Do it in Devon

by wendy.gomersall

Is this the year you’ve decided to learn a new skill? Head for Bovey Castle in north Devon for an activity weekend and you could try quad biking, falconry, or even fly fishing

The Teign in North Bovey, Devon, is one of those gorgeous British rivers that’s trimmed with lovely big old trees whose exposed roots reach down the muddy bank, while its branches cast lacy shadows over twinkling ice-clear water. You walk through buttercup and daisy-dotted meadows to get to the water, chewing a juicy stalk of grass as you go, and find your favourite place to set up camp.

Sit still long enough and rabbits may resume bobbing around the neighbouring fields, and kingfishers zip about in the dappled light. Running fast in places where it tumbles over rocks, here and there the river calms into still pools where light flashes off the scales of fish, large and small - and you can have a go at catching them. What more pleasant way to spend an afternoon? However, unless you know how to fly-fish yourself, it’s a tad dull having to just sit there and watch. But help is at hand…
Bovey Castle is a splendid 63-room hotel set beside the 368-square-mile Dartmoor National Park, a half-hour drive from Exeter. In keeping with its status as a supremely comfortable country house, the castle, which is now part of Hilwood Resorts & Hotels, offers a range of leisure activities, from quad biking and falconry.
Complimentary amusements include everything from tennis, to mountain bikes, to boules. There’s also a play barn for younger kids. In addition, the list of activities you can take part in at extra cost is huge. Within the 400-acre estate there’s a championship 18-hole golf course and driving range, and golf lessons are on offer. There’s archery and rifle shooting, clay pigeon shooting and horseriding, Land Rover experience, rock climbing, guided walks and Dartmoor tours, plus aforementioned quad biking and falconry.
Then there are more unusual pastimes, too, such as beekeeping, sloe gin and cider-making, and Bovey Rangers activities for older children. The imaginative Activities team have even set up extraordinary things such as duck-herding, ferret racing and welly-throwing for groups in the past.
But I settled for having a bash at fly fishing. Depending on the season, you can try for brown, rainbow and sea trout and wild salmon. You can do it on your own in some places; for others you must take a ghillie with you. The estate has three lakes, plus it also owns more than 20 miles of fine fishing along the rivers Bovey, Taw and Teign. The castle lets you keep your first catch – the kitchen will turn it into dinner for you, or you can have it smoked on site to take home four your next dinner party. How cool is that?
So, on a glorious summer’s day, after a practice on the castle’s croquet lawn where I successfully snagged a dandelion and one large bush, I set off with my ghillie, Chris, for the River Teign.
Chris and I walked, talked, and then we fished. Togged out in waders – a kind of all-in-one waterproof wellies and romper suit – I even had a go at gingerly stepping out into mid-river. With Chris’s help, I managed the odd passable cast, but it was three hours or so before I finally caught something apart from leaves. And there it was, a smooth and shiny sea trout; a titchy one admittedly, not big enough for tea, but I was proud. 
After your activity, a massage in the Castle’s spa is perfect for unknotting muscles tensed from too much fly-casting with a Blissful Back Massage or Bovey Sensory Heaven. Or maybe stroll the mile-and-a-half to The White Hart in Moretonhampstead, or 13th-century inn, The Ring of Bells in North Bovey, a picturesque 15-minute walk away along the river, for a well-earned pint or two and to work up an appetite for dinner.
The freshest local produce is used to create the menu at Bovey Castle’s elegant Edwardian Dining Room restaurant – how about breasts of partridge with braised cabbage, thyme and Madeira jus, or catch of the day from nearby Brixham with creamed leeks and herbed new potatoes? But I’m afraid the trout is off…