Travel PR and writer Mischa Mack introduces her miniature dachshund puppy to the great outdoors – and luxury living at Highwood in Otter Valley Devon
On the day our miniature dachshund puppy’s feet were allowed to hit the ground, we whisked him off to Devon: after weeks of pre-jab germ avoidance and being carried in a canine clutch bag (much to his humiliation), it was time to celebrate.
Buddy’s first days of freedom should, I thought, be spent exploring the authentic outdoors – not London’s overpopulated parks, dodging cyclists and Staffies; he has years of that ahead of him. Less importantly, perhaps, my husband and I, our eight-year-old daughter and our close friends, were in the mood for some late-summer indulgence.
Cutting into east Devon’s Otter Valley along threadlike lanes, our Friday night fatigue instantly lifted as security gates opened revealing Highwood, an imposing house so unusual you’d be taken aback to see it in a city, let alone rural Devon. All wood, floor-to-ceiling glass and whitewashed walls, it is modern architecture at its most elegant and inviting.
The exterior turned out to be the least of the surprises Highwood had in store. Upon entering the house, our eyes widened and Buddy’s flickered, not knowing which direction to head in first. An enormous open-plan living room, with an L-shaped sofa and wood burner, led to a smart dining area and sleek kitchen. Fascinating pieces of colourful modern art hung on the fresh, white walls – plus a huge TV (with full Sky package) DVD player and Xbox.
Most self-catering properties leave guests a few bits and pieces – a handful of tea bags, a sliced loaf and a pint of milk, maybe – but Highwood provided a welcome package entirely beyond our expectation. We found fresh flowers, flour-dusted scones, a loaf of crusty bread and fancy biscuits, plus salted butter, organic milk and apple juice, free range eggs and a bottle of Prosecco. And we didn’t need to worry about bringing supplies from home or supermarket ferrying: there were enough loo rolls, kitchen rolls and dishwasher tablets to last well beyond our stay.
Of the three double bedrooms, the upstairs master (accessed via a secret door) is the one to argue over. The size of a serious hotel suite, this room has a king-size bed, a big TV, balcony, Nespresso machine and a rather unnerving glass-floored walkway leading to its en suite.
The day after our arrival, after hours of lounging around in our pyjamas and matching white bathrobes, we headed to Lyme Regis, just half an hour away by car, for lunch. We ate at the Town Mill Bakery, tucked down a little alleyway, where everything is made on site, you’re seated at communal benches (inside and out), and the staff trust you to tell them – and pay for – what you’ve eaten before you leave. We unanimously opted for the thickest, most tomatoey tomato soup I’d ever tasted, served in bowls made from nutty, chewy, home-baked bread – but we could have devoured seasonally-inspired pizzas, alternative pasties (such as chestnut and spinach), and coronary-inducing cakes.
Both dog and daughter had energy to expend (and we had a fair few carbs to burn off) so we scaled the steep slope and beautiful gardens overlooking sunny Lyme. After an obligatory ice cream, and a browse around the brilliant Pug and Puffin gift shop for dogs, we headed back to Highwood via Branscombe for Buddy’s first beach experience: I’d had slow-mo visions of Buddy doing micro-gallops along the coast, his ears flapping in the breeze….instead, he sauntered off and clambered onto the lap of an unsuspecting sunbather who had been enjoying a late afternoon snooze.
Back at base, we popped the fizz, played table tennis and swung lazily in the Fatboy hammock in the garden.
As a way of consoling ourselves on the day we reluctantly headed home, we booked lunch en route at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Canteen in Axminster, just 30 minutes’ drive east from the house. Sadly, pets aren’t allowed. Demoted to his dog-handbag, Buddy was too exhausted from the sea air to protest and passed out before we’d even ordered our starters. Aside, perhaps, from thinking what an unsightly handbag I had, the staff and guests were none the wiser.
How to get to Highwood, Otter Valley Devon, without flying:
Take the M4 to junction 20 and then the M5 to junction 30. Follow the A376 towards Sidmouth. Detailed directions will be provided on booking.
Words: Mischa Mack for Feet on the Ground. Mischa travelled with Boutique Retreats.
Images: Mischa Mack / Boutique Retreats