Hugging the coast of north Devon, Pickwell Manor dates back to the 10th century. You can find mention of "Pedicchwella" in the Domesday Book of 1086, while legend holds that in 1170 three of the murderers of Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket fled there, only to be beheaded on the lawn. It's claimed their headless ghosts can be seen riding down to the nearby beach on each anniversary of Becket's death.
Today, Pickwell Manor is rather more welcoming to visitors. Set in six acres of grounds, the gorgeous Grade II-listed building – largely rebuilt after a fire in 1906 – plus an old laundry and 17th-century chapel, have all been converted into luxury holiday apartments. Two families, the Bakers and Elliotts, took on ownership of Pickwell in 2008, wanting to explore ways to live and work together "more collectively and more creatively," Richard Elliott tells me.
They restored and entirely redecorated the property; it helped that Susannah Baker is an interior designer. After six years, they've just put the finishing touches on the final apartments – but there's always more to be done. As part of ambitions to go green, they've just installed discreet banks of solar panels and a biomass boiler, and have set up the Pickwell Trust, making the building an affordable destination for not-for-profit groups and charities, as well as hosting weddings and holidaymakers.
Ten separate apartments sleep between two and eight people; I stayed with my partner in the Serenity apartment in the west wing of the manor. Throughout the buildings, historic features are preserved – wooden floorboards, thick beams, chunky stone windowsills beyond which you can spy sheep-studded fields and the sea.
The decor lends a light breeziness – more beach house than grand country pile. Whitewashed walls, pale wood furniture, and forget-me-not blue soft furnishings are accessorised with elegant little collections of pebbles, driftwood, and shells. There are nice vintage touches too: iron bedsteads, button-back leather armchairs and painted flower tiles. Mostly very spacious and south-facing (the exception being the snug-but-cosy converted chapel and laundry), the apartments feel delightfully light and airy.
The bedding is plump, the bath deep, the towels enormous. The kitchen's well-stocked with cooking equipment, and includes a dishwasher; for longer stays, you have access to a laundry room on-site. There's a TV and free Wi-Fi throughout, though you'd be advised to switch off and enjoy the surroundings instead.
Out and about
Pitched at couples and families, Pickwell offers lots to keep little ones entertained within the walled grounds. There's a whole games room with table football and ping-pong, while the Italianate garden is replete with a giant chess board. Treasure hunts through the woods and a "pirate island" by a pond provide ample ways for excitable kids to burn off energy, while sporty adults can enjoy a game of tennis on their courts. Summer evenings would demand you take advantage of the barbecue and the campfire.
With Putsborough Sands just 20 minutes' walk away, you should manage a visit to the seaside. Putsborough is hugely popular with surfers, as are nearby beaches at Croyde and Woolacombe. Hire a wetsuit and hit the surf – a local company, Active Escape (07773 340031; activeescape.co.uk), provides lessons, or try coaststeering, paddle boarding and kayaking.
Less ambitious outdoor activities include lovely walks along the coastal path in both directions; we opted for a gentle eight-mile circular route round the headland, Baggy Point, stopping for lunch in Croyde. And you're but a half-hour drive from Exmoor for more handsomely rugged walking options – your hosts are always happy to suggest places and provide lots of tourist information. A car is a must, and use maps rather than satnav – you're too remote for such technologies!
Food and drink
A bottle of Camel Valley wine – award-winning English fizz – and some extremely naughty chocolate tiffin greeted us in the apartment; if you want to arrive to a fully-stocked fridge, place an order a week in advance from the village shop in nearby Georgeham (01271 890 534), and the good folk at Pickwell will unpack chilled items for you.
There are two foodie pubs in Georgeham – the Rock Inn and the King's Arms. It's a five-minute drive or a 20-minute walk along a country lane if you want to enjoy a glass of wine or two with dinner.
Pickwell Manor, Georgeham, north Devon EX33 1LA (01271 890110; pickwellmanor.co.uk). Rental starts at £45 per person per night.