Picture the scene. Rolling green and pleasant lands tinged orange and yellow at the edges by autumn. Fields of sheep and cows wandering idly. Narrow lanes dropping down steeply, like Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole (although no falling furniture, as pointed out by my 8 year old). After an easy 4 hour drive from London, we came out from beneath the canopy of trees into the lovely setting of a Devonian valley that is Gitcombe.
The boys’ eyes were out on stalks. From where we drove in we could see the tennis court and the wooden playground complete with pirate ship plus plank for walking (a glint in big brother’s eye), sloping lush green grass, a swing in a tree and a pair of wicker boxing hares. Our next glimpse was of an elegant and beautifully restored Georgian house. The house of my dreams, so I felt ridiculously pleased to be able to enjoy the view of one at such close quarters, if only for three days!
We were met by the owners, Joanne and Peter, who are young and buzzy, welcoming and friendly, and with that perfect balance of not being overbearing in any way. They are very relaxed – presumably something to do with living the Good Life in the countryside – despite the no doubt non-stop demands of running such an estate. They showed us to the Coach House, a lovely two-bedroom cottage with an open fireplace (fully kitted out with a fireguard and fire-building equipment, ideal for my husband to go back to his roots and make fire), super-comfy sofa and a double and twin upstairs. Perfect for the four of us. The added bonus was that it was right next door to said Georgian pile… (a girl can dream). We eyed happily the bottle of local wine from Sharpham Estate and a box of locally made fudge, generously left for all guests arriving in the self-catering cottages as a welcome.
Unable to resist a look around, we quickly found the brilliant indoor swimming pool (the outdoor pool is open from May to September), complete with sauna, steam room, table football and a soft-play area for under 5s. Oh, and a hot tub with a view over the hills. Move aside Mum & Dad, this quickly became the boys’ favourite spot to sit and take it all in! Wooden lounging chairs and tables lined the decking outside the indoor pool, a perfect place to soak up the far reaching, fresh air view.
Despite Gitcombe being fully booked that weekend, we often found we had the whole pool area to ourselves, which must be to do with the fact that you’re in the middle of a great area of things to do and explore. We were the only first-timers among the families that we chatted to briefly. All others were repeat visitors who can’t resist the lure of the Devon countryside, enjoyed from quite such a well set-up-for-families, comfortable and contemporary kind of place. There are barn conversions as well as other houses of various sizes, many of them complete with ‘cabin-style’ beds which children just love. Many have AGAs as well as electric ovens for the less ‘country’ of us and dishwashers (hurrah). There’s a great games hut full of tennis rackets, basketballs and boules, wind-breakers, buckets and spades for the beach, and residents are welcome to help themselves.
It’s a perfect set up for families, or groups of families holidaying together. All you need to help entertain the kids is at your fingertips and so much else besides. We took a lovely 30 minute walk through the woods to the charming village of Tuckenhay for a delicious lunch and a good local brew (happy husband) at the Maltsters Arms overlooking the River Dart, with a game of ‘Pooh Sticks’ along the way. We visited Riverford Organic Farm, had a lovely time dam-building on the stunning Blackpool Sands beach, followed by a tasty burger at the beach-front Venus café. We pretended to be 15th century soldiers blocking the way of attacking ships from the turrets of Dartmouth Castle and then hopped onto the little boat that takes you directly into town for fish & chips at Mitch Tonks’ Rockfish. Melt-in-your-mouth fresh fish and never have we known such a great kids’ pack of things to do!
As for practicalities, Dartmouth is just 10 minutes away and there’s a Sainsbury’s and Simply M&S there as well as lots of local delis, cafes and restaurants. Gitcombe is also really well set up for ready-made food to be delivered or even for you to be catered for if you’d really like to kick back and take it easy. And that’s part of the magic. Life is laid back and easy at Gitcombe and that’s the name of the game, especially when we have small people to consider. Babysitting can also be arranged.
It’s a hidden gem and Joanne and Peter are busy working to bring it all up to their exacting standards (did I mention REN products in the bathroom?). They took it on a year ago and are gradually working their way through the properties; polishing, preening and updating here and there, but from what we saw, it’s a bit like your own house – you might know where the niggles and cracks are, but visitors rarely do.
It’s a friendly, relaxed place and I’m sure those families who go back time and again won’t thank me for saying to the rest of you: go, go, go! We will certainly be joining the ranks of those who have been before. For the rest of you, go gladly and be one of the first-timers. I’m confident you’ll love it.
Gitcombe House Country Cottages
Cornworthy, Totnes, South Devon TQ9 7HH
Short stays and long weekends available as well as full week bookings.
Managing Editor, Charlotte, visited Gitcombe in mid October with her husband and two boys, aged 6 and 8.