It’s where James Bond beat Goldfinger in possibly the most famous golf match in cinema history, where Bridget Jones ditched singleton life for a weekend away with boss Daniel Cleaver and where Teri Hatcher and Pierce Brosnan (as another Bond) danced the night away in Tomorrow Never Dies, so a stay at Stoke Park luxury hotel and country club certainly comes with high expectations.
After being trapped in for hours in Bank Holiday roadworks hell, the five-star hotel Rockliffe Hall Darlington in in County Durham was a more than welcome sight. Set in 375 acres of parkland, the original building dates from the 1800s, but over the years the 61-room hotel has been extended to include a highly-rated 50,000 ft spa and three restaurants, two of which overlook its 18-hole Championship golf course.
Thanks to the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the A1, my visit turned out to be a flying one, with no time for a round of golf or even a stroll round the lush-looking gardens.
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However I could admire them from my vast hotel room, which had a huge bed, massive amounts of storage space, a separate bath and shower and French windows which opened out onto my very own patio.
Calling a hotel ‘family-friendly’ often means that those travelling without children run a mile in the opposite direction, but the luxury Foxhills spa and golf hotel is so vast that all ages and groups can thoroughly enjoy themselves without crashing in on someone’s else’s peace and tranquility.
Set on a 400-acre estate in Surrey, handily just a few miles from the M25 and M3 motorways, Foxhills is such a size that your room key comes with a very useful map of the grounds. It’s perfect for sporty types as there are two 18-hole championship golf courses and a smaller 9-hole one, 11 tennis courts, three swimming pools (one indoors, two open-air) and a spa, all surrounding the main building, the 19th century Manor House.
I arrived in the pouring rain which meant that the tennis courts were empty and the clubhouse was packed with people who would have rather been out on the fairway. However in the classic British summer way, within half an hour the sun was shining and Foxhills was transformed. Check-in was quick and friendly and a jug of a refreshing non-alcoholic cocktail for guests was a nice touch.
There was nothing around to disturb the peace of my morning stroll around the 300 acres of Hertfordshire countryside which surrounds The Grove hotel – nothing, that is, until a helicopter suddenly swooped down and landed on the immaculate lawn just outside the main building.
Any hotel where the guests arrive by air is usually full of the super-rich or the super-busy, but thankfully The Grove is large enough to absorb all sorts of guests without feeling too full. In fact one of the best things about our stay is that in spite of there being 225 rooms at The Grove – 26 in the older Mansion House and 191 in the more modern West Wing – it never felt crowded.
Owned by the Ralph Trustees, the privately-owned family group which also owns the Athenaeum and Runnymede hotels, The Grove used to be the family seat of the Earls of Clarendon before becoming, over the decades, a gardening school, health centre, riding school and a girls’ boarding school.
It was even the secret HQ for the London, Midland & Scottish Railway during the war and was bought by its current owners in 1996 who rescued it from near ruins.
Opened as a hotel in 2004, The Grove now attracts a rather well-heeled clientele, with the vast car park full of the more expensive type of car – Jaguars, Daimlers and even a Rolls-Royce could be seen next to my rather more humble Fiat 600 . It also has its own 7,152 yard championship course which has played host to the likes of Tiger Woods, and its popular luxury spa, Sequoia.
There are worse things to do on a Monday morning than to be out in the glorious sunshine being taught how to play golf by a rather charming golf pro at the Centurion golf club.
Thankfully, said pro – Nick Ansell – did not seem to mind that almost all of my previous golfing experience had been on the crazy golf courses at Bognor Regis, Bournemouth, Boscombe and several campsites in Northern France.
In fact he could not have been more welcoming and friendly, which was just as well as the brand new Centurion Club, just a few miles from St Alban’s, prides itself on being extremely welcoming and friendly, particularly to women.