A peculiar gloom descends on London in the days between Christmas and New Year. We emerge after two days’ of confinement to find Londoners have abandoned the city and the sun has departed to warmer climes. Anxious to avoid the dispiriting melancholy, by lunchtime on the 27th we were in the car on our way to Hotel Endsleigh in Devon.
If you live in London, then Hotel Endsleigh is a long way away. A very long way. Sitting on the Devon/Cornwall border, it’s reached by a long slog along the M4 and then down the M5, a journey punctuated with dips into depressing service stations for miserable food. The excitement doesn’t really start to build until you reach the atmospheric and hauntingly beautiful Dartmoor. It’s hard not to think of the Hound of the Baskervilles or escaped prisoners as you drive across the isolated moorland.
The moor narrows into undulating green lanes and eventually you turn down a steep, winding tree-lined drive where a warmly lit gatehouse waves you past. Soon the rear of the house comes into view and the fairy-lit Christmas trees either side of the door welcome you in and you feel yourself relax as you being to shake off the long, tortuous journey.
The front door opens into a large wood-panelled entrance room complete with a roaring log fire churning out the most delicious smell of wood smoke. It feels very much as if one has arrived at a country house party in the manner of Agatha Christie rather than at a 21st century hotel. The reception desk is found tucked under the stairs to the left of the hall and after exchanging warm welcomes and collecting our key we climb the creaking stairs to our room.
We have the smallest room, I think, an attic bedroom with sloping ceilings, tiny wooden window shutters and a slipper bath that I can’t wait to sink into. It’s small and furnished simply but it is perfect. The dog bed and water bowl make it clear immediately that our little dog is not just tolerated, but is as welcome as we are.
Downstairs there are lots of little rooms with hand-painted wallpapers untouched for two hundred years. There are views over the gardens, the woods, the river and the parterres. There are log fires and sofas to claim in every room and chintzy armchairs on which a certain Welsh Terrier may or may not have been caught napping.
We settle down by the fire with gins and tonics and after this we move into the elegant dining room for dinner. We later return to the fireside to play scrabble and chat with the other guests. Almost everyone we meet is from London and all are returning guests. It says something powerful about the charm of Hotel Endsleigh that so many people are willing to travel so far for such a short period of time simply because they feel at home here.
Following a good night’s sleep and a full English breakfast we scrabble around in the boot corridor for wellingtons in our sizes and take a walk around the extensive grounds. We pass a couple of hours strolling along the croquet lawn, down the skeletal rose walk and through the arboretum. We walk along the Tamar and up through the mossy grottos and rock gardens on the other side of the house. We pass cascading waterfalls and torrential streams, hidden cottages and creepy trees.
Our dog disappears and after yelling and searching for a while we return to the hotel to find him being ejected from the kitchen. We take it as a cue for us to sit down and take tea from the huge round table groaning under the weight of scones, bowls of clotted cream and the perfect, fluffiest Victoria Sponge.
We sink happily into our green velvet sofa with our dog at our feet, all three of us spent, exhilarated and sleepy, wondering whether it would be inappropriate for us to have a family nap in front of the fire in the drawing room.
After three nights at Hotel Endsleigh we feel like we’ve been away for a hundred years. Soon enough it’s time to leave and we pack our car and head back to London ready to see in the New Year and make a resolution to return as soon as we possibly can.