Within two minutes of arriving at Barnsley House I had completely fallen in love with it – and that’s before I’d even tried out the private cinema, outdoor hot tub or delicious food. All these things were yet to come, but the welcome itself was so cheerful and friendly that I already knew I was in for a treat.
I arrived in the middle of what could be called controlled chaos: it was a wintery Saturday afternoon and a recent storm had cut all power to the local village. However Barnsley House had its own generator and so alone still had heat, power, light and all the essentials of life.
Staff were welcoming waifs and strays from nearby houses, sending out food parcels to guests on site, welcoming in cold and hungry visitors from the power-free Village Pub – also owned by Barnsley House – and had even found a dog basket to house someone’s dog temporarily in reception. There were roaring fires, and cosy sofas, and coffee with biscuits: the whole atmosphere was busy but still relaxed and welcoming, and instantly made you feel as if you were in safe hands.
The feeling continued when I finally tore myself away from people-watching downstairs to find our room – number six, at the top of the immaculately-carpeted stairs. It was beautifully designed (and I preferred it to others I saw when given a guided tour later, one of which had a bath at the foot of the bed which isn’t really my thing).
There were twin beds at one end of a long room, lovely old-fashioned ceiling beams, a sofa and coffee table, coffee machine and various treats, wonderful views of the Rosemary Verey-designed garden (she was a favourite of Prince Charles) and then a large bathroom with stand-alone bath (with an impressive fountain-style tap) and separate walk-in shower at the far end.
The only slightly strange thing was having the wardrobe in the bathroom – but it was all beautifully done, right down to the personalised card which not only welcomed us to Barnsley House but helpfully listed our booked treatments and meals.
There was no time to spare though – the cinema had been booked for us from 3pm till 6pm. In the room was a list of 500 films to choose from, and it was a very impressive list too, from classics to the latest releases, Oscar-winners, old favourites, comedies…
However after much dithering we plumped for An Affair to Remember which neither of us had seen, and headed off to spend the afternoon with Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, some freshly-made popcorn courtesy of the friendly staff, and lots of gins and tonics (brought by us).
Such indulgence! We emerged afterwards feeling incredibly relaxed and as if we’d been at Barnsley House for a week or two.
The food and atmosphere in the restaurant that evening were both first-class. I had risotto with Jerusalam artichoke and black truffle to start and then parpadelle pasta with vension which were both delicious and perfect for a winter’s evening.
My mother had the potage seasonal soup followed by the chicken breast with wild mushroom and declared herself delighted by both. We shared a perfectly-done creme brulee and a sorbet and then rolled upstairs to bed, very content indeed.
Breakfast in the Barnsley House-style was very relaxed and friendly – the staff are helpful but not intrusive or fussy, the buffet was full of nice touches such as Kilner jars full of homemade jams and honey with little saucers next to them you could fill up and take back to your table, and you could have your porridge with whisky, Drambuie or clotted cream (in case you weren’t feeling indulged enough).
The spa is just across the gardens so I headed there after breakfast for a dip in the outdoor hot top, a rose body polish and Swedish massage – again, incredibly indulgent.
It was also the first spa I’d seen which actually had a section on the form you fill in before your treatment which asked what kind of music you wanted (classical, jazz, traditional spa, chill out) and whether you wanted your therapist to chat while doing the treatment, quite inspired.
I found my mother reading the papers in the relaxation room looking as if she never wanted to leave, and indeed it was a wrench to check out from somewhere so welcoming and relaxing. Everywhere you look there are little touches which show that someone is really thinking about you, from baskets full of walking guides and information about the gardens, to the rosemary sprig on napkins at dinner and the walking boot-shaped ‘do not disturb’ signs for your bedroom door.
With just 18 rooms and an adults-only policy (children are welcome at Barnsley House’s sister hotel, Calcot Manor) it is one of the nicest places I’ve stayed in all year.
Barnsley House, Barnsley, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 5EE
Phone: 01285 740000
Rooms start from £200 per room per night, including VAT.