Ramstorland proves a peaceful destination when SARAH SINGLETON takes a trip to Devon

FOLLOWING a few days of sunshine, spring has filled the landscape with clouds of blackthorn blossom, fresh leaves and the first gorgeous bluebells.

What better time to head out to the countryside, and to the sea?

We are travelling to Tiverton in Devon, and while this might seem a far hike for a weekend away, the smooth Friday night drive on a quiet motorway, in the light of the extending evening, takes under two hours from Swindon, along the M4 and M5.

The destination is a small village called Stoodleigh, perched on a hill above the River Exe, south of Exmoor. The hill is precipitously steep and the narrow road bordered with banks of primroses. We are staying at a farm called Ramstorland, in a little dairy now converted into light, open-plan accommodation, with slate-grey tiled floors and two bedrooms, all on the ground floor.

What makes the place remarkable is the view: wide, glazed bi-fold doors offer a green vista, as the field drops down to a stream in front of the barns, the valley sides fold into each other and woodland spills down the slopes, flowing into the distance. Perfect silence – apart from the singing of birds.

Our residence is called Stag View and is one of three units in the old barns, all in a row and all sharing this marvellous outlook. With underfloor heating, comfortable king size beds and immaculate presentation, Stag View combines simplicity with a sense of luxury, which is perfect for a holiday. With the other two units alongside, it would be a great destination for a group outing too.

I am hoping we will indeed spot some deer and when host Jill Rigamonti welcomes us, she advises that 6am is the best time to see them.

Our first night we pop to the Stoodleigh Inn, where the landlady kindly rustles up a bar meal and gives us some advice on places to see when visiting for a weekend. The village has a 15th century church with a Norman font, and you can find lots of footpaths in the vicinity. The National Trust has several places to see nearby, including Knightshaves Court, a striking gothic mansion. Just a few miles to the north, are the hills of Exmoor and beyond it, the sea.

The north coast of Devon has been a popular tourist destination since Victorian times. The Romantic poets admired the rugged landscape, and it was a spot that amateur Victorian naturalists liked to visit, to investigate marine life. Novelist George Eliot paid a visit with her partner George Lewes, and she kept a journal of their journey and outing, while he enjoyed searching the rock pools and beaches specimens.

It is north we go, the next morning, following in the footsteps in our literary forebears.

This is our first visit to Exmoor and we enjoy a scenic tour under brilliant blue skies, over the high, bare hills grazed by Exmoor ponies, then down to Lynton and Lynmouth for a first glimpse of the sea and brunch in a cafe. It’s a tourist hot spot, with lots of gift shops, but not too busy.

Here you find a Victorian water-powered funicular railway, which links the two places, and a small harbour full of boats.

Our next stop is Ilfracombe, which clearly has altered a great deal since George Eliot’s day. It is a busy holiday resort, but beneath the hustle and bustle, the bouncy castles and arcades, it is a town with an interesting vibe. Look out for a May celebration with a Jack in the Green parade on May 6, and a Grand Victorian and Steampunk Festival between June 13 and 17. For a seaside holiday, head to the award-winning beach at nearby Woolacombe – three miles of gently sloping golden sand and a view over the Atlantic.

A particular highlight of the day was an unplanned visit to the ancient and beautiful church of St Petrock in Parracombe, on the edge of Exmoor. Tended by the Church Conservation Trust, it is full of rough-hewn Georgian box pews and painted texts, hardly altered in two hundred years.

Driving back to the cottage, a few drops or rain break what has otherwise been a perfect, sunny day and a vast rainbow spans the landscape in front of us.

That night, back at Stag View, we head out for a twilight walk along the narrow road in the quiet valley. The moon shines through tree branches, and we hear the calls of a little owl and a tawny owl. Mossy tree roots grip the banks rising from the road. Primroses glimmer in the twilight. It is all absolutely lovely.

The following morning, I do indeed get up at six in the hope of seeing the promised deer. Dense mist fills the valley so only the tree-tops are visible. I have no stag view, alas, but so many birds are singing they seem to create a curtain of sound. We are reluctant to leave this beautiful, quiet place. The weekend offered a tiny taste of what this part of Devon and Exmoor has to offer. Whether you are seeking outdoor adventures, landscape and wildlife, history and culture, or a family seaside holiday, this place has it all.

Our accommodation at Ramstorland is available through Sykes Holiday Cottages - the UK’s leading and fastest-growing independent holiday cottage rental agency with over 25 years’ experience in the business. Based in Chester, they offer a choice of over 10,000 holiday homes across the UK and Ireland, including nearly 1,000 properties in Devon. With another bank holiday and half-term approaching, May is the ideal time to enjoy a staycation and Sykes Holiday Cottages has selected its best last-minute breaks away in Devon and Cornwall, such as bank holiday breaks for couples as well as week-long holidays for families. To check out Ramstorland and the other Sykes cottages, visit www.sykescottages.co.uk.


Stag View at Ramstorland, Stoodleigh,near Tiverton

Two double bedrooms

Seven nights 18-25 May £492

Seven nights 1-8 June £501