Devon Life's Belinda Dillon goes off the beaten track to Little Shotts on Dartmoor

PUBLISHED: 17:24 02 January 2013 | UPDATED: 22:35 20 February 2013

The bedroom doors, from Asia, retain elements of their original paintwork
Photos Ben Philips

The bedroom doors, from Asia, retain elements of their original paintwork Photos Ben Philips

Off the beaten track and swathed in mystery, Little Shotts is a cosy retreat that makes the most of Dartmoor's rugged romance. Belinda Dillon loses herself for an hour or two...

Wooden heart

Off the beaten track and swathed in mystery, Little Shotts is a cosy retreat that makes the most of Dartmoors rugged romance. Belinda Dillon loses herself for an hour or two...

Tucked away at the end of a lane, on the edge of a dense wood on the High Moor, the small wooden cabin made to seem even more miniature by the soaring Scots Pines that surround it sits quiet and still against the green. If you stumble upon it by chance, by walking the public footpath that runs past its bright blue gate on to Haytor in one direction and Widdecombe in the other, youd be forgiven for thinking that youd stepped through a portal to another time, another world, even. Its not surprising to learn that JRR Tolkiens family lived at The Shotts, the main house back along the lane, and when you venture a few feet into the wood and peer into the filled-in opening of the former iron ore mine scooped out of the earth as if by a giant hand your imagination neednt stretch too far to conjure hobbits, elves and magical realms.

I wanted it to feel like a place where you could get away from it all, to be cosy and romantic, says Gemma Roberts, the woman behind the gloriously rustic yet luxurious bolt-hole that is Little Shotts. Although were only 20 minutes from the A38, it seems much more remote. Its definitely somewhere to let go and relax.

Every aspect of Little Shotts encourages you to wind down, indulge your senses and escape the vicissitudes of daily life. As you push open the huge main door fashioned from great slabs of teak and ornately carved, it originally adorned a castle and step inside, the first impression is one of irresistible cosiness. A vintage leather sofa plump with cushions and festooned with super-soft pelts invites you to flop down in front of the large Jotul woodburner, the door of which slides all the way underneath to allow for a full face of flames; everywhere are references to the Alpine aesthetic that captivated Gemma on her many visits to that region, from specifics such as goat bells, wooden hearts and reindeer skins, to the more gestural touches of vibrant reds, fresh gingham and bright berries. The profusion of textures wool, feathers, wood, fur creates a warm, welcoming atmosphere that makes you want to bolt the door and never leave. Which is exactly the response elicited from the steady stream of guests to Little Shotts since Gemma began offering it as B&B accommodation just over a year ago.

Couples arrive and they hunker down, they love it, says Gemma. I see them lighting all the candles there are thousands of candles in there! and they have a really romantic time.

When Gemma and her husband Mark bought The Shotts two years ago, they originally intended to renovate what was essentially the wooden shed at the end of their drive to provide extra space for when friends and family came to visit. But soon the project began to take on a life of its own, especially when Gemma started to sort through all the furniture and possessions belonging to the previous owner, which had been included in the house sale.

Phoebe was an amazing lady, a photographer, who spent her entire life travelling around the world, explains Gemma. She lived at The Shotts for 40 years, using the cabin as her studio and darkroom. When we moved in I found old leather trunks full of postcards and photos of Haytor dating back to the 1920s, lots of maps and all her travel journals dating from the 1950s and 60s, from places that still seem off the tourist trail, such as Cambodia, Laos and Burma.

After completely opening up the building and insulating throughout, Gemma who has a background in fashion and interior design used Phoebes wonderful journals and photos as a springboard for her own ideas.

Definitely Phoebe and her travels were an inspiration. Because we bought the house with most of the furniture, we had some lovely pieces that didnt fit in the house, but which we didnt want to get rid of, that were perfect for Little Shotts. And I would definitely say that looking through all her files inspired me.

As a result, Little Shotts is an eclectic mix of nostalgia Phoebes photos of Dartmoor life adorn the walls and international influences, as Gemma has scoured auctions and local antiques emporia to source some incredible pieces from around the world, including full height street doors from a Parisian apartment building the grilles now backed with mirrors for privacy which lead into the main bedroom; the en-suite is accessed via beautifully carved wooden doors from India, which are 150 years old. The second bedroom (both are doubles) features a stunning carved wooden four-poster from Vietnam, and the doors to the en-suite are from Asia, still decorated in their original paintwork. In the main room, the mantelpiece is fashioned from temple pillars, the sink in the kitchen area is hewn from an ancient not just old, ancient piece of granite, and the cupboard doors are fronted with tin wall tiles from the Empire State Building. Everywhere you look there is a fascinating piece of history to ruminate on or simply just enjoy. No wonder guests dont want to leave.

Little Shotts has become my passion, says Gemma. I cant stop tweaking it, buying things for it. People seem to really love it, the romance and the isolation. They arrive looking grey and tired and leave looking really healthy and relaxed, and thats really nice. It makes me feel that its worth doing.

Little Shotts is available for short breaks and weekly stays. Please contact or visit

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