THE motto accompanying the coat of arms above the door was in Latin but I later discovered it means ‘I follow the light’.

How appropriate I thought, after motoring to this country house hotel in Devon. We arrived on a summer’s evening as the sun sank low and came upon the attractive eighteenth-century manor after meandering up a long drive which was overshadowed by trees.

It was a welcome sight. Yes, I saw the light at Northcote Manor!

This is an ideal place for a weekend retreat, to recharge and relax, in the middle of lush north Devon countryside, but not too far from civilisation. It’s situated near Umberleigh south of Barnstaple, just off the scenic route to Exeter.

Travellers in less of a hurry are able to catch the train here. From Exeter, take the Tarka Line towards Barnstaple which follows the gentle river valleys of the Yeo and Taw. The entrance to Northcote is opposite Portsmouth Arms railway station.

I was looking to relax, and I found Northcote was the place to come; a delightful oasis of calm and serenity. Boasting 20 acres of sweeping lawns and ancient woodland, the Northcote offer includes an award-winning-hotel, restaurant and spa.

Not surprisingly, it has become a sought-after wedding venue and special packages are available for couples wanting to wed in such glorious surroundings.

Although the current house was built in 1716, the original house and estate date back hundreds of years earlier. At one point the manor was owned by Henry VIII.

Northcote Manor first welcomed guests in 1972 and has continued to do so as a county house hotel since that time although in recent years it has been upgraded.

Anyone arriving there for the first time cannot fail to be struck by the grandeur of the place. Opening the big oak door and stepping into the grand entrance hall of the main house you know you have arrived somewhere special.

The staff were welcoming and friendly, and keen to help us settle in and answer any questions.

There are three different styles of room; we had one of the suites (Heron), which had a lovely view over the terrace and walled garden. The highlight was the free-standing bath built into the wall as you enter. There was a separate en-suite with a walk-in shower too. There was free fruit, mints and shortbread, but I was disappointed, in such luxurious surroundings to see only basic of coffee and tea making facilities – surely a cafetiere wouldn’t go amiss here?

Arriving late on our first night meant we missed dinner (plenty of good pubs locally to choose from) so our first taste, so to speak, of dining was breakfast. It is served in the conservatory, a beautiful room where the light pours in and which has outstanding views of the grounds. The great setting made up for the absence of vegetarian sausages available for our fry-up. Still, plenty of cereals, fruit, yoghurts, muesli, juices, etc to choose from.

Dinner in the evening was a grand affair. I didn’t particularly like the murals – commissioned by the previous owner and referencing Northcote’s history – on the walls. But the food was outstanding.

It started with pre-dinner drinks and amuse-bouche in the lounge before we took our table in the restaurant.

Where possible local suppliers are used and the menu showcases local meats. As a non-meat eater I was well catered for; I had butternut squash soup to start followed by tomato and saffron risotto – exquisite. For the main I could have also chosen the wild mushroom tartlet or white bean, pea and butternut squash casserole. I couldn’t resist the dessert menu and chose the dark chocolate fondant with caramelized bananas and white chocolate ice cream. Heavenly!

A new addition to the hotel offer at Northcote is the luxury health spa which has just started welcoming guests and has to be checked out if you’re staying. Along with treatment rooms where the temple spa and in-house treatments are experienced, it has all the usual facilities one would expect – gym, sauna, steam room, hot tub and small swimming pool, but with the added bonus of being perched on a hilltop overlooking the Taw Valley. Work was underway on my visit to add a balcony and veranda; it really will be a special place. After my massage at the spa I can say I was truly relaxed.

Do yourself a favour – head west and stay at Northcote and you too will see the light.


It costs £180 for a standard room based on two persons sharing inclusive of accommodation, full Northcote breakfast and VAT @ current rate. A superior room is £235 (B&B). Telephone 01769 560501 or email

Special offers can also be viewed on the website - visit

Reader offer

Enjoy a special two-night break with breakfast and dinner at Northcote Manor in a classic room for just £350 (normal price is £540) which is valid for stays in July, August and September (Sunday – Friday only). To book please call 01769 560501 and quote the Dorset Echo.