A lovely idyll in South Devon. We booked late and didn’t have dogs, but our young boys loved exploring the grounds, the woods, playing games on the grasssed area and running free. Ruth and Jon are perfect hosts and the facilities are just what we needed.

Brown FamilyAugust 2019

The cottage was in an idyllic setting so beautiful and quiet. It felt very remote but was only a 10 min drive to the coast.  I would definitely recommend The Owlery as a special place to stay.

MariaJune 2018

Rural location in the heart of the South Hams district of Devon. Beautiful countryside and very peaceful. The cottages overlook a private valley with an excellent woodland walk around the estate divided up into several paths which is ideal for your dog(s).

Mr & Mrs BlackwellJune 2018

Thanks for such a lovely holiday. Such a gem of a place. We all had such a restful time. Just love the wildness.

Pat & Ron with BaileyMay 2018

Grounds are superb, and contain a number of mown pathways along which to take a stroll any time of day.

Mr & Mrs RigneyMay 2018

Cottage in peaceful rural location, Beautifully planted and maintained surroundings. Lovely walks from cottage and coastal path and dog friendly beaches short drive away (Slapton, Beesands, Hallsands).

Sarah & Alan, with BorisMay 2018

Dittiscombe – the Rewilded Valley

Nature Conservation has been at the heart of Dittiscombe Holiday Cottages since we bought the valley and cottages in 1998.

Dittiscombe Hills was once a large thriving farm of 500 acres in the 1930s, but in the last 20 years our valley has undergone a process of rewilding. It is now a diverse landscape of around 20 acres, made up of gardens, ponds, streams, woodland and meadows, all managed by us solely for the preservation of local wildlife and for the enjoyment of our cottage guests.

Dittiscombe Nature Trail

Once you’ve unpacked, have a stroll around the valley along the mown grass paths, past the stream-fed ponds, through the woodland areas and into the meadows. There are a couple of seats along the way so that you can enjoy the tranquillity of the gardens and grounds.

Woodland

The main woodland was planted about 20 years ago with over 1,000 native deciduous trees. Some species like the Larch have reached full height, others like the Oak and Beech will take much longer. We now have a wide range of birds living and visiting and you can wander through the woods and clearings and enjoy the birdsong.

With natural thinning and storm damage we are able to cut and store the logs for use in the cottage log-burners. Since the trees have grown taller it is now home to many news species to the valley – roe deer, woodcock, jays, tawny owls and long-tailed tits.

The Orchard

Some years ago the orchard above Dovecote and Buddleia cottages was re-instated with several local varieties of eating, cider and cooking apples. In good years our cider apples are collected and supplied to Heron Valley Cider who make a variety of dry, medium and sparkling ciders for sale locally and nationally. Our dessert and cooking apples are available to guests free of charge, usually in September and October.

Guests can wander through the orchard which offers lovely views of the valley and a glimpse of the sea at Bolt Tail with the estuary town of Salcombe seen perched on the side of the hill.

Ponds & Streams

There are several spring-fed ponds connected by a small stream which runs through the valley.  Guests can stroll around the nature trail which meanders past the ponds, with benches and seats along the way to view the wildlife which is attracted to these areas. Coots, little grebes, mallards and moorhens, damselflies, emperor dragonflies, grass snakes and butterflies use the surrounding vegetation for protection, for food and as nesting sites.

The ‘top’ pond (just below The Owlery) is visited by many moths and butterflies during the summer months.  By the ‘middle’ pond the statue of the Dittiscombe Angler waits for his fish, and guests can sit under the weeping birch listening to the birdsong and enjoy the rhododendrons, spirea and bottlebrush around the edges. With a wide open space of water, the ‘lower’ wildlife pond is a great source of insect food for martins, swallows and bats, and is surrounded with willows and alders, giving shade and protection to the wildfowl.

Meadows

This is an important area of conservation as unimproved grassland is becoming rare. There are several areas of grassland, meadows and marshland which follow the natural watercourse of the valley, and guests are welcome to explore these. The wet grassy areas near the streams are home to many frogs and toads, and the marsh thistles, wild angelica and giant hogwort, which follow the watercourse, make a dramatic display in the summer. Using a wildlife friendly grass cutting regime, these areas attract many species including bees, butterflies, moths, finches and glow worms.

Inspired by recent articles and TV programmes, and in support of Devon Wildlife Trusts Wildlife Friendly Gardening initiative, we are continually planting nectar rich plants to provide even more food for bees, butterflies, moths, hoverflies and beetles. We try to attract more insects and by doing so, more wildlife will follow. We already have an abundance of red valerian, meadow sweet, gorse and ox-eye daisies which provide a wonderful display in the banks and walls, and along the borders of the ponds and streams.

Hedgerows

Although we haven’t measured them we believe there may be several miles of hedgerow at Dittiscombe! Hedges are a vital part of the valley, providing food, shelter, nesting sites and a transport system for species under threat such as the Hedgehog and the Dormouse. We cut our hedges in late Winter, leaving berries and small insects for the birds for as long as possible.

Read about the wonderful world of South Devon Hedgerows in Ruth’s Blog.

Old Stone Barns and Walls

The stone walls and old ruins have been left in place offering much-needed shelter and nesting sites for Little Owls, Jackdaws, Bats, Pied Wagtails, Swallows, bees and other insects.

Be a Wildlife Detective

For our visiting children we provide a wildlife pack in each family cottage called ‘Dittiscombe Wildlife Detectives’. We hope this will encourage children to find and identify the plants and animals that live here. If you would like to ask any questions about our wildlife, or would like to walk around the valley with Ruth who can explain the conservation measures we use, then please don’t hesitate to call at the Farmhouse.

We have been collating all nature ‘finds’ over the 20 years we’ve been at Dittiscombe so we have a pretty thorough species list on the noticeboard in the laundry room. We would be very grateful if guests would add their observations to the list.

Nature Further Afield

We are a 10-minute drive or a 50-minute walk from our nearest village of Slapton and Slapton Sands beach. The winding lanes (drivers take note!) and pretty cottages with roses round the door are typical of this type of South Hams village. But what sets Slapton apart from any other is its proximity to Slapton Ley National Nature Reserve. This large freshwater lagoon sits behind a shingle bar, protected from the salty water of the sea and is of national scientific importance, managed by Slapton Field Study Centre which is located in the centre of the village. It’s a great wildlife watching area and knowledgeable staff at the Field Centre offer coastal walks, bird, bat and badger days, guided tours and nature safaris around the Ley. They also open a Beach Activity Trailer at Slapton Sands during the Summer holidays. The Ley also provides a wonderful opportunity to see bird migrations in the Autumn, and the spectacle of Starling murmurations in the Winter.

The ‘do it yourself’ Slapton Ley nature trail starts just outside the Field Centre and takes you via paths and boardwalks, past reedbeds and open water, through woodland, stopping now and then at information points and bird hides, where you finally emerge at Slapton ‘bridge’. A short hop over the road and you are at the beach which stretches in both directions, east towards Strete Gate and west towards Start Point – in all about 3 miles long! How many different eco-systems (diverse habitats) could you find anywhere else in one marvellous walk!

Walk to Slapton from Dittiscombe

If you’d like to take the walk from your cottage door down to Slapton and around the Ley there is a map with written directions in the cottage file. Please allow plenty of time to look at the hedgerows and views on the way down, and to get back up the hill on the way home!

The Cottage Gardens

Each of the six cottages has a private garden with a lawn, hedges, stone walls, pots, baskets and borders.  The borders are filled with shrubs, perennials and bulbs to provide colour and interest all year round. Hedges and stone walls surround the cottages, with navelwort and red valerian making lovely displays in the spring and summer. Rockeries are dotted around the cottages showing off the hot colours of poppies and kniphofia, and the subtler shades of lavenders, hebes and geraniums.

You can see lots of photos of our valley in the gallery, and more detailed descriptions of each garden on individual cottages pages.

Local Gardens of the South Hams

Further afield there are several National Trust Houses & Gardens to visit such as:  Greenway, ‘the loveliest place in the world’, originally owned by Agatha Christie, is now open to the public; Coleton Fishacre near Kingswear, is a garden by the sea, with an Arts & Crafts-style house (you can read Ruth’s blog about her recent visit); Overbeck’s is a luxuriant coastal garden overlooking the Salcombe estuary and surrounds an elegant Edwardian house with diverse collections; and Saltram near Plymouth is a magnificent Georgian house with opulent Robert Adam interiors, gardens, follies and landscape parkland.

Also of interest is Dartington Hall Gardens near Totnes, planted with great trees and connecting paths which meander through the mature woodland and past a number of sculptural features including a reclining figure by Henry Moore.

Avon Mill Garden Centre is a favourite of our returning guests. It is situated by the banks of the river, in the peaceful Avon Valley near Loddiswell. Visitors can choose from a wide range of plants, then drop into the cafe and delicatessen. There is also a wonderful scenic woodland walk from the centre which follows the old mill leat and Primrose Line Railway alongside the Avon River.

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