Lucknam Park is the quintessential English country house experience with attentive staff who open your car door for you and then drive it away to be parked. There are real fireplaces everywhere too - and wellyboots lined up should you fancy a walk in the grounds. Even more idyllic are the large stables in the hotel grounds. You can wander over at any time to watch the ponies being exercised and book an hour's riding in the 500-acre park during your stay. This is real Lord of the Manor stuff. There are also longer treks that you can organise with Dawn, the stables manager (who claims she has the best job in the world).
After a day – or even an hour – in the saddle, you may want to take advantage of the modern spa that has been built discreetly at the back of the hotel. Indeed Lucknam Park offers an attractive Saddle and Spa Package which involves two nights with a dinner in each of Lucknam's two restaurants, spa treatments, plenty of full English breakfasts and a one-hour group ride on the Lucknam Park Estate.
As its name suggests, The Vineyard is a hotel devoted to wine. It sits only four miles from Newbury Races in the horse-loving county of Berkshire and is part of Sir Peter Michael's mission to spread the word about Californian wines and Californian levels of service in the UK.
Peter Michael has achieved much in his working life. He set up and ran a number of technology companies, founded Classic FM, and his own winery in Knights Valley, California. Now he has created one of the few five-star spa hotels in Berkshire, and the only one devoted to wine. As you enter you cannot miss the glass-floored wine vault with its collection of 5,000 bottles from around the world. There's also a splendid private art collection on display that Sir Peter describes, modestly as “one of the finest this side of Hearst Castle” and a spa.
If you can bear to tear youself way from so much luxury and indulgence, Ambitions Equestrian Centre is nine miles away on the Wantage Road. Based at Hillside Stud, Ambitions is keen to help riders of any ability improve. They offer private lessons indoors and out, and have a cross country arena. One and two-hour hacks – group or private - are also available, with the two-hour one involving a break at a local pub in Great Shefford for a quick pint. It's a lovely way to enjoy the Berkshire countryside.
Lying between the internationally famous university city of Oxford and the even more famous Bicester Village retail park, the Dashwood is a breath of country air. It's a small low-ceilinged pub with rooms that, in the words of Scott the manager, is “passionate about food and relaxed about dining”. Not only does this Cotswold stone pub sit on the village green in Kirtlington but there's a thatched roof too.
Inside the new restaurant offers excellent value food, using locally sourced meat and there is a sweet little bar. This is the best of rural British pub-life with amiable staff led by the jovial Jonny from Romania. Upstairs, and in the old barn outside there are 11 comfortable modern bedrooms – Shaker furniture, leather armchairs and big beds - to doze off in afterwards.
This is very much riding country with a polo club in nearby Kirtlington Park. Eight miles away, at Wendlebury Gate Stables, W.G. Riding offers one-to-one instruction for beginners and advanced riders using the stables' own highly experienced school horses. For younger visitors there are also the popular Pony Care Fun Days which teach junior horse enthusiasts all that is needed to look after a pony. It's much better than asking reception if you can borrow some DVDs for the kids!
The “green lanes” above Lake Windermere are very popular for pony-trekking and ideal day out if you're staying a few days at Linthwaite House, a picturesque hotel that overlooks the famous lake.
Linthwaite has all the charm of an early twentieth-century family home but with a small dark bar at its centre and a lovely conservatory for when the weather outside isn't perfect. Mike Bevans, the owner, admits to falling in love with the building as soon as he saw it, and he's deliberately decorated a hotel that he as if it were a family home with all the eclecticism that entails.
Just an eight-minute drive north along the lake brings you to Lakeland Pony Treks in the Troutbeck Valley, a small friendly operation that offers everything from a half-hour session round Limefitt Park to half-day treks on the bridleways of the surrounding fells, plus a full-day trek which includes a well-earned pub lunch halfway through. With virtually no use of the surrounding roads, this is one of the best ways to see some of the loveliest scenery the Lake District has to offer.
Rowhill Grange in Kent was built in 1868. In 1916 this country house was bought by Sir George Cole, a breeder of Shetland ponies and a former Lord Mayor of London. In 1987 it became a country house hotel set in prime riding country southeast of London.
Adjoining the main building is the original coaching house of Rowhill Grange where horses were stabled, now known as the Clockhouse Suite.
For a day's riding Bexley Stables lies just the other side of Joydens Wood from Rowhill Grange. It's a three-mile walk through the woods or a four and a half mile drive. The stables offer riding tuition for both adults and children as well as the opportunity to explore this beautiful part of Kent area while hacking on horseback - including along permissive bridle paths through Joyden's Wood itself. The wood is now managed by the Woodland Trust but it was first recorded on this site in the year 1600. It's a lovely place to explore with your horse.
Wood Hall is three miles outside Wetherby and 16 miles east of York. This grand, early Victorian, bay-windowed hotel is set in 100 acres of woodland, at the end of a long private drive. Having been a family home, a boys' prep school, and Catholic ecumenical centre it opened as a hotel in 1988 and was extended in 1992.
From Wood Hall it's an enjoyable 30-minute direct walk across country - or an indirect 14 minutes' drive - to Hillcroft Farm Riding Stables. Yvonne Lowther set up this stables here in the village of Sicklinghall, drawing on her knowledge of the pastureland and quiet lanes of the charming landscape between Wetherby and Harrogate. Here she is offers rides lasting from an hour to all day.
This year Wetherby will be much in our minds as part of Herriot country. In October Britain will be celebrating 100 years of its favourite vet, James Herriot and the tales he wrote that turned rural Yorkshire into Herriott Country.
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