“Oh, my son used to work there!” says Cab Driver as I lean in to listen, purely for colour for this piece. “He got really good tips!”
Cab Driver is overestimating my interest in his progeny as we criss-cross B roads and swish down country lanes, eventually finding ourselves on one of those really, really long driveways you usually only find yourself on if the bride’s insisted on a stately home or you’re actually revisiting Brideshead. At the end of this long, long driveway is an almost cartoon version of a perfect English hamlet, a very small one. And hamlets are small by definition, right? If there’s a noun for a hamlet, but way smaller, I’d be using that right now.
Apart from the five-minute massage an ex-lover gave me that turned into five hours because time flies when you’re on MDMA, this was the best massage of my life
And this new noun is Bailiffscourt, created from the ground up just shy of a century ago for Lord Moyne – part of the Guinness booze people, but then you knew that – by Amyas Phillips, an architect whose shtick was old-looking English things. Which means our new noun looks like a medieval village, peppered with rural fancies including the gorgeous main house where someone or other from an Anthony Trollope would live, pretty-as cottages for the Tillies, a church if you’re into genuflecting for fairies, a Dovecot for your doves and a granary for your gran, and acres of fields if you’re into frolicking with a lamb on a ribbon. There’s even a beach, just over there past the wood, mind the croquet lawn as you go. And because money makes the world go round, there’s also a helipad which, you’re right, is anachronistic.
Speaking of which, use it. We came the hour-or-so from London to Littlehampton – Bailiffscourt’s nearest rail station – on Southern Rail which was as pleasant as syphilis and made us want to kill babies. Hell hath no fury like a journalist offered £3.72 in compensation for a journey that made me want to rip out my main artery and hang myself with it from the overhead luggage rack. I mean, it barely gets you a Chunky KitKat in the food carriage that wasn’t open, which is so rude we need a neologism for ‘so rude’.
Bailiffscourt is fancy in a homely way, or at least that’s what the holepunch in full display at the reception desk was forcing me to believe. The telephone rattles constantly with requests from anybody who is anybody within a ten-mile radius, and walk-ins for the lunch-with-fizz giddily fold away their Mail on Sunday supplements and pat down their burgundy hair in anticipation. Sons and daughters earning brownie points bring down the average age of the clientele to double digits, and dads smell of their Christmas gifts.
We’re led to our suite, which is called Baylies and is where your “wows” come in. Fashioned after a Tudor boudoir with a four-poster and a vaulted ceiling and a wood-burning stove, it’s thick with charm and period-perfect, right down to myriad tassels and embroidered bedspreads and the smart-for-town ruff that redhead’s sporting in the portrait above the bookcase. The bathroom is bigger than Jersey and has two roll-top baths joined together for your pleasure, though the tiles are a tad suburban so they should really look at popping down Fired Earth for something a bit more authentic.
It’s easy to get your bearings, because you’re basically knocking around someone’s big posh house and people who read YOU magazine aren’t ones for being told what to do. So instead they’re left to loll wherever takes their fancy, usually on a sumptuous Ottoman that Kit Kemp would lose her shizz over, in one of the half-a-dozen cosy lounges where fires flicker and corks pop and conversation meanders from DNRs (Do Not Resuscitates) to the state of the fingernails on the Antiques Roadshow, via Pearl, whose daughter is so fertile she now drives an SUV.
Apparently room service is a matter for the police
Pearl was nowhere to be seen at dinner, but the French tips on the waitresses were perfection and made the crab and lobster starter pop. Me and +1 had already downed a bottle of Sangiovese – which barely touches the sides these days, Mother – upstairs in Baylies while catching up on EggHeads, so we continued the theme as did the dining room, what with its mullioned windows and walled tapestries and misty views of the rose garden. The food was “provenance” ie. local, and the lovelier for it, and served the way social media demands it. There was no music over dinner, leaving instead a medley of mastication, clanking cutlery and chit-chat, which is nice if you like that sort of thing. Cheese and all the dessert wines rounded us off.
“I’d just like to clarify, sir. You and your guest have just enjoyed a three-course dinner. And you’re still hungry?”
Apparently room service is a matter for the police.
“And you’d like the club sandwich and the chunky fries?”
“I’d prefer them skinny, but if you insist.”
“Your food will be with you shortly, sir.”
The minutes felt like hours and, outside, one of those storms named after Seventies’ telly stars who now appear on Call My Bluff was doing its business. The door knocked, because it had one of those massive knockers on it.
“Still hungry I see!” said Maid With Tray with or without a smile, I couldn’t quite figure it out. Turns out West Sussex hadn’t known such a scandal since Pearl showed her ankle to a chimney sweep.
Down at breakfast, which was later than expected because I had carbs to sleep off, I was offered a shot of whiskey or rum with my porridge, so I had two porridges. The Full English was faultless, with bacon that actually comes crispy when you ask for crispy and eggs that come runny, ditto and etcetera. Pearl was at breakfast, and I wondered whether she’d dared risk room service.
Bailiffscourt’s spa is fancy, sitting like a majestic addendum to this Agatha Christie fantasy land, and if they ever make The Desperate Housewives of West Sussex, this is where’d they’d come for a girls’ day out. It’s in a barn, with storeys-high windows gazing over the countryside, and features everything you’d expect it to feature down to the swimming pools gleaming like perfume bottles and massage therapists-with-accents sticking pins into effigies of Brexiteers in-between hydrotherms. Mine leads me to a room as cosy as a cloud, promising to realign my spine and make me scientifically more relaxed. And apart from the five-minute massage an ex-lover gave me that turned into five hours because time flies when you’re on MDMA, this was the best massage of my life. I have little else to add, except that its punning name containing the word “heaven” really doesn’t do it justice.
Pearl dressed down in athleisure for her trip to the spa. She took in the steam room, both the pools and, by the scent of it, had the “Champagne & Truffles” facial.
“Ooooooh!” she exhaled, sinking into the outdoor hot tub as steam rose into the oaks almost like English Heritage had sponsored it. “This really is my idea of heaven.” C
Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa, Climping Street, West Sussex
01903 723511; hshotels.co.uk