Walking the Border

Brooks Country House provides a welcome retreat on the Welsh border

Review by Izzy Ashton

It has to be said that British people are pretty good at what many would deem to be ‘staycations’. Those holidays that start with a car ride at dawn; with a hurried head count to check you remembered the dog/toothpaste/youngest child – and with the almost absolute promise of drizzly rain.

It has to be said that British people are pretty good at what many would deem to be ‘staycations’. Those holidays that start with a car ride at dawn; with a hurried head count to check you remembered the dog/toothpaste/youngest child – and with the almost absolute promise of drizzly rain.

Everyone has a fond memory of visiting the British countryside, from the hills to the beaches or just traipsing through your local woods. But, there is something so luxurious, at least for me, about jumping in the car for a few hours and holing up in a cosy hotel for the weekend.

And that’s exactly what Brooks Country House offers. An old Georgian manor house in Ross-on-Wye built in the 1790s, the house sits atop a valley that straddles the border between England and Wales. The Manor is on the Pengethley Estate and has its own two acre vineyard that makes deliciously crisp white and rosé wine.

This of course, we learn the following morning, as we arrive on a rainy Friday evening in the pitch dark and having had many a (minor) row about the sat nav and her bossy assertions that she knew where we were. Walking in through the front door feels like you’ve come to stay with long lost relations, albeit ones you make a mental note to keep in touch with more from now on.

Wellies are strewn by the door and piles of logs are stacked neatly in the entrance hall. The rooms off the hall offer differing pastimes for each discerning visitor. In one, a snooker table takes pride of place, with an old record player lurking in the corner. In another hides a beautiful hand carved chess set, on which many a fierce game was played over the course of the weekend.

Each room is full of comfy seating, just begging you to relax. The furniture is a mismatch of antique-looking finds. Velvet sofas stretch out next to round marble side tables, whilst a cow hide rug adorns the floor of the otherwise old fashioned, wooden bar. Although it is a clash of eras, the decor works, and only serves to emphasise the feeling of having just come to stay with a friend.

With its dark brown panelled walls and tapestry-like carpets, the house is at once dark, as fictional manors always seem to be, but reassuringly friendly. We peeked into the bar where several of the guests were enjoying an end-of-the-week nightcap and then wearily dragged ourselves upstairs.

Brooks Country House has 22 bedrooms but these are spread out over the main house, the old stables and the courtyard, as well as several newly refurbished horseboxes. The rooms in the main house break off from a central hall, in which you can almost hear the echoes of times gone past: riotous games of hide and seek or the hustle and bustle of centuries-old chambermaids. Our room makes us feel like a participating duo in an Agatha Christie novel, all oversized wardrobes and a four poster bed, onto which we duly fell in a heap.

Drawing back the curtains the next morning offered us a view down into the valley, and across the estate’s beautifully dishevelled parkland. Breakfast was a deliciously hearty affair, eaten whilst listening to Jamie Cullum’s greatest hits, an album that quickly became the soundtrack to our stay.

Taking full advantage of the straining sun, we set off across the estate, a hand drawn map and instructions from 1997 acting as our sole guide, owing to the blissful absence of phone reception. We made our way through overgrown woodland as the sun broke through the canopy, bouncing around the towering trunks. We crossed stiles and ran, ok fast walked, up and down hills. And along the way, we didn’t see another soul. Not a single one.

A quick pub lunch was had and then we took up residence beside the pool, enclosed by a brick wall that created a lovely sun trap, sheltering us from the wind. The pool is heated all year round and is reached through the hotel’s home gym. A black and pinewood little caravan revealed itself to be a sauna, providing the most indulgent time out.

The early evening being a sunny one, and the hotel perfectly positioned to be illuminated by the soft dusk light, we indulged in a gin and tonic on one of the many little benches that are dotted around the grounds.

Dinner was served in the dining room,that appeared to have once been a library. The setting sun streamed into the room, bathing the diners in a soft and ever-flattering glow. Paloma Faith was the evening’s soundtrack and she sang as we devoured our starters of oven-baked Camembert with fig relish and roasted pigeon breast on a butternut squash risotto.

Opting for an Argentinian Malbec to drink, an Asian-style pork belly with noodles and salmon fishcakes with a herb and tomato butter followed, after which we sat back contentedly, reading the spines of the library’s treasures; Dante to Ian Fleming with a few old fashioned self-help guides thrown in for good measure. A lemon posset was devoured before I could even attempt a taste and thus pronounced to be ‘yep, good.’

Once we deemed ourselves just about able to move, we shifted our weight from one comfortable chair to another and settled into a couple more rounds of chess before sleepily making our way to bed.

Sunday mornings will always be a treasured time in any diary that sees you working for most of Monday through Friday, and this was no exception. With a grey and dreary sky to greet us, we indulged in spending a little longer in bed, all accommodated for by the hotel’s very sociable weekend breakfast hours that extend until 11am.

After treating ourselves to smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, there was time for a quick mosey around the grounds, and a final aggressive game of giant, outdoor chess, before we packed up the car to head back to the city.

There is many a poem, play and novel that has been written about the UK’s landscape, from its rolling hills to babbling brooks and captivating woodlands. And you get all these, and more, in the surrounding lands of Brooks Country House. So, if you fancy hunkering down in an old manor house and hiding away from the world for a weekend, this might just be the place. riddle_stop 2

Enquiries: Brooks Country House, Pengethley Park, nr Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire HR9 6LL / info@brookscountryhouse.com / 01989 730211 / www.brookscountryhouse.com




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