Challacombe is a traditional rural dispersed settlement about 10 miles from the north coast of Devon, with a population of about 150 people in 50 dwellings it is the highest parish in North Devon. Most of the parish lies within the Exmoor National Park.
Challacombe has been occupied for thousands of years. The surrounding hills have standing stones from the Neolithic period; ring barrows from the Bronze Age and a large Iron Age hillfort (Shoulsbury) which offers spectacular views over the Taw estuary. By legend it was occupied by St. Petrock in the C6th and defended by Alfred the Great against the Danes in the C9th. It is also possible, given its imposing size and position, its unusual name (perhaps from the Celtic god Sulis and Saxon burh meaning "fortified") and its nearness to the Harepath (the Saxon "war road" across Exmoor), that this is where the Celtic king Geraint was defeated by the Saxons in 710AD.
The name Challacombe (from the Saxon for "chilly valley") was first recorded in Domesday in 1086. Holy Trinity church built at Barton Town in the C13th still dominates the skyline. Barton Town was the medieval focus of the village but in the early C19th it moved to East Challacombe, or Challacombe Town which is the present focus of the village; around the shop and the unusually named Black Venus Inn.
Our current Shoulsbarrow Farmhouse is two hundred years old built on the site of the original farmhouse, and in fact built while the original one was still standing as it wasn’t until the early 1960s that it was bulldozed. It is still referred to as Shoulsbry or Shoulsbury by the locals and we know that the Dallyn family lived here continuously for 250 years until the 1960s. They had left before the original farmhouse was bulldozed. We have met with a local ‘Dallyn’ man whose father and uncle were brought up here, and he used to visit when he was younger, we are hoping soon to meet with his uncle.
There was a big change at Shoulsbry in the 1990’s when a business man from London bought this farm along with other dwellings in the village and about 2000 acres of land. He had plans which had been inspired by the Knight family of Simonsbath in the 19th Century, to create a 3,000 acre estate complete with a French chateau style mansion. He had some bad luck financially and the project collapsed. Our farmhouse had been changed but subsequent owners did a lot to get it back into a habitable condition.
When we purchased the property it had not been lived in for several months, there was little heating, problems with the water supply, lack of fencing and gates on the land and many other issues too numerous to mention. Our delight at living here has given us the impetus and strength to gradually make this wonderful old farmhouse a very comfortable home.
On arriving here in December 2013 our first objective was to make sure our livestock were safe and secure and we managed to organise temporary housing for everything apart from the sheep which was good as for the first eight weeks it did not stop raining… or at least that was what it felt like.
Christmas Day and Boxing Day that year were spent taking down a flower bed outside the dining room as it was higher than the floor inside and so was not helping the damp situation. The house had not been lived in for a while and we had numerous issues with lack of water and heating for nearly eighteen months combined with various other concerns and equipment that went wrong, needed replacing or just were never there such as a chimney flue and loft insulation. A programme of refurbishment is ongoing and all the guest accommodation is completed. A good sense of humour has helped us through combined with jolly hard work and Amanda is documenting everything that has happened and will be available in the farmhouse for you to read if interested in how we have developed the property and all the challenges we have had to contend with.
So now with wonderful views from every window we offer a traditional farmhouse B&B with all that you would expect from that. Breakfast of home grown and local produce is taken in the former dairy now the dining room. We are a small working farm and we keep only rare and traditional breeds of livestock. They are kept for food, showing, improving the breed and fun and we would be pleased to show you around. We keep Golden Guernsey and English Goats, Llanwenog, Shetland and Exmoor Horn sheep, Aberdeen Angus Cross cattle, Gloucestershire Old Spots and Saddleback pigs, and a variety of geese, turkeys, ducks and chickens, two cats and four dogs.
The dogs will always give you a warm welcome and they will always bark to let us know anyone is about but they are very friendly and will shut up and love being stroked. In addition we have two Exmoor Ponies, brought with us from Wiltshire, this breed still being rarer than the Giant Panda. Also a rarity we have two Suffolk Punch mares who are worked on the farm. We will happily show you them in harness if you wish.
We are gradually developing our fruit and vegetable garden. No mean task up here as apart from the windy weather there is no topsoil and so we cannot dig down but have to build up. Our aim is to provide ourselves with as many vegetables as possible and to provide the fruit for all the jams and preserves on the breakfast table.
We are open all year and we want you to appreciate the comfort and peace and quiet here from sitting outside soaking up the sunshine and views to sitting in front of a roaring log fire on a cold winter’s day or evening. Partly to this end we have no televisions in the farmhouse. WiFi is available, but please be aware that this is a rural area and may not be brilliant in every room. There are plenty of board and card games provided in the front room for your use.
There are two double rooms with en-suite and we have plans for a third at some point. Most establishments name their letting rooms and we are no different as it helps us know what rooms we are talking about. Tipperary, named after the county where we spent our honeymoon is at the back of the house and has a side window with a view over part of the garden and our fields and Kilkenny, named after a lovely town we went to on our honeymoon, is at the front of the house and looks out over the front garden, several fields of ours and a neighbours' field. You can also see our large barn from here. Also the front room is available for guest use.