Exactly 600 years ago, the Bel and The Dragon coaching inn was built in the pretty Berkshire town of Cookham and six centuries later, I took a friend with me to stay at the pub and see what it was actually like. Well, you don’t want to rush these things…
While it is officially 600 years old – there’s even an sign outside showing the date it was built, making it one of the oldest pubs in Britain – the Cookham Bel and The Dragon is now part of a thoroughly modern seven-strong Bel and The Dragon chain, part-owned by entrepreneur Joel Cadbury. It might have a long history but since the late 1980s it had been sadly neglected and was barely trading when bought out of administration. Now Cadbury and his business partner Ollie Vigors have spent several years (and no small amount of money) restoring the pub to its former glory, much to the delight of local residents.
In fact, my expectations of Bel and The Dragon had been pretty high before I had even set foot in Cookham, which isn’t always a good thing: just a few days before at a press party in London I had mentioned I was staying there at the weekend and a whole group of people – who turned out to be from nearby Bray – had excitedly talked over each other to tell me just how fabulous it was and how its head chef, Ronnie Kimbugwe, was just the very best. After such a write-up, it seemed that Bel and The Dragon could only suffer in reality. Continue reading Fine dining and summer cocktails at the 600-year old coaching inn Bel and The Dragon, Cookham→
If your idea of a perfect summer’s day is afternoon tea (or a gin and tonic) on a beautiful lawn in the sunshine, The Manor House luxury hotel in the pretty Cotswolds village of Castle Combe, Wiltshire, is the place to be.
There you can immerse yourself in the Sunday papers (or even a game of lawn chess) with nothing to disturb you but the gentle chirp of birdsong, the occasional splash from the herons fishing in the stream running through the grounds and occasionally someone coming to ask if you’d like something more to eat or drink.
A circle of little hills wraps around The Manor House’s 365 acres, making the hotel feel cosy and protected from the outside world. Little seems to have changed here for centuries. The same can be said of the village of Castle Combe itself, a vision in pale Cotswold stone. From the stone bridge over the babbling brook at the bottom of the village to the 14th century market cross at the top, Castle Combe looks as if it has come straight out of a Cotswold calendar or the lid of a box of chocolates.
If it seems familiar, that’s because it is: Castle Combe has been the setting for a host of films and TV series, from Doctor Dolittle and War Horse to Doctor Thorne and most recently the hugely popular Japanese anime series Kiniro Mosaic, also known as Kinmoza.
The grounds of The Manor House itself circle the village like a warm embrace, with its driveway sweeping from its gates at the southerly end of Castle Combe village to the lawns in front of the hotel, past an ornate Italian garden and a row of workers’ cottages (now converted into bedrooms) before emerging at the top of the village. Continue reading A picture-perfect Cotswolds stay at The Manor House, Castle Combe→
If 2017 Six Nations champions England need somewhere to recharge their batteries after this year’s bruising contest then they needn’t travel very far: their training ground at Pennyhill Park luxury hotel in Surrey is just a drop kick away from one of the finest spas in the country. Covering 45,000 sq ft and with eight indoor and outdoor pools (one with underwater music), saunas, steam rooms, bubbling hot tubs, ice-cold plunge pools and a salt scrub ice cave, the spa at Pennyhill Park is one of those places where you could happily spend a whole day (and night – sitting outdoors in a jacuzzi as the sun goes down makes for a memorable evening).
For guests – or rugby internationals – who like to work a little harder, there’s a gym, nine-hole golf course, tennis courts and 120 acres of parkland with paths and cycling trails, while those who want to fully indulge can pad to the spa’s restaurant in their fluffy towelling robes for a spot of lunch, or have drinks and snacks delivered to their loungers from the al fresco poolside bar.
Pennyhill Park has been the training home of the England rugby team since their World Cup-winning performance in 2003, but the hotel itself dates back to the 19th century. After a succession of owners, Pennyhill Park was bought by Exclusive Hotels in 1982 who expanded it considerably from its original 17 bedrooms.
Now there are more than 120 bedrooms ranging from doubles to suites and junior suites, some with four-poster beds, balconies, private patios and even a Roman-style marble bath. (See their website for all the different styles). This expansion does mean that the hotel is vast – you definitely need the map you get at check in, which reveals the various wings, terraces and gardens at Pennyhill Park. Continue reading Pennyhill Park – a luxury hotel fit for the England rugby team→
Back in January 2015 I wrote a blog post in defence of little yellow photobombing cars, as the car owned by Peter Maddox, 82-year old resident of Bibury village in the Cotswolds, had attracted the ire of tourists come to photograph Arlington Row, supposedly one of the prettiest streets in England. They were complaining that their photographs of said street were being ruined by Mr Maddox’s cheerful little Vauxhall Corsa. Now it seems the car has been sent to that great Vauxhall garage in the sky by a vandal who destroyed Mr Maddox’s car beyond repair, while scrawling ‘move it’ on the bonnet.
Not only is this a horrible thing to do to anyone or their car, it totally misses the point of visiting living, breathing places inhabited by living, breathing people (and their means of transport): one of the attractions of Cotswolds villages such as Bibury is that they are real places, not museums covered in dust or protective barriers. If you want an uninterrupted, sterile, pristine picture of something – buy a postcard. Otherwise be happy that you had the privilege of travelling the world and recording what you see – not an artificial, sanitised version of it.
So in defence (once again) and now in memory of photobombing little yellow cars everywhere, here’s my Fiat spoiling (or enhancing) the view at some of the loveliest hotels in the UK.
There is something rather special about a rooftop bar in London. The views might not be spectacular – we’re not taking Rio or Hong Kong harbour here – but to rise above the traffic and gaze down at the crowds from on high feels incredibly luxurious. Good rooftop bars in the capital are few and far between, so the arrival of a new one is cause for celebration. Enter the Aviary, the rooftop bar and restaurant on top of Montcalm luxury hotels group’s sixth and newest hotel, Montcalm Royal London House.
I visited on a cold winter’s evening, so my friend and I had the pick of dozens of comfy sofas and retro chairs on the deserted terrace, while more sensible patrons enjoyed their cocktails in the warmth of the restaurant inside. However there were heaters and thick blankets so we were able to enjoy the delights of the Aviary’s eclectic cocktail list al fresco – a sour cherry bomb with Sipsmith vodka and rhubarb bitters was especially tasty.