The rolling hills of leafy Cheshire inspire NICK HAMMOND to new heights. Well, his kids, anyway…
My feet are squarely braced on terra firma, but I’ve still got no head for heights. I’m sweating profusely and my neck muscles are taut and aching. Some of you may recall a previous experience with high wires, trees and a general sense of foreboding; it didn’t end well.
So, in the fashion of a laboratory rat, I have learned from the experience and remained safely on the ground. It’s my two young daredevil daughters that are now the cause of my malaise.
They’re about 100 feet up a tree – well, several trees, to be accurate – and they’re progressing along a series of rope webs, seesaws, platforms and other ingenious devices of torture above our heads.
Carden Park is an enormous golfing and leisure complex about 20 minutes outside Chester; more akin to a small village than your usual hotel. It has its own vineyard; off-roading track; multiple golf courses, chalets and villas; shooting and archery; spa and pool; bike riding; tennis courts – and of course, this seriously high-wire rope act we’re currently witnessing. It’s not for the faint-hearted.
Just as well our little 10 and 8 year-olds are nothing of the sort, then. There are some sticky moments; a stray shoelace sends Grace teetering on the brink of the abyss which, quite understandably in my opinion, gives her the collywobbles for a few minutes and Tess isn’t convinced by the length of stride her little legs need to make in order to reach the next sashaying platform.
But outdoorsy tutor Phil is great fun and built like a brick you-know-what and he laughs at them, offers his hand and helps them onto the next mini crisis.
They are, of course, harnessed to the nth degree to avoid any serious damage and the denouement of this heart-pounding hour or so comes with a 250 metre – 250 metres, I ask you – zip wire. They launch into the air with a cry of ‘Geronimo!’ and whizz over our heads, squealing with pleasure.
It’s the sort of thing one can do here of a morning; which makes Carden Park such a great place for a family visit.
Our room is perfectly positioned at a quiet gable end and while strangely it doesn’t seem to have controllable air con, we are perfectly comfortable inside. There’s a befrocked Scottish gent on the door ready to attend with bags (and we spent half an hour looking for one of my wife’s, which was actually waiting for us on the kitchen floor when we returned home and had never made the trip North.)
Children’s films are shown each evening and both the bar, restaurant and service are excellent.
Carden Park was wedding central during our stay; brides came and went, ushers arrived in stiff collared formality and left clutching a companion and a pint of IPA; but because of the sheer size of the place – over 1,000 acres, which used to be the country seat of the Leche Family before being bought and renovated by Steve Morgan of Redrow Homes – you are easily able to escape to some solitude or find a welcoming corner of the bar, should you prefer.
The original elegant hall was apparently ransacked by Cromwell’s troops, but survived until 1912, when it was burned down in a fire. The modern site is a great launching pad for the delights that Chester and its environs offers and a peaceful place to retreat to at the end of the day.
We dropped into Chester Zoo, which was the largest and quite possibly the best I’ve visited in this country (African wild dogs and Komodo dragons, would you believe?)
There was a humid and fetid bat cave complete with great, leathery winged fruit bats swooping around your head; obligatory elephants with their own waterfall; rare Asiatic Lions and a brilliant rainforest enclosure complete with lots of cracking birds including Great Hornbills (which I’ve also never seen elsewhere before) honking enormously through their great nasal megaphones. And there were a couple of mahoosive snakes, thicker than my thigh and as long as a tree. A big tree.
Entertainment of an altogether different kind came as a pleasant surprise as we stopped off for afternoon tea at Oddfellows in town. What a great, quirky, fun-filled place. The back terrace/garden was sensationally designed; electronic foldaway roof canopy, independent ‘huts’ with comfy chairs, a bar, tasteful planting and cool ‘bird themed’ décor made for a great vibe. The afternoon tea – complete with a glass or two of something refreshing – was excellent. Oddfellows has rooms and has refurbed some apartments in town and features a series of funky independent rooms for hire (Grown Up Bar with terrace or Mad Hatters dining room complete with table and chairs on the ceiling?) And I spotted a humidor at the bar.
Before, like tired summer swallows, we headed south, we chose to take our lunchtime repast at The Pheasant Inn at Burwardsley. One of my better decisions, that one.
It’s a pretty little country pub overlooking aforementioned green and pleasant pastures. It was packed to the gunnels with country folk; ruddy cheeked walkers and their dogs; entire generations of well to do families; a couple of hoary characters at the bar. Perfect.
The menu was different class, as were the dirty great strips of salty pork crackling I mangled with a cool pint of local beer. A Morecambe Bay shrimp and Muncaster crab bruschetta and confit belly pork with smoked pancetta, pickled clams and spiced black pudding later and I re-entered the family vehicle a satisfied southerner.
Home, James. I’m going to take a refreshing nap.
For more information about Carden Park and its facilities, visit www.cardenpark.co.uk. For more information about Oddfellows, including dining options and things to do in Chester, visit www.oddfellowschester.com. Details about The Pheasant Inn can be found on their website.