Two recurring regrets of mine are a) that my family is neither posh nor wealthy enough to have a massive ancestral home in the countryside where I could throw fabulous parties and b) that I haven’t yet won the lottery and been able to buy a massive ancestral home where throw fabulous parties (can you tell there is a theme developing here…?)
However I have now discovered a third option: Huntsham Court. Hidden deep in the heart of the Devon countryside (but actually just 12 minutes away from the M5), Huntsham Court is a massive Victorian Gothic 34-bedroom mansion house set in five acres of land, which is in turn located within the 5,000 acre Huntsham estate.
Available to hire for private parties, weddings, family gatherings, shooting parties, special occasions or just to groups of friends desperate to get out of London for the weekend, the atmosphere is comfortable rather than grand, relaxing rather than intimidating, and that’s just the way owners Chris and Damian want it.
Rather fittingly for a wedding venue, Huntsham Court was built as a home for newly-weds Charles Troyte and Katherine Walrond back in 1868 when her family didn’t think her husband’s own house passed muster for their daughter.
I arrived at Huntsham Court at night, my car crunching on the gravel as I pulled up to what looked like a castle out of romantic fiction looming out of the darkness. Inside though the feel was more shabby chic than gothic horror: there is the Great Hall complete with original Jacobean oak panelling and large fireplace, a book-lined library and the cosy Yellow Room which had a roaring open fire, squashy sofas and cream tea laid out on the table.
My room was vast, with a massive four-poster bed and en-suite bathroom (and as the guys had pointed out in a friendly welcoming note that the house had a lived-in feel, I didn’t mind too much that my bathroom door didn’t shut properly, the wardrobe was tiny and there weren’t all the mod-cons you’d expect from a country house hotel) and the bare floorboards and battered furniture meant it did actually feel like my very own country home.
I could see how perfect it would be to get all my friends down for the weekend – it’s big enough to give everyone their own space, relaxed enough so you didn’t feel you had to be on your best behaviour, and was so remote you could make as much noise as you wanted – a far cry from London flat-living.
There wasn’t much time before the evening’s festivities got underway – a Burns Night supper complete with bagpiper, haggis, poetry and Ceilidh – so I found the cosy bar (priorities) and took my G&T up to have in my bath. This turned out to be a roll-top bath so a little improvisation was needed – lucky a nearby ornament made a great drink holder – and soon I could hear the piper inviting us in to dine.
In between bouts of piping and poetry we were served suitably Scottish fare: Cock-a-leekie soup and Cullen skink salad, traditional Macsween Haggis served with crispy smoked bacon neeps ‘n’ tatties, creamed savoy cabbage and roasted carrots and hot clootie pudding with clotted cream and a dram of whisky. Guests wishing to hire Huntsham Court can self-cater or choose to be catered for – and there is a Butler’s Pantry stocked with all sorts of goodies for those midnight munchies.
After our feast there was no danger of that, and while some chose to work off the calories with an energetic hour of two of Ceilidh, others repaired to the cosy bar and worked their way through everything from champagne and hot toddies to amaretto, Scotch whisky and back again till gone four in the morning.
Thankfully a walk round the grounds in the morning after breakfast was a great way to clear the head – it was a perfect, fresh, clear Sunday morning and the house looked stunning.
Huntsham Court is only available to hire out as a whole and it’s not cheap – from May-September it costs £14,600 for a two-night weekend, but if you remember that’s for 80 people and works out as just £90 per person per night.
Rates are reduced for weekdays (£12,900) and off-peak (£10,600) and it can be hired for the day for corporate events for £6,400. Until that long-lost relative leaves me a stately home, or my numbers finally come up, then it’s the closest I’m going to get to having my very own slice of country house life.
Tel: 01398 361 277