Driving up the mile-long beech avenue to Lucknam Park in Wiltshire, it is easy to see why it was chosen as a hiding place for Hurricanes and Spitfires during the Second World War. The leaves meet overhead, and no roads or pylons interrupt the view of the 500-acre parkland, only cross-country fences awaiting the attentions of equestrian-minded guests keen to take advantage of the hotel’s stables.
Arriving as we did after a long (successful) day at the VWH point-to-point, the spa was an immediate temptation. Unobtrusively sited behind the hotel, it is simply built in local Cotswold stone, with tall glass windows revealing the Brasserie next door for those who want a relaxed bite to eat. The staff were notably cheerful (even when I managed to lock myself out of my locker) and unobtrusive, and the atmosphere was extremely relaxing. We had no time for a treatment, which range from the attractively named Eternal Youth facial to the Tension Release massage for men, but a lazy hour in the indoor/outdoor hydrotherapy pools was the perfect way to relax. However, as I realised when wandering round the grounds later, the end of the pool outside is made of glass, so one might feel a tad self-conscious displaying all to anyone walking past the gardens – the spa is also open for non-residential guests, with days starting at £135.
A bottle of champagne and a brush-up later, my friend and I were sipping cocktails (I recommend the English Rose) by the fire in the drawing room, which really does feel like that of a private country house. Part of this may be down to the fact that this is a relatively young hotel, having been a family home until 1987. There has been a house on this site since William the Conqueror’s time, and the present building dates mainly from 1827. The pillared portico and bow-window wings, all also in the local Cotswold stone, are principally the creation of Andreas Boode, a member of a plantation-owning Dutch family. In 1870, with profits running low, the estate was sold to coal-mine owner James Merry, who owned two Derby winners. During the Second World War, the house sheltered hundreds of evacuees, then airman from the nearby RAF Colerne, until, from 1966 to 1987, the equestrian element returned with the ownership of racehorse breeders and trainers Jeff and Babs Stevens. The passage of so many families, most of whom seemed to have loved living here, has left an unmistakeably warm and welcoming atmosphere.
The Park Restaurant is Michelin-starred, and rightly so in my humble opinion. My scallops were a creamy delight, and the beef perfectly cooked. To follow I ordered a confection of different chocolate puddings, fetchingly arranged, and the staff were attentive, yet never badgering.
The bedrooms, too, are luxurious without being overwhelming, with hugely comfortable beds and sparkling bathrooms. The notes left on our pillows reminding us that the clocks were changing were a lovely touch!
Sadly, I didn’t have time to take advantage of the equestrian facilities, but there is plenty to tempt me back: showjumping and cross-country with former Household Cavalry Riding Master Richard Waygood on June 1-2 and showjumping with trainer and commentator Stephen Hadley on July 27-28. Rooms are available at special rates for such events, and are definitely worth it for the keen rider. Well, maybe next time…
Rooms at Lucknam Park, Bath Colerne, Chippenham, Wiltshire (01225 742777; www.lucknampark.co.uk), cost from £315 per room per night