High above Withypool’s limewashed cottages, packhorse bridge and willow trees, Bell’s quietly surveys the wild sweep of Exmoor. The loudest noise around these parts might be the babbling of the river or the song of the skylark. So round up the family and follow the high hedges to escape the clamour in a large house built to chill.
Find us a big family house on Exmoor, they said. Don’t worry: the panic ends here. Sleeping 14, Bell’s looks like it’s dozed for decades while its guests fish for trout, stroll the river to Landacre Bridge or Tarr Steps, survey the glinting stars in the coal-dark skies or just light the open fires and make merry over a movie and a Merlot or two.
Pad around in socks on the toasty underfloor heating. Break out for table tennis and
table football. Raid the books and DVDs. Tune in to the BT Infinity. Eat out on the terrace in summer. Cosy up on the giant sofas in winter. Bring your dog and walk the valley. Leave your worries on the M5 and go with the flow of the River Barle.
There’s a flat sward of grass out there that wraps right around the house, and some football nets if you fancy it (bring your own ball). Bring your dog, too, and let him wander or you can even pack your horse. We have the stables and the fields so make the most of the beautiful Exmoor moorland which is great for horse riding.
Leave the living room through the terrace doors to light the barbie and enjoy lazy summer meals beneath big skies. Stay out there past dusk to see the stars that recede to infinity above Europe’s first International Dark Skies Reserve.
You can imagine the stockings hanging around the theatrical fireplace at Christmas, with lights twinkling on the tree and a fire roaring in the grate. The formal living room is made for that, but you don’t need to be here in winter to be wowed. In summer, check out the triple-aspect views, open the French doors, and bag a spot on the sofa.
Beneath the beams, the enormous living room offers options for getting together, slipping apart, breaking out with the cards or charades, or just staring at the high hills. Next door, turn the snug into a den for teens to catch their own brand of TV (with Blu-ray player) or a book room with views of Exmoor.
Get competitive in the games room over the table tennis or table football tables. Raid the bookcases for reading matter, or break out the board games.
Perfect for families and friends, reception rooms at Bell’s come with an easy luxury, underfloor heating and four fireplaces. Stock up on firewood and enjoy the individual character of each room: the country-seat sumptuousness of the living room, the club-room escape of the snug, and the fun of the games room.
Character and style come together in the custom-made countryside kitchen to create a warm and wonderful place to prepare Porlock oysters, Withypool sausages, local venison and Exmoor ale and gin. Stock up at the South Molton farmers’ market and top things off with goodies from the Dulverton Cake Company.
The large electric cooker comes with warming oven and induction hob, plus four dishwashers and a handy pantry. Set to simmer and take things easy on the coffee armchairs. In the mornings, you can take your pancakes and porridge around the chunky wooden table with the doors open to the gardens or the fire blazing away.
Eat dinner around the giant dining table with the logs lit and the Cinemascope views of the rolling hills of Exmoor through the wall of windows. Or head out to the terrace to barbecue steaks and sausages beneath the big skies. Take a night off in the Royal Oak, home of breaded Brie and sizzling mixed grills.
Head out further for a cosy carvery at The Sportsman’s Inn in South Molton, to the White Horse Inn, just by the bridge over the River Exe, for pheasant, partridge or venison right off the moor. Try some Thai at Tongdam, or the guinea fowl and Northcombe lamb at Woods Bar and Restaurant, both in Dulverton.
Outside, the wonders of Exmoor unfold before you. Downstairs, the cosy log fires are waiting to be lit and the conversation’s crackling. But being there depends on you being able to leave your room. And in these breath-taking bedrooms, that’s far from a given.
Let’s begin in the triple-aspect master, an enormous L-shaped kingsize with vaulted ceilings and ancient beams, where you can kick back on the chaise longue with a book. Want more luxury? Try the separate sitting area with moorland views, and en-suite with roll-top bath, separate shower, handbasin and WC.
The second bedroom is a double, under the eaves, with comfortable bedding and books for bedtime. Bedroom three is a double favoured by teens, while two twins offer easy bathroom access.
Next to the twin, you’ve a good-sized double with quirky wallpaper and artwork. At the rear, there’s another double that can be split into singles. However you play it, you get great views of Exmoor.