What does the future have in store for Kitley House hotel?
PUBLISHED: 11:17 26 February 2019
A descendant of the family which has owned Kitley House for 500 years is building a new life in Devon and a new future for the hotel, as SHARON GOBLE found out
Travelling down the mile of tree¬lined driveway to Kitley House brings back memories of the last time I visited this historic South Devon estate and its Grade I listed building ¬ for a friend’s wedding about 15 years ago.
I note the smooth ride on the newly¬laid drive and the scaffolding on the front of the building. Sure signs that change is afoot here.
Kitley’s facade has just been cleaned, revealing attractive silvery¬grey marble, quarried on the estate, which had previously been hidden under years of grime.
Inside, the large panelled entrance hall, decorated with heraldic shields, is a similar calm grey, brighter and fresher than I remember it.
I’m here to meet the new owner, and I’m not sure what to expect of a man called Spike Bastard.
He turns out not to live up to his name in any shape or form ¬ he’s as charming and welcoming as the hotel he’s recently taken over. He ushers me through to the newly¬decorated morning room where sunlight floods through a vast bay window.
Spike has been at the helm of Kitley, a 19¬bedroom hotel, restaurant and wedding venue, since the start of last summer.
He’s not from a hospitality background. He started his career in the music business then spent over a decade building up a portfolio of diverse companies in Ghana.
He tells me, “Starting again in another sector with a fresh pair of eyes, I’ve got to say I love it. I love a challenge. I love working with people who have vastly more experience than me and not being embarrassed to ask, ‘What does that mean? How does that work?’
“Most businesses, ultimately, rely on the same issues ¬ getting staff on side and invested in the business, and making your customers happy by exceeding their expectations. That’s how I approach business generally and, so far, it’s worked out!”
Kitley House is in a stunning setting, in some 400 acres of gardens and woodland with a lake, on the banks of the Yealm estuary.
Spike has fond memories of childhood holidays here, when his grandmother lived in the house, and is keen to make it a magical place for guests to visit, just as it was for him as a boy.
For 20 odd years, Kitley had a chequered history as a hotel under three different operators. Now back in family hands, Spike has grand plans for its future.
He’s already increased its rating from three to four stars. His sights are firmly set on making it a five¬star establishment in the near future.
“I could immediately see the enormous potential of Kitley,” he says. “The previous operators probably didn’t realise what was hiding beneath the brambles and the stinging nettles and the general wilderness.”
He’s also cleared and rebuilt the path to the former kitchen gardens, to the amazement of his general manager, Adam, and the rest of the staff: “They never knew the path was there! Everyone here’s really enthusiastic about the changes to re¬invigorate and re¬design Kitley.”
Spike certainly doesn’t appear to be afraid to get his own hands dirty, but he’s also investing in skilled local craftsmen to give back this gem of a building its former grandeur.
Wooden panelling has been renovated in the hallway, where an elaborate staircase sweeps up past a huge stained¬glass window; a vast mahogany cupboard, which takes up an entire wall in the drawing room, has been meticulously restored.
This is no short¬term endeavour though. Spike has long¬term plans to make Kitley part of the community, as it once was.
Somewhere locals feel free to pop in, not just a ‘posh place’ for the occasional visit. As he tells me: “My plan is to put down my roots here in Devon. I feel I’ve come home.”
KITLEY OF OLD
A framed advert in the hallway documents one of Kitley’s past guises: the manor house, once part of a vast estate, was frequently rented out to London gentry for seasonal shooting parties.
The Grade I listed building has early Tudor origins. It’s thought to have been built during the reign of Henry VII between 1457 and 1509, with Jacobean and Regency additions.
The Bastard dynasty itself can be traced back to the time of William the Conqueror. In the novel Lorna Doone, R.D. Blackmore wrote: “But others were of high family, as any need be, in Devon - Carews, and Bouchiers and Bastards.”