Words by: Estelle Lee
In the post-Brexit world we live in, it might not surprise you that the number of families opting to holiday in Britain this summer has gone up exponentially – as much as 25 per cent. Devon, dubbed the UK holiday home ‘capital’, has long attracted the Boden-loving family market – and for very good reason.
The beauty of the South Hams in particular, with endless rolling hills, easy access for shorter weekend breaks, miles of windswept pebble beaches, glorious views and picture-postcard sailing towns, make it a honeypot for staycationers.
Eight miles inland from the coast lies the small hamlet of Cornworthy. It’s an untouched spot in the deep of a rural valley surrounded only by green as far as the eye can see. There lies a small estate – Gitcombe House. Once owned by Major Dick Hearne, whose family trained racehorses for the Queen, its later owners converted the barns into holiday cottages and established a thriving destination for families to enjoy. Nearly four years ago, Peter and Joanne O’Brien took over the reins. The young couple, at the start of their own family life, have thrown themselves into the business, notably launching the main Georgian residence to guests.
The attraction of Gitcombe lies not only in the peace and quiet, but in the fact you really don’t need to go anywhere else. There are two swimming pools (in and outdoor), a panoramic bleached wooden deck with sunken hot tub and Adirondack chairs in which to take in the scenery, New England style. A newly surfaced tennis and basketball court overlooks an artistically conceived wooden sculpture playground and swings hang from every tree.
We had visited Gitcombe once before – when my eldest was a baby and I was pregnant with my second son. Even then, as I recall, it was perfectly kitted out for children – and we did little except relax and enjoy delicious produce from Riverford home delivery, whose HQ is only a few miles away.
Now that my boys are older (five and six years), the experience was even better. This time, we stayed in the three-bedroom Burrator Cottage. The converted accommodation is set upside down – all bedrooms and bathrooms downstairs and the open-plan living, dining and kitchen on the upper level. There were two terraces with incredible views, ideal for summer evening barbecues.
Joanne and Peter have done much to update things – you’ll sleep soundly with Hypnos mattresses on the beds and the kitchens are properly equipped, making it convenient to do as much cooking as you like. We headed to Ben’s Farm for an unrivalled farm shop selection. But you can order home-cooked local meals to be delivered or a chef to come and do it all for you.
The cottages are few in number, so there’s a real feeling of peace and plenty of space for you to feel quite at home in your country abode. Further afield we explored Salcombe (we loved the rock pools at North Sands and the Winking Prawn for seafood) as well as Cranch’s Sweet Shop, where I bored my lot rigid with tales of penny sweets and Fizz Wiz. The Venus Café at Blackpool Sands (Gitcombe’s nearest beach) was everyone’s favourite. The children’s menu there is spot on – local fresh fish fingers and chips and Devon ice cream for pudding. Later on, we explored the shops at Dartington; a small shopping village made up of quaint, cabin-style units. The brilliantly stocked toyshop got a big thumbs-up. We left weighed down with bags of Djeco puzzles, craft kits and books.
A long weekend at Gitcombe is a perfect way to spend some quality time together. The only real problem is deciding what you’ll do first…