Adrian Mourby

Back to Inspirations
Britain’s southernmost counties hold on to summer longer than anywhere else in the UK. Choose your location well and you can still swim and sunbathe in October. Even as autumn grips the rest of the country, Devon and Cornwall remain cheery places to holiday.  
Cornwall sees itself as a Celtic kingdom, or certainly a duchy. Were the Tamar River to rise 50 feet it would soon be its own island, which would suit the Cornish very well. They like their English neighbours well enough but many of them do not consider themselves English at all. They are descended from the Pre-Roman Celts and have their own language. 
By contrast the people of Devon see themselves as interlocutors between Cornwall and their Saxon neighbours in Dorset and beyond. In my experience they are less extreme when it comes to laying down the law about whether cream or jam goes on top when you’re eating scones (though they still think the Cornish wrong). 
That said, both counties are probably the best places in England to holiday in the autumn. The sun shines longer and the sea coast is always serene (except of course when the roar of the Atlantic has its way).
Here are ten great places to stay this autumn - and winter - once you have crossed into Britain’s far western counties.

Kenton is a small Devon village not far from the beautiful railway line that Isambard Kingdom Brunel built along the estuary of the River Exe. Brunel’s line effectively cut the parish of All Saints, Kenton off from sea-trading along the estuary. Nowadays this is a quiet residential village with a triangular village green and perpendicular church.
Behind this sturdy stone church, stands (not surprisingly) The Old Vicarage which Bob Marsden and his wife Jane bought in 2013. The couple were looking for somewhere to live outside London and Bob, a former BBC producer had his heart set on running a rural B&B. 
The vicarage was built in 1812 and has a grand Regency simplicity about it with large rooms and a broad staircase. It would not look out of place in a Jane Austen TV adaptation.  Jane Marsden, who works at University College, London made it clear from the outset that if her husband wanted to run a Devon B&B she would not be there during the week, so you’ll only get to meet her when she helps out with Saturday and Sunday breakfasts.
The vicarage is an ideal place to base yourself while touring the Exe Valley Way. There is plenty of parking, and guestrooms face the church, which means you’ll hear its five bells tolling the hour and quarter hours all night long. It’s a surprisingly reassuring sound. 
Bob prepares the breakfasts in his customised apron (emblazoned with the useful word “Bob”) and he serves fine local bacon and other local dishes in the gracious dining room. You order your breakfast the day before by marking up a wipe-clean menu that Bob has designed as a quick and effective exercise in multiple choice.
The artwork in the Old Vicarage is worth taking time over. There are obviously prized personal possessions on the walls. The Marsden’s have created a most superior B&B.

Few hotels in Britain have such a steep drive down to reception as the Cary Arms in Babacombe Bay. Many taxi drivers will not take you all the way down to this serene Devon resort - and if you try walking down, your rolybag will definitely run away with you!  So ask the hotel to make sure your driver if from one of those that goes all the way. It’s definitely worth the journey.
On the way down you will pass Babacombe Cliffs, a house where Oscar Wilde stayed in the winter of 1892-93. When you get to the Cary Arms you’ll understand why he chose this tranquil spot. The hotel sits on a small calm harbour on the Devon coast with a stony beach beyond. 
This inn has over the centuries expanded into every nook and cranny of this tiny, cliff-ringed bay.  Its name comes from the surname of the local landowners, whose coat of arms and motto Virtute Excerptae are incorporated into the pub’s crest. Once inside, you’ll find reception in a corner of the bar. Like the rest of the hotel this traditional British pub is nautically themed with shiny brass ship paraphernalia It also has a log-burning fireplace which throws out a lot of heat in autumn and winter.
Outside seating includes The Captain’s Table, an octagonal poopdeck overlooking the harbour. Here there is a bell that you are asked to ring if dolphins are sighted in the bay below. 
There are eight bedrooms (some dog-friendly) in the main building.  Those facing the sea have naval names, from Petty Officer to Fleet Admiral.
There are also six newbuild “beach huts” that are painted a jolly blue and white. There are also two “beach suites” just above high tide that make for good family accommodation.
Dining is at tables in the bar and its conservatory. Personally I preferred the bar partly because of the warmth of the fire but also the pianist who plays here on an upright on Friday and Saturday nights. 
The menu features reliable pub classics like ale-battered Brixham fish and chips, as well as West Country fillet steak. There is also a fish of the day. Vegetarians get less choice with just a wild mushroom and spinach risotto the night we stayed. The wine list is plentiful and each week the De Savary family (who own the inn) choose the house white and red.There are two malt whiskies behind the bar and three bourbons but best of all is the decanter in your bedroom containing a generous helping of sloe gin.
Now there is a good way to get you off to sleep.
By day you can walk the beach at low tide, or even swim, or just find a nook where you can put your feet up. The Cary Arms is full of nooks. It’s almost as if it was designed for cosy corners. 

Bovey Castle is one of the most gracious castle hotels in the west country. Built in 1907 it was initially a holiday home for the son of WHSmith, the highly successful Victorian newsagent. What parties they must have had in this 60-bedroom palace overlooking the wooded Bovey Valley!
Sadly death duties forced the family to sell off the castle in the1920s and it was bought and turned into a hotel by the Great Western Railway company. Today Bovey’s (very) fine-dining restaurant is named after the GWR in its honour. Bovey Castle also specialises in weddings. Its magnificent two-storey drawing room, nicknamed the Cathedral, is a popular venue for civil services, as is the smaller Adam Room next door.
Under the ownership of Sir Peter Rigby’s Eden Collection the hotel has been extended to include Smith’s Brasserie, a new area for informal dining with a chef’s table and bar. Millions have also been spent on a new kitchen, on family cabins in the grounds, a golf course and a new Play Zone in the old mews where young children can be looked after if their parents are luxuriating in the spa. Children can also be taken to collect hens’ eggs every morning and to watch a falconry display.  This is a hotel that caters for all needs with a luxuriant eighteen-hole golf course in the grounds.
The hotel shop is one of the most gorgeous I have seen with boots and country wear by Dubarry, colourful and cosy nightwear, and lots of quality local art.   
The hotel has been beautifully refurbished with all its period details intact and two lovely fireplaces that burn logs from the estate. New Art Deco signage and reproduction Tamara Lempicka paintings echo the days when GWR guests would use this as a base for exploring Dartmoor. There is an understated palette of grey, mushroom and muted purple running through the hotel, the work of Sir Peter’s designer wife, Marian Cartter.

Unique is a word often over-used in travel journalism but very few Devon villages can match the charm of Clovelly. The descent down its cobbled main street to the tiny harbour is so steep that only donkeys tugging sleds are allowed to deliver luggage to the village’s two hotels. Cars are banned and have to park up top in a designated car park where you pay your admission to the village.
The New Inn is situated halfway down this insane incline that is Clovelly’s main street. It has famously welcomed visitors since the 17th century. There are eight bedrooms with grace notes of the Arts and Crafts style. Some have sea views and others have balconies overlooking the main street.
Home-cooked British pub classic dishes are available in the bar and a variety of real ales. Bea, the manager, is a passionate home baker so be sure to sample her Devonshire cream teas with baked scones – the cream and jam go in a different 

High above Lewinnick Cove on Newquay’s Pentire Point stands a small restaurant with rooms that enjoys perhaps the best views in Cornwall.  Lewinnick Lodge was originally built as a tearoom on land that is now owned by the National Trust. It is still the only structure on this beautiful, wild headland but over the last 30 years it has been developed by Peter and Jacqueline Fair of Crowndell Consulting. 
Today Lewinnick Lodge offers 17 luxury bedrooms above a fine dining room. The building looks a bit like a chalet with its top storey overhanging the ground floor. Slate tiles or stone face most of the walls. Inside, the lodge is spacious and relaxed with wide wooden corridors and a lounge area on the first floor for residential guests to hang out, chat or read.
Almost all the bedrooms have stunning panoramic views of the surging Atlantic below but numbers one to seven have the very best views. Inside each are comfortable armchairs for sitting and watching the sea, heavy old-fashioned binoculars for scanning the horizon, and retro-style Roberts DAB radios.
Visitors who are feeling active can walk to the end of Pentire Headland and watch the surfers on westerly Crantock Beach. Or walk east towards Fistral Beach where there will be even more surfers and an impressive beach bar for snacks.
Lewinnick prides itself on its food and indeed its eclectic mix of culinary styles – Korean, Tex-Mex, Indian and Cornish seafood – is very appealing. A lot of locals also lunch here or just call in for coffee – Pentire Headland is very popular with dog walkers. But by far the best meal to take at this hotel is supper because of the spectacular sunsets. Staff have got very used to diners rushing outside between courses to selfie themselves with the sinking sun.

The Nare is a delightfully old-fashioned country house hotel by the sea. It takes its name from the Nare Headland which stands to the east of this hotel on Cornwall’s Heritage Coast. The hotel itself overlooks Carne Bay with its beautiful broad beach. During World War II the bay was guarded by two concrete pillboxes and The Nare’s flagpole now rises from the roof of one of them. The other hosts a small plunge pool. We now know that the Wehrmarcht did not intend to invade any further west than Lyme Regis, but it’s nice to see that these remnants of that terrible war have been put to good use.  
These days the hotel has 40 rooms, but at its centre it feels like a big, comfortable holiday home, with a long sequence of rooms facing south on to the bay. Scattered throughout the ground floor are drawing rooms with coffee table books, jigsaw puzzles, games, and a lot of modern art owned by the Gray/Ashworth family. There is a library for quiet reading with a varied collection of books that are genuinely worth picking off the shelves. Outside there is a heated swimming pool surrounded by subtropical gardens.  There is also an indoor pool too for when the Cornish weather turns cold.
The hotel was built in 1929 with guest rooms facing the sea and servants’ rooms facing inland. In 1989 it was purchased by Mrs Bettye Gray, a famous hotelier in the area whose portrait still hangs in reception. It was Mrs Gray who set The Nare’s high standards of customer service, and its commitment to original art. Bettye Gray famously claimed that she didn’t understand modern art at all, but she knew what she liked. Indeed she built a small gallery on the eastern end of the hotel to display her early purchases.
In 1996 Mrs Gray brought in her grandson, Toby Ashworth to run the hotel, and he has wisely retained many of Mrs Bettye’s famously period quirks. No one is asked for credit card pre-authorisation on arrival. No one signs for drinks either – the staff know who you are and keep their own tally.  Although tea and coffee facilities are available in each room, morning tea can also be ordered to be brought up with the papers.  Cream teas are served every afternoon from 4pm in the dining room and on Tuesday evenings at 6pm Mr Ashworth always hosts a champagne reception for new guests.
Bedrooms are still divided between those that face the sea and those that face inland. These days the ‘country-view’ rooms are an excellent budget option and are also useful as an overspill room for a big family. Do whatever you can to get a sea-view room however, especially one of those with a terrace where you can spend an entire day admiring the view and possibly working on your tan. You can even arrange for a room service lunch to be brought up so you never need to leave. 

Merchants Manor is a hotel set on a hill above the Cornish port of Falmouth. The original manor was built in 1913 for the Carne family. They were brewers -and also local entrepreneurs. In fact the current owners claim the Carnes invented the screw–top bottle. 
In 1958 this sumptuous family home was sold off to pay death duties, whereupon two ladies opened it as the Green Lawns Hotel, a respectable B&B establishment which went on to become an events hotel, capable of seating up to 200 people for wedding receptions.
In 2012 it was bought by Nick and Sioned Parry-Rudlin who renamed it Merchants Manor. This was their first joint venture with a hotel although both had worked in the hospitality business beforehand. The couple brought in the London designer Helen Hughes who made a feature of the dark wood floors and stripped back the over-fussy décor. She also brought in Farrow & Ball paints and added in furniture in muted blues, grey and greens to create a hotel for adults. Helen also oversaw the garden, which has now been divided into a series of “rooms” separated by foliage where guests can relax and eat – or even sunbathe on a good day. So much of the garden has now been repurposed for leisure that ‘Green Lawns’ could no longer be an appropriate name for the hotel even if Sioned and Nick had wanted to keep it!
The renaming was partly to distance the hotel from a place for big local functions. It now aims to give a luxury experience, with the emphasis on food. The seven-course tasting menu (it changes seasonally) by chef Aidan Blakely-May is probably the best on the south Cornish coast and contains some real surprises (all of them delicious). Imagine crispy monkfish, char siu hake, cucumber granita and Falmouth Bay scallops served with a dry Tokay. The dining room, now known as Rastella (Cornish for grill) was originally known as Restaurant de la Garras by the two ladies during the 1960s and had a menu in French. These days it is darkly stylish with colourful modern art dramatically highlighted on the walls.
This is definitely a hotel for adults who love food and relaxation. There is also a spa and indoor pool but its greatest charm lies in its drawing room and library, rooms built for the Carne family that still radiate calm and understated affluence

Fistral Beach Hotel and Spa is the most chic of the Newquay hotels that overlook this town’s 750 meters of surfing paradise.  Its dining room, named Dune, gazes down upon the beach and serves prosecco and buck's fizz at breakfast time. Decorative surfboards line the restaurant walls and its half lobster might be the best on Cornwall’s north coast.     
There are 71 rooms mostly overlooking the sea. The best are on the second and third floors where corner bedrooms have big white baths with floor to ceiling windows. There is something very relaxing about taking a hot, steamy bath while watching waves pound the beach below.
The vibe here is very surfer dude meets party girl, with the logo Check In, Chill Out emblazoned over reception and Work Hard, Play Hard on the door into the gym. Beach towels proclaim What Happens On The Beach, Stays On The Beach and plastic room keys are emblazoned with the logo Be gentle with me, we’ve only just met.
The bar is presided over by Jesus, who has a flamboyant way with a cocktail shaker and can boast a passing resemblance to Freddie Mercury. He also runs cocktail-making classes (£45 pp) and when not mixing his favourite whisky cocktail, the Fig Old Fashioned, is probably surfing, like so many in Newquay, or running the length of Fistral Beach.
The hotel also markets its own gin (£30 a bottle) which is made on site by the mobile distillers Still on the Move. This Devon company visits Fistral Beach once a year to distil its personal gin in the car park.

Consistently voted one of Cornwall’s most popular self-catering cottages, Old Barn can accommodate four or five guests. 
Old Barn lies inland from Padstow and is tucked away down an unpaved lane in the north Cornish hamlet of Tregonetha. Here stands a cluster of old farm buildings. One of these, the freestanding barn, has been turned into a five-times award-winning, luxury cottage. This luxury rustic retreat is almost impossible to find unless Stephen and Allen have sent you directions in advance. 
The two owners continually invest in their three-bedroomed property. Old Barn has an electric Aga that wonderfully warms up the beautiful kitchen that Stephen has installed. This state-of-the-art country kitchen comes with drawers and cupboards ready-supplied with spices and condiments, two wine-cooling fridges, two dishwashers and every kind of pot, bowl, and implement you could possibly wish for. 
The nearby farm, Trewenna Barn kindly provides a starter pack of its own “Elemental” gin for guests, while Stephen himself provides a hamper of exceptional Cornish delicacies such as Boddington Berry jams, Cornish clotted cream, Cornish scones (of course), shortbread baked in Redruth and Old Barn’s own handmade chocolate.
Up on its first floor the cottage has a delightful living room where there is a wood-burning stove, tv and dvd player, plus a baby grand piano (surely a combination unique in UK hospitality??). The carpentry throughout is a beautifully finished and the well-chosen artwork is understated and local. This is a place to come back to after a hard day’s sight-seeing, or a cosy spot to hide yourself away completely for a few days in front of that wood-burning stove where you can either read or write your favourite novel. There is also a smart TV that will stream Netflix and Amazon Prime should inspiration fail you – and there’s also a Blu-Ray DVD player so guests can bring their own favourites. (Isn’t it sad that so many hotels have thrown out their DVD players?) 
When in Cornwall it’s nice to catch up on old Poldarks or even the two Fisherman’s Friends movies.

On Newquay’s Headland stands what looks like a turreted Edwardian railway hotel – but without its railway. There never was a train connection out as far as The Headland but the monumental railway design was a style much favoured by designers of European grand hotels at the beginning of the 20th century. 
With its terracotta ornamentation and flocks of starlings sweeping dramatically round a mansard roofline the hotel looks like a film set - and indeed it was used as such in Nicolas Roeg's 1990 film The Witches with Angelica Houston, Jane Horrocks and Rowan Atkinson.  Other visitors of note have included the future kings Edward VIII and George VI when they were at naval college in Dartmouth, and Clark Gable who in 1951 filmed the Cold War romance Never Let Me Go in Newquay.
Meals at this imposing red-brick hotel can be taken at the Deck at the nearby Aqua Club, the terrace to the side of the main hotel, and the Samphire restaurant which is a beautiful, old fashioned place for fine dining.
The Deck is good for poolside food and it has great views over the Atlantic ocean if you are able to struggle up from your sea lounger. There is also a circular lounge inside for colder days. The food is a happy fusion of Cornish and Mediterranean menus. Also available are sandwiches and all day snacks like spicy flatbreads, locally sourced cured meat antipasti and crispy seasonal salads. But Samphire, for this journalist with its chandeliers and rich seafood menu is the perfect way to end a perfect Cornish day. 

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