Adrian Mourby

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I don’t know about you but until recently when I stayed in a hotel I tended to just stay in it. And quite rightly so. Many British hotels are so beautiful they’re a holiday in themselves, regardless of what is going on beyond the lobby and those revolving doors.  But sometimes it is worth getting out and seeing where in the world you actually are. Over the last year I’ve taken to waking early up at hotels where I’m staying and going for a run or a walk before breakfast just to get a sense of this new neighbourhood in which I am, all too briefly a resident.

These morning explorations are usually very rewarding. After all hotels tend to be built in places worth visiting - otherwise why build them there? Best of all, when you return for breakfast you’ll have built up an appetite to do justice to all that’s on offer.

So here are ten British hotels which I’d not only recommend to eat, drink and sleep in but which are also excellently located for a pre-breakfast early morning walk.

London’s Corinthia Hotel originally opened in 1885 as the Metropole.  It was designed to occupy a corner of Northumberland Avenue, a new wide boulevard just south of Charing Cross. This road was so wide thanks to the local planning restrictions forbidding any building to be taller than the width of the road it fronted. As there was a need for grand seven storey hotels this close to Charing Cross Station, a wide carriageway was the clever answer. On the avenue’s  south side, two hotels -  the Grand and the Metropole -- were built.  Because the Metropole occupied a tight junction with Whitehall Place, the structure resembles New York’s Flat Iron building when viewed from the Thames Embankment.

Over the years this splendidly-located hotel was a London home for wealthy travellers arriving from the Continent who would get on a train at Dover or Folkestone and then disembark at the busy Charing Cross Terminus. It was also frequented by officers attending the levees at St James Palace and by ladies invited to Buckingham Palace. Britain’s playboy Prince of Wales – and eventual King Edward VII -  kept a box reserved for him in the hotel’s ballroom, and on the night before the British Expeditionary Force embarked for France in 1914 its two Commanders-in-Chief, Field Marshals John French and Douglas Haig, both stayed at the Metropole. 

Because of its proximity to Whitehall the hotel spent a lot of the 20th century being requisitioned as government offices. Much of the crucial Battle of Britain was commanded from the Metropole and during World War II it became home to the newly-created MI9 Special Operations Executive.  Right up until 1992 the Metropole housed the bulk of the Defence Intelligence Staff. When the James Bond comic strip was drawn in the Daily Express newspaper from 1958 to 1983, the artist Yaroslav Horak nodded to this fact by using the distinctive triangular facade of the Metropole to depict M’s headquarters.

In 2011 the Maltese Corinthia Group  reopened the hotel as Corinthia London and in 2012 its  ballroom was chosen as the venue for the official announcement of the James Bond movie Skyfall.

Today the Corinthia is one of the most glamorous hotels near Trafalgar Square. Its triangular Northall Restaurant sits at the apex of that pointed footprint.  (Its name is a portmanteau of Northumberland Avenue and Whitehall.) The bedrooms immediately above it have a glorious view of the Thames, all the way from St Paul’s Cathedral to the Houses of Parliament and beyond.

Yet if you step outside the hotel for a walk there are all sorts of unexpected corners of London to discover. A two-minute stroll north across Northumberland Avenue and into Craven Street brings you to the Benjamin Franklin House where for nearly 16 years the scientist, diplomat, philosopher, inventor and Founding Father of the United States lived as colonial ambassador before the revolution of 1776. The house has been beautifully preserved and the eager staff offer a fascinating tour.

Cross Northumberland Avenue to the south and nip under the massive Victorian railway bridge -  still bringing trains across the Thames to Charing Cross Station - and you’ll come to Victoria Embankment Gardens. This urban oasis was created in 1874 after the River Thames had been narrowed and a major road, the A3211 built along its embankment. You can see how far the width of the Thames was reduced if you stand outside Gordon’s Wine Bar that faces into the park. Gordon’s originally stood on the shore of the Thames and its terrace was where boats unloaded their goods.
Walking through the Embankment Gardens you’ll find memorials to Isambard Kingdom Brunel, John Stuart Mill, and Sir Arthur Sullivan whose operettas were premiered at the Savoy Theatre nearby. The theatre itself isn’t visible from the gardens because Richard D'Oyly Carte, Sullivan’s producer, used the profits from their collaboration with W.S. Gilbert to build the Savoy Hotel behind it. That huge structure is most definitely visible. From one of its windows Monet painted Charing Cross and Waterloo Bridges between 1899 and 1905.
Also visible from the Embankment Gardens is the York Watergate, built in 1626 by Inigo Jones for George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham as the portal through which he could board his private boat.  This sturdy neoclassical construction is yet another reminder of how much wider the Thames was before the Victorians stepped in and rationalised it.

There are many other memorials – to Gordon of Khartoum, Robbie Burns and the actor Sir Wilfred Lawson. There is even a monument to the Imperial Camel Corps. This is a lovely historical walk to take, especially with the prospect of  breakfast in the Northall Restaurant never far away. The Corinthia’s house champagne is not to be passed up.

If you approach the town of Midhurst from the south it’s impossible to miss The  Spread Eagle. This historic inn stands on high ground above South Street with its large roof and white-washed walls; it resembles the home of an affluent seventeenth-century farmer. Its carpark, framed by low, old agricultural buildings, even resembles a farmyard. Inside the hotel is an amalgam of two historic buildings – one brick, the other half-timbered -- which are linked by a narrow, roofed alleyway known as Red Brick Hall. No two bedrooms are the same at the Spread Eagle, floors creak a bit and run at odd angles. This is a gorgeous old hotel with a panelled private dining room where you could easily imagine gentlemen in periwigs quaffing port late into the night. 

The Spread Eagle probably takes its name from the coat of arms of Sir William Fitzwilliam whose home was nearby Cowdray House. That ruined castle is itself an ideal place to walk to before breakfast or after an overly-hearty lunch.  From the car park head up South Street past the hotel's wood-beamed bar which stands in the oldest part of the building (probably 15th century). Now turn right past The Swan and head up Church Hill as far as the Bottle & Jug (this part of Midhurst was pretty much all pubs in Tudor times.  Crossing in front of the Church of St Mary Magdalene and St Denys note the town hall with stone steps up to its first floor entrance and a cage underneath containing Midhurst's stocks. These were last used in 1859 when Henry Elldridge failed to pay 10/6d for making a disturbance one Saturday night. He was given a week to come up with the necessary then locked in the stocks for almost six hours while a crowd of locals turned out to jeer at him.

From the Town Hall cross into a narrow lane called St Anne's Hill. At the end of the lane you come to a high wooded circle that is all that remains of what used to be a motte and bailey castle built by Robert de Montgomery shortly after the Norman Conquest. Below you can see the River Rother snaking by. This was a good defensive position from which to control the Anglo-Saxon village of Midhurst. Later the Fitzcane family received this land from Henry I and built a fortified manor house up here with a chapel dedicated to St Denys. The house is gone now and the name St Denys has been transferred to the parish church. In 1280 the family abandoned the manor house to build a mansion on the floodplain of the River Rother below. They called their new home Cowdray after the old French word for a "hazel grove". Heading downhill from St Anne's, the new home of the Fitzcane-Bohuns is immediately visible.

The Cowdray House that stands today is a Tudor rebuild begun in 1520 by Sir David Owen, an uncle to Henry VII. He had acquired the building on the death of his wife Mary Bohun. In 1529 Sir David Owen's son sold this fine building to Sir William Fitzwilliam whose descendants were to profit greatly from the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII and who fought under the banner of the Spread Eagle. The Fitzwilliam family was cursed by a monk during the dissolution of Battle Abbey. “By fire and water they line shall come to an end!” he roared. Some considerable time later in 1793 Cowdray House burned down, the flames taking with them all the plunder from Battle Abbey. Less than two weeks later the last of Sir William’s heirs died trying to ride the Rhine Falls in Switzerland and the family line was extinct within a generation.

Today Cowdray House is a magnificent Tudor ruin to the north of Midhurst and well worth walking round. On the way back to the Spread Eagle, along North Street there’s some lovely window-shopping. You might also spot the plaque above the Olive and Vine Restaurant where the young H.G. Wells lodged whilst briefly a teacher at Midhurst Grammar School in 1883.

A mile out of the Surrey town of Dorking is a 650 acre estate called Denbies. It takes its name from one John Denby, who in the 16th century owned a farm here. In the mid-18th century Mr Denby's farm buildings were converted into a gentleman's residence for Jonathan Tyers, the proprietor of Vauxhall Gardens in London. Later still it was bought by Thomas Cubitt, the man who built much of Belgravia in the early 19th century. Cubitt designed himself a mansion on the highest point of the estate where he was visited by, amongst others, Albert the Prince Consort. That house was demolished in the 20th century as being too big and expensive for the Cubitt family to maintain.

In 1984 a local businessman, Adrian White bought this Surrey estate to make himself a home. Unsure what to do with the land, White asked a friend, the geologist Professor Richard Selley to survey the site. Selley, who normally advised on drilling for oil, worked out that its chalk soil and well-protected location were ideal for wine production. Thirteen varieties were planted as an experiment in 1986 to see which would take, and 24 years later, in 2010 Denbies medium dry Surrey Gold became the best-selling English white wine. Currently more than 10% of all vines planted in England are on this estate and throughout Denbies’ 265 acres of vines there run seven miles of footpaths.

The old farmhouse on the estate has been converted into a modern hotel just behind the winery and on a fresh Surrey morning it’s delightful to get up early and climb up through the mist to the top of the estate via Bradley Lane. The hotel provides a map so as you head up the lane you’ll know you have Bacchus and Muller Thergau grapes on your left and Reichensteiner on your right. You’ll probably encounter plenty of locals walking their dogs in the early morning as the estate is always open to the public.

Near the top of the hill a path runs off to the left through Pinot Gris vines to a big old oak tree surrounded by decking. Known as The Terrace, this is where tastings are held here during the summer months. On a brisk, bright morning it’s a great place to stop and admire the view south over England’s biggest vineyard.

Chipping Campden is one of the most visually perfect English villages.   A walk along its High Street is like wandering through an architectural theme park. The imposing Cotswold House Hotel stands on Upper High Street, a small loop of road that is separated from Lower High Street by the Market Square, the old Market Hall (now a National Trust property) and the old Midland Bank (a Tudor building that’s since been repurposed as Huxleys’ Wine Bar).  The hotel was built around the time of the Battle of Waterloo and presents itself as a grand Regency town house with a central portico supported by four Tuscan pillars. Step out through these and turn left and you will be walking past over a hundred listed buildings that run north along the High Street. Among my favourites is Bedfont House, a rare example of a Palladian town house, which was constructed in 1740 for wealthy builder Thomas Woodward. This is probably the only building on the High Street even more glamorous than Cotswold House and its chamfered quoins, giant fluted Corinthian pilasters and ornate parapet absolutely scream affluence.

There are also two old coaching inns on the High Street: the Lygon Arms named after the Earls of Beauchamp who owned land nearby and the Noel Arms that takes its name from the Noels, Viscounts of Campden.

In the 16th century the Noel family had estates across the middle of England. In 1605 Edward Noel, 2nd Viscount Campden married Juliana, the daughter of Sir Baptist Hicks. Hicks was the owner of the manor house which at that time stood on high ground north of Chipping Campden. This short walk ends at the site of that august building.

As the High Street runs further out of town, the houses get more modest. Simple houses replace merchant’s mansions and there is even a terrace of six workers’ cottages, although given that they’re built in Cotswold stone, they’re still picturesque. A low wall beyond these cottages has a gothic arch cut into it that lets into the Ernest Wilson Memorial Garden. Ernest “Chinese” Wilson was a notable British plant collector and explorer who introduced over 2,000 Asian plant species to the West. He was born in Chipping Campden but died 54 years later in the United States. Today not only is he commemorated by this garden but by sixty plants – like the Lonicera nitida Ernest Wilson - that bear his name.

Turning right up Cidermill Lane brings you to St James’ Church which stands on a low hill overlooking Chipping Campden. It’s a good example of a Cotswold “wool church” funded by wealthy wool merchants and built in the 15th century the lofty early perpendicular style. Inside there is a dramatic monument in black and white marble to Sir Baptist Hicks who was a local merchant, lawyer and MP before being knighted by James I in 1603. Having made his fortune selling silk to the English court, Hicks built Campden House just below the church. It was a stunningly tall Jacobean-style house designed to impress with two freestanding banqueting halls in its elaborate gardens. Sadly they – and a gatehouse – are all that remain after the house burned down in the English Civil War.   

Follow Church Street back down towards Cotswold House and you’ll pass a row of twelve beautiful alms houses that Sir Baptist endowed at a cost of £1,000 in 1612. The architect was the same person who Hicks commissioned to build the old Market Hall in front of the hotel.
Visitors to Chipping Campden really are spoiled for choice when it comes to an architectural stroll before breakfast.

Built in 1896, the Avon Gorge Hotel was originally known as the Grand Clifton Spa and Hydropathic Institution. It was attached to the single-story Clifton Spa Pump Room which had opened in 1894 under the developer Sir George Newnes. Newnes had arranged for spa waters to be pumped up 70 metres from Bristol’s famous Hotwells at the bottom of the Avon Gorge below.

The hotel had the best of many worlds, an entrance on Sion Hill in the fashionable lofty suburb of Clifton, views of the Avon Gorge and Brunel’s famous suspension bridge and a Turkish Bath fed by waters from the gorge that were said to be as hot and efficacious as those to be found at nearby Bath. Later the hotel expanded into the White Lion, a single house on its southern flank side that had been built in 1796 as the beginning of a grand Bath-like crescent to be known as Princes Building. The former pub still has a street sign “Prince’s Buildings” attached to its façade.

The spa closed in 1922 and the Avon Gorge Hotel endured some sad years as a billet for troops during World War II and as a location base for film companies in the 1970s. Then in 2018 it was reopened after the expenditure of many millions of pounds to become a 78-room luxury hotel under the management of super-stylish Hotel du Vin group.

From the hotel there are some fascinating walks through Clifton village and even down into Bristol itself but the first walk you take must be up Sion Hill to the iconic suspension bridge. En route you’ll pass terraces of blowsy mid-Victorian housing with their Italianate bay windows and balconies. You’ll also pass the Lookout Lectern, a viewing platform with restored stone lectern which provides information on the construction of the bridge and also offers one of the best angles from which to photograph it.

Further up the hill you can choose between walking over the bridge or heading up to the Clifton Observatory which was built in 1766 – long before Brunel’s masterpiece of 1864  – to provide panoramic views towards the Bristol Channel.

Since its opening Brunel’s bridge has become a symbol for the city. In more recent times it was the location (illegally) for the first British bungee jump in 1979,  Concorde’s last fly-past in November 2003 and a handover of the Olympic Torch relay in 2012.

Rutland Water was created in 1975 as a reservoir for England’s East Midlands. By surface area - 1,555 hectares -  it's the biggest artificial lake in Britain and also one of the largest in all of Europe. In the process of flooding the Gwash Valley to create this beautiful expanse of water, the hamlets of Nether Hambleton and Middle Hambleton were flooded, leaving only Upper Hambleton. This small affluent village now sits on what is known as the Hambleton Peninsula surrounded on three sides by Rutland Water.  In the centre of that peninsula is Hambleton Hall built in 1881 by Walter Marshall, a wealthy Nottinghamshire brewer. If he could see his hunting lodge today, Mr Marshall would no doubt be impressed by its much-improved location. The reservoir has given Hambleton Hall elegant grounds that tumble down to an idyllic shoreline of grazing sheep and mellow woodland.

In 1979 Hambleton Hall was converted into a country house hotel by Tim and Stefa Hart. Just three years later it gained a Michelin star. Today the hotel offers 17 bedrooms, a roaring fire in reception, a superb wine cellar and two private dining rooms.

If you have the good fortune to stay at Hambleton Hall then there is a lovely walk to do the next morning. Head down to the lake through the hotel gardens and then - via a stile - to the lakeside.  Here you'll see the remains of  St Matthew's Church, a Grade II listed building rather resembling a wedding cake with all its pillars and balustrading. It was built between 1826 and 1829, based on the design of St John's, Smith Square in Westminster. St Matthew’s was once the private chapel for the nearby Normanton Estate, but it was de-consecrated in 1970. It was to have been demolished as part of the reservoir construction but following a public outcry a protective embankment was built around the church leaving it a prominent feature on the water's edge.

Rutland Water has a 23-mile perimeter track which can be walked, jogged or cycled. Of this six miles is on the Hambleton Peninsula itself, which makes for a lovely early morning amble with sheep staring pointedly at you, wondering why you are intruding on their pasture.

Set off at dawn and you'll be back in time for breakfast in the dining room where Noël Coward, Malcolm Sargent and Charles Scott-Moncrieff, the first English translator of Proust gathered in the 1920s and 30s after Walter Marshall's hunting lodge passed to his sister, the famous society hostess, Eva Astley Paston Cooper. Coward was said to have written his play Hay Fever at Hambleton. Aptly his comedy concerns four eccentric members of the Bliss family each of whom invite a guest to stay at their country retreat.

The Star Inn sits in the village of Sparsholt, just two miles downhill from the Ridgeway, one of the most panoramic finest walks in England. It’s a dog-friendly 17th century pub with rooms, ideal if you’re walking the Ridgeway but also a great place to spend a quiet weekend (especially if you take one of the eight modern bedrooms in the converted Star Barn).

For a morning walk I’d recommend a trip to Sparsholt Firs which is one of the landmarks on the 87-mile Ridgeway. To get there you turn left out of the pub and then head out of the village via Broadoak Lane and Eastmanton Lane to reach the junction with the Ridgeway at the spinney known as Sparsholt Firs. But on second thoughts, on this occasion I’d actually say drive up to the Firs, park your car and then walk a bit on the Ridgeway itself. 

Follow the route east in the direction of Segsbury Camp and within half a mile you’ll see the Devil’s Punchbowl on your left. It’s a large, grassy depression into the hillside of the kind whose formation was invariably ascribed to some story of the supernatural. (You find Devil’s Punchbowls all over England as well as Ireland and the United States.) A bit further up an incline of Hackpen Hill you’ll come to Segsbury Camp, an Iron Age hill fort on the Ridgeway. There are many similar settlements on this route because it has been in use for more than 5,000 years. Originally the Ridgeway was a trading route that linked Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast to Hunstanton on the Norfolk coastline but after the development of roads it no longer needed to reach either sea. The great beauty of the route however is its height. There are always great views on The Ridgeway and this section above Sparsholt and Letcombe Regis offers a lovely sweep north towards Wantage and Abingdon.

The Atlantic Hotel in Newquay dates back to the 1890s but its appearance owes more to the Art Deco movement of the 1930s. This was when its ballroom was added. In 1935, according to hotel legend, Harrods of Knightsbridge was brought in to design and furnish the Atlantic’s new cocktail lounge. Recent refurbishments have emphasised this 30s ambience with little touches of Hollywood glamour in the black and white chequer-board marble tiles in the lobby and the octagonal mirrors in the  Champagne Bar.

Step outside The Atlantic on a spring morning and there is an enjoyable walk down to Newquay’s old harbour. Head right on King Edward Crescent and you will loop round the hotel and walk parallel to the South West Coast Path for a few hundred yards (Now there is a walk if you have 630 miles in you to spare!) Assuming you want to be back in time for breakfast, continue downhill past the Huer’s Hut, a small white-washed building that dates back to the fourteenth century. Used both as a hermitage and a lighthouse over the centuries, the main purpose of this hut was to accommodate a watchman who would raise and hue and cry when pilchards were seen swimming in the bay below. This fish was such a lucrative and easily harvested crop that it was worth the local fisherman having someone up there on permanent look-out.

Continuing downhill, our route joins Beacon Road. At the Red Lion pub turn left and walk down Newquay Hill until you fork right for the sturdy Victorian harbour. Here you’ll see the modern descendants of those men who chased pilchards still at work today. Over on the other side of Town Beach you may make out The Island, one of the most unusual places to stay in Cornwall. This one-house resort on a tiny rock is accessed by its own suspension bridge.

A morning walk from a hotel always has the potential for magic but when that hotel is right by the sea and the sun is sparkling on the waves it’s even more special.

The village of Cumnor sits on a hill southwest of Oxford. It’s a spread-out settlement with a post office and two pubs, and in Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure it was the model for the village of Lumsdon. Jude passes this way on foot in his sad journey through life, encountering his lover Sue being courted by the headmaster of Lumsdon, Phillotson.  Cumnor is also remarkable for having three houses designed by the young Clough Williams-Ellis, visionary architect of Portmeirion in Wales.

The Bear & Ragged Staff in Cumnor takes its name from the coat of arms of the Earl of Warwick. It dates from Elizabethan times and has a lovely historic core with old stone fireplaces, flagstone floors, mullioned windows, and carved lintels. You can dine well here as The Bear is a Peach Pub and Peach always has an excellent hearty menu with an excellent wine list curated by Jo Eames, one of the founders of Peach Pubs. Peach started up in 2002 and now runs 20 refurbished pubs in England.

For a morning walk I’d recommend the two miles down to Farmoor Reservoir. This will take you through the village itself, past the sub post office and village hall and all the way down Tumbledown Hill till you come to the reservoir entrance on your left. There’s a big car park here because this is a popular section of water with bird-watchers and the Oxford Sailing Club. A ramp leads up to the water’s edge from where you can see the reservoir’s trout fishery and all the boats and dinghies lined up for the day.

You’ll probably spot the odd ornithologist scanning the reservoir for black-headed gull, Eurasian coot, cormorants, greylag geese and mute swans. There’ll also be plenty of fly-fisherfolk too, hoping for rainbow trout or brown trout.

Farmoor Reservoir was completed between 1967 and 1976 and is fed by the nearby Thames. Rather than drown a valley (not easy on the wide Thames Flood Plain) the reservoir was dug deep into fields and the banks that hold it in place were created out of the soil and rubble extracted.
It’s a tranquil spot where people come together for exercise and other rural pleasures. And it’s not too far back for a Peach Pub breakfast: American Pancakes, Eggs Benedict, Smashed Avocado and Bacon Rolls from Jimmy Butler’s famous free-range pork.

The Greenway sits just outside Cheltenham in the village of Little Shurdington. It’s a rather grand country house hotel with only 21-bedrooms and breakfast served in an elegant dining room with wooden floors, silver spoon-backed chairs and some gorgeous embossed Italian wallpaper.

The Greenway also sits very close to the Cotswold Way, a 102-mile footpath, running along the Cotswold Edge escarpment and ending up south of Cheltenham in Bath. You can join this route briefly while staying at The Greenway as it passes very close to the hotel. Turn right out of the hotel drive and immediately right again up Greenway Lane in the direction of Crickley Hill. As you pass a series of huts that used to be part of a US Military Hospital – and a nuclear bunker left over from the 1960s – you’ll see signs for The Cotswold Way. Carry on up the hill and the national route passes over the road known as Leckhampton Hill. I’d peel off here after taking a view back down to Shurdington and Cheltenham. Turn right down the hill as far as The Air Balloon Roundabout and Air Balloon Pub, both of which get their  name from the hot air balloons that can often be seen in the Severn Valley below. Just after the roundabout on the right hand side of the road you can pick up the Cotswold Way again. Passing through woodland you’ll come to the Crickley Hill Café. From here it’s a gentle stroll back down to Greenway Lane and The Greenway itself. I reckon it’s a five mile walk and shouldn’t take much more than two hours.  Breakfast is under the direction of Head Chef, Abhijit Dasalkar who is also responsible for the hotel’s six-course tasting menu “Flavours of India”.

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