Roger St. Pierre visits Huntsham Court, an idyllic retreat in deepest Devon, a 2-hour train ride from London‘Self-catering’ takes on a whole new meaning at Huntsham Court, a truly stately baronial pile, set deep in the Devon countryside near Tiverton, but just minutes from the M5 London to Exeter motorway and a mere two hours’ fast train ride from London’s Paddington Station.
My journey down to the country started well, with a glass of Champagne in First Great Western’s comfortable first-class lounge, under the arching glass and iron roof of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s majestic railway terminal, just a few steps along Platform One from the statue of the great engineer himself.
Huntsham Court is capable of sleeping as many as 72 in some 30 spacious bedrooms. When its grand family home tenure ran out, it had a chequered history. The present owners, Damian Llambias and Christopher Badham, could have continued running Huntsham as a conventional luxury country house hotel. They chose instead to rescue the rather rundown building and transform it into an exclusive self-catering property, rented out by the week or for a few days to one client at a time – be it a family, a well-heeled individual entertaining close friends, or a corporate group.
A true retreat in the country, Huntsham is now available by the week or for exclusive mid-week and weekend hire, for day use only mid-week or for overnight stays of a minimum two nights. And it is not a budget-breaking venue. Depending on numbers of guests, its hire can cost as little as £120 per person for two nights mid-week.
Built in the mid-Victorian era but resonant with Gothic and Jacobean architectural influences, it’s a grandly elegant and exquisitely furnished place yet at the same time very homely – a house you seem to wear rather than merely inhabit.
Shades of Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward and the Cliveden Set, it’s a perfect stage for a magical and quintessential English country house party.
The owners’ impeccable taste shines throughout the property, from the magnificent Great Hall and superb country-style kitchen to the library, bar, butler’s pantry and airy glass atrium. The refurbishment (now completed) that they embarked on when they acquired the property in January 2012 has been inspired, showcasing superb fabrics, ornate wood panelling and classic wall coverings and a truly eclectic collection of valuable antiques and quirky bric-a-brac.
There are inter-connecting rooms, some four-posters and a twin-tub suite, as well as a private three-bedroom cottage. Renters can enjoy the run of the whole property. They are welcome to bring in their own caterers, or to use local companies recommended by Damian and Chris.
During my stay I sampled a selection of mouth-watering Sri Lankan curry dishes, featuring lamb, chicken and butternut squash with all the expected accompaniments, supplied by Ceylon Curry, one of Huntsham’s recommended drop and leave purveyors; an expansive English buffet lunch and a high tea of scones, jam and clotted cream (natch!) – supplied by Posh Nosh; a full-English breakfast courtesy of local farmers Scott and Maisy; a full-on gourmet dinner with silver service catering by Fosters, with canapés and a potted brown Devon shrimps starter preceding succulent roast rump of Buxton Butchers Dorset lamb and a groaning board of fine English cheeses from local producer Godminster Cheese – enjoyed with a fine brandy before a comfortingly roaring log fire in the gloriously spacious main lounge.
The house’s individually styled bedrooms each have their own unique character and pricing options are available for 19, 27 or 30 bedroom bookings while the venue can comfortably accommodate up to 120 delegates for conferences, ceremonies, banquets and product launches.
Bespoke entertainment itineraries can be arranged for corporate or private gatherings – with such activities as team building, fencing, both clay and game shooting, falconry and massage treatments available.
‘Hire of Huntsham Court is totally flexible,’ says Damian, ‘There are no set packages or hidden charges – just a one-off hire fee,’ he adds.