Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has expressed his complete shock at learning the cookery school at his River Cottage has burnt to the ground.

The blaze took place at the Axminster, Devon, premises on Tuesday night and fire-fighters took several hours to get it under control.

Hugh is overseas, but said on his website: “I’m filming a long way away right now and it’s just impossible to imagine,” he said. “I’m so shocked to hear the news of the fire in our barn at Park Farm, our River Cottage HQ.

“Obviously it’s a huge relief that nobody’s been hurt, and I’m very grateful to the local fire brigade for their prompt response and all their help.”

The TV chef has been filming abroad and it took staff 36 hours before they were finally able to contact him via satellite.

Hugh said plans were already under way to set up a working field kitchen and he had no doubt the River Cottage team would pull together to make that happen while he was away.

“In due course we’ll set about restoring our lovely Devon barn to it’s former glory.”