Review by Fiona Duncan, published 26th April 2009.
I don't know how other people find Butley Priory (it doesn't feature in the guide books) but I have my friend Penny, who lives nearby, to thank for alerting me to this delightful, one-off place. The architecture of the house is one-off; the owner Frances Shelley, an accomplished musician, is one-off; even Lily the Jack Russell and Skimp the hefty cat are one-offs: they give the most riveting performances of play fighting, standing on their hind legs and boxing one another, that you'll ever witness. Oh, and Lily's predecessor, who now lies permanently asleep on a window seat thanks to the art of taxidermy, is pretty one-off too.
Don't stay at Butley Priory if you like everything just so or if faded antique fabrics, Indian lanterns, shabby chic furniture, creaky floorboards, the odd belching pipe, an open fire in your bedroom, a bathroom in a cupboard and breakfast served at 9.30am are not, despite style and panache, your cup of tea. "It's Frances," said the voice on the other end of the phone, in response to my message asking for a room, in which I mentioned Penny. "We do have a room for you and please let me give you dinner; I shall ask Penny and Charlie too."
Butley Priory is a b & b establishment. Dinner is normally offered only if you take the whole house and six guest bedrooms on an exclusive-use basis (including for romantic weddings). We, however – thanks to Penny – got lucky and dined in style in the great hall, with its magnificent quadripartite vaulted ceiling and row of church candles flickering on the mantelpiece. Other friends had been invited to join the party: a splendid champion of local food producers who was about to appear on Desert Island Discs; a retired businessman preparing to fly around the world in his Cessna. Unexpected company in an unexpected place, and the sort of unexpected treat I love.
And I think that Butley Priory is the sort of treat that you will love too. Built as the gatehouse of a long disappeared Augustinian priory, its endearing shape and exuberant decoration on the outside, and its soaring ceilings, elegantly proportioned Georgian bedrooms and quirky nooks and crannies inside, are unique and romantic. To say nothing of the surrounding woods, smothered in daffodils in spring.
Our gracious apricots-and-cream bedroom was the one with the shower room in a classically styled cupboard: amusing, if cramped inside. The large bed was covered in fresh white linen, and there were roses and freesias in a pretty jug. In the morning, we lit the fire in our grate and read our books until breakfast, served at white-clothed tables in front of the fire in a great stone hearth.
Frances or her assistant help guests to plan their day: a circular walk to Orford with lunch at the Butley Oysterage; to Aldeburgh, perhaps, or the isolated Ramsholt Arms on the River Deben. Such a lovely house; so much to do. Who needs abroad?
Near Woodbridge (01394 450046; www.butleypriory.co.uk) Doubles from £75 per night, including breakfast. Not suitable for guests with disabilities.