Locals in Dartmoor are proud of their air. When the winds are blowing east, straight from the US and across the Atlantic, locals proclaim the air quality the best in Europe.
And so begins the first of many superlatives, while staying at Britain’s first supervilla, Sweeton Manor.
Dating back to the fifteenth-century, this stunning thatched house set idyllically in the heart of Dartmoor National Park is available to rent by the day or week for up to 12 people.
For anyone seeking the quintessentially English country life, the manor offers the privacy of a luxury home with daily housekeeping and concierge services, as well as options to hire additional staff such as personal chefs, therapists, masseurs, guest speakers, or even a butler.
There’s even a stable should you arrive with your own horse where grooms are made available on request, while you relax in the gold-tiled indoor swimming pool and steam room.
Situated in four acres of landscaped gardens that lead directly onto the moors, the house with all its annexes, barns, former cider house, and two nearby cottages would not look out of place in any of the six centuries since the cottage was first built.
Views from each window change with the weather, which thanks to Dartmoor’s unique woodland eco-system do so at a fascinatedly fast pace—sometimes bringing in three or four different conditions during one day. Watching a Dartmoor pony grazing on the steep surrounding moors leaves you second-guessing how bright and orange-rich the landscape must look in the summer, or how barren in winter.
But still it’s the inside of Sweeton Manor that really impresses.
In the main house, there’s a cream Aga in the farmhouse kitchen and two Smeg fridges side-by-side; one full of local produce and dishes the chef has quietly been cooking since your arrival, the other with wines, local ales and soft drinks. Guests can help themselves to anything, at any time. With two, long oak tables that seat up to 20 people, dinner can be as formal as the occasion requires or outside there’s a beautiful terrace for alfresco dining.
Even with six couples or families in residence, the layout of the house provides ample places to socialise or to find solitude to read one of the 2,000 books from the library.
Three sitting rooms with real fires are furnished with bespoke furniture made by local craftsmen, including a £30,000 Bosendorfer grand piano. The Manor is also home to an extensive collection of art, featuring paintings from noted nineteenth and twenty-first century artists.
Owned by music buff and technology whiz John Lambert, Sweeton Manor has all the latest gadgetry for business, including Wi-Fi, internet phones, a fully equipped business centre with PC and Mac computers, and a conference room that can seat 12 around the table or 50 conference style. There’s even a recording studio for visiting rock stars.
But while it would be all too easy to wander Sweeton Manor’s rooms in a state of permanent retreat, it’s the interaction with the locals who work in the cottage and the surrounding area that really bring this house’s history and relationship with Dartmoor alive.
From the chef who’ll be happy to tell you how he sources the eggs you eat each morning—be assured they were born earlier that day on one of his favourite farms—, to the fresh-faced, young instructor who leads you horse riding over the misty moors, while telling you what the life of a typical Dartmoor farmer—her dad and boyfriend—entails; it’s these conversations that bring Sweeton Manor’s local, albeit modern-day significance to life.
Walk or ride your horse to the Tavistock Inn, a pub that dates back to 1413. This family-run pub with wood beamed, low ceilings, real fires, and tiny irregular rooms is as important a meeting place for locals to meet up today, as it was a refuge for riders crossing the moors hundreds of years ago.
Leaving Sweeton Manor to catch the train back to London is hard not to admire how a cottage can move so elegantly into modern and techy times, yet still provide glimpses into a centuries-old way of country life. The idyllic combination of being a beautifully indulgent and luxury resort and a relaxed and stylistically rustic country retreat: the Engish wouldn’t have their supervillas in any other way.
Sweeton Manor costs from £1,500 per night for weekdays, or from £6,000 per week, including full concierge and housekeeping.
Sweeton Manor, West Webburn, Dartmoor National Park