Hunter's Inn, set in the heart of the Heddon Valley

Hunter's Inn rear view on a misty morning

Lying at the heart of the Heddon Valley, Hunter’s Inn is a historic country inn that has been serving visitors to the area since 1823. In May 2018 the National Trust acquired Hunter’s Inn, and will be working with Bespoke Hotels to run it in a way that will support conservation of Heddon Valley and beyond for years to come.

Eat, drink and stay in the heart of the Heddon Valley

For many generations, Heddon Valley has been a place cherished by locals and by the visitors who return year after year. At its heart lies Hunter’s Inn, a traditional detached country pub set amongst 2,000 acres of land that the Trust already cares for. With a bar, restaurant and accommodation, it is the perfect place to visit for a long weekend or a relaxed afternoon pint, set within these beautiful surrounds. Every pint and meal bought at the Inn will help preserve this wooded coastal valley and secure the future of this beautiful area for nature and for people.

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Hunter’s Inn’s colourful history - fire, fraud and fashion

Hunter’s Inn started life as a thatched cottage, part of the estate of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton. The tenants, the Berry family, supplied pints of ale to local shooting parties from Combe Martin, and by the 1860s trade was good enough that they enlarged the building and added rooms for the tourists that were visiting the area in greater and greater numbers.

However, tragedy struck in 1895. The eighteenth century inn burned to the ground, and according to local legend only a barrel of beer was saved. The man to come to its rescue was one of the area’s most colourful characters – Colonel Benjamin Greene Lake, a London solicitor and entrepreneur.

Ten years after he bought the Woody (then known as ‘Wooda’) Bay estate from Sir Nicholas, he set about rebuilding Hunter’s Inn in an Arts and Crafts half-timbered style – a type of architecture fashionable in the local area, known as ‘Little Switzerland’ for its landscape so reminiscent of the Swiss Alps.

The new inn was completed in 1906, and when horses gave way to motor-vehicles it drew an increasing number of day trippers.

Benjamin Lake built at least eight properties (including two hotels) in nearby Woody Bay, laid out a golf course on Martinhoe Common, built a pier for visiting paddle steamers, and paid for the construction of the short-lived narrow gauge railway for Lynton.  In 1893-5 he built a 16 foot-wide road from Hunter’s Inn to Woody Bay to link up the Inn to his new holiday resort.
However, all was not well with Lake’s financial affairs. Immediately on buying the estate he mortgaged it for £25,000 to settle existing debts. Further financial difficulties plagued his development plans, and he was forced into bankruptcy with debts of over £170,000, equivalent to six million today. On the day Queen Victoria died in 1901 he was sentenced to twelve years ‘penal servitude’ for using his client’s savings fraudulently.

Hunter’s Inn and its grounds was part of 2,000 acres auctioned off. Over the next century and beyond, it enjoyed success as a holiday destination for walkers, families, honeymooners, fishermen and more, looking to explore the beautiful Heddon Valley and beyond.

Heddon Valley and the National Trust

Heddon Valley is home to the West Exmoor ranger team, who care for this special place. Their daily tasks include the care of 70 miles of footpaths, moorland management such as swaling, wide-ranging woodland work, and butterfly habitat management, particularly important as Heddon Valley is home to the critically endangered High Brown Fritillary.

Commerce supporting conservation

Rob Joules, National Trust General Manager for North Devon, said ‘People love this valley and wildlife thrives here. Hunter’s Inn will enable us to make people’s time here even more special, and do even more to support the wildlife and habitats that are seeing huge declines elsewhere.’

Heddon Valley is one of the few remaining strongholds where the Trust, with partners including Butterfly Conservation, has been working for years to save the High Brown Fritillary from extinction. We have recently received the funding to start a new conservation project from the People’s Postcode Lottery, which will focus on restoring parts of the natural landscape along the Exmoor and North Devon coast to make it more suitable for the butterfly.

Hunter’s Inn will mean that this important work can continue into the future and make a real difference to this species’ survival. Other wildlife including the Heath Fritillary, Nightjar and Dartford warbler will also benefit. The National Trust is working with its tenants and partners to reverse the alarming decline in UK wildlife, aiming to restore 25,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat by 2025. So by enjoying a pint at Hunter’s Inn, you can help to support something truly special.