Would you like a romantic Valentine’s weekend at the Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club, dear?” I innocently asked Mrs B, one cold January morning. “Perhaps you could take in a nice relaxing spa and take a walk through the world-renowned Ashdown Forest, home of Pooh Bear and Christopher Robin and other such …stuff?”
Mrs B is a naturally suspicious sort. Rightly so, when you’re married to someone as unreliable as I. Her eyes narrowed at me over her reading glasses.
“What are you plotting, Boyden?” she demanded.
“Nothing, nothing, dear,” I assured her, trying to look my most hurt and offended, but actually, probably, making it look like I was suffering from trapped wind.
“What are you up to?”
A stay at Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club
Alright, alright, so truth be known, I was planning a local military dinner night in the area – well, to be precise, the same hotel, and I thought … you know … I could kill two birds with one stone here.
I could drink an unholy amount of gin, Mrs B could get a bit of a pamper at the Ashdown Park Hotel spa, and we could both relax in the serene luxury of a country hotel on a crisp February weekend.
Images of roaring winter log fires in huge hearths filled my mind. Perhaps there would also be a reasonably appointed anteroom with a reassuringly loud ticking clock, where nice waiters could bring me hot coffee and later, hot toddies.
Ideally, the breakfast would be self-serve so I could snaffle a good amount of bacon without being judged by anyone, and piles of Sunday papers I could lose myself for an hour before returning to reality with a bump.
There might be a luxurious sauna where Mrs B could float around in a big, soft, white dressing gown, being preened and prettied before dinner and if I was lucky, I might get a snog afterwards.
Luckily, the Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club had all of those things.
As you drive up to the Ashdown Park Hotel, the history is evident. If you like a bit of history, this place has it in spades – you can tell at one stage it was a manor house.
It has a stunningly beautiful chapel, and it seems to have organically sprouted sympathetic extra wings, outbuildings, and also, a golf course, which I imagine is very handy if you hate your husband and want him to sod off for a few hours.
Food and Drink and the Ashdown Park Hotel
Having arrived in the mid-afternoon, after a very smooth check-in, my rumbling stomach soon informed me that some sort of bread-based snack was in order.
We headed past anterooms filled with very smartly dressed folk taking afternoon tea, with huge towers of delicious-looking cakes and sandwiches very much in evidence.
Steam rose gently from silver pots of tea and coffee and there was that delicious ambience of happy chatter punctuated by the occasional clatter of a teaspoon on bone china.
I made a mental note to come back for Afternoon Tea one day, but not needed anything so elaborate, we headed for the Bar and ordered some sandwiches to see us through.
The young man behind the bar was incredibly polite and courteous and swiftly brought us not only sandwiches, but a fan of crisps, a decent enough side salad, plus a small cup of dipping soup on the side.
Breathing in the heady ambience of the bar area – or that may have just been alcohol fumes – I was delighted to note there was a snooker room downstairs where later on, after a beer, I could play at being in a Billiards Tournament at some sort of Private Members Club – not that I would be a member of any club daft enough to have me.
Depending on your stay, or how your mood takes you, you have a couple of options for food and drink during your stay.
For a formal meal in your best bib and tucker, the Anderida Restaurant is a perfectly classy, timeless option. I was quite interested to note that it boasts not one, but two, AA Rosettes for the quality of the food and drink and while we didn’t take dinner there, the breakfast alone assured me both awards were well deserved.
Piles of bacon groaned on the hotplate, next to tempting-looking Lincolnshire sausages and the full panoply of breakfast items that makes any hungry person’s heart sing with delight. I’m something of a Full English breakfast aficionado and, without descending into Alan Partridge’s levels of fuss, I like to think I can spot a decent, freshly cooked breakfast at a thousand paces.
And I was right.
I’m not very clever, so I had to resort to Mr Google telling me that Anderida is an old Roman word, meaning “hunting ground” and once you know that, the logic behind the menu clicks into place – it’s a carnivore delight with a sage enough nod to the vegetarian and vegan community.
The wild mushroom risotto looked every inch as good as the chateaubriand as it floated past and there was a mischievous mix of wines and cocktails thorough enough to ensure even the most po-faced Vicar would end the evening with a smile and full tummy.
Of course, if formal dining doesn’t float your boat, because you’re having a family stay or meeting for a round of golf, the Forest Brassiere is over by the Spa and serves the old reliable and informal combination of burgers, pizzas, pasta and grill choices – but in a reassuringly tasteful way.
Think more London dining, rather than poolside holiday dining, and you’re not far off the mark.
Finally, if you’re ever lucky enough to visit Ashdown Park Hotel for an event, like ourselves, then you will be treated to the magnificent John Hayward Suite, which is located in a converted chapel.
Our room at the Ashdown Park Hotel
On check-in, I was delighted to be told, that for reasons that escape me, we were upgraded to one of the Fairway View Suites. This was a 1-minute walk away from the main hotel, but I was reassured by an incredibly earnest Concierge that should the weather be inclement, they could provide a car for the 300-metre walk between the two.
Now, I know this is the Lazy Travel Guide, but I can just about do 300m on a good day – in all seriousness, that’s probably good to know if you have anyone in your party who genuinely needs assistance.
I was pleased to note that the Suites are co-located with the Spa – result – so Mrs B did not have to walk too far to be pampered and generally looked after. But, before we got there, I went to check out the room by the time-honoured ritual of “sitting on the bed, bouncing on it a few times, then saying “Yup. That’ll do.”
In terms of décor, it was definitely Laura Ashley meets Ashdown Forest and if you’re a fan of 1990s style décor, then this is absolutely the place for you.
The room itself was definitely huge, flower curtains framed a generous view of the countryside, the bathroom suite was definitely giving off “Your Mums House, circa 1995” vibes and the only real surprise was turning on the TV and not finding authentic 1990s programming playing, like Byker Grove or perhaps Gladiators!
I almost pressed a button on the TV remote expecting Ceefax to work.
I often – allegedly – give off the impression of being somewhat chaotic and inconsistent in my professional and personal life. It’s something of a trait not knowing what’s going to happen next but frankly I quite like my life like, that as it adds spice and variety, and being organised offends my fundamentally laid-back nature.
In the same vein, converting an ancient manor house into a hotel is always going to come with interesting quirks, and as a result, no room in the Ashdown Park Country Club and Hotel is the same.
While the standard and the services offered are as rigorously consistent as a Sergeant Major, the rooms themselves come in different shapes and different sizes, making for a potluck of adventure when you check in – it’s like one of those fairground tombola things where every ticket nets you some sort of prize.
Room prices vary by season, but £200 would be a fair benchmark for a room and breakfast in the aforementioned lovely Anderida Restaurant.
Ashdown Park Hotel Spa
Mrs B headed off to the Ashdown Park Hotel Spa for a bit of rest and relaxation and I tagged along to see what it looked like.
A well-equipped gym was nearby, which I pretended not to see in case I was dragged in, but I noticed it was mostly empty, save for a die-hard fitness fan pounding some weights before dinner.
The Reception Team at the Spa were lovely and whisked Mrs B off for a massage and facial, and I was placed in a waiting room for lost husbands, which also doubled as a Relaxation Suite, with a range of flavoured waters, relaxing music and one of those things that squirts out different aromas.
A side table held a bewildering array of lifestyle magazines to read, all with titles like “Better Homes – Than Yours” and “Fitness and Why you are so Tubby”.
After exactly four seconds in this room, I had decided I had seen enough, and striding past the well-used heated indoor swimming pool, I headed in the direction of a healthy glass of tonic water, garnished with ice, a nice healthy slice of lime and a couple of shots of Tanquary Gin for good measure.
The Ashdown Park Hotel Spa is open from Sunday to Wednesday from 9 am to 6 pm and Thursday to Saturday between 9 am to 8 pm for all your pampering needs.
As I may have mentioned in previous blogs, I am by no means a Spa fan (because I’m naturally good-looking), but from what I can see, they offer a dizzying array of treatments designed to lift, tuck, shape, pound, refresh, re-energise and revitalise you for fairly reasonable prices.
Mrs B went for a facial and a massage and came out looking approximately ten years younger, which firstly, caused me to watch out for any toyboys trying to tempt her away from me, but secondly, made me realise what a good quality spa they have.
Ashdown Park Hotel Location
As the name suggests, the Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club is located in the stunning Ashdown Forest and if you’re into countryside pursuits, it’s an ideal location for long Ashdown Forest walks, golf and given the stunning views, weddings and parties.
Regrettably, my only real experience of Country living is watching Clarksons Farm on Amazon Prime, but if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool city person like me, the Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club gives you an excellent taste of what it would be like to be Lord of your own Manor for at least a day.
Throughout our stay, families much more energetic than ours stomped around the grounds smothered in Berghaus and Barbour, waving maps and compasses and Thermos flasks threateningly, like they were plotting the invasion of Normandy rather than taking a tranquil walk through the rather beautiful and mist-shrouded Ashdown Forest.
It’s clearly a good location for that sort of thing and if your children have grown up reading Winnie the Pooh, it’s the perfect location to walk the nearby routes, throw some Pooh Sticks into the river and drink in the view, the deer and the other wildlife that freely roam the forest.
There’s also everything from an Owl Sanctuary to cycle hire to a Llama farm with a short driving distance, so for the truly motivated families, you can burn off more energy in a week here than I can in a calendar year. I looked over the top of my gin and tonic and wished them well.
As we checked out, I took one last look back at the impressive building and sighed deeply. It was an incredibly good value stay in a location that was really rather beautiful.
I got the distinct impression that it was a bit of a relic, but in an incredibly good way – that slice of bygone England where standards are high, the staff believe in service, everyone is polite (no one noticed my bacon stealing) and that this lovely Manor House would continue to run, as it always has, until the end of time.
That’s reassuring. I noted the décor earlier, but I don’t think it should change. Have your wedding there. Have a party there. Enjoy one of the finest luxury weekend breaks in the UK.
Don’t be surprised if you see me at the breakfast buffet.
Until next time.