The Old Bell faces south towards the River Avon which means it gets sunshine most of the day. Light floods into the spacious dining room where you can enjoy Old Bell Tapas (a meal in itself) before walking round the abbey and its gardens. Founded in the seventh century, the Abbey of St Peter and St Paul was one of the most important religious buildings in Anglo-Saxon times. King Athelstan was buried here in 941 AD and by the eleventh century the abbey owned the second-largest library in Europe. In the days before Britain had universities, scholars flocked to Malmesbury.
The town remains an attractive place to wander although the abbey was reduced to half its original size centuries ago by two thunderstorms. The ivy-clad Old Bell hotel was originally part of the abbey complex and today is a stylish and restful place for the weekend.
Maison Talbooth sits on a bluff above the Stour river valley and enjoys the early morning sun that falls on open fields opposite and also some lovely evening sunshine at this time of year. A converted Victorian house in walking distance of lovely Dedham village, the hotel's views stretch as far as the church of Stratford St Mary, a landscape painted on more than one occasion by John Constable.
There are just twelve very spacious bedrooms at Maison Talbooth plus a delightful outdoor swimming pool that is well-protected from any Autumnal winds. Lunch and dinner is taken at Le Talbooth which is a gentle stroll away, although the hotel also runs a shuttle. Once a pair of cottages with their own quayside and lime kiln on the River Stour, Le Talbooth was turned into a first-class restaurant by Gerald Milsom. Its lawns run down to the river and are a lovely place for a pre-prandial drink during the last rays of sunshine.
With its luxurious spa pool resembling a sunken Ancient Greek temple you might be tempted to spend all your time indoors at Alexander House, but this rural hotel is also a significant sun trap. Its position, facing south over the Sussex countryside, means that the hotel gets sun most of the day. First thing in the morning it's bright over the colonnaded main entrance. In the afternoon it shines on to the balconies of the new Cedar Lodge Suites, and it floods the spa garden and wedding gazebo as sunset approaches.
Alexander House began life as a Jacobean manor house in 1608 and has been extended cleverly twice, first in the nineteenth century and then in 2006 by the Alexander Hotel Group. But the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who allegedly lived here briefly, would still recognise this rural retreat. He may even have written his poem “Sunset” about Alexander House:
There now the sun had sunk, but lines of gold
Hung on the ashen clouds, and on the points
Of the far level grass and nodding flowers
Setting aside the seasons, this is also a good hotel for fine dining. AG's, under Executive Chef Darrel Wilde, is a 3 AA Rosette Restaurant and the 1608 champagne bar stocks 145 fine wines and 30 hand-picked Champagnes.
Hartwell House has a remarkable history. Over the last thousand years it's been home to - amongst many others - William the Conqueror's illegitimate son; Wicked King John, Louis XVIII (the exiled French king who was restored after Waterloo), and Gustavus IV of Sweden, another exiled king.
It's not surprising then that the house has wonderful grounds for lapping up the autumn sunshine, a total of 90 acres laid out by Capability Brown in his familiar style of smooth undulating grass, scattered trees and serpentine lakes. This parkland dates from the 1750s when the then owner, Sir William Lee, commissioned that equestrian statue of George III's son, Frederick Prince of Wales, which stands in the centre of a long line of trees leading up the house. The views north, east and south from Hartwell have that idyllic English sense of the pastoral and are enhanced by a charming collection of eighteenth-century pavilions, temples and towers.
There's an irony about the lovely Autumnal views you get from the front of Wood Hall down to the woods below. It's actually thanks to Oliver Cromwell's troops that the hall is up here because during the English Civil War they destroyed the original manor house which stood down below on the banks of the River Wharfe. So complete was the destruction in fact that all the stonework was thrown into the river and the original carved coat of arms of the de Wodenhalle family was only fished out this century.(It can now be seen in the hotel entrance).
Fast forward a hundred years and in 1750 a new Wood Hall was being designed for the wealthy Scott family whose architect, John Carr of Yorkshire, was keen that their new neoclassical building should be up here on the heights overlooking the Wharfe Valley.
Completed around 1790, Wood Hall has been a place of peace and relaxation ever since. The presence of a Carmelite monastery in the grounds only adds to the tranquillity.
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