For my **th birthday, about 25 of us rented a big, baggy old Manor house on Exmoor, stuffed to the gills with character and with enough room for people to chill out in different corners on squashy sofas, eat together at an impressively large oak table and drink the place dry before sloping off to bed – a real bed, not a sofabed or blow up affair. It was brilliant. So much better than all being in lots of different B&Bs or hotels – a nightmare to organise, much more expensive and not nearly so much fun. I’ve just found somewhere very similar in south Somerset: a 17th century thatched farmhouse called Cross Tree House – perfect for a big family Christmas with all the rellies, a wedding, big birthday or anniversary, or any other family or friends get together.
Cross Tree House is in Lopen, not far from Ilminster and Crewkerne, and it’s steeped in history – a stone age tool was found in the garden, a Roman villa was found 100m down the lane and a young drunk and disorderly Cardinal Wolsey once found himself in the stocks outside the house. There are loads of great walks nearby too, the owners provide oodles of info about the local area – and yes, there’s wifi!
It’s a large, rangy sort of place, over three floors, with enough room for everyone to do their own thing or be together, whatever they want to do. There are two big reception rooms with those squashy sofas I mentioned, oriental rugs, a wood-burner (logs included), a plinky plonky piano and lots of games (backgammon, bar skittles, shove ha’penny anyone?). The hall’s large enough to fit a snooker table (the table turns into one) with an actual ‘green baize door’, the first I’ve seen outside of Upstairs Downstairs.
The dining room is spectacular, with huge flagstones on the floor, an original larder lining an entire wall, a gas Aga in an inglenook (with a little seat so someone can get very cosy) and two long, wooden tables which seat up to 28.
There’s a big range cooker and all the equipment you need to feed and water everyone in the kitchen. If you’d prefer not to cook, the owners can arrange a chef to come and do it all for you – that big celebration dinner, perhaps? To dine out, try the New Farm Restaurant in Over Stratton and for light meals, the recently reviewed Railway Carriage Cafe.
The house comfortably sleeps between 14 and 22 people in seven, somewhat quirky, bedrooms in the main house and two in The Garrett annex. This isn’t a boutique hotel, so don’t expect designer fixtures and fittings or en suites (though some rooms have sinks and there are three bath/shower rooms); the rooms are stuffed with original features, vintage furniture and have original artworks on the walls.
Outside there’s a pretty walled garden with a swing, a cleverly designed tree-house, a BBQ and table for dining – and a rather enticing hot tub. Further behind the house there’s a small orchard with space to kick a ball around or play badminton or volleyball (the equipment’s there too).
You can stay here for a long weekend (three nights) from £1,540 – which works out to £70 per person for a party of 22 – which is absolutely amazing value.