24-Hour Room Service: Deer Park Country House Hotel, Devon
Saturday 05 March 2005
Dining on Dartmoor lamb at the Deer Park with Tiger Woods and Ian Botham, my eyes are fixated on the walls. I'm not alone. Throughout the hotel, guests are staring at enough sports art and memorabilia to stock a gallery. A plaque beside the oil painting of Woods by Craig Campbell says that it is believed to be the only one ever signed by the golfer and he wanted to buy it, but the painting, like the portrait of Beefy holding a fat cigar, is not for sale. Nigel Wray, the boss of Saracens rugby club and co-owner of the hotel, has been scouring auctions for more than 20 years, and the collection is now the biggest cross-section of privately owned sports art in the UK.
Masterpieces of masters of sport and sporting scenes, including rare football paintings from the Football Association's 1953 exhibition, battle for position with more eccentric exhibits. A flag mounted in a glass case appears unremarkable until you read its history; it's a 1966 World Cup flag flown during the final. Similarly, you understand why a boy is tugging at his dad's trousers to have a look at a framed shirt when you realise it's a Manchester United top signed by the 1999 treble-winning squad.
Wray intends to open a British sporting museum, but until he finds the right venue his guests can enjoy this unique display, along with epic portions using local ingredients, wines from a cellar of 150 bins, and the roasty-toasty atmosphere created by roaring log fires and the warm hospitality.
Rows of muddy wellies in the porch of this Georgian mansion point to the easy-going style. Table tennis, darts and snooker are on hand. Children can play in a padded "softroom" while adults lounge against the bar.
Deer Park Country House Hotel, Buckerell, Honiton, Devon EX14 0PG (01404 41266; www.deerparkcountryhotel.com).
Set in 83 acres, the hotel has views of well-manicured lawns framed by ancient trees that slope down to the river Otter.
Time to international airport: Exeter is 15 minutes away.
Eminently - despite being in the attic. The suite has two sloping-roofed rooms with exposed beams, walls painted in cream, books to browse and plump sofas. There are 15 double rooms in the main building and eight in the mews annexe.
Freebies: Sherry, fruit and toiletries.
Keeping in touch: Two TVs in our suite averted remote-control wars with our four-year-old.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Double rooms in the main building cost from £70. In the mews, single occupancy is from £55. All rates include breakfast.
I'm not paying that: Roebuck Farm (01404 42225) in Weston charges £21 per person for B&B.
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