Check In: What It's Really Like To Stay At River Cottage
The world famous River Cottage now accepts bookings to stay over. I packed my bamboo toothbrush and extra stretchy eating jeans and headed down for a weekend feast and a winter sleepover. This is what it's really like to stay at Hugh's foodie heaven.
Mon 3 Feb 2020
Famous first for it's double-barrelled chef, then his proteges, cookery courses and then the festivals, River Cottage, is synonymous with a passion for local, sustainable food that respects and works with the land around it. A foodie heaven its own right, from last year, you can now stay in the famous long cottage.
Just before Christmas I set off to try out one of the famous feasts held at the weekend and got to stay at one of the most well known cottages in Britain. So what's it really like staying at River Cottage?
Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s famous 17th century cottage has been turned into three double bedrooms, complete with ancient floorboards, pale-washed wooden walls and paired back natural tones. The humble thick walled cottage has stood strong against the buffeting winds that soar down the Axe Valley for hundreds of years and once inside it has a cosy, informal, boots off kind of vibe.
While the beds are beautiful and the linen super soft, there is only one room with an en-suite; the other two share a shower room and loo, which can feel a little retro.
Waking up and looking down on that famous kitchen garden is like waking up inside a TV programme. River Cottage’s cute wooden windows look out over the bottom of the valley and when I visited in December we seemed to get four seasons of weather in one afternoon. I wanted to curl up on the deep window sill and just stare out the window and write (probably terrible) poetry.
Where you leave your car at the top of the valley (and wait for the farm tractor to bring you down to the courtyard and cottage), there are the most fantastic views over the rolling Devon hills over the Axe Valley.
River Cottage is a halfway house between self-catering and a luxury B&B. There are no staff in the evening, so the kitchen make up incredible cold cuts, seasonal veg and cheese boards and you’re left to your own devices until breakfast is served from 8.30am. Their staff across the site are incredibly passionate and eager to share what River Cottage is doing, so don't be shy.
Thankfully there’s lots of tea and coffee in Hugh’s old kitchen and plenty of (cookbooks) to read. Tiny note to River Cottage: there’s always room for biscuits in the rooms or by the kettle.
Beware there’s zero to no internet and no TV so do bring your own amusements.
Image Wander around their sustainable farm and get inspiration for your garden
One of the reasons I was at River Cottage was to try out their Christmas ‘feast’. Their communal weekend lunches are a brilliant entry point into River Cottage world, as you’re treated to a three course set menu that showcases the best of the farm and their surrounding foodie producers.
It might seem sacrilegious to say so, but one of my favourite moments was on arrival, helping myself to the warm mulled apple juice on a wood burning stove in a wooden hut at the top of the hill and just taking in the countryside. Down on the farm, we toasted the day with a locally made liquor before settling in on long tables in the barn, tastefully decorated with fairy lights and foraged greenery.
See here for 2020's feasts and dining events.
Labneh, beetroots and carrots, all homemade and homegrown complete with hunks of crispy chewy sourdough kicked off our festive feast, before venison and farm grown veg, explosions of Yorkshire pudding and rich gravy dampened down the celebrations, as I and everyone around me concentrated on a five star roast.
However, it was dessert that sung out for me. Pavlova, marmalade pears, cacao and ginger sorbet and hazelnut cream tasted as good as it sounds. The sorbet pulled it back from being overly sweet, it was like tucking into a pudding that would be served by woodland creatures in some kids’ fantasy adventure. There needs to be more hazelnut cream in my world.
Homemade marshmallow cut into creamy feta like squares and nougat did the rounds on huge wooden boards to bring our feast to a close. It was so good, I overspent on the booze, half cut treated myself to a load of River Cottage cookbooks and then needed to lie down for the rest of the afternoon (by which point it was raining so I felt this wasn’t a waste of use of my River Cottage time).
I love a good ol’ honesty bar and the River Cottage one is well stocked with local juices, gins and spirits and a range of white and red wines. As there’s only room for six guests, the hope would be that by someone opening the bar, it would go on to create a communal atmosphere and you’d make new friends for the night round the roaring fire with a bottle of red on the go, but sadly this didn’t happen on this occasion. Next time.
The sustainable bit
It’s River Cottage so take your pick. From bio-mass boilers to wind turbines and reed beds to process waste, this site has pioneered what sustainable living can look like. The whole site has been designated organic, but for more information check out the farm's sustainability policy.
Anyone coming to stay can roam the grounds, explore the famous kitchen garden, poke their heads into polytunnels and generally take inspiration from the way the River Cottage keep themselves sustained with fruit and veg throughout the year.
You’ll leave with wheelbarrows full of ideas and if you’re anything like me, will start eyeing up old farmhouses on Rightmove and booking yourself onto permaculture courses.
3 reasons to book a night River Cottage
- If you're down here to try a feast or one of their famous cookery courses, there's nothing more smug than being able to saunter across the courtyard to your cosy home for the night.
- Follow in the footsteps of Hugh FW and get some inspiration to grow food at home.
- Book the whole place for a private family or friends get together.
Where is River Cottage?
A ten minute drive from Axminster in Devon. Find it on a map here.
Free Wifi? No
Dog friendly? No
Child friendly? Yes over 12 years old.
pebble was a guest of River Cottage for this review.