Review by Fiona Duncan, published 18th May 2010.
The phone rings, and it's Tiggy. "Off anywhere nice this week?" she asks, and I tell her about Bailliffscourt. "Mmm, the seaside. I think I'll come with you." This is a rare honour, as Tiggy is normally in Guatemala or Goa or somewhere equally exotic and, great friend though she is, has rarely accompanied me on my reviewing forays.
She may not again. A last-minute request for twin beds cannot be met and we end up sharing an antique oak four-poster so diminutive that the pillows we put down the middle occupy most of the available space. In the morning, I'm given a painful but usefully accurate description of my nocturnal auditory output. "It was like sleeping with Humphrey," Tiggy tells me. Humphrey is her elderly border terrier.
Mind you, anyone would have snored if they'd consumed what we did at dinner. An excellent Chilean Sauvignon Blanc disappears in record time, along with three courses of highly enjoyable food, including a starter of scallops and artichokes, a main course of (albeit rather chewy) local lobster and herb risotto, with a hot chocolate fondant to finish. Diet, what diet? We even fight over who gets the last square of homemade fudge that comes with the coffee.
We both rather love Bailliffscourt, a realistic medieval mock-up created in the Twenties by Walter Guinness, later Lord Moyne, and his wife, Evelyn. She had a passion for all things medieval; they bought land on which a small 13th-century chapel already stood and built a bewitching folly using a variety of authentic materials, from the Somerset stone walls to the vast 15th-century oak front door from South Warnborough church.
If it feels a little on the cramped and musty side, then that's authentic too; and there are eight contemporary bedrooms in separate buildings if you prefer (in keeping, but awfully new looking; hopefully they will mellow). Sadly, Lady Moyne did not live to enjoy the finished house, with its cramped interconnecting sitting rooms stuffed with tapestries, oak chests, Knowle sofas and Jacobean high-backed chairs. Lord Moyne was assassinated in 1944 in Cairo and in 1948 Bailliffscourt became a hotel.
Nowadays, of course, it boasts a spa, in a contrastingly airy building, with indoor and outdoor pools. The hotel's lawns are dotted with toy town medieval outbuildings, flowers, shrubs and peacocks, and the chef's latest experiment: caged hams hanging from trees to cure. Another eccentric touch comes in the form of Franck, the assistant restaurant manager who, despite being French, has taken to wearing a kilt. "I wore it once for Burns Night and decided I would never wear trousers again," he says.
After breakfast, Tiggy and I stroll across the meadows to the sea. On secluded Climping Beach we meet a lady walking her gaggle of Border terriers and naturally they bond. Talking of dogs, they are liberally welcome at Bailliffscourt, as are children.
- Climping (01903 723511; www.hshotels.co.uk ) Doubles from £225 per night, including breakfast. Access possible for guests with disabilities.