Nestled in the heart of Exmoor, The Exmoor Forest Inn and Duredon Farm are a sportsman’s paradise, says Rory Knight Bruce
WHILE many of us make the late summer caravanserai to Scotland, there is another destination for discerning sportsmen and naturalists which is the wide open moorland of Exmoor. Here, stags roam the open ground and villages nestle in deep combe valleys, the empty roads and lanes ribboning this majestic landscape. At Simonsbath, comfort and tranquillity may be found at the renovated Exmoor Forest Inn, immortalised in RD Blackmore’s Lorna Doone. Winston Churchill once stayed to fish for salmon on the nearby River Barle. Not a mile away is Duredon Farm, a nine-bedroom lodge of great privacy, where shooting parties can enjoy the highest level of hospitality. The renowned high-bird pheasant and partridge shoots of North Molton, Challacombe and Buttery are all nearby.
The Exmoor Forest Inn and Duredon Farm review
Both establishments are the ambitious enterprises of Dr Edward Greenall and Charles O’Connor, who have instilled in them their love of Exmoor, the countryside, hospitality and hunting. They sit within a 6,000-acre organic estate bought by the Greenall family in 2006, with the acquisition of the pub coming in 2021. “We think we are producing the most sustainable and local beef, lamb and venison in England, raised here and eaten in the pub and at Duredon,” O’Connor tells me as we drove over the estate, which welcomes both the Devon & Somerset Staghounds and the Exmoor Foxhounds.
Unity, community, ethics, detail and employment signal both establishments, with up to 30 people directly employed in this sparsely populated area within the Exmoor National Park. The walled vegetable garden at Duredon, a proud project of Greenall, supplies the hotel. A butcher’s shop will open soon, selling their locally reared and grass-fed beef and lamb.
Duredon’s nine bedrooms are designed for the utmost comfort with views over the Barle Valley, sheltered courtyard and helicopter landing pad below an immaculate lawn and ha-ha. The ensuite bedrooms of Gillows furniture offer bathrooms where the (hot) water, drawn from springs on the estate, is inexhaustible. There is a secure gunroom and dogs are welcome. Open fires delight the hall and drawing room. A library flows effortlessly into a dining room and kitchen, all open plan, giving a feeling of intimacy and informality. Private local chefs can be hired for the duration of guests’ stay.
As for the Exmoor Forest Inn, it is truly a hub of this rural community, but also with 11 spacious en-suite bedrooms. “We have kept the local feel and we are proud of that,” says O’Connor. On the night of my stay, I was joined at dinner by dairy farmer and avid stag hunter Simon Gubb, his new bride and Exmoor-born shoot chef Caroline, and Rachel Campbell-Johnston, biographer of the 19th-century artist Samuel Palmer. “All the best things on Exmoor, Palmer believed, lay hidden in the chinks and combes. To find them it is essential to walk,” she tells me. So it is true today. Specialities include home-reared Galloway sirloin, hogget shank and fillet of venison.
Aside from the magnet of fieldsports, walking Exmoor has its own rewards not just in spotting red deer or Exmoor ponies but to visit, as Coleridge did in Kubla Khan, the charming seaside port of Porlock. Then there is the popular wild swimming at Pinkery Pond to which O’Connor is a regular. For the more leisurely minded, the North Devon coastal villages of Lynton and Lynmouth, with their high cliffs and funicular, have another special charm. The 19th-century Poet Laureate Robert Southey called them “Little Switzerland”.
Whatever the purse and purpose of a visit to either (or both) The Exmoor Forest Inn and Duredon Farm, their atmosphere captures all the historic values and hospitality of the old, wild Exmoor, with an exhilarating modern twist of total comfort. The spirit of Lorna Doone may still linger, but for the visitor today, their memories will not be of brigands but, to borrow from Estelle Holloway’s book about hunting on Exmoor, two ‘jewels in the heather’.
Exmoor is renowned for its legal stag hunting, trail hunting and high-bird shoots. There is a wonderful hunting connection with Duredon Farm. It was formerly owned by Lady Margaret Fortescue. Dr Edward Greenall is the grandson of Migs Greenall. Both these ladies were great friends and Leicestershire foxhunters in what Sir Alfred Munnings, who often stayed and painted on Exmoor, called “foxhunters of the first water”.
The Exmoor Forest Inn, Simonsbath TA24 7SH
Tel: 01643 831341
Rooms from £130 a night.
To enquire about Duredon Farm or about hunting or shooting, call 07788 956171 or visit: duredon.com