Review of Upcott House, Beer, Devon
Our writer, Paul Miles, visits Upcott House, a sensitively-restored Arts and Crafts house (complete with turret and plenty of eco features), set high above Lyme Bay, in Devon
>> For availability and booking see our full listing for Upcott House
On chalk cliffs above Lyme Bay, the setting is remarkable. With the quaint fishing village of Beer ten minutes’ walk in one direction and the seaside resort of Seaton fifteen minutes’ walk in the other, this holiday home is ideally placed for a combination of family seaside fun, culinary exploration and peaceful contemplation.
This impressive Arts & Crafts house was commissioned over a hundred years ago by a navy Admiral. You are so near the sea that when a storm is raging, it’s easy to imagine you’re in a ship on the ocean. More often than not though, the sea is calm and sparkling, with traditional sailing boats bobbing past, and you can imagine you’re in the Mediterranean. The large, three-storey house was rescued from almost certain demolition by the current owners, Liz and Mal Robinson. Period features have been reinstated and floorboards of Douglas fir exposed; Upcott must feel as grand and loved as when the Admiral first moved in. There’s no shortage of comfort: there are sun-beds and deck-chairs on the terrace, slick leather sofas in the two living rooms, one of which has a wood-burning stove (the other has a baby grand piano).
While some of your party are singing sea shanties, the others may be busy in the kitchen. Here, there is great attention to detail. Throughout the house there are characterful pieces of furniture, ornaments and artwork and fabulous fabrics. If your group is smaller, the owners have two other properties nearby, ten minutes’ walk away in the village of Beer, that sleep six each. The Gallery and the adjoining 17th-century Gospel Hall don’t have sea views but they have both been renovated with the same care, same appliances and with the same flair.
There’ll be a welcome hamper of produce from Dorset, Devon and Somerset waiting for you, with such goodies as Dorset cereals, Yeo valley milk and Four Elms farm apple juice. Essentials such as tea, proper coffee, olive oil, salt and pepper are, naturally, provided. Otherwise, when you book, Liz and Mal will recommend suppliers of organic and local produce who can deliver. As for eating out, there are good pubs and restaurants in Beer, such as Steamers, just a 10-15 minutes’ walk away.
Foodie-wise, local farmers’ markets, wine and food fairs regularly take place around the area and, of course, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage is a major attraction. Guests at any of the Devonretreat.com properties are entitled to 20% discount. River Cottage HQ, with events and courses, is a £30 return taxi ride away. If you want to stay in and treat yourselves, Liz and Mal can recommend various caterers for that special meal. Buy some (local, free-range, organic) sausages and whack them on the barbecue on the terrace overlooking the sea. What more do you need?
Don’t leave the area without visiting Beer Quarry Caves. This underground warren of man-made caves has been dug out over generations since Roman times, by men quarrying the much-prized Beer stone. Hear incredible stories of bravery, corruption and love, pieced together by caretaker and guide, John Scott, after years of painstaking research and some spectacular finds. It’s not a ‘caving’ experience: there’s plenty of headroom and electric lights but don’t wander off or you may never be found again. The interconnecting caves, 300ft underground, spread over acres and acres.
In Seaton, the Axe Estuary Wetlands are worth a visit even if you have only a passing interest in wildlife. A group of six or more can even arrange for a free(!) two-hour tour. There’s also a dinky tram that runs alongside the Axe estuary, from Seaton to Colyton. For more ideas for days out, consult the range of leaflets and guide books on the dresser in Upcott’s drawing room.
If inaction is more your thing, stay put and sunbathe on Upcott’s terrace, perhaps making the effort to wander five minutes’ down to the rocky bay of Seaton Hole for a dip.
It was learning about the ubiquity of toxins while she was pregnant that turned Liz into the committed eco-warrior that she is today. She has sought out paints, wood-treatments, mattresses, flooring, fabrics and more that are free from any nasties. Sometimes, such as the lambswool and cashmere mattresses from Vi-Spring, there’s the added green bonus that it’s a local, Devon firm. Talking local, the craftspeople who renovated the properties were local and the unique, re-used furniture, - including that baby grand piano - were sourced from local auction houses, along with the artwork. Water and energy-wise, there are low-flow showers, water butts for the garden and appliances rated A* for energy efficiency, solar panels, efficient condensing boiler, thermal linings on the curtains and insulation (made from recycled bottles.) Wildlife is catered for with hedgerows and insect-friendly plantings. No wonder it’s GTBS gold but there’s certainly no hair-shirtedness about the greenness.
If you like the sound of all this but you can’t muster a group of 12 or want more facilities on your doorstep, then Liz and Mal’s two other properties in Beer village, The Gallery and Gospel Hall, which are equally green, immaculately and tastefully presented, may suit you better. OK, so you don’t get the sweeping panoramas of Lyme Bay but there’s a nice view over slate rooftops from The Gallery and some interesting period details in the 300-year old former Gospel Hall. If you want to be near the pubs and restaurants and Beer’s beach, then one (or both) of these adjoining three-bedroom properties is a better bet than more isolated Upcott.
How to get there by public transport
Axminster, served by regular trains from London Waterloo, is the nearest station, eight miles away. A taxi from there costs about £15 or the 885 bus goes to nearby Seaton. The Jurassic Coast bus service, the X53, passes through Beer on its scenic 4.5hour journey from Exeter to Poole. Beer is an hour’s journey (£7.50 for a full day pass) from Exeter. From Beer Cross bus stop it’s a 30 second walk to The Gallery and Gospel Hall or a ten-minute walk to Upcott. Liz and Mal will pick you up if you have luggage.
National Cycle Network route 2, aka the South Coast Cycle Route, passes a few yards from Upcott, on its 375-mile route from Kent to Cornwall. Alternatively, join the route at Axminster railway station. There is no advance booking required to take a bike on Southwest trains. If you’re on foot, the Southwest coast path passes right by Upcott.
Upcott is a dream holiday home combining the comfort and style of a boutique hotel with the freedom and fun of self-catering. From bedrooms or terrace, you could be lost in the view for a lifetime. Inside, Liz and Mal’s eco-friendly renovation of the property has been done with such love and care that, whether the sun is sparkling off the ocean or the wind roaring through the trees, the house resonates a peaceful contentedness. Despite all the activities nearby, you may prefer to stay ‘at home’.
>> Amazing festive offer! There is over 50% off for Christmas/New Year at The Gallery and Gospel Hall - now only £500 each for five nights (each sleeps 6, Gospel Hall seats 12 for dinner). See here for details!