Down a winding drive, Glebe House overlooks the rolling hills of the Coly Valley in east Devon. The late Georgian building, formerly a vicarage, has until recently been run as a bed and breakfast by Hugo Guest’s parents. Hugo grew up there, and couldn’t bear the thought of it being sold. Alongside his wife Olive, he hatched a plan to reinvent the house in the spirit of Italian agriturismos – family-run farms that offer comfortable, informal stays and local, fresh food.
Hugo and Olive first met each other as young teenagers, spending summers in a big group of friends in Cornwall. They remained close ever since, and became a couple when they both moved to London after university. Olive worked at an advertising agency, and Hugo was an insurance broker in the City for almost a decade. Both decided they needed a change of pace, and Hugo retrained as a chef at Ashburton Cookery School in south Dartmoor, before working in the kitchens at the Marksman and Sorella in London for a few years.
“I've had this idea for a long time,” Hugo explains. “In my mind it's been about eight years in the making, from concept to actually doing it. But for a good five years it was a bit of a pipe dream.” Olive was enjoying her London job and calls herself a “bit more of a realist.” But then, the idea naturally became more concrete when the pair began thinking of starting a family. They moved from London in March 2020 to do final planning, and the guesthouse was opened in March this year. “We gutted the place,” Olive says. “We really went back to the bones of it.”
The redecoration was inspired by Charleston House and the couple worked with Alexandra Childs of Studio Alexandra to experiment with a cheerful combination of vibrant colour, characterful patterns and antique furniture. Hugo and Olive were nervous about what Hugo’s family would think about the renovation, given the memories associated with the house, “but Hugo’s brother Humphrey came and said, actually, it still feels like Glebe,” Olive says. “We really did want to keep that sense of the family home. We wanted it to feel intimate, because we’re not a stately home, we’re not a five-star hotel. We want it to feel much more relaxed.”
For Hugo, a priority was to maintain the welcoming mood of the kitchen, and the scheme was built around the existing red Aga. The pair also saved the vine growing in the garden room, which blurs the line between outside and in. Olive enjoys cultivating flowers to bring inside the house, and last year grew 300 tulips in the cut flower bed, echoing the blooms on the wallpaper in the Tulip Room. This year, she has ordered 3,000 daffodil bulbs for the drive. “Gardening is definitely an area I want to learn a huge amount about,” she says. Most of her time in the garden is spent with her young son, Rufus, who enjoys gathering eggs from the rescue hens for guests to have for breakfast.
Outside, beside the chicken run, are solar panels that supply energy to the house. There is also a polytunnel and vegetable garden. “We’re pursuing a method of growing called ‘no dig’,” Hugo explains. Piles of compost and organic matter are placed on top of the soil, and you plant directly into it. “Ultimately, you aren’t disrupting the soil, and it creates a much more fertile environment.” This year, they have grown an array of produce from tomatoes and chillies to leeks and herbs, all used in the kitchen. “It’s been a great learning curve,” he says. “It’s our ambition for the future to move towards self-sufficiency. It’s an area that really interests and excites me.”
Hugo spends most of his time in the kitchen, working alongside head chef Sam Lomas, formerly of River Cottage and Anglesey's Tide/ Llanw. “He’s incredibly hardworking, passionate and thoughtful,” Hugo says. “We found our rhythm really easily.” Sam is also a talented baker, making “the most amazing sourdough” in the bakery, which is a small separate building at the back of the house.
Local produce is at the heart of Glebe, and guests can expect a fixed four-course menu that focuses on the bounty of the season, whether home-cured porchetta, curds made onsite from milk sourced from a nearby Jersey cow herd or fresh courgette from the polytunnel. A simple supper is also available, with homemade pies, hearty ragus and cassoulets. The experiences offered at Glebe are also rooted in gastronomy, with mackerel fishing at closeby coastal village Beer followed by twilight dinner on the beach, private tours of nearby Castlewood Vineyard and mushroom foraging walks. Even more is planned for the coming year, including cookery classes with Hugo and Sam.
It has been no ordinary year to start a new venture, and the pair have faced some challenges, such as not being able to run as many experiences as they had hoped. They have also had plenty to learn in terms of the everyday running of the guesthouse. “In the beginning, we were doing some things quite inefficiently,” Hugo says. He has drawn on the advice of his parents, and cites their attention to detail as key. “They were also always realistic, and grounded us so we understood how much time things would take.”
This will be a winter of reflection and hope for the coming year. For the festive season, Olive has been making ornaments for the tree from offcuts of upholstery fabrics used during the redecoration. The pair also plan to build a cabin beside the swimming pool, made from local cedar by a craftsman who lives closeby. “He will be using all his own wood, from 60 acres of woodland,” Hugo explains. It seems, although they moved to the country in search of a different pace of life, among moments of calmness, they are as busy as ever. “I've never worked so hard in my life as this year,” Hugo says. His goal for the next is simply to balance his time inside and out of the kitchen.
Below, we share two recipes from the kitchen at Glebe House, which Hugo has chosen because they make use of plentiful seasonal, local ingredients. The first is for roasted crown prince squash with a pickled walnut relish. “We do quite a bit of dairy work here,” Hugo says, “so we serve it with some Jersey curds, a young, fresh lactic cheese that we make in-house using milk from a local herd.” The second is for tagliolini with a cavolo nero sauce and confit egg yolk. “Cavolo nero is really easy to grow and plentiful. It's often really hard to find inspiration for how to use it all, so we turn it into a really vibrant green pasta sauce.” You can also watch him making the dishes in a video on our Instagram.
Crown Prince Squash with Pickled Walnut Relish and Jersey Curd
Half Crown Prince squash (quartered, each quarter cut into three)
4 pickled walnuts
150ml good quality olive oil
A handful of toasted pumpkin seeds
A handful of parsley
Salt and pepper
6 sprigs of thyme
A dollop of fresh Jersey curd (or any good quality cows curd or goats curd)
1. Preheat oven to 170°C. Place the squash in a roasting tin, generously drizzle with olive oil, season and distribute the thyme. Roast for 40 mins until squash is tender and golden brown in places.
2. While the squash is cooking, make the walnut relish. Finely chop the walnuts, parsley and toasted pumpkin seeds. Add to the bowl and mix well. Finish with a drizzle of the olive oil and season.
3. To assemble, place a couple slices of the roasted squash to one side of your chosen plate and spoon over the pickled walnut relish so it is evenly distributed on the roasted squash. Serve with a dollop of fresh jersey curd.
Tagliatelle Cavolo Nero with Confit Egg Yolk
750g cavolo nero leaves
4 garlic cloves, peeled
225ml good quality extra virgin olive oil
600g fresh tagliatelle, or any dried pasta
An egg yolk
Parmesan for grating
Squeeze of lemon juice
1. Separate the leaves and stalks from the cavolo nero. Reserve the stalks for something else. Bring a decent sized pot of well salted water to the boil and blanch the leaves with all the garlic cloves until the garlic softens and the leaves are very tender. Roughly 6 minutes.
2. Drain, reserving a few slashes of the cooking liquid. Put the blanched leaves, garlic and a bit of the cooking water into a food processor and blitz until you have a smooth and vibrant green purée. As you are blending, gradually stream in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Cook the pasta in salted water, then drain thoroughly. Whilst the pasta is cooking, warm the cavolo nero sauce in a separate pan, adding the pasta when cooked. Vigorously mix together until the pasta is well coated. Serve and finish with a confit egg yolk and parmesan.
Interview by Alice Simkins.
Photographs by David Vyce.
Watch Hugo create the dishes in a video on our Instagram.