Staying at Bovey Castle is like visiting your favourite cousins. You know, the ones with the enormous house and those crazy sons who always have a jape up their sleeve.
Although the castle itself (not really a castle but a grey-granite Edwardian mansion that has been improbably stretched by various additions) cannot claim to be beautiful, its setting is sublime. It peers into a valley crested by the heather-clad fringes of Dartmoor.
It was used for the first Hound of the Baskervilles film-Conan-Doyle stayed here and the Baskerville family still live nearby.
The only permanent hound now is Shadow, a benign black labrador who belongs to Freddie, a young former Grenadier Guards officer.
He and his team orchestrate action-packed activities for those trying to work off the grown-up nursery food option on the dinner menu, and children looking for adventure.
It soon became obvious what the 50m long plastic sheet laid down the slope from the putting green was to be used for when a hose jet of water and liberal squirts of Fairy liquid were applied. Young and young at heart took turns at flying leaps as they descended towards the fishing lakes and the River Bovey faster than a croquet ball off the top lawn.
I can confirm that there are brown trout in the lakes, and the 11/2-pounder I landed (with help from Freddy’s nymph selection) was sitting in front of me at lunch brushed with a delicious sorrel sauce, less than an hour later.
Unlike some places (and cousins) who promise much but deliver little, Bovey Castle is the real thing. As well as the first-class golf course (which attracted several Lear Jet-borne American parties while we were there), there are tennis courts; daily birds-of-prey demonstrations by the wry Martin Whitley (apparently owls are not wise at all);
opportunities to make honey; archery at targets, including a mask of Osama bin Laden (to cater for the American market) and, bizarrely, one of Hugh Grant (to cater for the admirers of Jemima Khan market); an indoor swimming pool; and trips to the miniature pony centre nearby.
Children are expected and welcomed (and receive a
storybook featuring ebullient owner Peter de Savary, a mouse and a pixie).
The large Art Deco dining room with its mirror-adorned pillars could absorb a prep school and still not seem overcrowded. Even dogs are encouraged, but it helps if they cannot slip out of the kennel bars (our Jack Russell had to be elevated to toy-dog status and promoted to our bedroom).
The activities team never gives up.
As we prepared to leave we heard a voice on the terrace calling out: ‘Anyone for scuba diving?’
Bovey Castle, North Bovey, Devon (01647 445016; Bovey Castle).