Staying at The Secret Holt and discovering food in Devon
“Cream, butter, and milk are far better in England than in France, and yet there is only one English county which consistently turns the profusion of cream to the advantage of vegetable cooking – Devonshire; for in that county, at the time of the young spring vegetables, one eats carrots and turnips which are perfectly delicious.”
Dinners Long and Short, A H Adair 1928
Dwarfed by soaring pine trees, The Secret Holt is a converted photographer’s wooden cabin in the grounds of The Shotts, a property once owned by J.R.K. Tolkein. ‘Converted’ is the word as it has been transformed into something which might well have come out of a Hobbit-like fantasy-on-drugs, sort of half alpine cabin and half buddhist temple, with its rough, carved double front door secured appropriately with a medieval-looking padlock originating from a, no doubt fairytale, castle.
My bedroom is hidden behind mirrored doors sourced from a Parisian appartement.
This hideaway could have been made for a food blogger with its monster wooden spoon and fork on either side of the fireplace, the ex-Empire State Building painted panels in the kitchen area, and the massive rough-hewn granite sink.
Even better, it’s situated in the heart of Devon, a county literally bristling with foodie delights.
And there’s a moor expansive enough to walk it all off on, glorious panoramas on which to stretch the eyes. Even outside there are elements of the fantastic. I found myself blinking as, driving over the high backbone of the moor, I had to slow when I saw a pink sheep with on-trend dalmation-spotted stockings step elegantly and imperiously onto the road. It turns out that a local farmer has taken to dying his sheep pink to prevent the loss of them to hustlers and the hosiery was genetic to the Scotch Blackface breed.
War Horse was filmed here. As Spielberg the director of the film describes it, “There’s no place like it in the world. When I got to Dartmoor I realised I had a third character that I had to include in War Horse and that was the land and the sky, so Dartmoor plays a major role.”
The quality of the local ingredients has attracted some of the UK’s most respectable chefs – Damien Hirst, Hugh Fernley-Whitingstall and Michael Caines to name just a few.
Backing up the food producers are any number of food fairs and festivals – the Exeter Festival of South West Food and Drink; the South Devon Crab Month, Flavour Fest in Plymouth; North Devon Food Fest; and Dartmouth Food Festival.
Based here I worked on or sourced information for posts on:
- Plymouth gin
- Sharpham Rustic cheese
- Tomato and Sharpham Rustic salad
- Golden beetroot
- Improper marmalade
- Buena Vista pasta
- Cream teas
- Clotted cream
- Quince Honey Farm mustard and honey
- The gorgeous kitchenware designs of Thornback and Peel – partly inspired by the Devon countryside
- Exmoor Blue Cheese
- Devon crab
To rent The Secret Holt, go to Unique Home Stays.
“You are soaked with the cold rain
–Like a pelt in tanning liquor
The moor’s swollen waterbelly
Swags and quivers, ready to burst at a step”
Snipe, Ted Hughes