Get away from it all in the heart of Exmoor National Park with a break at the exclusive Oare Manor
Winding through the narrow roads of Exmoor, in a pitch dark so enveloping that the car headlights barely seem to pierce it, the moors feel as wild and remote as they always have. With high cliffs that plunge into the Bristol Channel, prehistoric monuments and endless acres of woodland, the former Royal forest and hunting ground is one of the most unchanged and unspoilt areas of Britain.
Nestled in the heart of this untamed landscape, deep in Lorna Doone country, is Oare Manor, parts of which date to sometime around the early 11th century. Most of the existing house was constructed during 1830 to 1890 and it is famous for its role as the home to the Exmoor Hunt as well as for its connection with Richard Doddridge Blackmore’s romantic tale of the Doones who lived in the valley in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Oare Manor has now been painstakingly refurbished and is available to rent as an exclusive five-star holiday residence. Whether you’re looking to get friends and family together for a special birthday or New Years Eve party, fancy going on a shooting weekend in glamorous surroundings, or simply want to explore the moors from a beautiful base, Oare Manor is a wonderful find.
It’s like coming to a country house hotel, only better. The live-in housekeeper and butler, Karen and her husband Rod, take exceptional care to ensure guests have everything they need, from room service to constant log fires and home-cooked breakfasts. Having previously been employed in a London Royal residence, they manage to provide impeccable service while leaving guests to feel relaxed and comfortable.
The drive down from London is a long one, there’s no mobile phone service once you hit the winding lanes of Exmoor and you need a good map to find the house. But when we arrived on a dark Friday evening we were made to feel immediately at home. The manor offers a completely bespoke experience; so you can choose to self-cater, ordering your groceries and wine to arrive before you do, or you can enlist the services of one of the manor’s carefully-selected local chefs, leaving you with nothing to do except unwind on a cosy leather armchair with a pre-dinner cocktail.
A comforting Coq au Vin was all ready and waiting for us on arrival, after which there was no better way to leave the stresses and strains of the city behind by soaking in the outdoor hot tub under an incredible starry sky. Exmoor is the first designated dark-sky reserve in Europe and only the second in the world, and lying back in the steaming water under this spangled canopy is a very special experience.
The next morning it was a struggle to leave the giant seven-foot bed in the master bedroom suite – a replica of the bed designed by Napoleon for Josephine; one of only three known to exist in the UK. But that was until I saw the view: sweeping upwards outside the window, the full splendour of the valley looked simply glorious in the morning sunshine.
Exmoor offers no end of activities but we decided to see as much of the National Park as we could via a four-wheel drive safari with Discovery Safaris (www.discoverysafaris.com). It’s a great way to experience the different and unique areas of the moor, from the beautiful Tarr Steps, an ancient bridge across the River Barle, to the herds of red deer that still roam wild across the Park. We even went on a hawk walk with North Devon Hawk walks (www.northdevonhawkwalks.co.uk) and the magnificent predatory birds were intimidatingly beautiful as they swooped down from the trees to land on our outstretched wrists.
My favourite aspect of Oare Manor and its location, however, was the overriding sense of peace and tranquillity. There is nothing better after a long Sunday afternoon stroll over the picturesque countryside than coming back to tea and scones before curling up with a book before the crackling fire, and perhaps losing yourself in the exploits of John Ridd and Lorna Doone in this place that cannot fail to inspire.
Oare, Lynton, Somerset, EX35 6NX
Telephone: 01598 741300