ANDY COOPER discovers a tranquil yet captivating luxury North Devon retreat close to the coast.
You’ve heard there’s an amazing dining establishment in north Devon which has been gaining admirers by the plateful over the past few years. You’ve been told it’s in a place called Woolsery, so you set off in that general direction and the sat-nav seems to confirm you are in the vicinity. Then you see the road sign directing you to…Woolfardisworthy.
It’s the Morecambe and Wise sketch of north Devon place names…all the right letters, but not necessarily in the right order. But fear not, intrepid reader, for Woolfardisworthy and Woolsery are one and the same, the former just being the way it was traditionally named, despite the pronunciation.
And forgive my story-telling anyway because these days the road sign indicates the two ‘Ws’ are the same place. And, in any event, given the fact this beautiful village just a few miles from the dramatic coast has become something of a mecca for foodies, it won’t be long before you’re able to follow the throng and find it.
And that’s because The Farmers Arms has become a byword for fabulous food, served with elán in wonderfully distinctive surroundings. And now, fabulously, not only can you dine in style, you can stay there too.
That’s because the pub is but one branch of a distinctive ensemble of businesses in and around the village known as The Collective at Woolsery.
The backstory is this: Woolsery is the ancestral home of Michael Birch, co-founder of the social networking site Bebo with his wife Xochi. His great, great grandparents built the village shop, his grandmother was born above it, and his family still live in the village today.
Planning a visit to the county? Check out our guide to a weekend in north Devon.
Michael and Xochi bought a number of properties in the village and have breathed new life into this beautiful place underpinned by their genuine love of and connection to Woolsery.
This has so far seen the revival of The Farmers Arms, the re-opening of J. Andrew Shop & Post Office, the opening of Woolsery Fish and Chips, the creation of Birch Farm – which uses traditional and organic farming principles and services the restaurant and shop – and the ongoing renovation of Wulfheard Manor.
The latest initiative for The Collective is to open three cottages, two suites and two rooms within the village after a complete renovation. Each has its own unique character, drawing on the history and heritage of the village and telling its own story through a stunning aesthetic carefully designed by Hannah Lohan Interiors.
The Collective at Woolsery’s accommodation is eccentric, whimsical and a lot of fun. There are strong hints of nostalgia with dashes of decadence at every turn and all the rooms give a strong feeling that this really is the ultimate place to relax, unwind, and slow down.
Our billet was The Old Smithy, just a skip and a jump across the pub courtyard. This provides country cottage living with a contemporary twist. A neutral palette against the warm, rich tones of the furniture and soft furnishings, exposed beams and polished cement floors emanate a sense of warmth and welcome and with a wood burner, and sumptuous sofas, this is a place to unwind, switch off and relax.
Our dining experience that evening in the Farmers Arms was as superb as ever, but the added bonus was breakfast before we departed the following morning…served in our room, with both of us choosing the night before from an incredible choice such as honey glazed ham and hogget; home-made porridge and yoghurt; muffins, sourdough and crumpets, all baked in the kitchen; eggs from the farm and served in a bespoke hamper.
A wonderful send-off from a place which just gets better and better. All roads should lead to Woolfardisworthy!