THE road to Bovey Castle is narrow and winding, the approach marked by unimposing iron gates. It is far from an ostentatious entrance and one you could easily miss. This place is a closely guarded secret and they’d clearly like to keep it that way.
It’s a long drive from London to the wilds of Dartmoor in Devon, but as we turned into the 275-acre estate, it all seemed worth it. Then, negotiating our weather-beaten car around the 18-hole golf course, we spotted a helicopter landing with some guests on board.
My heart sank. I turned to look at my three boys in their hoodies and trainers, their faces smeared with chocolate from the endless journey.
“Look,” said my husband, pointing out our hotel in the distance. “It looks like Downton Abbey.” “Or Hogwarts,” our eldest son pitched in.
We stopped in front of the lavish manor house where we were met by our friendly host, Ashleigh. She took our keys and saw to it that our bags were unloaded and our car parked.
Ashleigh then escorted us on a tour of Bovey Castle. We were shown the beautiful spa, the fine dining restaurant and the lounges where guests read the papers and sipped tea. My husband and I exchanged a look of panic. What were we and our boisterous brood doing here? But when I shared my concerns with Ashleigh, she laughed and brushed them off.
“This is a family hotel and children are welcome everywhere,” she said.
Appearances can be deceptive and none more so than at Bovey Castle. This is a hotel that not only tolerates children, but actively caters for them. So much so, that the proprietors have joined forces with the world famous toymaker to launch a world first: Lego room service.
The hotel has a swimming pool, a playroom, tennis courts, a table tennis room, pitch and putt, 275 acres of Dartmoor wilderness and a kids’ club. But that was all by the by, as far as our boys were concerned.
My husband and I explored our incredible family-sized suite in awe — the huge beds, the extravagant bathrooms, the stunning views, while the boys chirped: “Can we order now?” brandishing the Lego menu.
There are twelve sets to choose from and the selection caters for toddlers to teens, boys and girls.
After paying a £50 refundable deposit, our Lego fanatics opted for the Duplo safari, a Star Wars set and the monster fighter ghost train.
Ten minutes later there was a knock at the door and there stood the Lego concierge in green tweeds and laden with boxes.
The boys got building straight away. When they first heard about the service they were upset to discover they couldn’t take their creations home. I wasn’t too sure of the concept either, but I can now safely say that it is a stroke of marketing genius.
If you are the parent of a Lego-mad child, you know this hobby does not come cheap.Big sets cost upwards of £100 and once they are built, that’s that. But here, for no extra charge, children build the set, play with it, take countless photos, then swap it for something else.
The only drawback to this wonderful service is that it feeds the habit of little Lego addicts.
Once the boys completed their boxes, they nagged for replenishments. Plus, there was a chorus of disapproval when we asked them to break for food, sleep or anything else.
If you think their architectural endeavours bestowed us with a lie-in, then you’d be wrong.
We were awoken at the crack of dawn each day by one of our little darlings demanding that — you guessed it — we order more Lego.
This we did, but only on the proviso that they agreed to leave the room every so often. We coaxed them down to the pool twice, which they loved once they got there. It is a generous size and beautifully decked out, with a glass-fronted seating area opening onto a large terrace.
Once out, we also convinced them to join us on a long walk through the grounds, spectacular in autumn colours.
There’s a kids’ club called Bovey Rangers which offers brilliant activities including survival skills, camouflage face-painting and moorland adventures, but at £26 per two hour session per child, it can prove costly. Still, think of it as an investment.
Two-hours buys you time to indulge in some pampering or try your hand at one of many outdoor pursuits Bovey offers, such as fly fishing or quad biking.
Having only just persuaded our kids to breathe in the air, we kept it low key. We joined an early(ish) morning walk to the hen house, where the children gathered eggs to give to the chef to cook for breakfast.
Sadly, mealtimes are the only thing that let Bovey Castle down.
On both mornings we waited for more than 20 minutes before being seated in the half empty restaurant.
Staff seemed more concerned with making sure everything looked pristine, than serving us our food.
We repeatedly asked for things and were made to wait overly long for our orders in both the Edwardian Grill and the more relaxed Castle Brasserie.
Yet when the food did finally arrive it was good — especially Bovey’s signature afternoon tea.
Nevertheless, even a cake stand piled high with scones and cakes was not enough to keep us seated for long.
“Can we get more Lego now!” they all chimed in together.
PACKAGE: The KIDS STAY FREE offer is available from 9-17 February 2013, based on one child sharing a Castle room with two adults staying on a B&B basis. Prices start from £279.00 per room per night.