheese board from a choice of ten cheeses.
The Full English Breakfasts are so good that guests in self-catering accommodation are lured in to the Devon View Restaurant by the aroma of locally sourced bacon, black pudding and sausages.
Set within its own extensive 127 acres of grounds most guests are content to explore what is a dog walkers’ paradise. Moreover, Highbullen offers dog-friendly accommodation too.
It’s just 30 minutes to the Royal Horticultural Society gardens at Rosemoor and about the same time to Barnstaple on the North Devon coast. Betwixt Dartmoor and Exmoor, Highbullen is a great base for moor explorations.
Other nice touches
A Devon Cream tea is an essential part of the West Country experience with Highbullen’s Laura Ashley Tearoom providing supreme Devon views.
As well as Cream Teas there are options of Afternoon Tea, Champagne Afternoon Tea and a Savoury Afternoon Tea.
Rooms, including breakfast, start from around £90.
The best bit
Off the beaten-track, way down in the West Country, Highbullen Hotel has always been a luxurious and peaceful retreat.
Early in her career Delia Smith relaxed and learnt from the local West Country cuisine, Elle Macpherson stepped out of the pressures of modelling to recharge and Former French President Valery Giscard D’Estaing also chose this quiet corner of Devon. Sir Laurence Olivier loved Highbullen so much that he booked in to write chapters of his autobiography.
The final verdict
Highbullen is glorious on days when the sun shines and the beaches and moors call. But with so many activities to keep visitors occupied, Highbullen really is a hotel for all seasons.
Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by Highbullen Hotel.