Review by Fiona Duncan, published 10th August 2008.
Thwack! There goes another preconception, arching into the middle distance and landing, thrillingly, just yards from the flag. Heaven forbid, my friend Widge and I are even discussing when we can meet for more practice. What, us? Have we really become Ladies Who Take Up Golf in Middle Age?
Apparently so, and it’s all the fault of this hotel. We’ve just executed our first swings during an hour’s tuition on the hotel’s 18-hole course – and loved it. How we found ourselves there is simple: it was too temptingly beautiful. The grounds of Manor House, Castle Combe, are its chief glory and they meander seamlessly into its rolling golf course, threaded by the Bybrook river.
The river continues through the hotel’s carefully kept, nicely domestic gardens and parkland. Climb the majestic stone steps and you’ll find Italian gardens and beyond, an orchard, a well-stocked kitchen garden, free-range chickens and even pigs. Down in the manor’s own wooded valley, across velvety lawns that wrap round the quaint, part-Jacobean, mostly Victorian manor, a row of yellow deck chairs overlooks a pretty stretch of the river where young Ed, one of the front-of-house staff, will set you up with a morning’s fishing for brown trout if you’d rather that than golf; or you could amuse yourself with croquet or tennis.
So, you see, Manor House has everything that a traditional country-house hotel could offer, and it doesn’t have a spa, which its owners, the family-run Exclusive Hotels, probably yearn for, but Widge and I are happy to forgo.
It certainly offers appropriate food. Michelin stars are being hunted here, and the admirable Richard Davies has been recruited to capture them. Celebrating our golfing prowess (well, we occasionally managed to hit the ball) we tucked into a menu of à la mode dishes, the highlight of which was an amuse bouche that had the texture of a zabaglione, intensely flavoured with apple, celeriac and walnut.
Oh dear, here comes the sting in the tail. We enjoyed our dinner, but how we disliked the dreary dining room with its mauve wall and barn-like proportions. And how gloomy and depressing we found the seven separate reception rooms, to which we could have taken our drinks before dinner: not one of them appealed, so old hat were their too-shiny chesterfields, patterned armchairs and dire, saggy cushions. The swarm of black, uniform tables and chairs on the lawn outside struck a jarring note, too.
We were much more keen on our bedroom, nothing too fancy but most appealing with its original shutters, black and white tiled bathroom floor and handsome antiques, though others I saw, like the ground floor, were also in need of decorative rejuvenation. Until that happens, Manor House can’t bear comparison with its closest rival, the gloriously decorated Lucknam Park. Mind you, Lucknam doesn’t have a golf course…
Castle Combe, near Bath (01249 782206; www.exclusivehotels.co.uk ). Double rooms from £180 per night, including breakfast. One specially adapted room for guests with disabilities.