Huntsham Court, Devon
A charming slice of classic England, that comes served whole. With cream on top.
The express train barging its way through the thickening snow drift on a journey to who knows where. The glowing yellow eyes of the spiky Gothic pile set against a blue/grey dusk. The huge fireplace crackling, crowned by the heads of dead majestic beasties. The assembled guests eyeing each other up in suspicion and two charismatic hosts who have summoned us here for one reason. My moustache was waxed to perfection.
Not the start of an Agatha Christie novel, but the introduction to a wonderful location for any function or gathering that requires style, elegance and a touch of pure English class.
Huntsham Court is a Baronial mansion nestled in prime Devon countryside, near the Exmoor National Park. Blessed with a nearby express train route to London and 12 minutes from the M5, it’s illusion of isolation is well maintained.
Bought in January 2012 by couple Damian Llambias and Christopher Badham, what was once a crumbling edifice to shabby chic is now a rosy-cheeked resplendent beauty of a venue.
Built in 1869 as a private house with 5000 acres of land, it was designed to be the finest example of Victorian Gothic in private hands and to be the most modern. As envisioned by William Burges, the Renaissance man who designed Cardiff Castle, it had running water, gas lighting and central heating. Since then it had, at various times, been a hotel, a self rental, the family home of writer Douglas Adams and the bolthole of a Russian spy.
With a background in architecture and art, Damian has taken on the arduous task of a 10 year programme of restoration. This was top to bottom, including saving the glass atrium on the roof and the stone wall around the house. Next up is the planting of 800 beech trees and 320 yews, restoring the historical feel of the gardens. Each of the 30 bedrooms has been individually decorated and themed using an array of four-poster beds, antiques and fabrics.
There’s even a dorm that sleeps seven for youngsters (or those that miss the thrill of boarding school).
In total there’s room for 72 guests and with five reception rooms most occasions can be catered for. This isn’t a hotel though. There’s only one set inclusive fee for hire, which can be taken over a weekend or midweek. They have a licence for civil ceremonies, but there’s also a delightful old church at the end of the drive way for those that want to go trad.
Spa treatments, shooting, fencing and falconry can all be laid on to further the country house immersion.
The chaps have made friends with many local caterers and we all enjoyed sampling their wares. The first night we got stuck in to Ceylon Curry’ brilliant Sri Lankan spread. Next day we got into Posh Nosh’s picnic type spread for lunch and their sublime cream tea. At the elegant dinner, Fosters lay on a full five courser of restaurant standard.
All this was bolstered by the hospitality of the hosts who, though they consider Huntsham to be their home, are happy to vacate if required. Their indulgences in the bar and at the (very) late night impromtu ping-pong championship would lead me to recommend otherwise.
I climb the grand staircase for bed and I’m really glad I’m not in an Agatha Christie novel. My little grey cells have been obliterated for the night. If I had to solve a murder now, I’d just point at the barman in amusement. Chirping laughter and gaiety recedes in my ears as I collapse in a lush bed. Upon awaking it appears that no one was murdered. Just a few neurons and some packets of paracetamol. My moustache is sagging.
I can only hope I know someone who gets married or hosts a conference so I can do it all again.