A slice of Devon

A con­vivial fam­ily stay at a con­verted me­dieval farm­house in Eng­land

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Europe - CATHER­INE BEST

NES­TLED in the cleav­age of the Black­down Hills in Devon, Rock Mill Es­tate is an en­chant­ing con­verted farm­house that harks back to me­dieval times. Guests at this ex­quis­ite English hideaway have the run of the trilevel build­ing and its 7ha of land­scaped grounds, ponds and bub­bling springs.

Twelve of my fam­ily have con­verged on the small vil­lage of Mem­bury, in Eng­land’s West Coun­try, for a spe­cial birthday cel­e­bra­tion and Rock Mill fits the bill. It was used as a bak­ery in the 1400s and later a flour mill, but is men­tioned as early as 1086 in the Domes­day Book. Now a her­itage-listed build­ing, it has been painstak­ingly re­stored and adapted into a five-bed­room lux­ury re­treat.

The es­tate be­longed to Colonel Ed­ward ‘‘Tug’’ Wil­son, a British sol­dier who founded the Abu Dhabi de­fence force af­ter strik­ing up a friend­ship with the then pres­i­dent of the United Arab Emi­rates, Sheik Zayed bin Sul­tan alNahyan. Wil­son bought Rock Mill in 1969, crav­ing the sound of run­ning wa­ter af­ter years serv­ing in the desert. He con­verted the di­lap­i­dated prop­erty into a trout farm, which op­er­ated un­til his death in 2009.

Wil­son’s son Charles in­her­ited the es­tate and em­barked on a 21/ year ren­o­va­tion. The stone ma­sonry, thatched roof, vaulted ceil­ings and ex­posed oak beams are in keep­ing with the build­ing’s her­itage. There is even a replica water­wheel on the cob­bled fore­court out­side what was once the mill, and a small stream me­an­ders through the wine cel­lar. Charles’s wife, Robyn, is Aus­tra- lian — they met on the Gold Coast 10 years ago while he was buy­ing horses for the Abu Dhabi royal sta­bles. The fam­ily di­vides its time be­tween the UAE, Aus­tralia and Rock Mill, where Robyn, a trained chef, has left her culi­nary mark. The kitchen is equipped with all the es­sen­tials and su­pe­rior ap­pli­ances.

For the birthday cel­e­bra­tion, we hire a pri­vate chef to

CATHER­INE BEST pre­pare a sump­tu­ous feast. Flames flicker in the in­glenook fire­place, ba­bies sleep soundly up­stairs and our iPod playlist con­jures a merry at­mos­phere.

One morn­ing we stroll into the cen­tre of Mem­bury, along a nar­row road lined with charm­ing cot­tages and past the vil­lage church, which dates from the 12th cen­tury. The vil­lage cen­tre con­sists of a sin­gle post of­fice cum gen­eral store, which also dou­bles as a tiny ho­tel and serves meals in an ad­join­ing din­ing room, lest the vil­lage be the only one in Eng­land with­out a pub.

The drink of choice in this part of the world is cider, and ap­ple or­chards once dot­ted much of the coun­try­side. Leg­end has it the lo­cals used to be paid with bot­tles of the brew in lieu of wages when money was tight.

The week­end vices ne­ces­si­tate lots of walk­ing and the es­tate and sur­round­ing hills are ripe for ex­plo­ration. It’s a mild au­tumn af­ter­noon when we muster the en­ergy, and the auburn leaves dance in the sun­light. Great green ten­drils hang from weep­ing wil­lows by the in-ground swim­ming pool. The pool is empty, but ev­ery­where else there is wa­ter. It me­an­ders through rock chan­nels, un­der foot­bridges and across the man­i­cured lawns be­fore spilling into a suc­ces­sion of ponds. Fi­nally it cas­cades into a lake at the bot­tom of the es­tate, where a hand­ful of very con­tented trout frolic.

Rock Mill Es­tate, which scored a men­tion in the Domes­day Book, is now open to pay­ing guests

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.