By Britney Grover
Whether you’re a fan of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters or just looking for a beautiful getaway, the English countryside beckons. One of the United Kingdom’s last wilderness regions, Dartmoor includes rolling grasslands, wooded areas and rugged moorland. For a complete experience, Liberty Trails offers the Bovey Castle Horseback Adventure: three nights in a world-class Bovey Castle suite, where you can enjoy amenities like a rejuvenating spa after time riding in your private, customized adventure. Gail Clark of Middleburg, Virginia, went on the Bovey Castle Horseback Adventure as a girls’ trip with her daughter; both are accomplished horsewomen, and Gail shared some of her experience with Sidelines.
What was your history with riding before your riding trip?
I live on a beautiful horse farm outside of Middleburg, Virginia, and foxhunt with the Piedmont Fox Hounds. I grew up foxhunting in Georgia and spent many years hunting with the Genesee Valley Hunt in Geneseo, New York. I did this trip with my daughter, Laura Clark Katona, who grew up in the horse show world, showing in Palm Beach and Wellington for over 10 years. She now works in New York City. This was a fabulous mother/daughter trip.
How did your Bovey Castle Horseback Adventure come about?
I actually bought this fabulous riding adventure in New York City at the Countryside Alliance Sporting Auction, which supports the countryside and foxhunting in England. Liberty Trails organized everything including the magnificent stay at Bovey Castle, set in a 275-acre estate in the heart of England’s Dartmoor National Park. Bovey Castle is a Jacobian style mansion overlooking the River Bovey and expansive countryside.
How was your stay at Bovey Castle?
Bovey Castle was unbelievable; the dinners were like a five-star dinner. We had a suite overlooking the golf course, so that was the view out of our bedroom window. We had a living room, a bedroom and a little hall, and a bathroom, which is great because we flew over with these huge duffel bags; we had our custom-made riding boots, our helmets, our riding breeches, our tweed jackets, our vests — all this stuff. The estate includes an 18-hole championship golf course, fly fishing, falconry and cycling, which we took advantage of on the days we weren’t riding. There’s something there for everyone.
What were your hosts like?
Laura works in New York, so we both flew to England and we rented a car at Heathrow and drove to Bovey Castle. We went past Stonehenge on a back road, which was lovely. We got to Bovey castle and Elaine Prior, the owner of Liberty Trails, came over for cocktails and to ask us how well we rode, what our expectations were, whether we wanted to ride all day, half a day, two hours — we told her we wanted to do the whole thing. We were really gung-ho, and she couldn’t have been nicer.
How much did you ride?
We rode all day. Elaine would pick us up around 8 or 9 every morning and drive us to the stables. We’d hop on the horses around 9:30 and we’d ride until 12 or 1, and we’d stop and have this lovely picnic lunch in the woods, or in between berms or wherever. Then we’d hop back on the horses as long as we wanted to, and if we got tired, Elaine would make a phone call and have someone pick up the horses so we wouldn’t have to ride back 4 hours in the other direction.
How was this trip different from other horseback excursions?
I usually don’t like these kinds of things because I’m afraid that I’ll have to ride with a bunch of tourists, or a group of 10 or 20 people or something, but it was totally private. It was just the two of us, with Elaine. We spent most of the time galloping and jumping and going up and down moors — we were flying. We were really riding, not your typical resort thing where people follow each other and go in a straight line and it’s really boring. It was very well done. I told her I’d tell everyone in the United States about it because it’s so unbelievable.
What would you say to someone considering a horseback vacation?
This trip to the English countryside was just spectacular. I mean, it was so much fun. I highly recommend it. It was beautiful countryside. We could ride six hours without seeing another human being; it’s very remote. But that’s sort of fun. It was lovely, just unbelievable. We had so much fun, it was better than any trip I’ve ever been on.
For more information, visit liberty-trails.com or www.boveycastle.com.
Photos courtesy of Gail Clark