Few places can have such heavyweight literary associations in relation to their size as Lynmouth, tucked below looming Exmoor on the north Devon coast. William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge knew the harbour village well; Percy Bysshe Shelley is supposed to have brought his 16-year-old bride Harriet here in their wanderings, following their flight to Gretna Green. RD Blackmore, the author of Lorna Doone, the great Exmoor tale, spent time here, too.
All would have stayed at the Rising Sun Hotel, a thatched 14th-century smugglers' inn that has had a 21st-century makeover by a London designer. In fact, several chapters of Lorna Doone were written in one of its rooms, while Percy and Harriet are reputed to have stayed in a cottage attached to the hotel, now named after the poet, which has its own sitting room and private garden. The views from here are pretty spectacular, but you can do even better, by riding to the top of the cliff in Lynmouth's curious water-powered funicular railway.
The candlelit panelled restaurant, under head chef Oliver Wood, emphasises local ingredients. Starters include fresh oysters (£1.85 each) or Cornish crab with sweet pepper and mascarpone tortellini (£5.50), while main courses include half a Lynmouth Bay lobster (£15.50) and braised pheasant with pancetta, quince and Braunton greens (£15). Some of the cooking is a bit over-elaborate, but portions are generous and the wine list fairly priced.
The Rising Sun, Harbourside, Lynmouth, Devon (01598 753 223; rising sunlynmouth.co.uk). Lynmouth is on the north-eastern periphery of Exmoor National Park; the visitors' centre is sandwiched between Lynmouth and Lynton (enjoyengland.com).
Time from airport and mainline rail station: Exeter is well-served by both flights and trains, although it's around a 45-minute drive to Lynmouth. However, the Tarka Line connects Exeter to Barnstaple, which is around 15 miles away. First Great Western trains operate the Tarka Line and services to Exeter.
The oak panelling and uneven floor would have been familiar to guests a couple of centuries ago, but the tasteful shades and the suede throw on the half-tester bed were much more contemporary. Space was at a premium below the thatched eaves and in the en-suite bathroom, but thick cob walls kept things cosy, despite blustery weather outside. There are 15 bedrooms in total, which all vary in style – some are more traditional, with half-tester beds and floral furnishings; some are decked out in Laura Ashley fittings and others feature a more subtle, contemporary style.
Freebies: Duck Island mandarin and bergamot toiletries are provided in the bathrooms. Bedrooms have the usual tea and coffee-making facilities.
Keeping in touch: All rooms come with direct-dial phones and TVs. There is no internet available.
The Bottom Line
Double rooms start at £120, including breakfast. Our sea-view room was £150. Shelley's Cottage starts at £160 per night.
I'm not paying that: Highcliffe House (01598 752 235; highcliffehouse.co.uk) looks over Lynton and Lynmouth and has doubles from £80 per night, including breakfast.Reuse content