Much as it sometimes pain Londoners to admit it, there is a whole country out there to be explored beyond the invisible city walls. You don’t even have to go far to see what the UK has to offer. From the historical to the spooky, grandeur, and sustainable, Marie Teather takes a look at some of the best weekends all under one hour from London.
Shropshire: Double Bill Location Tour
Fans of blockbuster movie Atonement and the BBC’s Victorian Farm TV drama can join a behind-the-scenes tour of the real life locations Stokesay Court and Acton Scott Farm.
Stokesay Court is a magnificent late Victorian mansion set in Shropshire and where the décor remains unchanged from the Atonement filming. Likely to appeal to those who enjoyed the Oscar-winning movie starring Keira Knightley, you’ll also see the fountain used for Keira’s memorable steamy—or should we say cold and wet—scene.
In true English stately home fashion, the tour also includes homemade tea and scones and the chance to meet the owners of the mansion.
Over on Acton Scott Farm, which used for the filming of A Victorian Farm, the set up offers an insight into Victorian rural life at the turn of the 19th century.
Each exclusive tour is small and personable and guests are promised “juicy production anecdotes.” The tour also takes in some beautiful Shropshire countryside with coach travel from London and hotel accommodation included.
The two-day Shropshire ‘Double Bill Tour’ is available once a month on weekdays between April and September.
Fees from £199. For more details see www.pandptours.co.uk.
Essex: Glamping it back to the age of adventure
Close your eyes and imagine the roar of a lion in the distance. A 78 crackles on the gramophone and you put your feet up at the end of a day exploring the uncharted African savannah in search of the source of the Nile. There is no internet, no television. It’s 10 years before Alexander Graham Bell invents the telephone and the iPhone is inconceivable.
Open your eyes. You might not be in nineteenth century Africa but a stay in a Country House Hideout will have you feeling that the clocks have been turned back to the days when the world was there to be discovered first-hand rather than from the pages of Wikipedia or the Discovery Channel.
As the glamping (glamorous camping) trend continues to get Londoners into the countryside and back to nature, hidden away on the estates of some of England’s finest country houses are canvas-covered tents that wouldn’t look out of place on the great savannah during those early days of Victorian exploration. Each comes complete with Days of Raj furniture and standing outside is what looks like an Aga on wheels.
Barely an hour out of London, you can experience a weekend glamping on Layer Marney Tower’s impressive stately home. Built under the reign of Henry XIII, the Marney’s, like Henry, built their home to reflect the magnificence of its owner. It’s here your adventure begins.
Just as when Livingstone explored Africa, each tent comes complete with an all-essential set of binoculars, microscope, and a telescope. The findings might not be on the grand scale of nature to be found in Africa but there is still plenty of England’s finest flora and fauna to be discovered. If scientific discovery does not appeal then for the more artistically inclined there is artists paper, paints and an easel.
With not an internet connection in sight, it’s the ideal break to leave the city and modern conveniences behind. And forget your BlackBerry or iPod, try listening to the gramophone—if only you can work out how to use it.
One more thing. A stay in a hideout is carbon neutral, which means you have to produce your own energy with the help of a bicycle to produce energy. You’ll certainly sleep well too.
A weekend stay runs Friday 4 p.m. to Monday 10:30 a.m. From £345.
Contact +44 (0)1420 549150 or see www.countryhousehideout.co.uk.
Berkshire: A Night With the Most A-list of Ghosts
It’s here at Littlecote Hotel in Hungerford where Henry VIII romanced Jane Seymour. In the Great Hall the couple dined and were so in love they commissioned a stained glass window of cupid hearts and lover initials to mark the spot.
It’s the same great hall where one century later Guy Fawkes was tried for treason. Behind the library bookcase is the secret passage where the D-Day landings were planned. Moving on to today? Well, everyone is still here—supposedly—happily wandering the walls and making this one of the most haunted hotels in Britain.
Just over an hour from London, the hotel is a stunning Grade I listed building from the 1500s with original bedrooms and centuries of history and prestige mapped out within its walls. Outside you’ll find acres of landscaped gardens and beyond that, 24 hectares of parkland to explore.
Yet, it’s the ‘permanent’ residents that really get guests and staff talking. Most famous is Mother Barnes who roams the house looking for the baby she was brought in to deliver only to find that ‘Wild’ William Darrel had thrown the newborn into a fire. A black dog is often spotted on the Jerusalem staircase, footsteps heard running up and down the corridor and extreme temperature fluctuations are often reported. Strangely, few guests say they felt threatened and return to Little Cote for another stay.
Prices from £229 per person. For more details contact 44 (0)1488 682509 or see Littlecote Hotel.
Bournemouth: The Greenest Hotel in the UK
Locally sourced food? Energy efficient lighting? We’ve heard all that before. But consider an in-house energy unit that uses the sun to generate electricity, wallpaper made using British vegetable inks, a company car that runs on the same cooking oil used to cook your breakfast earlier and over a hundred other little eco-conscious tweaks here and there; you’re staying at the UK’s Greenest Hotel.
The Green Hotel is a beautiful little boutique hotel in Bournemouth and makes for an eco conscious stay one of London’s closest seaside towns. Set in a renovated Grade II Victorian villa, the £5 million hotel has been open little over a month by owner Christopher Airey who aims to develop “hotels with style as well as green credentials.”
The standard of green upgrades introduced to the building and running of the hotel is certainly impressive. Insulation is provided through recycled newspaper in all floor and loft space while natural lighting is enhanced through the hotel with ‘roof lights.’ Staffs are encouraged to cycle to work with the help of bicycle loans while all food in the restaurant is sourced within a 30-mile radius of the hotel.
A short walk from the beach, the hotel offers 32 rooms furnished with bespoke handcrafted furniture, each made in the UK from natural and sustainable materials.
Once there you can explore the Victorian seaside town, which Harpers and Queen magazine once described as being ‘the next coolest city on the planet.’ Bournemouth is known for its chines; beautiful sharp-sided valleys running down to the sea.
This south coast has a spectacular beach seven-mile long beach and with 7.7 hours of sunshine during the summer, it’s one of the best places from the city to get some much-needed sun.
For more information see www.thegreenhouse.co.uk. Rooms from £180.
Oxford: On the Orient Express
Epitomized as typically English in hundreds of Hollywood movies, with its famous university walls, cobbled streets, cricket pavilions and shady trees to read some classic literature under, it’s easy to see Oxford’s historically quant appeal. Still many Londoners overlook ‘The City of Dreaming Spires’ as a tourist-only destination, that it of course, until the Orient Express got involved.
Rush hour and London Victoria is a station that most commuters dread. Should your destination be Oxford on the Orient Express however, you’re in for a very different experience.
Greeted by a butler on the platform, your bags are dually whisked away and you’re invited to the private lounge of a British Pullman carriage that undoubtedly nods to the days of the great steam age. It’s like a scene from Harry Potter. While the modern day commuters dash along the platform to work, you are transported to another world both metaphorically and literally: elegance, class, glamour and on to Oxford.
British Pullman carriages were once the Bournemouth Belle, the Brighton Belle and the legendary Golden Arrow, whisking passengers to the majestic ocean-going liners of the 1920s and 1930s. Today, restored to their former glory, each individually designed art deco carriage cocoons guests in luxury while waiting staff and porters flit between cars bringing drinks and canapés. On board, beautifully laid tables with starched tablecloths and branded silverware, emphasize the elegant and comfortable carriages. As a passenger leaving the hectic capital behind, all there is to do is enjoy the scenery of the passing English countryside while sipping on a Bellini and starting on brunch.
Once in Oxford, home to royalty and scholars for more than 800 years, be sure to take in the university colleges where notable students have been graduating since the thirteenth century and the stunning Bodleian Library. There is also a quant collection of shops and cafe to try out the obligatory afternoon tea and scones but for a truly old school (no pun indented) noble English experience, take a romantic boat trip along the River Thames or even punt along the River Cherwell.
Trains head back to London in the late afternoon. A five course dinner prepared by onboard chefs is complemented by an extensive wine and champagne list to end your truly elegant and inspiring trip.
Prices from £250. For more information see www.orient-express.com.