When I stayed at Dartmoor’s Bovey Castle with my husband and children there was so much to do at the hotel that we didn’t leave the grounds. From learning how to shoot with air rifles to making sloe gin to building woodland dens this wonderful Devon pile offers a huge range of country activities. Bovey Castle was built in 1907 for the heir to WH Smith and is part of a 275-acre estate in south-west England. We loved our family rooms and my youngest took full advantage of the LEGO room service. This English country house hotel offers luxuries such as a beautiful indoor pool, spa and a golf course but has a relaxed, homely feel and children and dogs are very welcome. It’s a good place for a family weekend or short break. For those who venture beyond the gates, there are some great things to do in the surrounding area too:
Bovey Castle sits amidst the rugged beauty of Dartmoor National Park, inspiration for Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. To experience the area on foot pick up a Bovey Castle walking guide from the hotel reception and head outside. Walks include an easy woodland stroll through the Bovey estate, along the river and over a few stiles to The Ring of Bells Inn, a thatched Dartmoor pub on North Bovey village green. (Update March 2017: sadly this pub is currently closed because of a fire).With its cosy log fires and cottage garden the inn sounds like a good place to go at any time of the year. Guests can borrow wellies, waterproof coats and dog towels from the hotel.
Ponies and donkeys
The Miniature Pony Centre is only minutes away from Bovey Castle and is one of Dartmoor’s most popular family attractions. The Miniature Shetland ponies and Miniature Mediterranean donkeys there are around 90 centimetres from hoof to shoulder when fully grown. There are many other animals to see at the Centre, including chipmunks, peacocks, Shire horses and pigs. Pony rides, play areas and trampolines are also on offer and visitors can take part in activities such as grooming the ponies and, in springtime, bottle feeding the lambs.
If you fancy a family day at the beach there’s plenty of choice at around an hour’s drive away. Slapton Sands and Bigbury on Sea have unspoilt, sandy beaches. At Bigbury you can walk to Burgh Island and its iconic art-deco hotel at low tide, while at high tide a tractor will take you across. The hotel is for guests only, but the family-friendly Pilchard Inn next door is open to all. The beach at Slapton is separated from the nature reserve and the largest freshwater lake in south-west England by a fragile shingle bar. Teignmouth’s long, sand and shingle beach is overlooked by a Victorian pier and there’s a children’s playground and mini-golf on the seafront.
For a cruise along the River Dart take The Picnic Boat from Dartmouth. The two and a half hour lunchtime cruise is popular with families and includes a stop for crabbing. The boat takes up to twelve passengers and offers a choice of picnics using home-baked goods and local produce. Alternatively The Dartmouth Steam Railway and Riverboat Company runs circular Round Robin tours starting from Dartmouth, Totnes or Paignton and travelling by steam train, foot ferry, river boat and bus.
The cascading waterfalls and huge granite boulders at Becky Falls range through more than 60 acres of woodland. The park has been voted the most beautiful place in Devon. There are various signposted paths to follow and a children’s stamp trail with a prize at the end – great for reluctant walkers. The boulders create natural pools which are popular for paddling and swimming when the weather’s warm. There are also animal shows, animal feeding sessions and indoor craft activities at the park. Picnicking is welcomed and baby back carriers are available as the paths aren’t suitable for pushchairs.
Family travel lowdown: We received a one-night stay in a family room at Bovey Castle for review purposes. Besides the hotel there are also 14 beautiful and modern lodges available for guests to stay in.