By Keith Edwards
With the “I want my country back” Brexit backers’ chants ringing in my ears, I’m off in search of a place to find peace and quiet once more. And Lewtrenchard Manor, appropriately a Pride of Britain Hotel, that sits on the edge of Dartmoor’s wild emptiness is just that. In a shallow valley, surrounded by rolling hills strewn with sheep, the delicate stone manor house seems to be in the middle of nowhere.
Before I know it, I’m sipping a glass of wine in front of a crackling fire. The massive oak mantle in front of me has the initials of Henry Gould and his wife carved alongside the date: 1626. The Goulds’ descendants still own the manor, but they’ve arranged for another family to operate it as a hotel. Original portraits of the bewigged, powdered Gould ancestors and heavy Jacobean furniture help create the warm atmosphere of a home with deep roots. My suite, “The Lyndhust”, has an airy feel with light earth tones and a window seat looking over the well-tended gardens.
For those who relish the tranquility of the countryside, the absence of a cellphone signal at Lewtrenchard is a gift (fear not: Excellent Wi-Fi is available). The silence is punctuated only by the rhythmic tick of grandfather clocks, which induce an almost hypnotic slowing of time. To round out Lewtrenchard’s charm is the wonderful story of “the eccentric Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould,” who is said to have composed the famous hymn Onward Christian Soldiers, likely on his well-worn standing desk which sits in the lobby. Described as irascible, the dear reverend kept a pet bat and married a mill girl half his age. He sent his wife to finishing school, à la Pygmalion, and subsequently fathered 15 children he often failed to recognize.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is also rumoured to have visited the manor (although there are competing claims) and, while there, was inspired to write The Hound of the Baskervilles. Frankly, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine Sherlock leaping from a fireside chair, yelling “The game’s afoot, Watson” and dashing off into the night.
The moors are wild and open, but certainly not as treacherous as Conan Doyle painted them. On a stroll, I stumble upon a pair of moor hikers whose biggest challenge seems to be finding the next pub. At one such hostelry I find the local hunt ready for the off. Surely this part of the Tamar Valley is the real Britain that the Brexiters are hanging onto with all their might.
At mealtimes, Lewtrenchard’s Chef, Matthew Peryer, works his magic with a solid emphasis on good-old British food with a nod to new-world influences. The highlight: Delicious roast venison with faggots, imaginatively accompanied by pressed potatoes and a piccolo parsnip. At breakfast, fellow diners go for the full-monty English breakfast. I’m tempted by oatmeal with Cornish clotted cream, but resist and settle for haddock topped with a perfectly poached egg and smothered in Hollandaise sauce. What a way to start the day!