Monday, November 10, 2014

English Countryside, Part Two

Pastoral beauty in Devon

Travel can be a blissful escape. It can also be a source of inspiration to tap into upon returning home. A trip to the English countryside is both. Anyone who visits is bound to come back filled with new ideas. Writers, bibliophiles, artists, home designers and garden lovers with a romantic sensibility would be smitten. As Keats wrote, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever." I believe that travel to the places we love stays with us forever.


After  six days in London and three days in Cornwall, it was time to move on to our next destination. I had read about Devon and knew it would be lovely, but was still unclear about what to expect. And I was convinced that Cornwall (go here) would be a tough act to follow. However, as we drove through the scenic countryside and got our first glimpse of Gidleigh Park Hotel, I was overwhelmed by what I was seeing. This was a country house hotel from my dreams. And the surrounding countryside in Dartmoor National Park was out of a Thomas Hardy novel. Would Tess of the d'Urbervilles be walking across that field anytime soon? One thing was for sure -- we were in heaven.

First, a little background on the origin of this trip. About six months ago my husband and I knew we wanted to go somewhere special for our big wedding anniversary. We considered going to Italy in the summer, but got sidetracked by another plan. As the year was heading into autumn, an idea began to take shape. Why not go to England and celebrate in the English countryside? And what better time than autumn? There would be country walks, old villages, beautiful churches, lovely gardens, antique stores, English teas, and pub lunches. I wanted to browse in old book stores and bring home special editions of favorite books. The plan was to explore the countryside by day and hunker down with tea and scones (or something stronger) in front of a blazing hearth in the late afternoon. We hoped to while away some leisurely hours in this fashion. Happily our fantasy came true.

Gidleigh Park Hotel

It would be hard to imagine a lovelier place to hunker down than Gidleigh Park

This has to be the quintessential country house hotel. Set on the edge of Dartmoor National Park, it feels lost in the woods. The challenge and adventure of getting there is part of its charm. The roads are bumpy and narrow and bordered by tall hedgerows. It's a bit like driving through a little tunnel. But once you arrive, you realize that the trip was well worth it. In fact, you never want to leave. You just want to stay and be enveloped by the elegant and warm atmosphere of the place. 

The grand staircase

After checking into our room, we walked down the grand staircase to take a look at the hotel. Yes, this was the perfect place to celebrate our anniversary. Gidleigh Park was beautiful! And this would be our sanctuary for two whole days!

We walked into the oak-panelled sitting room and anticipated some happy hours in front of the fireplace

And later that night, the beautiful bar

We went outside to see the grounds. The view from the front of the hotel is a postcard! It looks out onto terraced gardens, the rocky River Teign and the woods beyond. That evening we had a lovely dinner at the hotel and retired for the night with thoughts of adventures the following day.

The next morning, after a hearty English breakfast, we set off on the two-mile walk to the village of Chagford. We were advised that the strenuous walk was well worth it because Chagford is a little gem.

We walked though the woods

Along the North Teign River

Past some lovely homes

On the way into the village we had to step aside as two horseback riders and about twenty "hounds" came trotting along. I wasn't quick enough to get a photo. At that point we were walking with a lovely lady who had emerged from one of these homes and was kindly showing us the way. As we watched the spectacle go by, she calmly said "Oh yes, hunting season opened today. I imagine you don't see this kind of thing very often." I replied, " No, only on Downton Abbey"!


And they were right about Chagford. It just exudes old English charm. It is an ancient stannary town (which means there was a tin industry) on the edge of Dartmoor National Park. It has an old-fashioned dairy, bakery, gift and clothing stores, an art gallery, a beautiful old church, an inn that dates from the 13th-century, and two of the best hardware stores you will ever find!

 We went into St. Michael's Church which has been around for more than 700 years

And strolled through its old cemetery

Lunch was right across the street at the Three Crowns Inn, a former granite and thatched inn dating back to the 13th-century. It has recently been remodeled and is a beautiful place to stay.

 The Three Crowns Pub

We admired the village bakery

And stopped in at the art gallery to see the World War I exhibition

We stumbled upon a wonderful gift and children's store called 30 The Square.
I bought some old-fashioned Christmas ornaments and holiday gifts.

And, of course, we had to check out Chagford's famous hardware stores!

Back at Gidleigh Park we took a late afternoon walk around the grounds 

The garden was filled with autumn color and the hydrangeas were stunning

That evening we had a casual dinner in the beautiful bar and, after another lovely night at the hotel, we left the next day for the Cotswolds to explore that area's beautiful old villages.

This is the pristine village of Snowshill in the Cotswolds where they filmed the opening scene of "Bridget Jones Diary." Remember the scene when Bridget and her parents are driving to Darcy's Christmas party?

It couldn't have been more picturesque

The next four days were filled with storybook magic --

There were country walks -- this is near Broadway Tower

Many villages to see

Beautiful gardens -- this is Hidcote

Ancient churches  

Honey-colored manor houses

Charming pubs 

With elegant interiors

And delicious food! 

Tea and scones 

Cozy corners

And blazing hearths

This is an enchanting part of the world. Cornwall, Devon and the Cotswolds are filled with so much inspiration. If you are a fan of English novels and poetry, you will feel very much at home. There is the sense that you have stepped inside the pages of one of your favorite books and your imagination will take wing. I took notes every day in my travel journal because I didn't want to forget a thing. I hope the memories will spark that impulse in me to sit down and create something of my own. In the meantime, I bought as many books as I could that were set in this delicious part of the world. They have been arriving daily and I will do a blogpost on them soon! 


  1. This is my idea of a perfect adventure in the English countryside! I can't imagine a better way to celebrate a wedding anniversary. Thank you for the wonderful introduction to Gidleigh Park and Chagford--they are going on my list for our next England trip. Beautiful photos! xo Gigi

  2. Sunday, what a lovely place you chose to spend your anniversary, so romantic and beautiful! Your photos are amazing and leave me wanting a trip here of my own. Most of the English countryside I’ve seen was from a train, from London to Edinburgh. We have traveled to a lot of small towns and hopefully we will get here someday. The walk from your hotel to the village, through the woods would be the highlight of any trip, stunning scenery. My husband and I just were having a discussion about travel, what it means upon returning home. To us we know we will always treasure our travel memories. Love the opening of your post and the quote from Keats, I truly believe this. We traveled to France in September and I am still enjoying the “travel buzz!”
    Happy Anniversary...............

    1. France must have been lovely. And walking is the best way to see things. Glad you are still enjoying the "travel buzz."

  3. It's been a very hectic two days, and reading this blog post made me feel like I've taken a mini vacation. Definitely going to have a fire tonight (in the fireplace.) Very romantic place to have a special anniversary.

    1. Kathy, yes it really was a romantic place to celebrate. I think you would love the scenery and come home inspired to create art!

  4. I am seriously going to return and look at these photos again and again. They're gorgeous and certainly perfect for fall. What a wonderful countryside holiday! And I can't wait for your upcoming books post!

    1. Thank you! These parts of England are so lovely in the fall. I hope you can make it there some time soon!

  5. Sunday, I love your travel posts. I fell as if I am strolling along with you! I have visited and walked several times in the Cotswolds but have yet to go to Devon and Conwall, you have my interest peaked for an adventure there soon.

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos!

  6. Sunday, brought back wonderful memories of all of our travels to that area. We stayed in Willersey for two weeks and traveled The Cotswolds. We have also stayed in Devon and Cornwall. We always rent a cottage through The National Trust, usually in town and are able to walk to all the shops and local pubs. Travel during the day to see the sights but always great fun to interact with the Locals. Everyone is so helpful with telling you the great places to go and getting the real buzz on Life in the Village.
    Wonderful photos, thanks for sharing.

  7. Oh Sunday...I can just picture pretty young things in white and a badminton net on the lawn of the Gidleigh Park Hotel. Off to make a cup of tea so I can enjoy your photos once again but I'll try breathing this time.

  8. Absolutely beautiful and peaceful - and like a fairy tale!

  9. Just breathtaking! What a beautiful place to spend a special anniversary.