For Dog-Lovers Only
Prince Hall, on the dramatic high moors of Dartmoor, is a dog-friendly restaurant with rooms. In fact, in the seven or eight years that Wallace the Westie and I have been visiting dog-friendly hotels together, this is probably the dog-friendliest place we have ever stayed.
Dartmoor is made up of high granite hills, covered with rough grass, gorse and boggy patches of sphagnum moss. It's an empty landscape to the untrained eye, its character subtle, easy to get lost in and occasionally dangerous.
Driving over it on a blustery October day, with heavy clouds scudding across blue skies, we were thinking of The Hound of the Baskervilles, set on Dartmoor, and feeling slightly intimidated by the featureless landscape when we turned right at the Prince Hall sign. (It turns out, by the way, the Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mystery about the curse of the hound from hell may have been inspired by a visit to this very house.)
Immediately, the scene changed. The hotel's mile-long,... beech-lined drive led to a green and sheltered dell, surrounded by trees with views across neighboring farmland and meadows to an old stone bridge. The pale yellow house looked more like a substantial 18th-century farmhouse than a luxury inn with a restaurant rated by Michelin.
Relaxed, Doggy Welcome
If you don't like dogs and your idea of a luxury country house includes punctilious service, immaculate surroundings and a high gloss on everything, you'll probably want to ignore the rest of this.
Arriving at Prince Hall, across an ancient flagstone porch, past rows of wellies and walking boots, bins of brollies and walking sticks, is a bit like arriving at a friend's back door. You almost feel that you should knock instead of just walking in.
Through a window, we saw people having tea in a sunny, informal looking sitting room. A huge golden retriever was curled up in the middle of the room and an overwrought looking little black schnauzer was running circles around her. The appropriate thing to do seemed to be to let Wallace off his leash to mingle with the others while we checked in.
Only a big old desk - with a bowl of dog treats on it - and an office beyond, gives a clue that you are in a hotel. Otherwise, you might be joining a house party at the family home of a school friend. We settled in the parlour for tea - a gigantic scone, jam and real Devon clotted cream for me, a bowl of water, a dog biscuit and a good sniff around for Wallace.
The Definition of Shabby Chic
This is a house with history. Some of the original 1443 building remains in the castellated courtyard and paddock as well as the foundations and cellars. Most of what you see today dates from the 18th and early 19th centuries. Prince Hall has passed through the hands of a variety of owners. In the 1930s, the Prince of Wales (later, briefly Edward VIII before he abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson), stabled horses here while staying elsewhere on the moor. In 1945 Lord and Lady Astor bought it as a summer residence. Its lands are part of the Duchy of Cornwall, and the current Prince of Wales is the Landlord. The hotel's current owners (leaseholders actually, but that is a quirk of British land ownership) are Chris and Fi Daly. Fi, a serious dog lover herself, mingles sociably with guests - many of whom return again and again. Chris who I've been told is the shyer of the two, presides over the kitchen (of which more later).
Despite its many illustrious occupants, today Prince Hall is the very epitome of English country farmhouse style - not the immaculately styled imitations in house and home magazines but the real shabby chic.
The parlour, where tea is served, newspapers are shared and, in cold weather, a fire blazes, is furnished with an eclectic assortment of tables, large, overstuffed sofas and chairs that have an easy to sink into, well lived look and feel and. The bar, next door, is a similar sized room with more sofas for relaxing and enjoying the view.
The inn's eight guest rooms, up a sweeping flight of stairs, are furnished with a mixture of antiques, hand-me-downs and reproductions. Mine was clean and comfortable with four-poster bed and fresh, white linens. Some of the rooms overlook sweeping stretches of Dartmoor. Sadly mine, on the side of the house, overlooked only the parking and, from the bathroom, part of the courtyard.
The bathroom, recently done in a blue and white color scheme and, again, in a homely rather than "hotel-ly" style, was small but more than adequate with a large bath and a ledge under the window to spread out all my supplies.
Quirky touches were everywhere - a strange chandelier in my room that looked like someone's aunt made it in a crafts class; a distressed, black and white harlequin patterned cabinet in the hall that concealed a tiny fridge with fresh milk for my tea; a Ball jar filled with homemade jammy dodgers, a biscuit for Wallace balanced on the top.
The only thing missing was bedding and bowls for Wallace. Luckily, we always carry his own in the boot of the car. But in a hotel with such solid,dog-friendly credentials, it was a curious oversight.
Dining at Prince Hall
Guests at Prince Hall can opt to stay on a bed and breakfast or dinner bed and breakfast (db&b) basis. The restaurant is open to the public so if you are planning on dining and have not reserved a db&b stay, it's important to book for dinner. Make sure you do because the food, under the supervision of Chris Daly, is superb.
Menus are seasonal with a focus is on modern British and European food. An October 3-course dinner in 2013 included starters of roasted pumpkin and herb soup; pork, apple and apricot terrine with purple basil jam and pistachios, gravadlax or mushroom tortellini. Mains included fillet of West Country beef with fondant potatoes, wild mushrooms, roasted baby figs, and savoy cabbage; confit of duck, Brixham-landed brill and a vegetarian dish of grilled and roasted vegetables with a sun-dried tomato and Devon blue cheese tian.
The choice of desserts is short and interesting - orange and cranberry crumble tart; chocolate, raspberry and mint mousse with pistachio cream, red wine poached pear and my selection, local cheeses with baby figs, apple cider chutney and walnuts.
Everything was beautifully prepared and served in restrained modern portions, leaving room to consume all three courses, plus wine and coffee, without feeling guilty.
The restaurant also serves light lunches, afternoon teas and Sunday lunch to the public - a handy place to stop for a meal if you are out for a walk on Dartmoor.
More Things to Do
Eat, Walk, Sleep is the motto on the Prince Hall brochure and you could be quite happy doing little more. But if you are keen to be a bit more active, the staff can recommend and organize fly fishing on the River Dart, golf, clay pigeon shooting, riding and guided walks.
The Bottom Line
We often recommend country house hotels so that visitors can get a sense of the English country house weekends they read about or see in films. But really, unless you live in Britain or have British friends with country houses, experiencing a real country house party is rare. We are pleased to say that Prince Hall is the closest we have ever come to it at a hotel. The accommodations are comfortable and unpretentious, the food is glorious and the company very agreeable indeed.
Wallace, an old hand at reviewing hotels, was so at home that he thought he was at a friend's house. Throughout our stay, he remained free to wander wherever he wanted indoors - except of course the kitchen, the dining room and other guest's rooms. Visitors' well-behaved pets mingle happily and peacefully with the owner's three resident dogs. We've never run across such a relaxed attitude toward pets.
Out of doors was somewhat different. Except for a fenced and walled area around the house (more than sufficient for Wallace but maybe not for bigger, younger dogs), Wallace had to be leashed for our walks to avoid bothering the local sheep and cattle. We also worried that he might wander onto a boggy mire from which we would not be able to rescue him - a good reason inexperienced Dartmoor visitors should walk with a guide.
And the dog-friendly rating? Wallace awards Prince Hall Five Paws +
- Where: Prince Hall Hotel, Two Bridges, Dartmoor, Devon PL20 6SA
- Contact: Telephone +44 (0)1822 890 403
- Official Website
- Getting There: There are very few roads on Dartmoor and the two main routes criss cross in the center of the national park at a village known as Princetown. Prince Hall is in Two Bridges, about two miles from Princetown. There are very good directions on the hotel website and the owners warn visitors to use those directions since GPS devices and SatNave can be unreliable on Dartmoor.
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