In a little-known corner of olde England, there’s a richly-wooded valley; pocked with old tin mines and meandering stretches of salmon-rich river. NICK HAMMOND escapes here and finds a country house with old-fashioned values…
THERE’S a verdant, rolling valley in Devon that holds a place in my heart.
It’s An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a World Heritage Site to name but three, but I love returning here just because it makes me feel good.
The air is pure and sweet, the views across the estuary and away to Dartmouth change endlessly with the seasons and the movement of the clouds. And every time I visit The Tamar Valley, I find another reason to come back. This time it’s a cultured hotel overlooking the splendour of this wooded valley that ticks all the boxes.
The Horn of Plenty is a throwback to a gentler time. It’s a grand spot, originally built for the Duke of Bedford’s Mine Captain. Clocks tick quietly; elegant ladies discuss dinner plans over an early sherry. In the gardens, earthworms squirm in the beaks of industrious blackbirds.
One can enjoy a glass of something refreshing while perusing the menu, and then, as the sun begins to wester, you are led through to the restaurant, which runs down the side of the building and offers breathtaking views across the valley, with its rolling slopes and mix of fir forest and traditional beech woods.
As fiery fingers stretch out the last of the day’s light, we sip Champagne and felt not a little privileged to be here.
Another reason to feel thus is Executive Chef, Scott Paton.
His menu is creatively stuffed with the best the south west has to offer, from Brixham seafood to great grass-fed meat. Our meal kicks off in sensational style with a goats cheese and cheesy biscuit concoction which is, frankly, incredible. The finish from the tiny morsel lingers for 10 minutes on my palate.
Other notable dishes across our relaxed, laid back evening include a deep and woody Wild Forest Mushroom and Black Truffle Soup; a remarkable crab and Nepalese Pepper Salad; Suckling Wiltshire Piglet with Old English Apple and Walnuts and John Dory and Lobster with Heritage Carrots and Nasturtium.
It’s a many-coursed, multi-faceted meal, intricately balanced and served unobstrusively – just what one wants when one is relaxed and focusing one’s attention on the bats swooping through the gloaming in the five acres of garden.
The Horn was opened as a restaurant back in the 60s and founder Sonia Stevenson was the first British woman to be awarded a Michelin star. Since then it has changed hands several times (current owners are Julie and Damien Leivers) but through the years, this little haven has retained its charm and exclusivity. There are 16 rooms here now and from the clientele around me (there are about a half dozen covers tonight on a chilly Tuesday night in early April) people come here to stay for a night or three and explore the area.
There’s plenty to attract them, from naval history at Plymouth, through the forbidding, windswept splendour of Dartmoor, to Tavistock itself; a delightful market town with dippers nesting by the old stone bridge and great sheaves of wild garlic growing alongside the river.
The Horn has been awarded three AA rosette dining awards for the restaurant and four stars for the accommodation. But these are merely indications of what you’ll know once you visit. It’s a little cornucopia of abundance and nourishment, just as its name suggests.
After handmade chocolates and an espresso, my epicurean journey across south west England is complete. Little wonder that this part of the world is regarded as a throwback, in a good way. Time is stretched. Old-fashioned manners still have a place here.
Yet another very good reason to return.
The Horn of Plenty, Gulsworthy, Tavistock, Devon, PL19 8JD, Tel 01822 832528. Website.