Is a hotel the sort of place you really want to bring children? Well actually yes, or at least why not as we were quite last minute in our search for a couple of days away from the roost. We wanted to celebrate a big anniversary and break up the endless half term with a trip to the West Country. Also, our trip to Devon as I wrote last time, had sadly been cancelled.
The Victorian mock Gothic Hotel with Italianate tower was owned by a Celebrity Chef, less than one and a half hours from our door, though a traffic jam made it twice as long. It was dark when we got there but the rooms had been booked, and we were looking forward to our celebration meal and an earlyish night.
Confusion at the Reception desk. Our two rooms – a double and another with twin beds close together on the same floor, couldn’t be found. There were now two members of staff crowding around the computer trying to find a solution. Quarter of an hour later. Would we mind taking a family suite in the modern annex down the driveway and much nearer the main road. Well yes as we wanted to stay in the atmospheric main building – an old house full of character, and decorated to the taste of the Celebrity Chef (who I’ll call CC from now on). Still, six pm and dark, we were too tired to get in the car and find somewhere else, so we dragged ourselves and bags down the gravel path, to new building, up in the lift, into the modern suite and, after starting to unpack, watched as the stocky mustachioed man picked up the phone and listened to an update from Reception. They’d double-booked this room too and we couldn’t stay there after all. Slumped back to main house. More muttering and staring at the computer by increasing numbers of staff. Eventually we were offered their two best rooms – the Bridal Suite and a Deluxe Double. Can live with that. So we thought.
In short, Bridal Suite was on three floors. It had a double bedroom and bath, then up some stairs was a room with a 4 ft wicker chaise long and no bed. Up some more stairs a tower room with single bed and wonderful views from 6 stone gothic windows on two outside walls. No curtains or blinds, but what better way to wake up when the sun rises. No lazy sleep-ins for us! Then there was the line-up of dead flies and wasps between the window recesses. They may have been placed there as a work of art, as was the interestingly designed mildew creeping up the architraves – after all there were a couple of Damien Hirst dot paintings in the dining room.
And as CC was clearly friends with him, then it would only take a short leap of the imagination to recognise the black men’s underpants left on the bathroom floor to be the work of Tracey Emin! We couldn’t have be more excited to be ALMOST rubbing shoulders with such eminent artists.
The Deluxury Double was dominated by a dark carved oak four poster bed which was possibly designed for the diminutive King Charles I. Even without his big puffy wig, he may have had trouble stretching out. We did, but sleeping with your legs bent at right angles to our bodies was nothing if not excellent practise for the ski slopes next season, so no complaints there.
I also liked the very modern way we were encouraged to sit Japanese style on the floor if we wanted a cup of tea in the room, as the electric cord from the kettle to the plug wasn’t long enough to put it on the table.
We preferred this bathroom with its frosted window and single-setting monsoon shower (fantastic for giving the floor a quick wash down while abluting), to the one in the Bridal Suite which had clear glass looking out over the car park. The loo there was cleverly placed right next to the window so the view was useful for car-watching – especially the ones that swept into the forecourt with their headlights on. The loo seat was great too for getting rid of that annoying cellulite: every time one stood up, the heavy wooden lid came crashing down on your bum, so within two days your orange peel is almost guaranteed to vanish. Sadly children wouldn’t be the first to appreciate this fact – especially little boys going for a pee in the middle of the night.
You’d never be in doubt for a moment about who owned the hotel. CC had cleverly hung upwards of about forty black & white photographs of himself on the walls of all public areas. Here he is waving his kitchen implements like a Delacroix on the barricades, there, naked and prone like a model that Caravaggio was about to do, or posing with a keffiyeh wound around his head and sharp knife in hand. We were relieved to see that here, clearly, was a man in charge. A man who believes in himself enough to put down his own stamp. Again and again. A man who knows his mind and isn’t afraid to show it. But most important of all – a man who knows the hotel business inside out.
One of the things we thought was most impressive was how eco CC was. None of the bulbs in the hotel could have been higher than 5 Watts, so although it was hard to see at times, for the most part we took it in our stride. Apart from tripping over the shallow stair just inside the bedroom door.
The staff couldn’t have been more helpful, though I did worry about the morning Receptionist being a little cold going into November. Perhaps her Living Wage doesn’t provide for a cardigan, but luckily she had quite a Winter covering in other ways. I can understand that a crisp white shirt – however certain it is to give a good impression at the front desk – is a frightful hassle to wash and iron. Again, very ECO, so two stars right there as I say to the children.
Our favourite person wasn’t CC. Sadly he wasn’t around when we were there despite helpfully making his presence felt throughout. No, our vote for the best ever staff member was Manuel. At least, I don’t know his real name but just think Manuel from Fawlty Towers with a West Country accent. I know he had our best interests at heart.
Because we had been told by the Housekeeper that the tap water in the Bridal Suite wasn’t fit for drinking as it was full of chlorine, my husband called Room Service at night to ask for bottled water and a glass. Mr Mustachio answered the phone and gave him an instructive lecture as to why he didn’t need it. Eventually, though, he was persuaded upstairs with a bottle of drinking water. At the door, he again he remonstrated with husband that there was nothing wrong with the water from the tap. Here was a dedicated professional who had learnt the art of service from his boss.
At least we slept well. When we got home. It was great to hear so many guests enjoying themselves – revellers crashing up the stairs and around the landing at 2.30am. And so lucky to be woken up early by the slamming of doors, as I’d left the alarm clock at home. Nothing worse than oversleeping on holiday! During the small hours, and having brought no reading matter, I found the only book on the bookshelf that wasn’t about military equipment. I am proud, I think, to tell you that I have now read SIX CHAPTERS of a Catherine Cookson novel. On my wedding anniversary. At least I think I read it as the bedside lamp was so dim and was so obscured by the brocade drape around the four poster, that I might just have imagined it all. But then, so did Catherine Cookson.
The best thing about this place was the restaurant. The local radio station blasted out some useful traffic and weather updates in between the commercial breaks from a small radio on the floor. Just what you need to start the day.
In the final analysis, the food was very good and the staff did what they could in the face of adversity. I’ve spoken with CountryWives who recommended CC’s restaurant in London for a wedding venue. But would we stay here again? If they paid us a couple of thousand … perhaps