Jayne Freer
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Just don't hit the brake!

December 4, 2016

Perched on the brow of a muddy hill, my knuckles a whiter shade of pink and my feet hovering nervously above the brake, I began the descent.

“If we hit a mudslide, just don’t hit the brake,” said my co-driver Iain Wylie, estate manager at Bovey Castle.

Don’t hit the brake? For a driver with 28 years experience, when potential danger looms not hitting the brake is the last thing on my mind.

But this was no normal driving scenario. I was at Bovey Castle putting my skills – and nerves – to the test in the estate’s new 4×4 Off-Road Land Rover experience.

And, apparently if I hit a mudslide the engine will brake for me, applying my brakes will only make the wheels lock!

As published on Plymouth Herald

My hour-long session began with a 15-minute briefing from Iain. I sat and listened to him describe the make-up of a Land Rover’s gearbox, when to use – and not to use – the high and low range gears, and him utter words like traction, axels, shafts and differentials, to which I found myself nodding at the appropriate moments.

Before long I’m sat in the driver’s seat with an array of control levers within my grasp. I suddenly wished I’d listened harder.

Bovey Castle introduced its Off-Road Experience to give visitors an alternative way to explore the hotel’s 275-acre estate on Dartmoor National Park.

The track I’m now perched upon was created as part of an ongoing timber management and conservation plan within the estate.

“There are many soft woods surrounding Bovey Castle that have not been managed for decades,” said Iain. “We wanted to enhance the trees we’d already got so we created a conservation plan.

“Tracks were dug out in order transport fallen timber. It was then we thought, wouldn’t it be great to use them as an off-road experience? And that is how it was born.”

The conservation project has resulted in some exciting finds for Bovey. Rare butterflies have been located in previously unexplored woodland and specific plants will now be planted to help encourage the species.

The woodland is not just used for exploration, but also education. Youngsters on holiday are given entertaining educational talks and invited to take part in guided bug-hunts and help build ‘bug houses’.

Back on the track, visitors keen to put their driving skills to the test can either do an hour-long taster session or a more intensive half-day experience covering the likes of ropes, jacks, waffle boards – no, I have no idea either – while experience some of the tougher aspects of the track.

Me, I was happy with the practice slopes and after successfully returning us back to level ground, I wanted to know how I’d done as a first timer.

“Actually, you were smooth, safe, consistent in your drive and ability. I liked it. We came out of the woods with the same vehicle we went in with, which is always a positive,” Iain laughed.

The 4×4 Land Rover experience is just one of the many activities offered at this five-star, early 20th century Grade II listed mansion. Whatever your chosen pursuit, from clay pigeon shooting, fishing, falconry, and archery to golf, mountain biking, quad biking and horse riding, Bovey has it covered. On top of all that, the hotel is extremely dog-friendly, so your pouch can also enjoy a spot of the high-life too.

After completing my off-road challenge it was time to try my hand at something a little more relaxing. The hotel has a gorgeous 20-metre pool complete with inbuilt Jacuzzi, as well as a steam room and sauna. After cracking out a few lengths it was time to indulge in a spot of luxurious pampering.

Upstairs is the Elan Spa where there is a whole menu of luxurious treatments to smooth out the creases and help thrash out the tension.

Preened to perfection it was time to dress to impress for before heading down to the newly refurbished Great Western restaurant where they have nailed the term ‘fine dining’.

Set within Art Deco surrounds, delicious locally-sourced meat, fish and vegetarian produce has been transformed into dishes that Instagram was made for!

Our evening began with choosing between three freshly baked flavoured breads made using Bovey’s own ‘Daniela’ starter dough.

‘Farm’ was a mouth-watering bacon, blue cheese and onion recipe, ‘Field’ incorporated roasted garlic and rosemary (our favoured choice), while ‘Forest’ contained mushroom and nuts.

For starters I opted for Seared Diver Scallops which were cooked to perfection and served with fennel salad and charred cucumber. Bill opted for Salad Of Poached Native Lobster & Heritage Tomatoes, which didn’t survive too long on the plate!

For main, it had to be the Charred Rump of Devon Red Beef with beer braised cheek and ox tail cottage pie, while Bill kept to the fish theme with Roast Fillets of John Dory, salt baked celeriac and golden sultanas.

It was at that point I could have quite easily walked away, but having spied the 9th Hole Chocolate Tree Stump on the dessert menu had me hanging on for another course.

The food was truly impressive and served by impeccable and friendly staff in elegant surrounds, making it feel a really special ‘night in’.

The hotel is currently on phase two of a major refurbishment which has already seen half of its bedrooms and suites given a contemporary, but fittingly in-keeping, fresh new look.

Our bedroom overlooked the impressive 275-acre 18-hole championship golf course and is surrounded by vegetation as far as the eye can see.

After a sound night’s sleep for those of both two-legged and four-legged variety, it was time to don the wellies – the hotel has plenty to spare if you’ve forgotten yours – and head out to explore one of the many stunning circular routes surrounding the hotel before finally heading for home.

This wasn’t my first visit to Bovey Castle and it certainly won’t be my last. With everything you need at your fingertips, it really is the perfect luxurious hideaway.

Jayne Freer and Bill Martin were hosted by Bovey Castle, part of the Eden Hotel Collection – a privately-owned portfolio of eight beautiful properties in the UK. Situated in the spectacular Dartmoor National Park, the luxurious hotel has 60 bedrooms, 22 lodges, an impressive Elan Spa, an 18-hole championship golf course and a busy programme of activities including falconry, shooting, cider and sloe gin-making. The off-road driving experience (one-hour taster from £125 pp or a half-day from £225 pp) enables guests to drive a Land Rover Defender on a newly-constructed woodland track. Stay overnight from £179 per room (two sharing; room only), including access to the Elan Spa. Call Bovey Castle on 01647 445 000 (www.boveycastle.com).

Taking to the wheel of a 4x4 Land Rover with Bovey Castle's new Off-Road Experience