My previous career as a travel writer was trumped by the chance to become a full-time musician when my band got signed a number of years ago. We shed our day jobs and took to the road. While the quantity of travel increased by a huge margin, the quality of it took a sharp drop. The occasional treat of the journo-junket was replaced with the continual grind of The Tour. So it was with gusto that I took this opportunity to spend a couple of days on the Sussex coast with my girlfriend, gloriously free of interminable bus journeys, excess luggage fee spats, and cumbrous flight case hefting.
The pastoral imagery evoked by the consistently quaint place names of the English countryside could hardly be further away from that world. The fey-sounding village of Climping conjured up a picture of a rural idyll – a little pocket of bucolic paradise. Our destination was the somewhat less quaintly named Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa, a picturesque collection of medieval-looking buildings in a scene of manicured serenity.
A slew of pastels and chintz inside breaks the spell of the middle ages: self-consciously over-plumped cushions stand unnaturally to attention on mismatched upholstery. It’s cozy and pleasant, pitched at “homey” rather than “atmospheric”.
Our Baylies Suite proved quite a different story, my companion barely managing to contain her squeal of delight on entry. The high ceiling is cross-hatched with chunky beams and elegantly splayed trusses; treacle-dark wood furnishings complement heavy crimson and gold drapery, and there’s a majestic four-poster bed trimmed with crushed ruby velvet, dripping with decorative tassels. A portrait of a teenage girl sporting a preposterously large ruff hangs in the corner, her eyes following you haughtily around the room. Mullioned windows look out over gardens and thatched out-houses.
Another squeal-worthy surprise was waiting in the bathroom: two large, roll-top claw-footed bathtubs fused together. I still can’t say if this was more romantic (bathing’s answer to a love-seat) or less so (a sanitised version of sharing a bath without the ickiness of sharing water), but it still had us running the taps before a suitcase had even been unzipped.
It would have been a travesty had Bailiffscourt neglected to include a log fireplace in such a room and – thanks be – they hadn’t. So, with the twin tubs foaming up a furious head of bubbles, the pre-laid fire was lit, wine uncorked, and the lights dimmed for a pre-dinner soak. A tub each, of course.
Glass in one hand and a flimsy pamphlet entitled A History of Bailiffscourt in the other, I took this opportunity to swot up on the history of the house. I was genuinely shocked to learn that it only came into existence in the late 1920s, and is in fact a totally (albeit lovingly and meticulously) reconstructed medieval-style homestead with about as much history as your local boozer. I knew there was something a little too sanguine in ruff girl’s complexion: a lack of genuine gaunt, medieval, aristocratic pallor.
I knew there was something a little too sanguine in ruff girl’s complexion: a lack of genuine gaunt, medieval, aristocratic pallor
Dinner came in the form of an exceptional tasting menu with wine pairings. We fawned and swooned over five courses including seared scallops, cep mushrooms, glazed kidneys, and the most generous dessert platter either of us had ever clapped eyes on.
Besides gorging to the point of delirium, we also took the time to flop about in the swish surrounds of the hotel’s health spa. We particularly enjoyed an alfresco soak at dusk in a wooden hot tub that overlooks the neighbouring woodland. Stretches of relatively pleasant beaches are a pebble’s throw away, and provided us with an enjoyable if blustery walk along the Sussex coast until we reached a pub serving foamy local ales and a cracking fish pie.
While visiting any of the pretty-sounding rural stops on the way home would, I was sure, result in disappointment, the people behind Bailiffscourt Hotel – despite its slightly sinister name – have managed to skillfully reconstruct a world that does deliver on the pastoral promise of its location. Most importantly, there wasn’t a flight case in sight. C
Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa, Climping Street, West Sussex
01903 723511; hshotels.co.uk
Leon Beckenham is a musician with the band Fanfarlo