If you’re ever in a pub quiz and need to know the connection between the designer of the first Christmas card and one of the greatest engineers of all time, the answer is they were brothers-in-law.

And in 1857, acclaimed narrative painter John Callcott Horsley, painted a portrait of Isambard Kingdom Brunel at Orestone Manor, his home in South Devon.

The painting hangs in the National Portrait Gallery and the manor in the coastal village of Maidencombe, Devon, is now a charming 14-bedroom country house hotel, set in landscaped gardens overlooking Lyme bay and offering boutique accommodation.

It has a reputation for fine dining, which we intended to fully sample, so my friend Sue and I decided we should offset some of the damage by taking in the sights and walking part of the South West Coastal Path.

At 630 miles, it’s the longest coastal path in the UK and can be accessed in Maidencombe which lies between Teignmouth and Torquay.

So after checking in to the family-run hotel, we resisted the comfy armchairs in our deluxe room (number six), which also boasted a private balcony and an eclectic decor that was part oriental, part art deco and wholly pleasing. The bathroom was particularly impressive with his and hers (or in our case hers and hers) sinks, a large claw-foot bathtub, separate shower and stylish stained glass window – high enough up to provide natural light without compromising modesty.

We also eschewed the sumptuous sofas in the ground floor guest lounge and made a quick exit past the fully stocked bar with its quirky glasses holder above it – a model of Brunel’s Royal Albert bridge.

Off we strode on our first coastal path excursion, to Teignmouth. According to Google, it was about five miles away… but it felt longer. Much longer. The thing about coastal paths is they go up and down. A lot.

However, it was well worth the blisters. The views along the way were amazing and during our two walking excursions we also came across hidden coves well off the usual tourist track and beaches that could only be reached by those willing to make a fairly strenuous hike to them.

Catching lovely weather in September, we enjoyed sunshine and tranquillity with few people about, apart from local dog walkers.

Thankfully, the bus services were cheap and frequent and we hopped on one to take us back to the manor for dinner.

We were glad we’d worked up an appetite, family-owned Orestone is run by two chefs, Neil and Catherine D’Allen, with son Craig and his wife Laura, they pride themselves on serving delicious food using fresh local ingredients whenever possible.

They certainly delivered with both fancy dishes like Brixham crab martini (with avocado, mango sorbet and poppy seed straw) and the more straight-forward, like steak and chips, full of flavour. Guests staying overnight can add dinner to their reservation for a flat charge of £27 per person, which includes three courses, after dinner tea or coffee and petit four per person.

We ate and slept well and managed to also polish off a hearty breakfast before continuing our rambling - this time heading towards Paignton, 11 or so miles away.

Turns out we were over-ambitious – that coastal path can be punishing! – and after walking about nine miles in four hours (we did stop for a cup of tea) called it a day in Torquay where we hopped on a ferry which took us over to Brixham to spend a pleasant couple of hours before returning to Torquay to catch the bus back to the hotel for another good feed.

For those who like their mini-breaks to be a little less strenuous, the hotel has a relaxed ambience and a lovely landscaped setting with a terrace overlooking the sea where you can take afternoon tea or just daydream in the sunshine. Croquet is available.

Or there are plenty of nearby English Riviera attractions including: Torbay’s sandy beaches; Torre Abbey a historic building and art gallery founded in 1196 as a monastery; Torquay’s Agatha Christie mile and the September International Agatha Christie Festival; Babbacombe Model Village and Gardens and Kent’s Cavern, a network of caves approximately 2.5 million years old.  

Orestone can organise full, tailor-made day packages offering private guided tours of Greenway, home to Agatha Christie and where she wrote many of her books.

You might even pick up some more pub quiz answers!

  • STAY: Orestone Manor, Rock House Lane, Maidencombe, Devon TQ1 4SX
  • WEBSITE: orestonemanor.com
  • CALL: 01803 897511
  • PRICES: Rooms from £95 to £350 (hot tub suite with sea view, high season).
  • SPECIAL OFFER: Pre-book dinner for an additional £27 per person, and enjoy three courses from the set price menu.
  • WHAT TO DO: Soak up the Devon landscape on a ramble or, if you’re feeling particularly fit, hit the South West Coastal Path.