Great Brampton House, Herefordshire
“Splendidly eccentric, antique packed bolthole from Martin Miller”
Review by Fiona Duncan, published 27th July 2011.
'The trouble with country-house hotels,” long-time hotelier Martin Miller told me, “is that I don’t much like them any more. They’ve become so hard to run, not least because you have to cope with non-residents – afternoon teas and all that stuff. I don’t mind residents: I’m sticking to them from now on.”
We were chatting by the fire in the vast and frothy Wedgewood Room at Miller’s latest (residents-only) venture. When Great Brampton House, formerly run as an antiques emporium on a grand scale, came up for auction, it pretty much had his name on it. Now it sports two huge gorilla sculptures atop the gateposts; as soon as I saw them I knew I’d arrived at the right place.
Britain has an honourable tradition of personable, mildly eccentric hosts who open their homes to paying guests, and as the country-house hotel continues to lose its edge – too difficult to run for the owner, too expensive for the guests – we will, I’m sure, see an increase in their number. Miller and his wife Ioana have put their Somerset country-house hotel, Glencot Manor, on the market. In its place, Miller’s Hideaway at Great Brampton House is their new work-in-progress receptacle for Miller’s extraordinary collection of antiques, books, objects of curiosity and never-ending flow of ideas and projects.
Where to walk
The house sits on the edge of the beautiful Golden Valley that leads up to Hay in the lee of the Black Mountains and includes the magnificent Cistercian Dore Abbey. The Black Mountains are almost flat-topped. Their summit is a lofty plain running gently away south, a wilderness of dun grass and clumpy heather slashed with deep valleys. The plateau can be explored from half magical spots such as Capel-y-ffin, whose monastery was once the home of the great carver and type designer Eric Gill, and the ruins of the priory at Llanthony, now partially occupied by a tiny hotel.
Towns and activities
You can fish on the Wye at Glanusk Estate, Crickhowell (01873 810414;www.glanuskestate.com) and find canoes at Wye Valley Canoes (01497 847213; www.wyevalleycanoes.co.uk) at Glasbury Bridge. Hereford is six miles away, with its fine cathedral housing the Mappa Mundi. Hay-on-Way is also close at hand, and makes a good joint expedition into the Black Mountains.
Where to eat
A wonderful, idiosyncratic pub to match the idiosyncrasy of Miller’s Hideaway is the Bull’s Head at Craswall (01981 510616;www.thebullsheadcraswall.co.uk), with very good food. Also excellent is the River Café (with b & b) on the river at Glasbury (01497 847007;www.wyevalleycanoes.co.uk/rivercafe), a spot of laid-back hip in Herefordshire serving good Italian dishes and excellent coffee, cakes and pastries.
“Well, you’ve got to keep busy,” he said, as, between courses at a dining table sparkling with china and crystal, he led his guests into the garden to put the ducks and chickens to bed. We passed a tree trunk covered in plates (“the crockatree”) and a long line of life-size model sheep.
“See over there? I’m building a huge aviary. And these huts are going to be artists’ studios. Tomorrow we’re hiring a cherry picker and putting this life-size cow half way up that tree. This workshop is where I’m going to design and build fabulous four-posters for all the guest bedrooms.”
What you’ll want to know is that restless, inventive and mildly eccentric though Martin may be (his Miller’s Gin has been a huge success, and his deep knowledge of antiques was reflected in the bestselling Miller’s Guide to Antiques), his paying guests are very well cared for and, in the manner of a private club, put up in gracious rooms, served delicious home-cooked breakfasts and dinners (either communally or separately) and given a generous supply, should you want it, of drink.
Pop into the kitchen for a cup of tea, doze in the drawing room or wander about the house and its adjoining art gallery and absorb the myriad objects, from Chinese porcelain and Indonesian hand puppets to a vast collection of rum, as well as framed examples of Miller’s poetry and his astonishing art installation, Metromorphosis.
Though his interiors may look like a happy accident, there’s method in his madness and not a pair of antlers, teetering pile of books or crooked painting is out of place. Every richly coloured reception room, every corridor and every luxurious velvet-and-damask bedroom has the feel of an Aladdin’s cave. Enter his benign world for a night or two and succumb to its peculiar, and peculiarly English, charms.
- Great Brampton House, Madley, Herefordshire (01981 250912;www.greatbramptonhouse.co.uk). Doubles from £150, including breakfast. Not suitable for guests with disabilities
The Hotel Guru verdict
Traditional, antique-packed; choose a cool modern, bathroom or a fun avocado-retro one
House-party style; housekeeper Camilla welcomes, cooks and keeps smiling
One thing a Miller residence is never short on
|Food and drink|
Excellent home cooking from a set menu
|Value for money|
Good value if it’s your sort of place; dinner, with wine, at £25, is a bargain.