We took a peek at Cross Lane House in Allerford
PUBLISHED: 12:04 21 June 2016 | UPDATED: 12:04 21 June 2016
Sarah Ford visits a wonderfully preserved late medieval hotel that has slowly revealed its secrets to its owners
After selling a successful restaurant business in Stratford-upon-Avon, Max Lawrence and Andrew Stinson spent five years searching the West Country for the right property.
Andrew saw Cross Lane House in Allerford first and returned home saying: “This is it, we have found it! We have to have this property.”
Tucked away in this pretty Exmoor village, the house was built in 1545 - although there is evidence to suggest some of the building was here earlier. It had been in a state of dereliction for five years but thanks to an outstanding team of local builders Cross Lane House began to emerge in its latest incarnation as a stunning boutique property.
Now run as a luxurious hotel and restaurant, with four sumptuous rooms for guests, Cross Lane House reached the finals of the 2014 Somerset Life Food and Drink Awards and more recently has received silver in the South West Tourism Awards Small Hotel of the Year category. Max and Andrew can be justifiably proud of their achievements.
Andrew takes a break from serving a delicious afternoon tea in the lounge and leads me on a tour of the historic building via one of the best preserved cross passages in the West Country with its old wood panelling.
“We had an American staying here and when we showed her around she said: ‘Well that says to me this tree was around when William the Conqueror was here.’
“We hadn’t thought about it in those terms,” says Andrew, pointing out some very old graffiti.
As Max and Andrew settled in, the house slowly began to reveal itself. One of its most charming hidden features is a brick in the dining room. Secretly hidden in the wall it had been inscribed with the words: ‘Christina I love you dearly. HB.’
“It was discovered when knocking through two room into one,” Andrew explains.
“We are unable to identify HB but the brick has been saved and is set into the wall to display this declaration of love.”
The bedrooms have been named after people who’ve been connected with the house, hence the Acland Suite for example, named after the ancient family who gave the Holnicote Estate to the National Trust in 1944.
“We’ve had some Aclands stay with us,” Andrew tells me.
“Mike Leach a retired park ranger and local wood carver, who was born in the house, gifted a carved owl to take the place of one his mother had in the window when he was a small boy.
“The original keys to the house were returned to us through the post with a note saying: ‘These do not belong with me anymore’, again from a former resident of the property.
“Many people have called and shared their recollections of happy times at the house.”
There are more surprises in the charming bedrooms – a wig cupboard in one and a handy cupboard for your blunderbuss in another!
The rooms are a carefully chosen eclectic mix of antiques and contemporary furnishings, paying respect to the history of the house but adding a warm contemporary feel.
Andrew’s plan was to give the appearance that this has evolved over time and has used a muted Farrow & Ball pallet and sumptuous Mulberry fabrics.
He came to Cross Lane House from a career in banking, having held various senior positions within Barclays. He did a course at Leicester College in interior design to develop an interest that he had held for many years.
Max has been in the hospitality industry since graduating from University College Birmingham and has had a wide variety of experience working for large international brands to country house hotels both in the UK and overseas.
“Provenance is extremely important to us with as much produce from the South West peninsula as possible,” explains Andrew.
“Our gardeners work diligently to provide the kitchen with fresh flowers, vegetables and herbs.
“All our meals are simply but expertly prepared and cooked to allow the true flavour of outstanding produce to shine through.”
Their guests enjoy afternoon tea, dinner, a special occasion or a break away. They come from all over the UK and Europe but Max and Andrew have been pleasantly surprised to welcome those from closer to home.
“We get a lot of people who come from Exeter, Bristol and Bath; we’ve even had somebody from the next village for dinner and to stay. It’s just nice to have a night away.”
Wherever possible local tradespeople were used in the renovation of Cross Lane House, including blacksmiths at neighbouring Allerford Forge, building contractors HE Richards and electrical contractors James Electrics.