A country sports hotel feels the changing of the seasons more than most. Philip Bowernvisited the Arundell Arms in Devon to find out what’s going on as autumn arrives.
"I love this time of year," said David Pilkington as he put the sections of a fishing rod together for what would be one of the last day's fly fishing for wild brown trout this season.
We were on the river Tamar between Lifton in Devon and Launceston, in Cornwall, on one of those calm September days, still warm but with a dampness to the air and a heaviness in the vegetation; greens turning to brown on trees and bushes. "I love every season and I am always ready for the next one when it comes," he added. "But I think the changing of the year, in spring and in autumn, is the time I enjoy the outdoors the most."
David, an instructor with the Arundell Arms fishing hotel at Lifton for more than 40 years, has seen plenty of seasons come and go in the great outdoors. He has fished in shirt sleeves at the height of summer, tramped through snow to cut the over-hanging branches along the river bank in the depths of winter and witnessed spring's arrival and the start of autumn season after season. The turning of the year is, of course, continuous but as David's boss, Arundell Arms' owner Adam Fox-Edwards explains later in the day, back at the hotel, it is more obvious at key times like spring and autumn.
As one country sport ends another gets under way. The big estates in Cornwall that rear and present partridges to visiting guns from all over the country have been welcoming shooting parties – some of them staying at the Arundell Arms – since September 1. Pheasant, the major game bird quarry species in the Westcountry, has just joined partridges on the quarry list, with a season that starts on October 1. And snipe – a hugely challenging wild bird, which favour marshy land and are something of an Arundell Arms speciality – have been legal quarry since August 12 – also the start of the grouse shooting season – although most guns leave the snipe until the autumn is well under way.
"We've a couple more weeks of salmon fishing, which ends here on October 14, and then that's really the end of fishing on the river for another year, apart from for grayling," said Adam. "But as the fishing stops so the shooting starts and we move from one season to another. The fishermen pack away their rods for another year and the nature of the hotel changes. The log fires are lit and it is time to welcome guests with shotguns, labrador and spaniels – we are a dog-friendly hotel.
"The shooters tend to be very sociable and unlike the fishermen, who get up at dawn and come back in the twilight, the shooters are back in here at 4.30pm getting changed and coming down for a very social dinner. The stories that get told in the bar change too. It goes from the fisherman talking about the one that got away to the gun talking of the really high bird."
The Arundell Arms has been recording and reflecting that change of season for something like 70 years. It has been the home of country sports in the South West since the 1920s and in the hands of Adam Fox-Edwards' family for 51 years, first run by his mother and father, Anne and Gerard Fox-Edwards and then, after the death of Adam's father, and Anne's remarriage to Conrad Voss-Bark, run by them. Adam took over in 2008 and his mother died last year.
Anne was a hard act to follow. She was a winner of the Woman Hotelier of the Year Award, received the MBE for services to tourism and in 2006 she celebrated the prestigious award presented from the Good Hotel Guide of Sporting Hotel of the Year. Her book West Country Fly Fishing, a collection of essays by experts and friends including Ted Hughes, Dermot Wilson, Brian Clarke and her late husband Conrad Voss Bark, is considered a classic.
Adam is determined to build on what his family have already achieved, putting the hotel on a firmer financial footing, investing in a biomass boiler and solar panels to slash energy costs while raising the standards in the restaurant and adding more rooms and two self- catering cottages. But it is still the sporting attractions that make the Arundell Arms special for the thousands who have enjoyed its hospitality and been guided along its fishing beats or introduced to the best Devon and Cornwall shooting in autumn and winter.
Adam sums up the link between the sport and the hospitality. "When guns shoot snipe at this time of the year and bring back what they have shot, chef is delighted to prepare them that night for the shooting party's hors d'ouvre. It brings it all together – the countryside, the sport, the changing seasons and the first class produce."