Dartmoor is a place to treat with respect, with glorious landscapes and weather that can turn against you in an instant. Leaving the snow in Bristol, the fields had turned green by the time we reached the town of Tavistock and we had a fleeting glimpse of blue sky. But as we drove over the cattle grids and onto the moor the mist was down and the fields covered with snow. “Don’t worry if we get marooned” said Guy reassuringly, “I’ve got a box of compo in the back and I know a great bunkhouse near here”. With a weekend at the Prince Hall Hotel in my sights, I had no intention of being marooned, and before long our wheels were crunching on the snow of the hotel’s long, tree lined drive.
Entering the hall, the owner, Fi came out to welcome us and gave us a large, old fashioned key to our room, which was named Houndstor. Each of the eight, individually designed rooms in the hotel are named after the Tors or granite outcrops that are dotted all over Dartmoor. The hotel is about as far as you could get from those impersonal business hotels where every room is identical – more like a friend’s rambling country house where you can kick off your muddy boots at the door and curl up with a good book in front of the fire.
Settling in to Houndstor
Our large bedroom had sash windows, overlooking the snowy wilderness of Dartmoor, with a small stone bridge over the river Dart in the distance. There was a cherry-wood sleigh bed, antique Edwardian wardrobe (the sort that would never fit through the door of a modern house) and a squashy blue velvet sofa with gilt mirror hanging between the two sash windows. The imposing black stone fireplace with green marble-painted panels had two stag’s head bookends on the mantelpiece, holding together a selection of reading books with titles like “Chalice of Blood” and “Passage to Mutiny” that hinted at old fashioned daring and adventure. The colour scheme was a welcoming creamy yellow with blue carpet and curtains and a nod to the contemporary in the pictures and blue patterned lampshades. From the bed we could look out the window onto the moor and see no sign of life for miles, except for a mysterious, solitary light that twinkled in the distance all night long.
The small bathroom had been sliced out of one end of the room with classic white and blue tiles and a shower tucked to one side. I liked the large bottles Gilchrist and Soames toiletries, which made you feel like being at home and avoided the waste of endless miniature plastic bottles to throw away. A sign warned us that the water was fed from a spring and might not always high pressure, so we should be patient if it was a little temperamental when everyone in the hotel was showering at once.
A hotel with a history
The present hotel was built in the 18th century as the home of a local judge, on the site of a much older farm that was destroyed in the English Civil War. The building has experienced a chequered history over the years; falling into disrepair and being rescued from demolition more than once; serving as a prison for aristocratic French prisoners of war, a stable for racehorses owned by the Prince of Wales, as well as a family home and finally a hotel. Chatting to Fi, we learned that she and her husband Chris had taken over the hotel five years ago and room by room had given it a complete makeover, creating a stylish but easy going Country House atmosphere.
Fi moved to Dartmoor as an escape from a hectic career as a film producer in London, then met and married Chris who was running a local kitchen-fitting business at the time. Together they set up a local bed and breakfast until one day the details of the Prince Hall Hotel, which was being sold by the previous owners, landed on their doormat. Fi walked through the door and knew she had to have it. They seem to be the perfect team, Fi welcoming guests and running the business side of things while Chris is a chef, maintains a kitchen garden for herbs and salads, rears pigs for the ham and bacon that are served in the hotel and generally sees to anything around the hotel that needs a craftsman’s attention. Chris and his son even built the Shepherd’s hut that sits under the trees nearby, which is made from a reclaimed hay trailer and insulated with black sheep’s wool to keep it cosy all year round.
The fire in the cosy sitting room
We gravitated to the cosy terracotta sitting room, where we settled into one of the squashy, velvet sofas near the fire, and were brought a great cappuccino from one of those highly polished barista coffee machines in the hall. The room was a mixture of eclectic, country chic with tapestry-covered wing chairs arranged in conversational groups as well as exotic Moroccan touches in the stained glass lantern and figured brass coffee tables, inspired by Fi’s visits to Essaouira in Morocco. With the fire burning in the grate, I could see that Guy was mentally stocking up on logs to stoke up our living room fire at home. The cheerful effect was completed by paintings of red poppies, wildflowers and hay-fields in shades of orange and yellow sunset colours by local artist Sarah Richardson.
Next door was a second sitting room with also housed a small bar, with walls in shades of duck egg blue and warm red and terracotta squashy sofas. The greeny-greys in the colour scheme were picked up in the paintings of another local artist, depicting wild horses and landscapes with the natural shades of bracken, lichen and grey brooding skies over Dartmoor.
I hope you enjoy my video below of the Prince Hall Hotel on Dartmoor
Your dog is welcome too!
I’ve noticed that having a furry friend is a great way to meet people and many of the guests at the Prince Hall Hotel had brought their dogs, who were having just as much fun as their owners. As my husband Guy loves dogs and longs to have one of his own, we enjoyed saying hello to Fi and Chris’s gorgeous golden retriever Portia and the lively cocker spaniels Polo and CeCe, who accompanied Fi around the hotel. It seems that a dog’s life is a very pleasant one at the Prince Hall Hotel, where doggie guests are welcomed with a dog mat, bowl and doggie treat and are allowed in the bedrooms and all public areas apart from the restaurant, with towels at the entrance for wiping muddy paws.
“You must come and see this” said Fi, calling us into the hall, where two of her regular guests had just arrived, a mum and daughter, both bringing their respective dogs. Paddy was an enormous but gentle Leonburger who stood waist high, while at his feet perched Gonzales, a tiny Chihuahua sporting his red tartan coat, complete with red pom pom between his ears to keep out the Dartmoor cold – it did make us laugh at the incongruous sight of Little and Large. I noticed that there were two bowls of treats side by side in the hall; mint humbugs for humans and doggie treats for the dog guests, but I wondered whether people ever got them mixed up. “Only once” Fi told me, “and the poor chap was so embarrassed… the look on his face!” Of course, with wonderful wild walks on Dartmoor, right from the hotel door, it’s no wonder the hotel has become so popular with dog owners. It felt quite right that a Country House Hotel like this should welcome both dogs and their owners, although as guests without a dog, we never found it intrusive.
Nordic Walking on Dartmoor
After a delicious lunch, of butternut squash soup with honey for Guy and a ploughman’s with flavoursome ham from the Prince Hall’s own pigs, it was time for a walk on the moor, as I’d arranged to do some Nordic Walking with Elaine Sylvester who is a Dartmoor Guide and outdoor fitness trainer at LoveDartmoor.com. We met just down the road at Two Bridges and headed up past the snowy slopes where families were having fun sliding on toboggans in the snow. Elaine taught me some of the finer points of Nordic Walking using poles for an all-over body workout, keeping them in front of you for traction up the hill and behind you on the flat for propulsion and speed.
We walked up to Crockern Tor, which in centuries past was the site of the Stannary Parliament, where the Tinners or Tin miners of Dartmoor would gather to discuss their affairs and settle disputes. From the top of the Tor there was a panoramic view and you could see how the granite outcrops created a natural amphitheatre for people to gather, as Crockern Tor was a central spot for people to come from all four of the Stannary towns of Tavistock, Ashburton, Plympton and Chagford. We continued a little way further towards Longaford Tor and the other Tors that form an ideal walking route, then skirted back to the car park where we finished with a thermos of tea and some home-made lemon cakes that Gavin, one of the other walkers, had brought with him. Read more about my Nordic Walking through the snow on Dartmoor.
Fine Dining at the Prince Hall Hotel
I made my way back to the hotel, where Guy had excused himself from the walk due to a recent knee operation, and it was nearly time for dinner. We settled into the sitting room again with a drink in hand to review the menu, while being served some interesting pre-starters; a shot glass of warm soup and some other nibbles. I noticed that there were a lot of unusual sweet and fruity combinations on the menu, from the starters of Scallop Tartare with white chocolate, to the Ravioli with carrot and honey foam. When Fi and Chris took on the hotel, one of their aims was to build up the hotel’s reputation for fine dining, and they have succeeded in putting the Prince Hall Hotel on the Dartmoor map for its food. Practically everything is freshly made in their own kitchens, from the bread freshly baked for breakfast, to the fruit sorbets on the desert menu and the petit fours served with the coffee. As both are foodies and Chris is a self-taught chef, they make sure that they use local Devon and Cornwall suppliers for all their fresh and seasonal meat, fish and vegetables, not to mention the Princetown’s Jail Ale from just down the road.
The set menu, which changes daily, has four choices for each course and Guy really enjoyed his Pork, Apple and Cranberry Terrine with Hazelnut Pesto to start. For the main course, I had some succulent Guinea Fowl on a wild mushroom risotto with roast fennel puree and Guy was salivating over his loin of West Country Venison with buttered winter greens, shallot and thyme jus. It was all delicious, perfectly balanced and beautifully presented and I can quite understand why the restaurant is becoming so popular with locals who enjoy good food as well as the hotel residents. The dining room was attractive with plenty of starched tablecloths and pretty flowers as well as friendly, attentive service from the local staff. The dining room has lilac grey walls and brightly coloured art-works on the walls, with sweeping slate grey curtains, framing the view of the river Dart. When the hotel occasionally hosts intimate weddings, this room is cleared of tables and used for the wedding service. When the hotel is busy, it is advisable to book the dinner, bed and breakfast option or make sure you let the hotel know you plan to eat in the restaurant, to be sure to have a table – you wouldn’t want to miss food this good! I thought that the price of 2 courses for £33.95 or 3 courses for £39.95 was reasonable considering that this included 2 pre-starters and was of a quality that was definitely worth travelling for.
We finished with a coffee and petit fours in front of the fire back in the sitting room, feeling very soporific by this time and retired to our room for a good night’s sleep. In the morning, after our cooked a la carte breakfast (more bacon from the Prince Hall pigs), we set off towards that stone bridge over the river Dart, in search of the source of the single twinkling light we had seen from our bedroom the night before, but couldn’t quite locate where it came from. If you enjoy fishing, the hotel sells Duchy of Cornwall fishing licences, to enable you to fish in the River Dart, and the hotel can also arrange a local gillie to show you all the best pools on the river. Next time we visit Dartmoor, we’d also love to do a wildlife walk with local guide, Richard Hibbert, who takes guests out on the moor to discover the birds and wildlife that you might otherwise miss.
There’s so much to do on Dartmoor and our stay at Prince Hall Hotel was all too short to enjoy it all. It’s the kind of place where you can truly unwind – the mobile signal is patchy and the wifi confined to one room, and that’s the way that most guests like it. This is the perfect place to breathe the fresh air of Dartmoor and then return, rosy cheeked, to kick off your boots at the door – like being in a stylish friend’s country house, where you never need to do the washing up.
Need to know for visiting the Prince Hall Country House Hotel
Rooms – There are 8 individually furnished rooms, each named after one of the Dartmoor Tors as well as a shepherd’s hut within the grounds. Depending on the room booked, prices are £95-130 in low season and £135-180 in high season for 2 people sharing on a bed and breakfast basis. The shephard’s hut is £80-100 per night, bed and breakfast. A dinner, bed and breakfast option is also available, see the website for more details, which we’d recommend as the food was delicious. You will also find seasonal special offers on the hotel website. The hotel is unsuitable for children under 10 years old.
Food – The menu for dinner changes daily with a set menu of four choices per course, featuring seasonal and local produce and almost everything made freshly at the hotel. 2 course menu is £33.95 3 course menu is £39.95. The hotel welcomes non-residents for morning coffee, lunches and cream teas as well as dinner in the evening.
Location – The Prince Hall Hotel is within the Dartmoor National Park, near the B3212 and B3357 roads between Tavistock and Ashburton in Devon.
The Prince Hall Hotel kindly hosted our stay at the hotel.
More things to see in Devon and Cornwall
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