Adrian Mourby

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With August upon us the time has come for a glorious weekend getaway but summer holidays need not necessarily mean the seaside. In fact given that we all have cheap access to Mediterranean beaches these days why waste your holiday allowance on a blustery North Sea beach when there is so much more to be enjoyed inland? Here are ten gorgeous British hotels - each with its own USP - where you can enjoy yourself without feeling the need to surrender to that chilly sea.

The Greenway is a sixteenth-century manor house hotel just outside Cheltenham. It’s one of those places so cosy that you tend to forget you’ve come here to shop in Cheltenham. And forgetting Cheltenham takes a lot of luxury!

The Eden Collection has just spent £1.2 million on a major transformation of all 21 bedrooms and public rooms at The Greenway. There are thirteen bedrooms in the old main house, six in a modern coach house over the hotel’s spa and a self-catering unit down in the gatehouse cottage. Each room has been given its own unique colour palette and original period features like Elizabethan stone windows and working fireplaces have been restored. Interior designer Lucy Yarwood has brought in marble bathrooms, roll-top baths and brassware. Craftsmen from the Wreake Valley have created bespoke joinery – bedside tables, desks and wardrobes – while Brintons of Kidderminster have provided bespoke woollen carpets. 

This charming boutique hotel is set in eight acres of luscious countryside, ideal for strolling.  The house we see today was built by the Lawrence family who were in the lucrative wool trade during the reign of Elizabeth I. Records show that latterly the house was inherited by the wonderfully named Dulcibella Lawrence on the death of her husband. Much later still the brilliant young English architect Alick Horsnell visited and sketched its beauty one summer just before the outbreak of World War One. Sadly, Horsnell was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Today the hotel is owned by Sir Peter Rigby’s Eden Collection. Breakfast and dinner are served in The Garden Room which has new wooden floors, silver spoon-backed chairs and expensively embossed Italian wallpaper. The menu is concise, which is always a good sign (too many dishes suggest an overstretched kitchen with meals prepared ahead of time!). 

Recently opened is a private dining room/ wedding venue at the end the lawn that runs from the bar towards a labyrinth of old yew hedges. This is perfect for an intimate reunion of friends, a drinks party or even a proposal. Should your mind run that way, the hotel also hosts small weddings in its Elizabethan panelled drawing room with reception drinks in the Austin Room with its lovely log fire. 

Nick and Julia Davies run the gleaming white Cottage in the Wood up on the Malvern Hills. Here three white buildings stand out against the dense green woodland that lines the Malvern foothills. They are the old dower house with seven bedrooms, Beech Cottage (the original cottage in the wood with just four bedrooms) and the modern Coach House (19 bedrooms). The dower house contains the hotel’s exemplary restaurant, called 1919. It is named after the year in which Mrs Isabella Singleton Delap, a 'single woman of moderate private means’ opened a tearoom here.

This old dower house surrounded by seven acres of woodland and was built by the Blackmoor Park Estate in the nineteenth century. The estate stretched as far as the eye could see across the Severn Valley below, all 3,226 acres of it. It was owned by the splendidly named Duke Alfonso Gandolphi-Hornyold (1879-1937) who may have been the inspiration behind Tolkien’s Gandalf (Tolkien is said to have walked the Malvern Hills after World War One). Sadly the main house, the largest mansion in Worcestershire, burned down in 1921 and the estate was sold off. That catastrophe however did not touch this Georgian villa which in due course became a hotel as well as a tea room.

Whether today Cottage in the Wood is a hotel with a great restaurant or a restaurant with great rooms - this could be debated - but it would certainly be a terrible waste of a weekend to stay at the hotel and not try its wonderful seven-course (plus hors d'oeuvres and a pre-dessert) tasting menu.   The dishes that follow a simple amuse-bouche are presented with technicolour flourishes.  Hereford beef, Cotswold lamb and monkfish -for omnivores- and cauliflower dahl, watercress and Royal Jersey soup and toasted fruit loaf with truffle honey for vegetarians. Guests are reunited at the dessert course with the wickedest of chocolate indulgences. The tasting menu is the work not just of Rob but his fellow chefs, Kieran and Henry. Together they have each contributed a few personal favourites. 
At £75 pp this meal is a bargain and you can be guaranteed to head happily to bed thereafter.

The next morning, have a walk along the Malvern Hills. The Cottage in The Wood is about halfway along this seven-mile spine of one of the oldest hill chains in Britain.  Walk south as far as The Malvern Hills Hotel for lunch or further still over British Camp, an impressive pre-Roman settlement carved out of a defensive hilltop.

The joy of the Malvern Hills comes from being so high up and being able to enjoy beautiful views for the length of the walk.  It's wonderful feeling to wake up in The Cottage in the Woods already high up the hills knowing that you have a fine breakfast and the prospect a great walk ahead of you. 

Britain is full of remarkable hotels but very few measure up to Bailiffscourt in Sussex for sheer idiosyncrasy. Waking in a four-poster bed with a hammer beam roof above and mullioned windows that let in a pale mediaeval light feels like slipping back in time.

The embers in the large stone fireplace have died down now but the old gold paint on the bedroom walls still glows. Your bedroom is completely quiet, not even surge of the distant English Channel disturbs. Outside is a medieval village with thatched cottages, a brick gatehouse, a dovecote and chapel. And these are real buildings, nothing synthetic or pastiche. Only the large Nespresso machine on the table opposite your bed anchors you to the present. And even that is a big old Nespresso that could have been one of Mr Favre’s prototypes from the 1980s.

Bailiffscourt was built in the 1920s by Walter Guinness, Lord Moyne and his wife, Lady Evelyn. Moyne’s father was the Earl of Iveagh, the wealthiest man in Ireland. His older brother was Rupert Guinness who in due course succeeded to the title and encouraged (and financed) the bar-owner, Giuseppe Cipriani to open a hotel in Venice. For this reason it can be said that the world-famous Cipriani Hotel and the fabulously unique Bailiffscourt are cousins within the Guiness family
Unlike his older brother, Lord Moyne did not set out to build a hotel. He and Lady Evelyn wished to stop indiscriminate development of England’s south coast between Brighton and Eastbourne. So in the 1920s they bought up as much land as they could behind Climping Beach and created what looks like a medieval village. In fact it is a mass of reconstructed old buildings that were either unwanted or simply due for demolition. In this space the Moyne’s created a holiday camp for their rich friends who would drive down from London to party the weekend away.

So while Bailiffscourt looks medieval, it’s actually a time capsule from some 1920s house party. Agatha Christie could have set a murder mystery here, especially as there is an underground passageway that Lord Moyne and his wife Lady Evelyn had built, connecting her bedroom in The Thatched House to his bedroom in the Old Manor House (one of the few original buildings on this site). You can walk through this passageway today, but what if only the hosts knew about it? The murderer would be able to evade detection as he or she moved between cottages on the estate. What if the underground passageway linked all the cottages? What a poser for Poirot!

Breakfast at Bailiffscourt is held in The Tapestry Room which has rows of small tables and remind me of the tea rooms of my youth. Above the tureen of porridge is a free-pour blended whisky to which guests can help their selves. Very civilised indeed.

Bailiffscourt is not just a hotel. It is a happening. Beyond reception lies a circular car park which brings a splash of modernity to Bailiffscourt but the mist blowing in from the English Channel makes me think of Agatha Christie again. The murderer could easily slip away undetected. One of the joys of Bailiffscourt is its proximity to foggy Climpling Beach. Once you have passed the modern spa (cleverly disguised as a barn) you are pretty much there. It is not a pretty beach. It is full of flints and shells and collapsing banks of primeval mud and broken black groynes but it is so romantic, an absolute gift to a TV series like Wallander – to reference another crime series. I am sure the sun sometimes shines on Climpling Beach but never when I have stayed at Bailiffscourt! 

Here though you can see the great work that Lord Moyne and Lady Evelyn did by buying up so much land west of Little Hampton. There is only one modern tower block on the horizon to the east. Walk west and you come to Poole Place, a beautiful Arts and Crafts house that used to be staff accommodation for Bailiffscourt. It’s like the house in Howard’s End or many an Agatha Christie novel, except that the English Channel is relentlessly eroding its way towards the house. Scattered on Climpling Beach below are fragments of old walls – in brick and flint – that have succumbed to the waves.

Before lunch a swim in the spa. It’s housed in that modern building that resembles a medieval barn, a nice touch. The spa has an indoor pool and a heated outdoor pool that steams invitingly in the early morning chill. There is an upstairs room for healthy lunches with a balcony outside for good weather. While the spa has all that dreamy, perfumed quality that betokens healthy living, Chris Aigle, the General Manager claims nothing can beat a pint of local ale in the hot tub.
In the summertime the afternoon might be for tennis – Bailiffscourt is one of the few historic English hotels that has not let its tennis court be overtaken by moss or turned into a car park. There is also croquet. But today I’m going to sit in one of the snug drawing rooms with an Agatha Christie novel and work out which of my fellow guests is next…

Sitting within walking distance of York’s medieval walls, Middlethorpe Hall is a perfect William and Mary house in red brick and ostentatious stone quoins. The house was built for Thomas Barlow, a prosperous Sheffield cutler who bought the Middlethorpe estate outside York in a bid to establish himself as a country gentleman. Unusually he cited his mansion right next to the main road, rather than at the end of a long drive, as if keen that as many people as possible would witness his wealth.

The hall was completed in 1702. Later, when Thomas and his son went on the Grand Tour in 1712 they let the house to the poet Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who had just eloped with her husband and would go on to be an eminent Georgian woman of letters. Middlethorpe Hall was also the family home of Fanny Rollo Wilkinson (1855-1951), who was the first woman professional landscape gardener in England and who paved the way for women to enter the profession, which until then had been a strictly male preserve.

Middlethorpe is an ideal place to base yourself while visiting the city of York. A bus leaves from almost directly outside the hotel on a regular basis so there is no need to pay for expensive parking. After a day of climbing the minster, walking the city walls and squeezing through the narrow Shambles, you can return to late eighteenth century serenity.

Bovey Castle was built by W H Smith, of the High Street newsagents, in the middle of Dartmoor overlooking a perfect Devon valley (much of which has since been turned into a golf course). From a distance Bovey looks like an elongated Tudor palace or one side of a gigantic Oxbridge quadrangle. The Smith family (later enobled as Viscounts of Hambledon) sold it in 1930 to Great Western Railway for use as a hotel and it has remained so ever since. Staying at Bovey Castle has overtones of spending the weekend at a rich uncle's country house but its new bistro (named Smiths for reasons that don't take too much working out) brings the hotel up to date.

 Bovey castle also has an Elan Spa.  Unusually for an hotel spa it is not secluded in the basement but is up on the first floor. Behind the mullioned windows, its Gentleman's Quarter is decorated with monochrome pictures of Butch and Sundance and Steve McQueen on his motorbike rather than the predictable seashells and reclining Buddhas. There's a dark leather treatment table and an old-fashioned barber's chair where men can enjoy wet shaves and beard trims. Anyone who feels his masculinity undermined by the very word “spa” will be much happier in the Gentleman's Quarter, where you can close the door on all those fluffy white robes and soft downy slippers and make the detox a truly manly experience.

Bovey Castle also provides a wonderful gateway to the beauties of Dartmoor and Cornwall beyond.

When Bernard Ashley rebuilt Llangoed Hall in mid Wales as a tribute to his wife Laura he not only filled it with her fabrics and patterns but with valuable artwork too.  The original Laura Ashley fabrics have all but disappeared (except in the one bedroom known as Ashley) but Sir Bernard’s art collection remains intact.  Many private hotels have original art on their walls, but very few can boast sketches by Augustus John, and lithographs by Whistler and Sickert.

The 100+ pieces on display in part reflected Ashley’s own taste but also what was available on the market in the late 1980s and early 90s. When the Ashley children sold the house after Sir Bernard’s death in 2009, the majority of the artwork, quirky objects d’art and family memorabilia remained behind, creating possibly the most valuable art collection in any British hotel.

Today guests and visitors can share in Sir Bernard’s collection and there is a lovely voyage of discovery to be enjoyed on both floors.

Start in the long Grand Hall that the architect Clough Williams Ellis built for Llangoed Hall. This was an early commission for the distinguished and eccentric Welsh architect. He rotated the old Llangoed Castle of 1632 so that its new front door faced west. This broad, gracious corridor running north to south linked together all the rooms in the new mansion Williams Ellis built for his patron Mrs Christy.

Not far from reception on the eastern side of the hall are two remarkable paintings, one small one large. The Head of a Boy by Robert Sivell has remarkably flushed cheeks. Was he blushing or was it cold outside? To the right of Sivell’s portrait is the full-size Silver Arrow, one of the most arresting and intriguing portraits in the hall. Who is this 1920s woman with the remarkable jewel in her hat? Her gaze is confident and enigmatic.

At the far end of the Grand Hall is a portrait of Augusta, Princess of Wales and Mother of King George III. This is an uncharacteristically historic piece for the Ashley’s to have bought and it sits over a compact rosewood Steinway piano, still kept in tune.

Next to the door into the Morning room (on the left) there is a tallboy with a coat of arms and the motto Fidili Certa Merces (To the faithful there is certain reward). While the motto could represent the Parker, Shapleigh or Bottomley family, the likelihood is that Sir Bernard bought it at auction with no recognition of its provenance.

Before entrance to Library (the original entrance hall of the 1632 Llangoed Castle) there is a painting of Leda and the Swan by John Duncan. Inside the library there’s a full-size snooker table (often in use) presided over by a portrait of a jaunty young Victorian man with a top hat by Scots artist, J. D. Fergusson. 

At every turn in Llangoed there are visual surprises. The hotel has produced two extensive catalogues, one for the drawings and prints and the other for the paintings. Both need a wheeled trolley to support them (but that can be supplied). There are many reasons to stay at Llangoed Hall – its food, luxury and country walks – but the art collection takes some beating.

Bodelwyddan Castle, an hour’s drive west from Liverpool, is operated by Warner Leisure Hotels.  Warner owns 15 such properties in Britain, all specializing in child-free accommodation. This estate, originally a genuine medieval castle but extensively revamped since, offers 228 rooms, 12 of them in the castle itself as well as 45 garden lodges in landscaped grounds that overlook the Clwydian Hills. There are also eight royale rooms, 96 signature rooms and 87 standard rooms in the grounds: it’s a large complex with nightly entertainment and dancing in its Lowther Hall.

Dinner is served in the St David's Restaurant which can accommodate up to 400 guests. Meals are themed. Monday is Tex-Mex, Tuesday and Saturday present a Taste of Italy menu, Wednesday and Friday are Taste of Asia and Thursday and Sunday Taste of India. Book your three-night stay carefully you can enjoy the very best of Bodelwyddan’s kitchens. 

Warner Hotels have a huge and loyal following among those whose children have grown up or who have been lucky enough to leave their offspring with the grandparents for a few days!

Boringdon Hall in the hills above Plymouth looks like a fortified Tudor manor house - which indeed it once was, gifted by Henry VIII to the Earl of Southampton. He sold it on almost immediately for a quick buck with the house eventually ending up in the hands of the Parker family. Over several generations, the Parkers remodelled the property to make the building we see today.

Boringdon remained in the hands of the Parker family until the twentieth century. 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.

But the dining experience is why many people seek out this hotel. Àclèaf was recently awarded its first Michelin Star for a splendid four-course tasting menu under chef Scott Paton. It 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 comfortable armchairs, a fireplace and all the atmosphere of a gentleman’s club. This is a wonderful place for an after-dinner drink. Given that Boringdon reckons it has one of the largest wine cellars of any hotel in the Southwest of England, you could be in there for a while.

The main entrance to Lucknam Park is via a long drive lined with lime and beech trees, trees so tall and interlinked it’s like passing through a tunnel. Indeed during World War II, the local RAF aerodrome hid its surplus Hurricanes and Spitfires under this canopy because they were invisible from the air. 
At the end of this approach a particularly lovely hotel glows in the sunshine. Lucknam Park epitomises the old money glamour of an English country house weekend. To the right of the drive horses graze and gambol – Lucknam is one of the few British hotels with its own stables and riding school – and to the left is pasture for picturesque sheep who are kept from the lawns of the mansion by that great seventeenth century French invention, the ha-ha. 

Once inside the front door you’ll find a vestibule lined with wellington boots to borrow and a lobby with sofas and a small reception desk. Nearby the day’s newspapers are laid out. Oil portraits of forebears line the stairs and landings, though whose family it isn’t quite clear. The effect is more home than hotel. 

Lucknam was built in the seventeenth century by James Wallis, a Bristol Merchant who also bought 100 acres surrounding his country retreat to isolate it from the everyday world. In 1680 Wallis imported 7,000 lb of tobacco from Virginia, making him a large fortune when it was marketed in England, the fortune that funded the purchase of this estate. 

Down the centuries various owners took over the park until 1988 when it was turned into an English country house hotel. Today this Cotswold stone building actually has six working fireplaces in its 46 bedrooms –real fires in bedrooms are quite a hotel rarity these days!  

There may be a Nespresso in your bedroom, but there is also a Wedgewood bone-china teapot and cups with saucers. Guests dining in the Michelin-starred Howell Jones restaurant are welcomed downstairs in the drawing room and library for drinks at 6.30 before being seated at 7pm. You can also sit outside on the terrace with your cocktail if the weather is good. Either way there is a sense of expectation, of waiting for the owner to welcome you personally to his home. It will probably be the charming Sakis Dinas, Lucknam’s hotel manager. 

There’s a lot of sculptural art in the grounds: the usual stuff - horses heads, hares in combat, and wistful greyhounds – plus some original touches like a bronze statue of Puck on the edge of the croquet lawn, apparently laughing at what these mortals are getting up in the main house, and a young Mozart with his violin tucked underneath his chin near the car park.

More modern touches include a spa beyond the old stable block to the rear of the house. Its 20-metre long indoor swimming pool is one of Lucknam’s many attractive features. There’s also a steamy jacuzzi from which you can swim into the heated outdoor pool.

The hotel also provides a walking map should you fancy a stroll, from the tiniest of post-prandial to a four-mile trek south down the tree-lined drive and then north to the border of the hotel grounds.) What does it matter if it rains? You can warm up in the pool and then enjoy a drink or two in front of the roaring fire in your bedroom.

The small county-town of Warwick is famous for its castle, a major tourist attraction for visitors to the English Midlands.  It is one of the best-preserved medieval fortresses in the country and hosts two very impressive waxworks displays. One commemorates the Wars of the Roses and the ultimately failed ambition of Warwick the Kingmaker. The other is even more ambitious, the recreation of an Edwardian house party when “Prinny” Edward, the Prince of Wales, his son the future King George V, Lord Curzon and the young Winston Churchill partied at Warwick Castle.
When staying in Warwick for the weekend The Rose & Crown is worth checking out. This classic pub sits in the corner of Market Place, an irregular historic space that is lined by listed buildings from many different periods. This pub is all that remains of simple Georgian brick terrace, two modest townhouses now combined happily into one. In summer it’s nice to dine outside, taking in the market square and a statue of the boxer Randy Turpin (1928-1966) who was born in nearby Leamington Spa but went to school in Warwick.  Inside, the main dining room is whitewashed stone decorated with David Bailey black and white prints from the 60s and 70s: looking down on you is Mick Jagger, Elton John and Lord Snowden with a cigar etc. There is also a private dining room at the back called The Woodshed that seats 16. It is decorated with a wallpaper of discarded bottles and gives you the impression you’ve just missed a great party. There are thirteen bedrooms in all, five over the pub itself and the others round the corner above Warwick Books, an independent bookseller that’s worth visiting in its own right. 

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