I met someone recently who described their working relationship with London as having the worst of both worlds. They would commute in from the South via train, then leave before the fun started, all while being on the busiest trains of all. Without moving to London, they were missing out on an array of nightlife, restaurants and culture. And getting home late meant not really experiencing what their own neighbourhood had either. I think we’re all a bit guilty of this at times. Sometimes when I get the train in to ‘the big smoke’ I feel overwhelmed at the number of people all going in the same direction as me. But I have found it’s usually me that’s rushing, not them, and if I take a step back and few deep breaths in, I realise how much I love London’s hustle and bustle. It’s a funny time of year for the city, suitcases have replaced briefcases, people are either on holiday or going on holiday and London is, whisper it, quiet. If you’re looking for a little escapism yourself, here are a few ideas…
Callow Hall, Peak District
Staying in a Wildhive at Callow Hall is going to be very difficult to beat. The estate was taken on by Charles Randall and Ed Burrows and opened in September 2021. This pair of charismatic chaps might sound familiar as they have won a number of awards since opening Callow Hall, including GQ’s Best Hotel Award at the GQ Food and Drink awards. I met this fabulous duo when they were just down the road from me as the previous owners of Barnsdale Lodge in Rutland. I had a very ‘long lunch’ once at Barnsdale when I was interviewing a naughty fellow called Edwin de Lisle and pretty much got the sack after, it was a fantastic venue. They’ve moved on from there and they’ve been graduating North, thank goodness, for what the North lacks in abundance (which of course is some of its charm) is luxury. Callow Hall is the pinnacle of luxury. From the hall itself to the hives, tucked away amongst wild foxgloves and ferns, every detail has been thought through to make your stay seamlessly special. We were in a hive aptly named ‘The Roost’ towards the rear of the wood, overlooking fields and forests, a view that certainly didn’t get old from the external copper tub. What is it about outdoor baths that gets us going? I think it’s the nudity in nature, it doesn’t get more relaxing and freeing that that. I have to say that if the food in the restaurant wasn’t so extraordinary, I don’t think you’d have got me out of the hive. I’d have survived on Pol Roger and crisps for the trip just so I could tree bathe and talk to squirrels. But of course, the food and wine were sublime too, and such an exciting menu on all accounts, so we pulled ourselves away from the comforting scents of oak, to the light and airy dining room within the hall itself. Whenever I am out, I try to make the most of the fish options on the menu because while I love fish, I hate cooking it at home. Every single course was perfection and you know when you’re just so looked after? That.
While in your hive you feel like you are very secluded and tucked away, there’s actually plenty to do nearby. Whether you explore on bike or by Caterham…it’s a jolly part of the world to survey. We popped to Chatsworth House, remarkable really that a lump of that size is classed as a ‘house’. It’s really worth a visit, we did the house and gardens and while I always enjoy being nosy in a house it was slightly claustrophobic following people round. There’s also quite a tragic wing fit for a visit from the King after a tumultuous history but alas, he never did visit. The gardens on the other hand have ample space and the rock garden was larger than something I could ever imagine. Statues around every corner, just that wonderful sense of extravagance that modern England could never reproduce. The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire also have their own wine which was quite exciting to see, especially as they’ve chosen little AOC Touraine for their Sauvignon Blanc. Lovely to see!
Back to Callow Hall and things get even better…there’s a beauty room! If waking up to matured trees outside your bedroom window and bathing in the woods hasn’t relaxed you enough you could go that step further and treat yourself to a massage. If a massage isn’t your thing there are plenty of other treatments available. There is also a gym and an array of bicycles to borrow if you feel like pedalling off your lunch. It truly is a magical place to stay, it’s as if you’re a woodland elf for a long weekend and to top it all off, you can take your dog.
The Newt in Somerset
From Paddington you can catch a train to Castle Cary, a quaint little station known for delivering Glastonbury goers. It’s a straight-forward journey that takes you directly to a rolling tapestry countryside of designer cows and crops. Somerset has had a ‘glow-up’ these past few years. The Newt in Somerset has its own following, then there’s the attraction of Hauser & Wirth too, an art lover’s paradise. Then there is The Newt. I went on the Great Garden Escape just before Chelsea Flower Show, of which The Newt is the headline sponsor which seems to have just transformed the entire atmosphere of Chelsea Flower Show in one refreshing swoop. The Great Garden Escape is entirely separate but a very clever idea to get Londoners to Somerset for the day, everything included. For example, we were treated to a hamper of Newt goodies for breakfast on the (pre-booked, First Class) train down. It was perhaps one of the best croissants I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of croissants. At lunchtime, we sat down for a very fresh and seasonal lunch with Babylonstoren (The Newt & Babylonstoren are the same owners) wines to accompany everything and we were polished off food-wise with an Afternoon tea on the train home, it was all just so bloody cute. I took my mum along and we marvelled at the garden’s and thoroughly enjoyed a very informative cyder tasting…yes, that’s cyder with a Y. The Newt in Somerset is home to some historic apple trees which have since turned into orchards. The cyder is made in the traditional method, similar to Champagne just with apples. Sort of. I have learnt that it’s a very serious tipple not to be taken lightly and with a variety of different flavours (apples) to work with, the possibilities are very exciting. The Newt are very much putting their Cyder on the map as a drink to pair with food as the range extends from very dry to a beautiful cider version of an ice wine which is off dry and a real sweet treat, perfect for pudding.
The Great Garden Escape started in May 2022 and will run until 24th September 2022. It is available on The Newt’s website: thenewtinsomerset.com for £335pp including First Class travel, guided tours, tastings, breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea plus a 12-month membership to The Newt’s gardens to enjoy at your own leisure.
Horwood House, The Great Escape
Horwood House in Buckinghamshire are offering an entirely different experience in secluded secretive bliss. The estate has been many things in its time including stables, a school, a business centre and now a hotel. They’ve invested a huge amount of hard work into making it somewhere to escape to and there’s a huge amount of charm surrounding the house. The garden errs on the side of being forgotten but by no means are they wild. It just gives you that quite egotistical belief that perhaps you’re the only person to have ventured into them while knowing full well a lawn mower has made it there before you. The Grape Escape package is part of the hotel wanting to support local businesses and just as well they are! It was my first visit to Chafor vineyard and I left laden with bottles and a new outlook on English wine. Tim, a previous IT consultant, took on the land and planted vines in 2003. He decided to plant traditional varieties like you see in Champagne but also some Bacchus as he was aware it could cope with the English climate. I won’t go into too much more detail other than that Tim works really bloody hard and has experimented with a lot of still wines as well as his incredible award-winning sparkling. The experimentation has really paid off, the wines are ridiculously good. We feel in love with the white Pinot Noir and actually, just thinking about it, I may have to run down to the cellar and remind myself how good it is. If you’re struggling to picture where I am in the country, it’s very close to Silverstone Circuit, a stone’s throw in fact. Horwood House is just a 20-minute scenic journey from the vineyard so once you have had your tour and tasting (including a very delicious cheese board,) you can taxi back with ease. You then have full access to the spa at the hotel so that you can unwind (unwine) and relax before dinner at Harry’s Bar in the evening then a very comfortable night’s sleep. The package is for a deluxe suite which has a little extra living room than a regular sized hotel room. We decided we wanted to pack the Labrador so we were very happy in a dog-friendly room instead, as was Moss. I would recommend taking your dog as long if it’s well behaved as there are so many delightful walks, including at the vineyard itself.
The Grape Escape includes everything from the wine tour and tasting to the stay in the room…there is more info on their website: horwoodhouse.co.uk and it is £162.50pp
The Double Red Duke
It couldn’t be a feature about escaping to the countryside without somewhere in the Cotswolds now could it. We visited The Double Red Duke in the Caterham, thank goodness, because we stopped at Daylesford on the way and let me tell you about all the things that you don’t need but you will want. They have a whole room designated for scents, which is my downfall, candles galore. I am also like a bee to honey when I see anything lime green and they had an entire collection of lime green things. I don’t even like napkins but I wanted them. There is also, and this is where it gets really bad, a new wine shop. With limited boot space in the silly car, we escaped relatively unscathed with some chilli jam (also an addiction) and some new (lime green rimmed) plates and maybe a few bottles. Amazing what you can fit in when it comes to bottles. Every little Cotswold village we passed on the way to The Double Red Duke was a delight, other than the bus loads of tourists, it was every bit the countryside escape. We arrived at The Double Red Duke and parked the Caterham in-between a Range Rover Sport and a Ferrari which made me joyous, I love cars, I have no time for pre-conceived assumptions of the owners, beautiful cars are beautiful cars. For balance, there was a Fiat 500 too, still an exceptional little car.
They have been very clever with how they have positioned the planting of the garden. You feel enveloped in the beautiful-ness but also tucked away from the road, it’s all gorgeous. There is also the classic red and white candy cane umbrellas of the Country Creatures brand which is where The Double Red Duke stems from, they also own The Swan in Ascott-under-Wychwood and The Chequers in Churchill, so it’s a super exciting time for them. The interior is ridiculously brilliant and very to my taste, dark rooms, light rooms, moody rooms, funky art, funky wine, traditional food, lots of velvet, I was in my element. We were there on a Sunday so after an intro of Negroni’s (hair of the dog too, hardcore) we were tucking into a ridiculously good roast beef with a Gamay/Pinot Noir blend by Saint-Pourçain in the Loire valley. I love Gamay but I was especially impressed by this wine, and the bottle it came in. There can be no prejudice when ordering from a restaurant menu in terms of label preferences…
Our room was very comfortable with an old-fashioned throne style loo. I’ve spoken in the past about judging venues by their loos and The Double Red Duke does excel at loos, 10/10, would wee there again. The bed was also delightfully comfy, the only difficulty we had was leaving the next day after such a generous breakfast. Blissful. To book, visit: www.countrycreatures.com/double-red-duke.