Just a few miles outside the pretty town of Honiton, east Devon and several hundred yards along a country drive lies Deer Park Country House Hotel. Newly refurbished and oozing old world charm, Deer Park has staked its claim as a go to destination in the England’s west country. Sweeping up the drive and just before pulling up outside the front door, you’ll pass a herd of antlered red deer, newly installed and linking the estate’s past to its present glory. It’s a spiffing place indeed, as signs dotted around suggest.
After parking-up and crunching along the gravel, drive, you’ll enter through two pairs of grand wooden and glass doors and past some 30 multi-coloured pairs of wellington boots, as if forming a guard of honour to the guest. This mix of colour, informality and practicality suggests Deer Park is as much about enjoying the outside as well as the very comfortable rooms, award winning restaurant, and bars. Free for guests to use, there’s no excuse for not pulling on the boots and working up an appetite for dinner, or refresh oneself before breakfast. Lying in the heart of 80 acres of parkland, Deer Park is surrounded by rolling Devon hills and its rich, fertile red soil.
Led by ebullient and welcoming general manager Mark Godfrey, the 18th Century Georgian hotel is benefiting from a significant investment from entrepreneur and sports fan Nigel Wray, a long time returning guest to the hotel. So, while the hotel obviously needs to turn a profit, it is run with a personal touch that is too often missing in chain or ‘corporate’ hotels. The Wray family visits several times a year, and this personal involvement together with Mark’s experience across the hospitality world is evident from the level of service by front of house staff and the warmth with which it is given.
With a classically sweeping drive and portico entrance to the foyer, arriving at the hotel does not disappoint. Before stepping inside, look left and you’ll see the famed treehouse and looking right you’ll see the pampering hut for your dog. Mark is a dog lover and is often seen walking his enthusiastic spaniel around the grounds. As he says, we’re a hound friendly hotel.
A recent addition to the hotel is the Orangery, artfully rennovated and the hub of the hotel’s thriving wedding business. Fireworks and fire jugglers signalled its opening in April 2016, an aesthetically designed venue which will put the hotel firmly on top of wedding venue choices across the region. Hand painted murals, underfloor heating and huge Georgian arched windows create a warm, intimate space that will comfortably seat over 200 guests with plenty of room for a stage and dance floor.
If fishing is more your passion, a brisk walk of some 25 minutes on the Otter Trail will take you along the banks of the River Otter, past several enticing looking fishing beats and the chance to take part in one of Deer Park’s fishing days. Whether you’re a novice or experienced fly fisherman, take a course led by Neil Keep and soon you’ll be knee-deep in battle of wits with a wily, free rising brown trout. Salmon and sea trout have also been hooked on this stretch of the river.
Two day courses with groups of just four fishermen are held throughout the year and it’s here you can learn the ways that will land you that trout, for dinner that night, perhaps. Sessions in the class range from casting and rivercraft to fly tying with the more experienced fishermen taking on more technical challenges. Without going all Zen, standing in the fast flowing Otter in waders and flicking the rod and line across the bubbling water is absorbing work and leaves you refreshed, exhilarated and ready for a cocktail relaxing into a huge sofa, warmed in the lounge by an equally huge fire back up at the hotel.
If you’re not fishing, but lucky enough to be a visiting or even as a wedding guest at Deer Park, here are my seven top tips for making the most of your time at the hotel:
1) Book a night or two in the treehouse. Overlooking fields leading down to the River Otter, the treehouse boasts a wraparound balcony with just a short flight of steps to access the wooden clad interior luxurious, circular double bed. Romantic … doesn’t even come close to describing the space. With circular bed, roll-top bath, wood burner and fragrant Neal’s Yard cosmetics it’s a special space to spend some relaxing time. Views across fields down to the River Otter offers a perfect backdrop to enjoy an evening gin and tonic or glass of fizz.
2) Stroll around the huge kitchen garden with its glasshouses, soft fruit beds and apple trees. One the country’s last remaining pineapple houses is a feature. Boasting the original hot water pipes, this heated glasshouse is undergoing renovation.
3) Eat from a menu led by fresh, local and seasonal food prepared by head chef Hadleigh Barrett. More and more of the food offered is grown in the newly replanted kitchen gardens, but Hadleigh is equally international in his approach. He’s has worked in several of the country’s tops restaurants including L’Ortolan, Pennyhill Park Hotel and Coombe House. Two courses for dinner will set you back £34.99 and a third course adding £6 to your bill. A typical summer main course might include Pan Roasted Brill, Garden Courgettes, Chard, Clam & a Lemon Butter Sauce. Blood Orange Pannacotta, Walnut Crumb, Orange Puree, with Blood Orange Sorbet, is a popular dessert.
4) Aprreciate sporing memorabilia. Inside Deer Park hotel itself the walls are lined with sporting paintings, prints and memorabilia including the original torch that lit the flame to start the 1948 London Olympic Games and one from the more recent 2012 Games. Known as the Priory Collection, it’s one of the world’s largest collection of sporting art memorabilia and features some brilliant paintings depicting the gentle, and sometimes not so gentle, game of cricket.
5) Learn how to prepare and cook your own pizza in a hand built pizza oven. Under the expert eye of David Jones, owner of the local cookery school Manna from Devon, you’ll learn how to bake fish or pizza, or perhaps enjoy a more formal dinner cooked in a wood-fired oven with the hotel as a delightful backdrop.
6) Get married or renew your vows. Book The Orangery to sit down with up to 210 guests for a wedding breakfast or 250 friends and family for an evening party. During the day, the room is beautifully lit with light streaming through Georgian-style arched windows and reflected from hand-painted flower and garden murals.
7) Finally, a short excursion to the local town of Honiton should be on your to do list. The town’s historic wealth was built on the lace and textile trade and its influence on town can be seen at the Allhallows Museum of Lace. Should you want a souvenir then pop into the descriptively named Honiton Lace shop. Sprinkled around the town are several antique shops, cafes and restaurants. Once refreshed, and time permitting, a visit to thriving Thelma Hubert contemporary art gallery is a must.
Deer Park in three words … welcoming, relaxing, fun!
Deer Park is very active on social media, so keep up with the comings and goings on Twitter @DeerParkHotel.