Ella Reeves puts her best foot forward for a night of ballroom dancing in her own private stately home

"Today we’re going to learn a cheeky cha-cha” said Strictly Come Dancing’s Robin Windsor, with a wink and grin so familiar to Strictly fans – such as myself.

He was accompanied by his dance partner, Kristina Rihanoff, and they are every bit as talented and captivating in the flesh as they are on TV. Unfortunately, I have two left feet and struggle to get the hang of the dance. However, Kristina takes the time to help me, and perseveres until I get the hang of it. By the end of the lesson, I could actually do something resembling the steps, which was no mean feet. I mean, feat.

What better setting for a dance class with your idols than the great hall of a traditional Devon country house, which we had been welcomed to treat as our own for a couple of days. Afterwards, we reward ourselves with my favourite meal of the day: afternoon tea. Beautiful little sandwiches and melt-in-the-mouth cakes, served on delicate china, fitting for its elegant surroundings.

Clair, one of Huntsham Court’s event planners, had met us warmly on arrival and told us to let her know if there was anything she could help us with during our stay. “You’re in the Peanut Suite”, she told us. Which meant we had two double beds, a large lounge and a spacious bathroom. I later discover that Peanut is a nickname for one of the owners, and, in keeping with the homely feel of the manor, all of the rooms are named after friends, family and pets.

The house is co-owned by Damian and Chris, who are supported by a strong team of event planners and hosts. It was built in 1760, but rebuilt in 1826 in Victorian Gothic Revival style by Benjamin Ferrey, a founder member of the British Institute of Architects. This was undertaken due to the marriage of Charles Arthur William Troyte and Katherine Walrond, as her parents thought the previous version of the house was unfit for their daughter. This house was built for a bride and its popularity with modern day brides became evident during the course of the visit.

Huntsham Court is near Tiverton, Devon, and driving up to the manor, its magnificence hit us for the first time in all its lavish excess. It’s an authentic house with many of the original features and charming touches, such as bathing water supplied from a well, and any girl’s dream: its own bar.

Damian, one of the owners, is the modern day lord of the manor, and leads a tour around the grand 34-bedroomed house, which sleeps up to 80.

“We want to you feel like this is your home during your stay,” he says. “The butler’s pantry is well stocked and you are welcome to help yourself to it at any time that you want. There is wine, soft drinks, and food. The ethos of this house is that your experience is very much your own. We are very flexible. You can have as much or as little involvement from us as you like. Some guests like to make this a fully-staffed experience, whereas some prefer the privacy of a self-catering weekend.

We discover that Damian is brimming with anecdotes about the house’s history. On one side, there is a stunning view including the steeple of the local church. One of the previous lords of the manor had a penchant for bell ringing, but rumour has it that he wasn’t very talented, and his wife couldn’t stand the noise, so she blocked up all the sound inlets on that side of the house. The idyllic little church is available for anyone to get married in, as long as they have lived in the village for a minimum of two weeks, so couples often move into Huntsham Court and make it their home from home.

Oxford Mail:

The house is often rented to large groups for weddings, large parties, or corporate events, and the cost of rental includes five hours of event planning. You can do what you want with the time and the team are full of tried and tested ideas for the perfect fun-packed or relaxing weekend. They have built up a list of recommended local suppliers, though you are free to choose.

I also had a go at the quintessentially English sport of archery, perfectly set in a vast flower garden. It turns out that I am as rubbish at archery as I am at dancing, but, once again, our teacher Graham refused to give up on me until I hit at least one target.

The grounds also contain a children’s play area, tennis courts and a croquet lawn.

We were in for a treat with an activity that I felt more at home with: cooking. Local chef Peter Mundy led a small group of seven of us in the well-equipped kitchen. We learnt to make delicately spiced Thai fish cakes, perfect scallops and an out-of-this-world Champagne sauce. This was high-end cooking made easy. It may not be what we would normally cook, but Peter made it easy.

We left with full bellies and a warm glow, after a whirlwind of activity and luxurious comfort.


* Huntsham Court is near Tiverton, Devon.

* Two nights mid-week in low season start at £10,600 for the run of the house with 31 bedrooms (£43 per person per night based on two adults sharing each room), and 19 rooms for £7,500. Full rates can be found at huntshamcourt.co.uk/rates-2015