Getting to Soar Mill Cove is an adventure in itself. All Devon lanes tend to be narrow with high hedges. But getting to the Cove they’re eventually so narrow you can barely fit a single car and the high-banked hedges get so high they tower above you. Then suddenly you’re there with green, sheep-dotted hills rolling down to Soar Mill’s own tiny cove, all caves and rushing streams, perfect for rock pooling, picnics on the shingle or lounging on the sand. When we walk down to the sea during that Arctic snap that had spring running for cover in late April, we almost take off in the wind and we’re the only people on the beach. There are sheep and lambs watching us solemnly from the other side of a stream, the meadows are covered in buttercups, daisies and tiny violets and the banks are blanketed in primroses.
Soar Mill Cove is a family affair in so many ways. For one, it’s now on to its third generation of the same family who run it in a very personal hands-on way. It all started with an ad in a catering magazine that caught the attention of the mother of the current owner, Keith Makepeace. She was a cook, her husband a carpenter and they fell in love with the place and, essentially, ran away to the sea.
And it’s a place that caters very much for families, too, even including their dogs – and this is doggy heaven though they have to be kept on the lead around the sheep. And sheep are not the only wildlife. There are wild deer, pheasants, hares. Sky larks were singing their endless melodies when I was there. It’s a place that manages to be both wild and secluded – and staggeringly beautiful.
As if all this wasn’t enough to create a perfect haven, there’s the food. The chef, Ian MacDonald, isn’t a Makepeace but he is regarded as part of the family and he produces food that is very fresh and very local – scallops, crabs and lobster, as well as beef and pork from nearby farms. There are even traditional Devon teas. After that first walk, we had one with the thickest clotted cream, runniest jam and crumbliest scones, everything being homemade. So it’s not a place for strict regimes, clearly.
It does, though, have a spa that’s much related to its seaside setting. The pool, for instance, has salt water and is deliciously warm. You swim under bright roof lights next to a huge blown-up photo of nearby Salcombe packed with boats. (Salcombe, incidentally, is the most deliciously picturesque seaside town in England and deemed by the Daily Telegraph to have the sixth coolest street in the country – think the Boden catalogue come to life.)
The treatments, too, focus on sea-sidey elements. They use Spa Find products that feature plenty of seaweed and Dead Sea mud with added vitamins, herbs (sage, yarrow, lemon balm, wild thyme, horsetail, rosemary, marshmallow and many more) and plant extracts from aloe vera, ginger, coconut and fruits. Dead Sea Mud is unequalled in its ability to enrich, enhance and hydrate and the sand and salt from the Dead Sea are used, too, as natural exfoliators. Bearing all this in mind, I decided to opt for the Marine Miracle Body Treatment.
My therapist, Sophie, started with an all-over salt scrub, that she then removed in two layers, first damp, afterwards with the softest of dry flannels. Then she applied a serum, smelling somewhat reminiscent of brandy and a faint whiff of spice like Xmas pudding, though it really comprises Dead Sea water, lemon and caffeine to detoxify, tighten and firm the skin. After this, she applied the mud full of seaweed extracts, Dead Sea salts and menthol which meant it not only felt very cold when it went on, it stayed that way the whole time.
While that was cooking (or chilling) Sophie gave me a wonderful 20 minute long scalp massage using scented coconut oil to enrich my hair. Then she peeled off the mud – I felt like a snake shedding its skin, though rather less attractive as it comes off a very dull grey. Then I was sprayed with something called Heavenly Hydration (it certainly had a heavenly scent) followed by Sophie’s special lymphpatic drainage massage. It took a blissful 90 minutes and was much slower and more in depth than I expected. All very relaxing.
But it wasn’t over yet. My express facial started with a lovely neck and shoulder massage with a very rich moisturiser for my dry skin, then my face was cleansed, a toner was spritzed on and exfoliation followed – all accompanied by nice slow massages so it didn’t feel “express” at all. Then there was a mask and while that one cooked, Sophie gave me a quick foot massage. Finally, she applied serum and day cream.
And then it was time for a not-so-abstemious dinner, the highlight being the wonderfully plump local scallops. From the restaurant, we all watch the sun set behind the ridge, painting the clouds pink above the sea and highlighting the sheep who had artfully arranged themselves along the skyline and down the irregular patterns of steep, dry stone walled fields. The whole restaurant watches mesmerised by the changing light, the sea and the sky. Even without those lovely treatments, you can’t help be relaxed at Soar Mill Cove.
For more information about Soar Mill Cove, including details of self-catering options, news and offers, visit www.soarmillcove.co.uk.