Adrian Mourby

Back to Inspirations

We do seem set for wonderful summer holidays in Britain this year - even if train travel may prove unpredictable. Personally I enjoy weekend breaks away just as much as a weeklong holiday by the sea or somewhere in the countryside. And there are so many great towns and cities out there to explore. Best of all – in my opinion- is to take Fridays off so you arrive late on Thursday night at some lovely old hotel or pub-with-rooms to enjoy an excellent meal. Then it’s time for bed with the prospect ahead of two full days exploring on Friday and Saturday before it’s time to go home.

Now that lockdowns are behind us there are so many places to visit this summer.  Here are just ten to whet your appetite!

The Nare stands on a beautiful bay on Cornwall’s Roseland Heritage Coast. The hotel has an a charming interwar/Camomile Lawn feel to it. There are lawns, there is a big white house facing the sea and in its drawing rooms there is a sense that “Uncle Richard” will be down any time soon for sherry, his conversation full of talk of the Major.

The Nare is actually quite a big hotel – 40 rooms – but at its kernel is what feels like a big, middle-class country house. In fact The Nare today is a long sequence of rooms facing south on to Carne Bay. Yet despite its development over the last 90 years the hotel still has the feel of a family home. Scattered throughout the ground floor rooms are books of genuine interest, jigsaw puzzles, games, and a lot of modern art owned by the Gray/Ashworth family. Outside subtropical gardens surround a heated swimming pool.

The hotel was built in 1929 with guest rooms facing the sea and servants’ rooms facing inland. In 1989 it was purchased by Mrs Bettye Gray, a famous hotelier in the area who installed her long-term collaborator, Mrs Burt as manager. Mrs Gray’s portrait still hangs in reception. It was she who set The Nare’s high standards of customer service, and its unusual commitment to modern art. Bettye Gray always claimed that she didn’t understand modern art at all, but she famously liked much of what she saw. Indeed she built a small gallery on the eastern end of the hotel to display her early purchases.

In 1996 Mrs Gray brought in her grandson Toby Ashworth to run a hotel on which she had placed her own stamp. As today’s proprietor of the Nare, Toby has retained some period touches. No one is asked for credit card pre-authorisation on arrival. No one signs for drinks either – the staff know who you are and keep their own tally. There is a decanter of sherry in every bedroom that is topped up daily and televisions are hidden in chests of drawers, behind pictures, or inside ottomans. At breakfast time tea is served in heavy old silver teapots and there are framed cartoons from a pre-PC era in the hallways. Although tea and coffee facilities are available in each room, morning tea can also be ordered to be brought up with the papers, a detail that harkens back long past 1989 to 1929 itself.

The old-world charm of The Nare also extends to afternoon tea being offered as part of the full-board option. Scones, coffee cake and fruit cake are served every day from 3pm. And this charm seems to rub off on the clientele, who quickly become good friends. Unusually for a 40-room hotel, paying guests greet each other as they pass in the dining room or on staircases as if we are all at the same house-party.

While staying at The Nare, be sure to go down to Carne Bay Beach at first light to watch small fishing boats coming back into St Mawes. Also not to be missed is a trip out on a the hotel’s 38-foot motor launch called the Alice Rose. She is available every Tuesday and Saturday in spring and summer.

Guests board the Alice Rose eight miles away in Tolverne and the cruise begins down the beautiful River Fal with lush vegetation on either side. Heading further out to sea, the Alice Rose passes Falmouth and Pendennis Castle before turning up the Helford River in order to moor for lunch. The captain even invites you to a pre-prandial swim if you’re feeling hearty. The round trip costs £100 per person and includes drinks, house wine and lunch. Guests are back at the hotel in time for that famous afternoon tea.

For a getaway that will take you out of yourself Ockenden Manor in West Sussex is offering something very special this year. “Full Moon and Fabulous” are two-night retreat every time there is a full moon in the night sky. This remarkable hotel – part historic manor house, part super chic modern spa – has teamed up with forest-bathing guru, Helena Skoog who was born and brought up in the forests of Sweden but who now lives in Sussex.

Guests who sign up to “rewild” their senses with Helena get two nights, dinner, bed and breakfast at the hotel with a light lunch each day, all made with local ingredients. In between all that healthy eating there will be an introductory yoga session on arrival followed by daily early morning yoga sessions, an aroma massage treatment and a Polestar mediation.

“Forest-bathing”, Helena’s speciality means slowing down and totally immersing yourself in the atmosphere of New England Woods, a small private forest which is located a ten-minute stroll away from the hotel. Drawing on the Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, forest-bathing relies on the therapeutic powers of nature and aims to leave hotel guests with a profound sense of peace as they leave Ockenden three days later.

Boringdon Hall in the hills above Plymouth looks like a fortified Tudor manor house - which indeed it once was. Before it was ever a manor house though it was an abbey which during the infamous Dissolution of the Monasteries was gifted by Henry VIII to Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton. Wriothesley sold the estate on to other Tudor adventurers until it ended up in the hands of the Parker family. Over several generations, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I the Parkers remodelled the abbey into the building we see today.

Boringdon remained in the hands of the Parker family until the twentieth century by which time they had been made Barons of Boringdon and Earls of Morley. It became a hotel in 1989 and in 2011 that hotel – with its 41 bedrooms - was sold to the Philema Group who also run hotels in Cornwall. The new owners have invested in their ever-expanding Gaia spa, which is as modern and bang up to date as the rooms in the old house are rooted in Tudor times. 

You can have two very different kinds of break at Boringdon. One is centred on the Spa which rises up a series of glassed-in steps behind the hotel and is modern and super healthy with indoor and outdoor pools, treatment rooms and a gym. The other experience appeals to our more indulgent senses. Boringdon’s four AA-rosette restaurant, Àclèaf restaurant has just launched a nine-course signature Tasting Menu under chef Scott Allan. Àclèaf is housed above the great hall of the manor house and its best tables are in what might have been the minstrel’s gallery. Immediately below you look down on the hotel’s bar but also its “Secret Bar” which guests access by pulling out a particular volume from a bookcase in the public bar. On the other side of this hidden doorway lies a room with a series of very comfortable armchairs, a fireplace and all the atmosphere of a gentleman’s club. This is a wonderful place for an after-dinner drink. And given that Boringdon reckons it has one of the largest wine cellars of any hotel in the South West of England, you could be in there for a while.

Old Downton Lodge is to be found six miles to the west of the beautiful Shropshire town of Ludlow. As a farming operation it was originally part of the estate of nearby Downtown Castle which these days is owned by the Primat family, co-heirs to the Schlumberger mining fortune. The castle isn’t open to the public however the lodge has been since the 1990s when this eighteenth century complex was converted into accommodation. The milking barn was turned into a sitting room, the laundry was turned into a bedroom and the 11th century grain store became a dining room.

In 2011 Willem and Pippa Vlok took over Downton Lodge and employed Rosey Ford of Serendipity Antiques to redecorate. “She’s an amazing lady with very strong views,” says Willem. “But right in every detail.”

Pippa and Willem were outside caterers in Shropshire for over 22 years before moving to live in this eighteenth farmhouse with their daughters. They have brought in an old friend and colleague Nick Bennet as Head Chef at Old Downton Lodge and aim to offer guests a unique experience in nine very different rooms.

Not all cosy weekends away need to be rural. In the centre of London’s West End stands a perfectly placed hotel if you want shopping, culture or fine dining. The Cavendish on Jermyn Street has a glorious pedigree. It was founded early in the nineteenth century as Miller’s Hotel with its entrance on Duke Street. It then passed through various owners and various names before becoming The Cavendish in 1836. In 1902 it was bought by Rosa Lewis, the formidable “Duchess of Jermyn Street” who was rumoured to be one Edward VII’s many mistresses.

Pretty much robbed of its facade after a Luftwaffe bombing raid during April 1941 the old Cavendish was demolished in 1964 so a new 15-storey hotel with underground parking could be built on Jermyn Street.

Though the new Cavendish was much taller than any other building off Piccadilly its ground floor and first floor dining room followed the lines of eighteenth-century Jermyn Street. It was only when you looked up above that the Cavendish’s thirteen floors of bedrooms could be seen. It’s a wholly acontextural block, with concave and convex walls like some monolithic 1960s statement about the future of architecture. Opinions were divided initially. Those who championed the New London saw it as a bold statement that nevertheless did not destroy the line of Jermyn Street. Those who loathed it wanted the old, low rise Cavendish back.

Today The Cavendish is a West End institution. Across Jermyn Street it faces another London icon, Fortnum and Mason the royal food emporium where absolutely anything can be bought (as long as money is no object) and north of Fortnums is the Royal Academy whose annual Summer Exhibition this year runs until 21 August.

Jermyn Street itself is one of the most irresistible streets in London’s West End if you are a man with a taste for elaborate silk waistcoats and dressing gowns, expensive shaving brushes, beautiful shirts, bespoke hats and expensive cigars.   

The hotel also offers some superb views if you don’t want to leave your room. From its topmost floor it seems that all of London is spread out before you. To the east rises the London Eye, the Shard and St Paul’s Cathedral. The view from the north-facing bedrooms takes in the beehives on the roof of Fortnum & Mason that produce some of the most exclusive and expensive honey in London’s West End.

Dinner and breakfast at the Cavendish are taken in the first floor Mayfair Grill where there is a bar with piano – and pianist if you’re lucky.  The bar itself is decorated with contemporary London paintings by Alexander Miles and bedrooms display a lot of black and white photography from the early 20th century, recalling the days when The Duchess of Jermyn Street ruled the old Cavendish.

The hotel also supplies a superb jogging map available from reception if you fancy working off last night’s fine dining around Green Park, the Mall and St James’ Park.

There was a castle on the Welsh Marches from Norman times in the garrison town that is now known as Bishop’s Castle. The bishop in question had his see in Hereford and his main job was to protect the king’s land from Welsh marauders to the west.

As marauding became less prevalent, after the Welsh victory under Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth the need for a defensive castle diminished and so did the castle itself. 

In 1719 the old bailey of the Bishop’s fortress was demolished to create a new hotel called The Castle.  It was built for a local landowner, James Brydges (1673–1744), who in the year the hotel was completed was created Duke of Chandos by George I. The 1st Duke of Chandos was a notable patron of the composer George Frideric Handel. Generous but often short of money, Brydges was obliged in due course to sell the Castle Hotel to John Walcot who in turn sold it to Clive of India from whom it passed to his in-laws the Earls of Powis.

For the last 12 years the Castle Hotel has been owned and run by Pippa and Henry Hunter. It’s an impressive, sturdy eighteenth century structure clearly built from stones salvaged from the original castle. Its bars serve beers from the nearby Three Tuns Brewery which was established in 1642, making it the oldest licensed brewery in Britain. Infact the Castle Hotel is quite a famous destination for beer enthusiasts as it also serves real ale from the Clun Brewery, Hobsons and Salopian, all much-respected Shropshire breweries

This pub is also a very special getaway place for hill-walkers lying, as it does on the route of the Shropshire Way and very close to Offa’s Dyke. And for dog-owners too. Pippa and Henry go to great length to make four-legged visitors feel welcome.

Surrounded by rich farmland along the Welsh border the Castle serves a lot of local game – venison, pigeon, rabbit and pheasant – and a Welsh butcher provides all the chicken, beef, lamb and pork. A new dish “Shropshire Fidget Bangers and Mash” uses sausages supplied by nearby Muckleton Farm. Fidget Pie was traditionally the county’s favourite lunchtime dish.

Deep in the Buckinghamshire countryside stands Hartwell House, a most comely stone structure. Today this Jacobean mansion is owned by the National Trust and operated by Historic Hotels. There has been a residence here back until the time of the Anglo-Saxon king, Edward the Confessor. William Peveral, an illegitimate son of King William the Conqueror, is said to have built a home on this idyllic site.

But it was the Lee family who had the most impact on the architecture of Hartwell House. This old Buckinghamshire family can count America’s General Robert E. Lee amongst their descendants. At some point in the 1850s the Lees married into the Hampden family who at the time owned Hartwell.  The Lees then held the house until 1938 when it was sold to Ernest Cooke, the philanthropist grandson of travel agent, Thomas Cooke. The Ernest Cooke Trust eventually donated the house to the National Trust, precipitating its reinvention as a hotel.

Today Hartwell House still looks very much like the Lee family must have left it in 1938. This late-Jacobean mansion had a later wing wrapped round it and the courtyard between the two has been glazed in. It’s a charming and unusual structure, with a neogothic staircase lined with carved caricature statues of British kings and warriors.

There are three dining rooms at Hartwell, constructed by the architect Eric Throssell in 1989 when it was converted into a hotel. The original family dining room where, during Louis XVIII of France’s English exile locals could pay to watch him eating supper here, is now the morning room where afternoon tea can be taken. The small chapel that King Louis created is now the hotel’s bijou panelled bar, decorated with copies of paintings that show how Hartwell’s grounds looked before a follower of Capability Brown removed its Dutch boxed hedges and ornamental canals.

The current suite of three dining rooms begins with the yellow Soane dining room, named after Sir John Soane. Anyone who has visited the eighteenth-century antiquarian’s London home will recognise the convex mirrors on its ceiling. Then there is the Doric dining room with nine pillars that have been painted to look like green marble, and finally the Octagon, a delightful eight-sided room that has been created out of the former office of the housekeeper. With a tented, aquamarine ceiling and delicious views over Hartwell’s parkland, the Octagon seats between ten and 18 people for a unique dining experience.

During repeated lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 the hotel did a lot of work refurbishing Hartwell House. Any building whose core is Jacobean always needs some attention. Nevertheless, despite all the refurbishment nothing much seems to have changed and this is part of the delight of staying at timeless Hartwell House. It remains as grand as you would expect of the majestic bolthole chosen by a Bourbon king in exile.

A few innovations have taken place however under the new GM, Kevin Hughes. Every six weeks this summer there is a Champagne Brunch running throughout the three interconnected dining rooms with a live pianist and what Kevin describes as “Bottomless Blinis”.

If you fancy a theatrical getaway there are few pubs as convenient for a truly Shakespearean experience than The Pen & Parchment in Stratford Upon Avon. This old brick pub sits opposite the famous memorial to Shakespeare erected by Lord Henry Gower. Gower (the model for Lord Henry Wooton A Portrait of Dorian Gray) surrounded the Stratford playwright by four of his most famous characters, Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, Prince Hal and Falstaff.

From the Pen & Parchment it is just a four-minute walk to the Swan Theatre, the newly rebuilt Stratford home of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The walk is not just brief but also lovely through the Bancroft Gardens that front the theatre.

This summer the RSC are performing two very different plays from the Shakespeare canon, Richard III, directed by Greg Doran - which is a powerful drama about what happens when an ambitious man of no scruple but a lot of grievance gains power and wrecks his country – and All’s Well That Ends Well, one of Shakespeare’s darker romantic comedies.

After such heady enjoyment it’s a small stagger back to The Pen & Parchment for a quick drink before the bar closes at 11pm. The pub has 10 bedrooms, half of them above the bar and half in the old stable block behind. The building itself dates from the seventeenth century and was known for many years as The Unicorn – a popular pub name that honours the Stuart monarchy that took over Britain in 1603 under James I. William Shakespeare’s company was employed by King James to perform plays so it’s apt that in 2009 the inn was renamed Pen and Parchment in Shakespeare’s honour.

The current owners of The Pen & Parchment are the Greene King group. Greene King is a remarkable British brewing enterprise having been started by a Mr Benjamin Greene in 1799. In 1877 it joined forces with Frederick William King’s brewing company to create Greene King. Greene King is now Britain’s leading pub retailer and brewer, running over 3,100 pubs, restaurants and hotels across England, Wales and Scotland.

The modern company is a guarantor of quality food, drink and service across the three kingdoms. A lesser known fact is that the novelist Grahame Greene was a descendant of the original Mr Greene.

The Compleat Angler began its life on the banks of the Thames as The Riverside Inn. For many years it was owned Wethered’s Brewery but in 1923 it was bought up by the then landlord Robert Kirby who added a waterside restaurant. Mr Kirby also changed its name, based on a useful local rumour that Isaak Walton's seventeenth century classic book about fishing may have been written in Marlow.

In the 1920s and 30s The Compleat Angler was a fashionable place to lunch and guests who drove up from London are said to have included the writers Edgar Wallace, JM Barrie, Scott Fitzgerald, Nancy Mitford and Noel Coward.  More recently the hotel gained the distinction of being one of the few British hotels where Queen Elizabeth II has dined in private. On this particular occasion it was as the guest of the Hungarian ambassador because he wanted her to eat opposite Marlow’s chain bridge built by the engineer, William Tierney Clark in 1832. From certain angles this bridge is a dead ringer for the famous Széchenyi Chain Bridge across the Danube in Budapest, a later work by Clark.

The hotel’s restaurant, known as The Riverside lives up to its name with glorious views across the Thames to All Soul’s Church and down to Marlow Lock.

The 184-mile Thames Path passes close by All Souls making The Compleat Angler an ideal hotel for weekend walkers. You can head upstream towards Oxford or downstream to Cookham where there is a gallery devoted to the work of Stanley Spencer, the eccentric 20th century painter who set so much of his work in Cookham.

Cookham and back is an ideal weekend amble as long as you make sure you’re home in time for a hot bath and dinner at a table overlooking the Thames.   

Bosham is a glorious historic coastal village near Chichester. It has a small harbour and a wide semi-circular road around the bay that is sometimes inundated at high tide.

Holy Trinity Church which has stood on the harbourside since the tenth century is so old that it actually appears in the Bayeux Tapestry with King Harold riding to it before heading to France to meet with Duke William of Normandy.

This is such a restful part of West Sussex for a weekend away and within a five-minute walk inland from Bosham Harbour stands a small hotel called the Millstream. It’s a pleasant, calm place formed out of several low-rise brick cottages with an actual former millstream running in front of it.

This 35-bedroom hotel is very much a traditional, comfortable English inn with low ceilings connecting the various old rooms from which it has been fashioned. It serves excellent food both in the brasserie and in its 2 AA Rosette restaurant. The hotel gets a lot of return visitors who come both for the food and the pleasant gardens. The Millstream is particularly popular with older guests who enjoy its calm, unhurried ambience.

And a morning stroll around the harbour and along Shore Street (at low tide) is a perfect way to work up an appetite for breakfast.

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