by Sarah Birbeck
The story behind the truly stunning property of Great Bidlake Manor is a tale that is not easily forgotten. This is a property that is filled with character and history.
Great Bidlake Manor is ideally located close to the A30 so West Country attractions are easily accessible: from the beaches of north Devon to Cornwall’s Eden Project. It’s worth looking at where you would like to go on a map and visit the “Things to do” section on the Great Bidlake information site.
Great Bidlake Manor is located on the western edge of Dartmoor and nothing beats lacing up the walking boots and experiencing the bracing High Moor followed by a swift half in one of the local pubs. We certainly recommend joining one of the guided walks organised by Moorland Guides.
Space. With a breakfast room, a games room, library, dining hall, music room with grand piano, drawing room, and TV room, Great Bidlake Manor has plenty of it. The property is set in 13 acres of grounds and a sun trap of a large terrace. Space is not an issue here. Throw in some amazing history since the 13th century to create a truly unique property.
There are so many beautiful experience to enjoy. James Bidlake and the Helpful Holidays team constantly strive to ensure guest’s expectations are exceeded at every level. The recent addition of a Karaoke machine with disco lights appears to be a big hit with visitors!
When asked the question James Bidlake said, “Some of my earliest memories are of staying with my Aunt Elizabeth, a feisty opinionated woman who told me off for not eating the whites of my eggs at breakfast (fair enough, I now think). She and her husband had sold the main house after the Second World War and did a “To The Manor Born.” They lived at Bidlake Mill, just down the road from Great Bidlake Manor. I loved exploring that place with it’s woods and the River Lew flowing through it. Over cups of tea and slices of fruitcake, Elizabeth would rattle off tales of Henry Bidlake the Royalist and other characters and refer to crumbling documents. She enthused me with a sense of history and, especially as a young child, the wonder of walking in the footsteps of our ancestors. I became hooked on history. We used to visit Great Bidlake frequently and during one of those visits when I was about 8, I remember apples were being crushed in the cider house. My father was given a glass of a previous vintage and I managed to get a taste too. Gosh, it was good. According to him, it was at that visit I whispered to him that I was going to get Great Bidlake back in to the family. It was probably the cider talking. A few years ago I was in the very fortunate position of being able to reunite Great Bidlake with the family.”
As with any old property, the priority was to ensure that the roof doesn’t leak. Thankfully, the house had undergone 8 years of meticulous renovation. As a Grade II* building, this was a mammoth task and resulted in a house that has all the charm of an Elizabethan manor house combined with the benefits of modern living. For example, the 2.7 kms of new underfloor heating makes sure it’s always snuggly warm. The 10 bedrooms were transformed into 6 large bedrooms, each with its own high spec bathroom, perfect for holiday letting, accommodating up to 12 guests. James’s approach is simple; “Make sure the house is what we want from a holiday let. We want the luxuries of a country house hotel (huge bathtubs, lots of hot water, fluffy towels and high quality bed linen) and the comfort of a large family home (a large kitchen with all the utensils you need, spaces to entertain and other spaces to escape to with a good book, a games room and gardens to explore).”
Great Bidlake has always been a place for people to come together. It’s such a welcoming place. Large enough to give people space and yet not too large to feel overwhelming. It’s perfect for entertaining (caterers can be arranged too) and sharing time with family and friends. Most of the people who stay are celebrating a special birthday or event. Last year Bidlake family members came together from around the world to make-merry and celebrate 750 years since the family first settled there.
The overall design follows the Elizabethan E-shape, which has been extended over time. The gorgeous symmetry of the front of the house is something to not be missed, creating the perfect spot for a photo opportunity. The interior design reflects what the Bidlake family enjoy: lots of open fireplaces to toast crumpets on, comfy sofas and cushions, amazingly comfortable beds. It offers somewhere you can come to restore and rejuvenate.
“That’s a hard question. I love the sun streaming into the kitchen in the morning when I am making coffee, first thing. It’s great to nestle into one of the huge leather armchairs in the library with a good book in front of the fire with its massive granite lintel carved with fascinating semi-circular shapes: no-one is really sure but think it must be Celtic. Or to play chess in the Solar, which is the oldest part of the house where you can see the original timbers of the great hall. I adore the massive wooden front door with its key that’s about 5 inches long. I imagine Cromwell’s soldiers coming to arrest Henry Bidlake after the Battle of Torrington and hammering on the door, but what they didn’t know was that Henry had already escaped dressed as a cowman. He was eventually captured and lost a large part of the estate in fines. But perhaps my absolute favourite is the view over a field called Canna Park from the front of the house. I can see a line of oak trees planted 250 yards apart stretching in a line over the Lew valley toward the horizon. Simply magical. Even better with a tipple in your hand in the gloaming hour before sunset.
James Bidlake has many plans which he was happy to share “We are coming to the end of a 2 year plan for the grounds including planting over 1,800 natives trees with the help of Moor Trees. We planted a diverse range of apple trees and in a few years time we hope to renovate the old cider mill and produce Bidlake cider and apple juice once again. I’d also like to introduce more sustainable source of power, whether by solar or ground source. We have a rainwater collection system that is used for flushing water throughout the house. The bigger and longer term plans are to develop the large threshing barn into more accommodation or perhaps as a wedding venue. It’s an amazing solid building built in 1824 and not unchanged since then. It served as an assembly hall for the school that was based here during WWII. In fact on one of the walls you can still see a mural of Noah’s Ark they painted at the time; another chapter of Great Bidlake’s colourful history.”
“The initial attraction was that Helpful Holidays is based Chagford, a nearby town and has a team of people who knew the area. Helpful Holidays appeared down to earth and interested in building a long term relationship. They provided great advice on how to get the house up and running for professional holiday letting. With the acquisition by Sykes this service has been augmented by improved marketing and diagnostics and we hope to see even more bookings in the future.”
James had some wonderful advice for those who are looking to get into the holiday let industry. “If you are letting out a family home, you have to embrace the idea of sharing what you are lucky enough to have with other people to enjoy. It means a lot to me to know from our guests that they’ve come together as a family or a group of friends and celebrated time together away from the hum-drum of day-to-day living.”
If you’d like to book a stay at Great Bidlake Manor, take a look at the property page for availability and pricing.
If you’d like to know more about letting your own property with Helpful Holidays, visit our Let Your Cottage page.
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