Travel / Weekend breaks

A day on Dartmoor

By alison maney, Wednesday Jul 20, 2016

This was my first moor. You never forget your first moor.

Sure, I had heard of moors before – as an American with a healthy interest in British literature, I had read Jane Eyre and Jamaica Inn and knew the moors were supposed to be sinister wastelands where people get sucked into bogs and ghostly voices cry out through the ever-whipping wind. Needless to say, I was very excited.

Even before checking into the Ilsington Country House Hotel – mere minutes away from the moor by the tiny village of Ilsington – we made a trip to the nearby Haytor Vale, part of the vast Dartmoor National Park. All of a sudden, my husband and I turned a corner and the moor stretched out in front of us, its rounded hills tipped with enormous granite outcrops and peppered with hikers rambling about with their children and dogs.

The vegetation on the ground seemed to change after every five steps; first grass, then prickly bushes, then hundreds of granite rocks strewn over a field. A dozen or more families with children picnicked on the grass by the tor as scads of wild horses, cows and sheep milled about, entirely unbothered by their human guests.

Dartmoor may not have been sinister, but it did look like a scene out of a classic novel. I even, to my husband’s dismay, stuck my fingers into one of the peat bogs I had heard so much about. I felt a bit of a rush, like I had survived something treacherous.

We finally returned to check into the hotel, a gleaming white building rising above a green lawn speckled with daisies and buttercups. The Ilsington Country House Hotel certainly looks the part of a homey country residence, with its quiet front garden, tinkling zen-like water feature, cheerful bar with local beers on tap and sitting rooms stuffed with perfectly plush chairs and board games. The staff are friendly, the clientele are reserved and the mobile phone signal is non-existent; this is the epitome of “getting away from it all.”

While the hotel itself is cosy and traditional, its spa, entirely renovated last year, is thoroughly modern and state-of-the-art. We tested the swimming pool, steam room, sauna and hot tub, stopping each time to rinse off in the rainbow-tiled shower. I was surprised to see bamboo shoots and eastern-inspired decorations in such a thoroughly English establishment, but I certainly wasn’t complaining.

My husband especially loved the steam room, which caused us to start sweating out of every pore as soon as we entered. He could stand it far longer than I, and remained inside long after I retreated to drench myself with the “Kübeldusche” (a bucket of cold water, for those unfamiliar with German spa terms) and took a seat on a mindbogglingly comfortable bamboo chair.

But the true gem of the Ilsington Country House Hotel is its restaurant, set in a dining room with one wall entirely dedicated to windows overlooking the countryside. The food could rival a Michelin-starred restaurant, perfectly blending flavours to create a new experience even within traditional dishes like guinea hen and pork tenderloin. We took our Irish coffees outside, sipping them as we sat on a bench and watched the sun fall behind the hills.

If you’re looking for wild parties and all-night raves, Ilstington Country House Hotel might not suit your needs. But if you’re seeking comfort, simplicity, relaxation and a good meal, this is the place to be – especially if you fancy an adventure on the misty moors.

Ilstington Country House Hotel, Haytor, Dartmoor, 01364 661452,

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