Set in the South Hams between Dartmoor and the sea, the Flete Estate’s woodlands, pastures, amenity and agricultural land enfold the beautiful Erme estuary. This unspoilt stretch of coast with its safe beaches, streams and rock pools, is one of the few to remain in private ownership.
Eight miles of private carriage drives follow the river on both banks through the heart of the estate, leading to Flete House, parts of which date back to Elizabethan times, and which was then remodelled in the nineteenth century by the architect Norman Shaw. Flete House is the historic home of the Mildmays, the present generation of whom live at Mothecombe House, a beautiful Queen Anne house with Lutyens additions, situated right at the mouth of the Erme River. The Bulteels, previous owners of Flete since the 18th. century, were united by marriage to the Mildmays.
Flete House was requisitioned during the Second World War, when Freedom Fields Maternity Hospital was bombed. Several years and over 9,000 babies later it was returned to the family, and is now let as retirement apartments.
Pamflete House was an attractive Georgian farmhouse near the mouth of the Erme estuary, which was enlarged to accommodate John Crocker Bulteel’s large family and staff when he left Flete in 1870. It was completely refurbished in 2009 to provide a luxurious, well-equipped private house, which is available for family holidays and celebrations as well as larger events like weddings.
A separate staff cottage is available adjacent to Pamflete House. This is the Bosun’s cottage, so called as it was built after World War II to house Commander John Mildmay-White’s boatswain (“Bosun “), who continued to work for him after the war. Commander Mildmay-White was the father of Anthony, who lived at Mothecombe House with his family.
Guests in our cottages can make use of a small, private path that drops down from the old carriage drive through the woods to Pamflete Beach, one of the Estate’s more secluded beaches. This sheltered stretch of sand makes the perfect summer barbeque spot, as well being a favourite site for crabbing . Crab corner, where the river forms a deep pool close to the bank, provides hours of fun with a piece of string baited with bacon rind to catch crabs, followed by exciting crab races as they scramble to the water when the bucket is tipped over. Fortunes have been won and lost.
Pamflete Beach is also handy for Nepean’s cottage, hidden in the woods just up river with a lovely view of Saltercrease cottage on the far bank. Nepean was a gamekeeper, and when his cottage was no longer needed, three extra bedrooms and a bathroom were added as a second story, making a cosy house for a family holiday. Saltercrease was also a gamekeeper’s cottage and now belongs to Anthony’s sister.
Following the drives back towards Flete across a causeway, Efford House is set on gently rising ground. Efford is a Victorian addition to an earlier building and was known as “Byngo Hall” for many years. It was used until the 1970’s as the agent’s house, but was taken back in hand and refurbished in the 1980’s. It features in the films International Velvet and Sense and Sensibility.
The little lane, cut into the hillside was part of a track that crossed the river to Saltercrease. The grooves made by the cart wheels can be seen cutting into the rock surface of the lane. The posts marking the crossing remain in the river, but the track has silted up and is no longer safe to use. “Efford” is the ebb ford.
Further along the drives is Flete Mill Cottage. This was originally, as its name suggests, a water mill which was powered by a leat from the river Erme. It was embellished as a “cottage orne” in the 19th. century. Following refurbishment, it is a sweet cottage for three people, with accommodation for another couple in the garden lodge and a sunny walled garden with a view across Flete water meadows to the river.
The last three cottages are the Coastguard Cottages, set right above Coastguards Beach looking seawards. At high tide, the sea beats against the boulders in front of the cottages and it is especially exciting to be beside a roaring fire while the storm rages outside. But you are just as likely to be stretched out on a steamer chair outside in the sunshine, or barbecuing a sea bass which you have just caught.
An unusual building on Mothecombe beach is the little “teahouse” set into the cliffs on the far side. Originally a lime burning kiln, in 1875 two extra rooms were constructed on the front, with a fireplace, to provide separate changing areas for the ladies and gentlemen who swam either in the sea or the salt water swimming pool around the corner. Over the years its blazing fire has been a welcome sight to generations of children who just cannot keep away from the sea – even in the deepest winter! In 2011 the teahouse was a romantic backdrop for a proposal of marriage. The lime kilns on Pamflete beach and Wonwell Beach are now semi ruins, but similar teahouses with fireplaces are tucked away in the woods above both beaches. Round the corner from the teahouse are the remains of the old seawater swimming pool, also built in 1875. It had a sluice gate which was closed to keep the water level up as the tide fell, and then opened to allow the water to be refreshed at high tide. Unfortunately, the Home Guard blew a hole in the wall before they left at the end of the Second War.