Hotel Endsleigh in the fairy tale forest of Devon

Endsleigh in der Morgenstimmung. Man hört nur Vogelgezwitscher und den Wind. Es gibt keine Autogeräusche und nachts keine Lichtverschmutzung / © Foto: Georg Berg
Endsleigh in the morning mood. You hear only birdsong and the wind. There are no car noises and no light pollution at night / © Photo: Georg Berg.

Olga Polizzi creates the perfect place for a break from everyday life

It sits there like an enchanted place where elves float from chimney to chimney and the seven dwarfs could walk around the corner whistling at any moment. Endsleigh is a listed estate in the county of Devon, surrounded by over 40 acres of fairytale woodland. The sprawling grounds, with follies, grottoes and garden pavilions, were designed in the early 19th century by England’s last great garden architect, Humphrey Repton. It was commissioned by the Duke of Bedford, who owned a third of Devon at the time. The site reminded the Duchess of Bedford of her native Scotland.

Entlang der längsten Zierrabatte Englands. Auf dem Green lassen sich verschiedenste Gartenspiele spielen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Along the longest ornamental border in England. A wide variety of garden games can be played on the green / © Photo: Georg Berg

The Duchess made a good choice. Endsleigh lies on the edge of what is now the Dartmoor Nature Reserve and is nestled in a beautiful hilly landscape through which the Tamar, England’s best river for trout and salmon fishing, meanders. The Duke laid the foundation stone for the fishing and hunting lodge in 1814, which became a summer residence for his large family of 13 children. But like so many great houses, Endsleigh lay dormant for a long time before being kissed awake by Olga Polizzi in 2004. As head of design, the well-known interior designer built up the Rocco Forte Hotel Group together with her brother Rocco Forte. About Endsleigh, she says she bought it more with her heart than her head. The building was badly in need of renovation. The expansive garden, with its award-winning trees and rare plants, had gone wild. Today Endsleigh is the perfect place to switch off and leave the hustle and bustle of everyday life behind. The only sounds here are the chirping of birds, the wind and the river. Ideal for taking a walk, playing croqué on the lawn or having a Devonshire cream tea in the drawing room and immersing yourself in the tranquil life of 19th century high society.

A walk in the park with the head gardener

The terrace overlooks the valley and you look across the lawn along England’s longest continuous ornamental border, the Long Border. In May 2017, Endsleigh was voted No. 1 by The Times in the Best for Gardens category – and that’s saying something in a country famous for its beautiful gardens.

Für die Hausgäste stehen Stiefel und Regenjacken bereit. Der Garten kann somit bei jedem Wetter erkundet werden. Falsche Kleidung gilt nicht mehr als Entschuldigung / © Foto: Georg Berg
Boots and rain jackets are provided for house guests. The garden can thus be explored in any weather. Wrong clothes are no longer an excuse / © Photo: Georg Berg

For garden lovers who want to learn more about the history of Endsleigh Garden, a guided tour with head gardener Ben Ruscombe-King is highly recommended. Ben leads us on a detailed tour of the garden’s various highlights and curiosities.

Ben Ruscombe-King Chefgärnter in Endsleigh verweist vom Seerosenteich aus auf die in der Ferne liegende kleine Molkerei der Herzogin von Bedford / © Foto: Georg Berg
Ben Ruscombe-King Head Gardener at Endsleigh points out the Duchess of Bedford’s small dairy in the distance from the lily pond / © Photo: Georg Berg.

The Duke of Bedford was a great plant hunter and it so happens that Endsleigh’s garden has an arboretum of very old trees, among which are quite a few National Champions. Ben shows us one of the past champions, a redwood planted in 1860. A storm involuntarily cut it down and it lost its title as tallest tree. In exchange, Endsleigh has since reclaimed the title of tallest Sequoia in the country for another tree. Ben cannot hide his pride in this.

Der Herzog von Bedford lies eigens für einen Monkey Puzzle Tree, eine chilenische Schmucktanne, ein Gewächshaus mit riesigen Heizungsrohren bauen. Heute stehen nur noch die Grundmauern und in den Beeten wächst Gemüse für das Restaurant / © Foto: Georg Berg
The Duke of Bedford had a greenhouse with huge heating pipes built especially for a Monkey Puzzle Tree, a Chilean ornamental fir. Today, only the foundation walls remain and vegetables for the restaurant grow in the beds / © Photo: Georg Berg

White smoke for romance and other follies

English gardens are also known for so-called follies, unusual ornamental buildings. Endsleigh has several visual follies to offer here. The shell house at the end of the long ornamental border has walls, floor and ceiling covered with shells. Across the river, there’s Swiss Cottage, a simple cabin that once served one purpose, to produce lots of smoke. Until the 1950s, a servant would row across the river daily and light a fire in the Swiss Cottage. The smoke, which drifted picturesquely through the valley, could be seen from Endsleigh, where it created the deliberately picturesque impression of not being entirely alone in the Valley of the Tamar.

Milkmaid’s calculation

To an even greater folly, Ben leads us along winding paths. The garden has many small cul-de-sacs, deliberately designed by architect Rapton. The gentry wanted little adventures. The allure of getting lost and having to turn back was to add variety to their days in the country. The Duchess of Bedford had quite different ideas about variety. She wanted to escape from being a duchess in the summer residence, and so the duke had a small but fine dairy built for her.

Ferienbeschäftigung für eine Herzogin. In der kleinen Molkerei konnte die Gnädigste originalgetreu Milchmagd spielen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Vacation employment for a duchess. In the small dairy, the duchess was able to play the role of a milkmaid, true to the original / © Photo: Georg Berg

Once a year, she went to the dairy in the outfit of a milkmaid and produced butter and cheese. For the perfect illusion, two longhorn cows were still kept. The homemade dairy products also made their way to the table, of course, Ben reports, and immediately leads us to the next garden trend from the 19th century, “rockery.” At that time, the first wealthy Englishmen traveled the Alps and had rocky passages built into their gardens as a reminder of the mountains.

Chefgärtner Ben Roscombe-King an seinem Lieblingsbaum, einer über 200 Jahre alten Trauerbirke. Sie hat ihr maximales Lebensalter eigentlich schon überschritten und die Gärtner müssen ihre riesigen Äste teils stützen / © Foto: Georg Berg
Head gardener Ben Roscombe-King at his favorite tree, a weeping birch over 200 years old. It has actually already exceeded its maximum age and the gardeners have to partly support its huge branches / © Photo: Georg Berg

35 gardeners worked year-round in Endsleigh’s gardens back then. Even today, Ben Roscombe-King tells us, the entire area of 43 hectares, has not yet been closed back. Only a year ago, he and his team of 5 discovered a waterfall created by Rapton, but completely forgotten. Meanwhile, a small path leads there. Behind it lies more land with possible botanical surprises. On the way back we pass another rapton tableau. This is another garden trend of the time, documenting Chinese influence.

Bäume wurden bewusst nah an künstlich geschaffene Felsvorsprünge gesetzt, Wasserfälle harmonisch in den Hügel platziert. Das Rapton-Tableau. Nach über 200 Jahren sind aber einige Bäume über die Felskante gekippt / © Foto: Georg Berg
Trees were deliberately placed close to artificially created rocky outcrops, waterfalls harmoniously placed in the hillside. The Rapton Tableau. After more than 200 years, however, some trees have toppled over the cliff edge / © Photo: Georg Berg.
Eine lohnenswerte Führung: Ben Roscombe-King weiß spannende Details  zu berichten. So erzählt er, dass der Herzog von Bedford nicht nur ein großer Pflanzensammler war, sondern auch Tiere gesammelt hat. Darunter auch das graue Eichhörnchen. Es vermehrte sich in Gefangenschaft so gut, dass er die Nachkommen im Freundeskreis verschenkte und somit den Anfang vom Ende der roten Eichhörnchen auf den Britischen Inseln einläutete / © Foto: Georg Berg
A worthwhile guided tour: Ben Roscombe-King knows exciting details to tell. For example, he tells us that the Duke of Bedford was not only a great plant collector, but also collected animals. Among them was the gray squirrel. It reproduced so well in captivity that he gave away the offspring to his friends, thus heralding the beginning of the end of red squirrels in the British Isles / © Photo: Georg Berg

Humphrey Rapton was a master of presentation. He convinced his clients with the help of his famous red books. A replica is on display at the Endsleigh Hotel and guests are encouraged to leaf through it.

Gartenarchitekt Humphrey Rapton betrieb großen Aufwand in der Präsentation und überzeugte mit seinen Roten Büchern viele seiner Auftraggeber / © Foto: Georg Berg
Garden architect Humphrey Rapton put a lot of effort into presentation and convinced many of his clients with his Red Books / © Photo: Georg Berg

Rapton worked with the before and after trick. He drew the actual state of the landscape and then had folding cards with the new garden dreams superimposed. In this way, he also convinced the Duke of Bedford.

Hunting and other pastimes

Der Fluss Tamar ist heute die Grenze zwischen Cornwall und Devon. Der Herzog von Bedford war passionierter Angler und lies Wasserfälle und Wehre in den Flusslauf bauen, so dass sich Lachse und Forellen ansiedelten / © Foto: Georg Berg
The River Tamar is today the border between Cornwall and Devon. The Duke of Bedford was a passionate fisherman and had waterfalls and weirs built in the course of the river, so that salmon and trout settled there. / © Photo: Georg Berg

The hunting warden ( ghillie in Scottish) is also happy to give guests assistance with fishing or accompany them to the hunt. For those who don’t like fishing or hunting, a trip to nearby Tavistock is a good idea. The Paneer Market, is a covered market place with daily changing offers. Of course, there are also Antique Days, where you can grab an old piece, inspired by the decor in Endsleigh.

Chefkoch Jose Graziosi liebt es, noch vor Beginn der Arbeit durch den Garten  zu streifen und Pilze oder Kräuter für die Küche zu sammeln. Hier zeigt er mir den wilden Sauerampfer, der zwischen dem Bärlauch wächst / © Foto: Georg Berg
Chef Jose Graziosi loves to roam the garden before work even begins, picking mushrooms or herbs for the kitchen. Here he shows me the wild sorrel growing among the wild garlic / © Photo: Georg Berg

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The cost of half board was not charged by the hotel

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