Ive often thought, ‘how amazing would it be to step back in time for a weekend?’ To forget about the stresses of modern life, and for just a night or two, live in a different age.
It was a thursday night in January, always a quiet month for hotels. A storm raged, and I was thankful to be in a Landrover as we were buffeted through the depths of wild Somerset in the pitch black, heavy rain driving down onto the windscreen, my eyes squinting as I tried to make out the curves in the road, occasionally blinded by the glare of oncoming cars. Branches thudded onto the roof of the car, and nervous glances were traded. Where are we and when we will get to the hotel?!
Eventually, as we turned another corner, and the tiny lady in my phone announced that I had reached my destination, the illuminated stone walls of the entrance to Ston Easton presented themselves, and welcomed us down the long gravel drive. As we navigated our way through the gates, there she was in the distance, bathed in a warm yellow light, and in an instant we had arrived in another Century.
The Hippisley family made Ston Easton Park their home from 1544 and continued to live there until 1956. After the Hippisley family relinquished the property, it changed hands a number of times before it eventually fell into disrepair and narrowly avoided a demolition order. Thankfully, under the ownership of the Rees-Mogg family, the house under-went extensive restoration work to bring it back to its former glory.
As we parked in front of the building, the front door swung open, and a small and rather fat working cocker spaniel trotted out to see who we were and what we wanted. Oscar is a friendly chap, and gives the hotel an incredibly homely feel. His personal greeting at the door is the best start I could have asked for, and Im sure even the most grumpy of London visitors is instantly calmed by his presence. We became the best of friends during our stay, and he became extremely well disposed towards us after we found a long lost squeaky toy that had been hidden in a drawer (presumably the squeaking had become tiresome!).
My bedroom was on the top floor in what would have been the staff quarters, and overlooked the verdant gardens and pretty stream at the back of the property. We sipped gin and tonic’s as we inhaled the fresh country air deep into our lungs and each sip and each breath restored my very soul.
As we were practically the only guests, it was inevitable that I quickly began to feel like I owned the place, which gave me an enormous sense of well being. Perhaps I have a particularly susceptible imagination, but I fell into the ‘Lord of the Manor’ role with complete ease, much to my guest’s annoyance. Was is overstepping the mark to demand that she walked three steps behind me at all times and call me M’Lud? I hardly think so.
We decided to go for the tasting menu, which is only decided based upon what local and seasonal produce is available that day from the garden and from nearby suppliers. I really like the idea of this, and was impressed with the chef’s imagination and flexibility in formulating what was a very impressive meal. We loved the home cured gravlax of salmon with horseradish chantilly and micro cress, but both agreed that the rhubarb and white chocolate panna cotta with honeycomb was the real hit. I noticed that it was also a nice change to leave the table feeling well fed but not stuffed.
After dinner, I continued my role play, sinking into the sofa by the fire and scoffing home made petit fours as the fire crackled and we admired the beautifully ornate ceiling, Oscar by our side. Walking around the house felt like being given ownership of a National Trust property for the weekend and we felt genuinely privileged to be there, nosing around and marvelling at the artwork and antiques at every turn. We ventured down the the basement, past the billiard room, and down into the stone floored corridor where we found the pantry, a self guided private tour of our very own Downton Abbey.
The staff were charming and accommodating, clearly caring about our stay and eager to enhance it in any way possible. The attitude of staff members can make or break a stay for me, and this friendly team couldn’t be faulted.
I popped outside to get some fresh air before bed and so that both Oscar and I could stretch our legs. The comforting smell of the grand log fire was faint in the air, and as I looked back on this beautiful house through the large windows and into the cosy lamp lit rooms with their ornate plaster work and classical paintings, I couldn’t imagine anywhere I’d rather be. It was a very special stay.