- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2005

NORTH BOVEY, Devon, England — The brilliant spring-green hills and valleys of Devon are assurance enough that another flaky winter has faded.

For ages, Devon was pure green. Then came the white houses roofed with thatch, and there were sheep, cattle and horses, but now the endless green is interrupted occasionally by long swaths of rape fields bursting into bloom in an unrelenting yellow. Some Devonians don’t look kindly at this alien yellow.

Spring is still cool, but sitting by a fire in Bovey Castle with a cup of tea, currant scones, strawberry jam and the thick clotted cream named after Devon chases away the chill after a walk, a round of golf, fly-fishing or other activities the folks at the castle organize.

Outside are the Devon greens, from the pale sepals of spring buds to the lush golf course and the dark rhododendron leaves. The golf course runs over hill and dale, flirting with the River Bowden at the fourth hole and carrying on a serious romance with the River Bovey until the ninth hole, when it begins a gradual climb to the final hole behind Bovey Castle.

The Bowden enters the Bovey at the bottom of the hill, where the hotel sits, and runs on to North Bovey, a 13th-century village with a church, St. John the Baptist — almost as old — and several thatched, whitewashed buildings. Among these is the Ring of Bells, a 13th-century pub whose nickname, in typical Brit shorthand, is Ringers. It is a pleasant downhill walk from Bovey Castle, but when ordering a pint or two, visitors should remember the trek back is very uphill.

Bovey Castle is not so old; it was built in 1906 as Manor House, the private home of Viscount Hambledon, son of W.H. Smith, who founded the company of the same name that is one of the United Kingdom’s largest sellers of books and magazines.

Bovey Castle, the country hotel, is the creation of developer Peter de Savary, who turned American business magnate Andrew Carnegie’s Skibo Castle in Scotland into a private member’s club.

Mr. de Savary’s other enterprises include the St. James Clubs in London, Paris, Antigua, New York and Los Angeles; Carnegie Abbey in Rhode Island; Cherokee Plantation in South Carolina; and the Abaco Club in the Bahamas.

A member of the Skibo Castle club asked Mr. de Savary what sum he would accept to sell the property. Mr. de Savary named his figure, which was accepted, and looked south to Devon, where he would create Bovey Castle, but as a place open to the public.

Since age 16, Mr. de Savary, 60, has applied his entrepreneurial skills in many areas, including the petroleum industry, shipping, shipyards, property, and the club and hospitality industry, among others.

An experienced sailor, he participated in the Admirals Cup in 1981 and represented Great Britain for the America’s Cup in 1983. He also is a keen horseman.

Although he has built seven golf courses, golfing is a sport he hopes to take up when he has time.

Mr. de Savary’s Bovey Castle is within the 368-square-mile Dartmoor National Park, one of the largest such parks in England, and is in an area significant to geological history and early human settlements.

The gravel road to the hotel from the paved highway passes through part of the 6,252-yard, par-70 Old Course, which was designed in 1926 by the noted J.F. Abercromby and restored in 2003 by Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie. The first hole begins near Mr. de Savary’s addition to the hotel.

The main entrance to Bovey Castle is through a carved stone arch into a small room where boots in many sizes — it is fine to call them “Wellies” in this part of the world — are available for treks around the grounds, even down to Ringers.

In the next room, the reception desk is to the right, and papers and magazines are on a large table to the left, near the sturdy stairway to the guest rooms on the second floor.

The choice rooms have views of the Bovey valley and a high hill on the edge of the open and desolate moor that makes up much of Dartmoor, where sheep and ponies graze safely. The will of the Saxon Bishop Aelfwold of Crediton in 1012 is cited as the earliest recorded reference to the Dartmoor pony.

Meanwhile, back at the castle, the paintings reflect the art-deco era, but the sofas and chairs, fortunately, are more traditional and help emphasize the character of Bovey Castle: comfort. These chairs and sofas are ideal for sitting and chatting, for enjoying a cocktail or a cup of tea, reading a novel or newspaper, and contemplating the flames in the fireplaces. This is relaxing. If guests don’t know how to do that, they soon learn at Bovey.

The main dining room, the Palm Court, is a large, elegant, but not stuffy, setting of white linens and the pale colors of hand-painted chinoiserie wall coverings. The pillars throughout the room tend to disappear, as they are mirrored on each side.

The chef uses organic produce from the Devon area whenever possible, and the flavors come through in his preparations of traditional and Continental dishes.

The breakfast, though, is welcomingly very British and bountiful. The breads are excellent, and the pastries and other desserts are as tempting as they are tasty. Even the fresh fruits have real flavor.

When the weather is agreeable, dining is available outside on the Grand Terrace with umbrellas to shelter from the sun.

There is much more to do at the castle than read a book in a comfortable chair. Outdoors beckons with golf, of course, and fly-fishing for trout in lake and stream — with lessons available for getting the knack of the sport.

Or there is target practice with pistols and the sport of shooting clays, which is conducted on the premises as often is allowed under noise standards for the national park or on nearby farms. An area is reserved for archery, and there also are tennis courts.

Bovey Castle also has a falconer, Martin Whitley, who demonstrates what it is all about with his birds, ranging from an American barn owl and its cousins to falcons.

The lawn in front of the Grand Terrace is as smooth as a croquet court should be, and there is a golf practice area down the River Bovey from the castle. The genial golf pro is Richard Lewis, who says the course plays “a most fulfilling game of golf.” Bovey’s Old Course was designed to rival similar courses at Turnberry and Gleneagles in Scotland.

The castle grounds offer ideal settings for picnics and garden and woodland walks or treks beyond the Bovey and Bowden into the moors of Dartmoor. Avid birders can try to spot 100 species on a single day in Dartmoor National Park.

As sure as this is the land of the Dartmoor pony, Bovey Castle has an equestrian center.

The newest additions house an indoor pool in the orangerie, a spa with many beauty treatments and saunas and steam rooms, and fitness facilities.

Outside the Bovey Castle grounds, guests will find the town of Moretonhampstead, whose name comes from Mor Tun, a settlement founded after the Saxons arrived in the area in the late seventh century.

The wool industry was the economic mainstay of the area for about 700 years; the Domesday Book of 1086 recorded the ovine population at 5,000.

Moretonhampstead — we are still within the national park — is also home of the White Hart, which dates to 1639 and now offers food, lodging and meeting space in the heart of town. The White Hart, which was restored by Mr. de Savary, serves a tempting selection of game, fish and fowl — and a hearty beef pudding — in a gentle country atmosphere in which guests may have a drink by the fire or in the bar before sitting for lunch or dinner.

The restaurant beckons for a leisurely meal and idle or serious conversations. Again, the word “relax” is operative here.

Beyond the farms and the few villages, the terrain of Dartmoor becomes more desolate, with scrub growth, rocks — as in granite tors, outcroppings and remains of ancient settlements — rabbits and ponies.

The Dartmoor Prison near Princeton, in the west of the park, was built in 1807 to hold French captives during the Napoleonic Wars and next held Americans captured during the War of 1812. Its location in such a desolate area meant that escapees probably could not survive in the bogs and bracken of the inhospitable moors. Dartmoor is called the last great wilderness in England.

Further escape attempts perhaps could have been discouraged in this century by making the inmates aware that Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is set in Dartmoor — or by screening the original 1939 film version of the story, which starred Basil Rathbone.

The movie opens with a scene of the original Manor House at Moretonhampstead, which has been transformed into Bovey Castle.

There is no worry about such a feral hound these days at the manor, but out on the moors, visitors must be careful, for the bogs can be 12 feet deep — enough to swallow a pony or a visitor, whether it be tourist or prisoner.

• • •

Rates at Bovey Castle begin at about $275 for a deluxe single room and progress to about $2,745 for a two-bedroom suite. Visit www.boveycastle.com or e-mail [email protected]

The White Hart Hotel is in the center of Moretonhampstead — look for a white stag above the entrance. Visit www.whitehartdartmoor.com.uk. Rates for a double or twin room are about $175 per night — or about $25 less if taken for five or six nights. A round of golf or other leisure activities at Bovey Castle can be arranged subject to availability.

The London Outpost is Peter de Savary’s small London hotel at 69 Cadogan Gardens, a convenient location, for it is a short walk to the Victoria & Albert Museum or to Sloane Square. A single room or small double room costs about $350 per night; a traditional English breakfast costs about $30. The value-added tax is not included.

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