Beating the Blues at Fawsley Hall


It’s Blue Monday, officially the most depressing day of the year. Halfway through January, we’re deep into winter, Christmas is a distant memory, and those New Year regimes are starting to wear thin, if they haven’t already collapsed into a heap of guilt-ridden dust.

But if you’re struggling to commit to Dry January for a second weekend, or your Veganuary menu is entering its third round of the same – if it feels like there’s nothing to look forward to for the foreseeable, read on.

For here’s where you can pep up your motivation through the second half of the month, and give yourself a bit of a treat en route. Many restaurants are getting in on the Veganuary act, and offering ‘dry’ drinks menus to boot – so you can still go to the ball, Cinders, and keep your commitment on track. Better yet, choose somewhere where you can spend a night or two and turn it into a weekend away. Somewhere like…Fawsley Hall.

Bill Bryson was right when he said the green and rolling countryside of Northamptonshire was distinctly lovely – and no-one outside the county knows it. The drive off the M40 gets increasingly picturesque and, as the sky turns awash with a pink and turquoise watercolour, I turn off the Banbury-Daventry road and out of the 21st century. At the end of a mile-long lane through undulating fields framed with oak and beech, I emerge 500 years earlier.

Home to generations of the Knightley Family since 1416, Fawsley Hall is an act of building conservation writ large; the entrance, under a stone portico, is a studded oak door; lichen-stained lintels frame faded crests on intricate leaded windows; I physically gasp as I enter the Great Hall. While seemingly indifferent guests munch on afternoon teas, my eyes can’t take in the detail – the height of the beamed ceiling, the hand-carved Tudor fireplace (with crusaders’ coats of arms over the mantle), and the servants’ ‘squint’ window; the stairwells feature ornate balustrades, and everywhere there are historical details galore.

And it’s all the more extraordinary when you consider this was a ruin in the 1970s – a gallery of photos in the bar shows what a parlous state the house was in at the time. Now it’s a shining example of what careful and sympathetic restoration can do; woodwork is reconstructed to original designs, stone masons’ skills are widely evident, and original details are integrated where possible. The result is that the character and fabric of the original Tudor, and later Georgian and Victorian buildings, exists throughout. It is, quite literally, like stepping back in time.

Many hotels make much of their guests’ provenance (Churchill seems to have ticked off every property in the country), but how many that you can stay at can lay claim to hosting Elizabeth I, that aren’t still private houses or heritage buildings. The master bedroom at Fawsley Hall is named the 1575 Suite after Good Queen Bess herself. And my suite’s not far behind, frankly, less the inglenook fireplace and the separate sitting room, it comes complete with cocktail trolley, four poster, a beautiful shuttered bay window overlooking the gardens, and an en suite the size of a New York penthouse.

I take my time to appreciate all this, reading up on the history over a mocktail in the Great Hall. Sat, coincidentally, ‘sub rosa’, beneath a ceiling rose in the bay window, above which lay a secret room where Puritans penned dissenting literature in the run up to the Civil War. I could have happily sat and sucked up the atmosphere for some time but dinner was calling.

More intimate than the hall, the hotel’s restaurant, Cedars, is set across several cosy adjacent salons, including the original Tudor kitchen, complete with flagstone floor and inglenook; I’m half expecting my meal to be served on a trencher. I’m pleasantly surprised to note January’s plant-based menu looks deceptively un-vegan, with several appearances of cheeses, chocolate and the like – but then vegan options, and their execution, have become far more advanced in the last ten years.


A dainty teacup of artichoke velouté to amuse gives way to whipped feta in a paper thin filo cannelloni, with heritage beetroot and pickled apple. Beautifully presented – who doesn’t like a nasturtium or two for colour – it’s as delicate as it is delicious. Mains of a paella quinoa and mushroom and carrot wellington sound tempting but I’m won over by the waitress’s recommendation of the maitake. It’s a first for me, and she’s not wrong when she says it’s a substitute for the meat – the fan-like mushroom has a weight that makes it feel substantial, with a rich earthiness deftly complemented by blue cheese and balsamic onions.

What’s more surprising is that this is typically the point where meal starts to get the better of me; I’d be reaching critical mass and the wine setting in but, here, I’m comfortable and clear-headed – and yet I feel like I’m having a night out. A chocolate torte offers a dose of indulgence but my own virtue signalling gets the better of me, and I leave half of it in favour of what turns out to be exquisite miso ice cream.


After a dinner like that, I happily beat the drum of January vigour as I trot off down to the spa the next morning, for a few laps of the pool and a round robin between sauna sittings and cold showers (I know, I’m rubbing it in now, aren’t I) and a moment in the outdoor hydrapool in the biting wintry air. And as a (vegetarian) Full English settles, I’m back in the car to Banbury, wondering that if this is what Fawsley Hall can do on a health kick, imagine what a weekend of indulgence must be like.

I shall have to return to find out.

Fawsley Hall is part of the Hand Picked Hotels group. For more information, including details of the Veganuary menu and spa packages, please visit