We arrive at Hampton Manor in search of a very specific remedy. It’s come to my attention that it’s practically winter. Not just winter, but winter that’s still a distance from Christmas that makes it feel like the White Witch’s Narnia. I’m hoping this stately home has the cure for that: a country retreat where we can shut all the curtains, call for room service, and never have to confront anything that reveals the season outside.
An after-work train on Friday leaves us at Hampton-in-Arden station in the late evening, and we’re turning the key in the lock of the Sir Robert Peel suite fifteen minutes later. So far so promising. Very promising. Our home for this weekend has all the opulence you’d hope for from a country estate, but it’s sybaritic along less stuffy and more modern lines than some similar hotels. The flatscreen television’s roughly the size of my bed in London. The bed, in turn, is roughly the size of my room in London. The bathroom could shower eight people comfortably at once – so roughly the same number that would fit in the bed. The décor is luxurious, welcoming and moderately insane, the sort of place you want to believe Prince likes to kick back when he’s not touring. It’s not for people who are afraid of purple velvet.
We mark the official start of the weekend with a cocktail in Fred’s Bar, the dark grey and candlelit sideroom in the main hall. It’s a cocktail that turns into an hour or two by the fire, when my Best Guy discovers the Manor’s stock of local and Japanese craft beers, and I discover the filthiness of their dirty martinis. Back in our room we do our best to make use of all our space: casting ourselves across the sofas with a carafe of wine; beaming fittingly majestic music over the bedroom’s wireless speakers and slow-dancing to Sinatra, Nina Simone and Kiosk across the ballroom-sized expanse of carpet; and, finally, crawling into the ocean of a bed.
We wake up into a rain-lashed morning, and it’s further into that morning by the time we make it to breakfast than it might have been if our bed weren’t quite as warm or quite as far across. Going from horizontal to standing is an Odyssey for our times: several false attempts leave us still curled up, and somehow further away from the edges of the bed than when we started. That we do, eventually, make it all the way to upright, dressed and down the Tudor Gothic staircase – just in time for it to legitimately be breakfast, and not lunch – feels like a deed the bards will sing of.
Our reward is that the view from our breakfast table’s hardly less epic than our deeds. Japanese acer trees, four of them, are planted in front of the window, instantly turning the day from a grey mist into something almost the colour of harissa and the brightness of a bonfire. It’s a beautifully disconcerting sight, and solidifies our resolve to head out into the nearly-winter for a walk through the Warwickshire countryside. I know. That’s very much at odds with my plan to pretend it’s not November.
We have a route planned to take us over some gentle hills, past two pubs we’ve identified as having a high probability of armchairs and fireplaces, and then back along the River Blythe and skirting Barston Lakes. Despite Hampton Manor providing everything you could want for a walk – a Full English and seemingly bottomless pastry basket to set us going; maps with country pubs marked up; wellington boots and umbrellas to borrow – we end up muddy to the knees, wet to the bone, bramble-scratched and oddly exhilarated. From the calm reception we’re met with first at The Bull’s Head at Barston and then at the Malt Shovel it seems they’re used to ministering to the dishevelled and waterlogged. We’re welcomed back at Hampton Manor with admiration for our prowess rather than horror at our muddiness, and we retreat to our room to dress for dinner.
After some dedicated work with that waterfall shower and a spa’s worth of bathroom toiletries, we come back down the staircase looking marginally less like the sort of creatures that keep killing off dramatis personae in Game of Thrones. After a short talk over drinks with James Hill – the Managing Director and, apparently, food evangelist at Hampton Manor – we’ve signed ourselves up for the seven course tasting menu and matching wine flight in Peel’s, the Manor’s restaurant, which feels like a solid reward for prising ourselves away from room service.
Hill’s claim that the tasting menu would show us the full seasonal wizardry of Hampton Manor’s cooking is proved right from the very first dishes, and proved to be a huge understatement by about halfway through our meal. My Best Guy keeps talking about the dish announced as ‘interpretation of champagne and caviar’, long after it’s been replaced with a different one. I’m bowled over by thin slivers of brill with toasted onion seeds – two ingredients I never thought it was possible to get excited about – paired with a Charles Smith Kung Fu Girl Riesling.
As with the rest of the Manor, Peel’s achieves that not-standard-enough mixture of a sense of occasion without any sense of pretentiousness – heavy earthenware dishes, a total lack of white tablecloths, and a sommelier who seems genuinely excited rather than baffled to find we’ve never tried a white from Washington State before – and our dinner’s both extremely lingering and also over too quickly. That’s more or less how we feel about the weekend as a whole, packing up to leave the next day.
So although Hampton Manor turns out to be somewhere nearly-perfect to hide from the colder months, with heavy curtains, candlelight, vast beds and a cocktail list you could lose yourself in til spring, this isn’t the anti-autumn escape I’d been looking for. It’s too well-equipped with fireplaces and other wintry requirements, and they make it too attractive to head out into the cold, knowing the fireplaces, the food and the welcome that are waiting for you when you get back.
And rather than protect you from the winter, this Warwickshire weekend might actually give you a taste for it.
Hampton Manor is at Shadowbrook Ln, Hampton in Arden, West Midlands, B92 0DQ. Rooms start at £150 per night, and the Sir Robert Peel suite is £270 per night.
Peel’s Restaurant is open for dinner from Tuesday to Saturday. Tasting menus of 4 and 7 courses are available, at £55 and £75, with accompanying wine flights at £35 and £55.
For bookings or information call 01675 446080 or visit the website.