If these crazy times make you want to run away to the woods, I hear you. For a little slice of peace and quiet I’d suggest holing up at totally charming Combe Park Lodge, one of the National Trust‘s beautiful portfolio of holiday cottages. Nestled in a wooded valley a stone’s throw from wild Exmoor and Devon’s stunning coast, a weekend here makes for the perfect escape.
Where two country roads meet in the middle of the East Lyn Valley is a storybook lodge. This rather elegant and tastefully restored Edwardian gatehouse feels less country cottage and more mini manor house – you can imagine a dowager countess in Downton downsizing from her country pile and still being perfectly at home here. Inside, the living room’s comfy sofas face towards a blazing log fire, and beyond is a very swish modern kitchen. Upstairs are two warm, cosy bedrooms. All the rooms’ crowning glories are the windows, which look out at nothing but the forest. There’s a pervading feeling of peace and escapism here, and the only sounds you’re likely to hear are the whispering of the wind and, in the fall, the weird rutting calls of the stags up in the woods.
It might not be very rock and roll, but I can’t think of a better cure for stress and city life than an evening sat around the lodge’s fire with friends, a few glasses of wine and one of the many puzzles which are stored in one of the cottage’s cupboards.
The morning after a cosy evening by the fire the great outdoors is ready for the taking. Devon’s loveliest, wildest landscapes are right on your doorstep at Combe Park. A mile away is one of the National Trust’s prettiest woodland properties, Watersmeet, and beyond that are Lynmouth and Lynton, connected by a dinky funicular railway. The surrounding woods and moors are criss-crossed with tempting walking routes, but we decided to follow one of the NT’s own suggestions and go on a tramp along the 5.5 mile Lynton and Lynmouth circular walk, which takes in the forest and the open coast (and a cosy pub) in one sweeping hike.
National Trust have joined up with Cotswold Outdoor as their official outdoor retail partner, aiming to combine exploring some of Britain’s loveliest places with the right kit for any weather. It’s a good choice in my book – CO are one of my own favourite high street haunts and their well-kitted out shops are an adventurers mecca, with hands-on staff to help with everything from findinf the right boots to letting you hang from ropes to test a new climbing harness. National Trust have a list of favourite gear at Cotswold Outdoor perfect for walkers, and kitted us up with some of their autumn picks for our weekend of adventure.
Dressed for any eventuality (luckily, as it was a mercurial day of wind, blazing sun and driving rain at intervals) we wound our way along this glorious walk. Watersmeet house is closed until Spring 2017 but you can still pass through its wonderful hidden valley, separated by a wide rushing river. The woods were a blaze of autumn colour, filtering beams of dappled sunlight onto our trail. The route brings you out of the thick forest and onto the cliffs at Countisbury, where you’re rewarded for your efforts with the sudden sight of some of the most beautiful coastline in Britain.
The coast path hugs the cliffs all the way down to the gorgeous village of Lynmouth, where the Rising Sun will pull you a well-deserved pint. From Lynmouth the walk winds home along a relaxed river path, and deposited us at our fairytale cottage just in time for tea.
We stayed at Combe Park Lodge as guests of the National Trust but all views are my own. Cotswold Outdoor kindly provided us with kit for the trip.