When you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life. No, Ben Johnson, you are just tired of London – and she’s not saying nice things about you either. Give me trees. Give me wine. Give me Hampton Manor, where I had such a nice time pre-pandemic that I just have to return.
Two hours northwest of W1, there are 45 acres of superb woodland tended by a man called Derrick. This is Hampton Manor which currently allows only 38 guests at any one time. This means you get at least an acre to yourself and, even hugging trees for your entire three-day stay, you’ll hardly see a soul. Except for Derrick.
We first meet him on a riding mower. “You could raise that blade a bit,” I suggest thinking the engine’s working a bit hard. This is because I know everything. “Oh, this isn’t my mower,” he says, gesturing to the petite machine resembling a riding electric shaver. “My mower’s a bit bigger.”
Nevertheless, we’re drawn to it like Britt Ekland to the wallpaper in The Wicker Man. Tonight one of us will sing “Hey ho!” and roll our breasts against the walls of our De Mountford suite
This is the kind of place England is famous for: hidden hamlets, gorgeous woodland and all tucked away without a billboard in site. Hampton-in-Arden, listed in the Domesday Survey of 1086, has always been prized. By 1411 it had become the property of Sir William de Mountford, then of Sir Robert Peel, PM and founder of the police force. It was his son Frederick who built the Grade II listed mansion with its trademark Gothic Tudor tower. Its golden face and astrological signs are a kind of lure to weary travellers, hinting at magical restoration. Aimee Adams, makeup artist to the stars, has come for a little getaway as well. She wants to really get away and climb the tower. “It’s a folly. There’s nothing in there!” says Derrick. Nevertheless, we’re drawn to it like Britt Ekland to the wallpaper in The Wicker Man. Tonight one of us will sing “Hey ho!” and roll our breasts against the walls of our De Mountford suite, with its bay window, fireplace, leather chairs, 100 Acres organic body care and a bath made for social media. Aimee jumps in there at least twice during our stay, up to her neck in bubbles, Hollywood-style. Comfy bed, fresh cookies, chandelier, hand-ground (by me) coffee and shut up. I’m now jealous of us staying here.
On our first night, we stumble to the 1891 Victorian walled garden to dine al fresco. A clutch of three greenhouses provides the setting for open air marshmallow-toasting. But first, a candle-lit dinner, slow-roasted beef and baked leaves that crunch like you’re walking through an autumn forest. Scott, the playful concierge, takes our photo with a Polaroid. We look great even though we’re chewing. In the morning we order eggs benedict in the Nyetimber Summer House, a refined glass-covered courtyard. It is an idyllic start to perusing the many many charity shops in nearby Knowle.
We’re back in time for a tasting of four of Nyetimber’s best, perhaps the most consistent of English sparkling wines. Nyetimber fits Hampton Manor’s ethos: it is consistently good no matter what. Since my last visit four years ago, the manor more elegantly and effortlessly. When he’s not bounding around making everyone happy, manager Craig also runs a charity called A Gift to Lift, which funds a Norfolk retreat for cancer patients and their families.
Before dinner, we wander through the grounds. According to Derrick, there are two towering pines named after Victoria and Albert, as was the fashion for major gardens at the time. Feeling Victorian (we looked at trees!) we return to take drinks in the parlour. Amy Winehouse is spinning on vinyl (Kylie’s discs are pushed well to the back – and whoever puts on Parliament, I thank you.) Sipping an apple-bright Davenport Vineyards Pet Nat, I pretend to understand the sophisticated wine list which, like the food, emphasises local production. With chef Rob Palmer at the helm, Michelin-starred restaurant Peel’s serves beautiful food in the manor’s dining room famous for its remarkable wainscoting and moulded ceiling. We scarf six courses – tomato, cheese, potato, wagyu, grouse, monkfish – quickened with a bottle of Ancre Hill Estate’s Welsh sparkling rosé. We take raspberries (not a euphemism) in the private tasting room. Gareth Ward of the Michellin-starred Ynyshir and one of my all-time favourite chefs, comes here when he’s in the area. That alone says much for local boy Palmer’s talent.
It’s our last night so of course I tell Aimee of a haunted room I’d stayed in recently. By morning, she’s sure she’s heard the clinking of ice cubes in a glass in the middle of the night. I heard nothing through my own snoring. Could it be a parliamentary ghost having a much-needed drink? We leave left refreshed and renewed, stopping by Shakespeare’s house on the way back to London. I forget to say goodbye and thank you to the gardener. He is James Hill’s father. James and Fiona Hill run the manor. Derrick owns the place. We are refreshed by this news also. C
Hampton Manor, Shadowbrook Ln, Hampton in Arden, Solihull B92 0EN
01675 446080; hamptonmanor.com