Jessica Hope dons her hiking boots and discovers the perfect countryside retreat for walkers, just a stone’s throw away from Dartmoor National Park
As I opened the gate to the car park and chickens scurried around my feet, I could immediately see why people are drawn to this idyllic countryside retreat. With the sun-drenched green hills rolling into the distance, new-born lambs bleating nearby, and birdsong surrounding us, the strains of William Blake’s Jerusalem rang through my head.
We had, indeed, arrived in England’s green and pleasant land. In need of some R&R and invigorating fresh air, Russell and I travelled to Dartmoor for a long weekend at Lee Byre. This award-winning bed and breakfast is based on what was once a working farm, and is perfectly located for exploring Devon, Dartmoor National Park and Cornwall.
Run by Guy and Kathrin, Lee Byre is a series of barns dating from the 18th century, which were lovingly restored to their present glory by Guy’s father, John.Converted to include three charming bedrooms, the barns feature exposed beams and original stonework, as well as modern bathrooms and king-sized beds. We stayed in Dart, the superior double, which has incredible views over the luscious landscape, plus fluffy dressing gowns, comfy slippers and tea and coffee facilities, as well as homemade chocolate and peanut cookies. There’s also fresh water provided – all the water at Lee Byre is sourced from the nearby spring, so whether you are making a cuppa or having a shower, it comes from the well.
When you need to quench the other type of thirst there is an honesty fridge in the dining area where you will find cider and wine selected by a local expert, in addition to sparkling soft drinks. Pick your tipples, mark them off on a tally and they get totted up at the end of your stay – it’s all very relaxed. We enjoyed a fruity bottle of Sharpham Dart Valley Reserve from Totnes while sitting on the patio, watching the sky turn to hues of pinks and blues as the sun began to move below the hills.
Food is taken seriously here. Everything is homegrown on site, sourced locally or homemade by chef Nina. On our first night, we demolished warm bread rolls with salted butter and the most incredible pesto made from wild garlic picked from the lane – you can even purchase a jar to take home. This was followed by shortcrust pie filled with slow-cooked lamb and mint, served with buttery new potatoes, fresh garden peas, and a salsa verde made from foraged herbs and a sharp tang of vinegar.
We then tried Nina’s homemade caramel and sea salt ice cream with a warm chocolate brownie for dessert – dark, smooth and sweet, it hit just the right spot.Guy, far left, takes guests on guided tours around Dartmoor National Park
Feeling energised, we ventured outside for a guided night walk with Guy around Dartmoor. As the sun set and the light began to change, we were able to explore the hills of the national park in a whole new way. While our eyes adjusted to the dark, our other senses became heightened – the sound of the river racing beneath us and the wings of bats swooping overhead suddenly became more evident. Throughout the tour, Guy stopped to tell us about how Dartmoor’s landscape has changed over the centuries due to granite mining and deforestation. We then enjoyed a spot of star gazing while walking in the moonlight. There were no head torches needed – a novelty when we’re so used to the light pollution of city life.
As well as night tours, Guy provides guided day walks through the national park. These trips are designed to give guests the opportunity to explore more remote areas, with homemade packed lunches and car transfers included.
After falling asleep looking at the stars through our room’s skylight, we awoke feeling well rested. Before setting off to explore Dartmoor on our own, we enjoyed an almighty breakfast to prepare ourselves for the day. With homemade granola, fruit salad, yoghurt, fresh bread and muffins made by Guy’s mother Judy, there’s plenty to please everyone. There’s also a cooked breakfast made from local ingredients and eggs from the site’s chickens, and the fruity banana and cinnamon porridge will go down a real treat.Guy kindly plotted a day out for us to see some of the highlights of the national park. We began with an amble to the atmospheric Wistman’s Wood at Two Bridges. With the twisted tree branches, moss-covered rocks and thick vegetation, it looked like a landscape from The Lord of the Rings. Then we headed to Postbridge to see the medieval clapper bridge before arriving at the Hound Tor, thought to be the inspiration behind Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. With its unusual rock formations and incredible views over Dartmoor, you can see why it’s so popular with both abseilers and rock climbers.Back at Lee Byre, our room’s ensuite was a welcome sanctuary after our busy day of hiking with its roll-top bath, power shower and Bramley toiletries. Having worked up an appetite, we dined on delicate mackerel fishcakes with a hint of warming horseradish on a bed of spinach with a mussel and cream sauce, topped with a plump poached egg and served with broccoli and carrots tossed in toasted almonds. Dessert included a cleansing raspberry sorbet with crunchy pistachios and fresh, sharp raspberries.
The following morning we were crestfallen at the idea of leaving the tranquil setting of Lee Byre. This is an ideal getaway for walkers wanting to traverse Dartmoor’s incredible landscape, with the addition of outstanding food, friendly owners and comfortable rooms. Like Blake, we left with an undying passion for England’s pleasant pastures and a need to explore them some more.
Superior double room at Lee Byre starts at £85, standard doubles or twins from £75, includes breakfast; leebyre.com