Annunciata Walton (lovingly) selects the best plein-air Valentine’s Day outings
Valentine’s Day is a great time to escape town, with restaurants bursting with couples being upsold fizzy wines, and head for the hills. Here are seven fantastic ideas for a jolly day out in the country this February 14, from Scotland to Cornwall.
Despite its craggy Cornish coast location, picture-perfect St Ives could be mistaken for a Mediterranean fishing town, with its whitewashed cottages and villas clustered round the harbour, winding cobbled streets and golden-sand beaches. Its simple charms have attracted a multitude of artists, particularly those (romantically entangled) giants of British Modernism Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson.
Keeping the tradition going is The St Ives School of Painting and, on February 13 and 14, it’s running a Creative Weekender course, ‘Getting Started with Mixed-Media Painting’, involving acrylics, oils, printmaking and drawing.
The course costs £165pp, includes all materials and is perfect for beginners. Go with your other half and paint each other a picture—after all, love isn’t always blind (http://schoolofpainting.co.uk).
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Longing to get the wind in your hair and a shiny-silver fish jumping on your line? Head to the Highlands—East Haugh House in Perthshire to be exact. This charming, turreted, family-run country house, originally part of the Atholl estate, just south of Pitlochry, has two renowned restaurants and its own salmon beat on the River Tay.
Some rooms come with roll-top or Jacuzzi baths, four-posters and open fireplaces—from £170, including dinner, bed and breakfast. A day’s fishing for two, which includes full tackle hire, permit, an accredited fly instructor and packed lunch, costs from £500 plus VAT (from £120 plus VAT if you bring your own tackle, waders etc and don’t need a gillie) and, if you’re feeling adventurous, the hotel will even arrange a dawn ’til dusk Macnab Challenge, starting on the Tay for your salmon, then to the heather-covered mountains to stalk a red stag and, finally, to get your grouse. £1,995 plus VAT per person (www.easthaugh.co.uk)—good luck!
Climb every mountain
Is there any better feeling than, after a strenuous climb, standing atop a hill, breathing the crisp, cool air right to the bottom of your lungs and gazing out at rolling country below? First, get yourself to Brimham Rocks, North Yorkshire, where you can explore the labyrinth of paths that meander through the weird, wonderful and higgledy-piggledy formations; second, find your perfect-picnic rock and sit down for a heavenly feast (hot Thermos of tea or coffee recommended) and God-worthy views over the Nidderdale moorland AONB; third, amble back down to Earth, keeping an eye out for the Dancing Bear, The Eagle and The Gorilla as you go. Open from dawn ’til dusk (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/brimham-rocks)
Art in the open
If you still haven’t been to Somerset to see the fresh-air outpost of contemporary- and Modern-art gallery Hauser & Wirth, now’s the time. Entry is free, you’ll avoid the summer crowds and have full rein of the landscaped garden, with its 1.5 acre meadow, that surrounds the former 17th-century farm buildings—now home to five gallery spaces of exciting, internationally acclaimed artwork in the heart of Somerset.
Walking here is also a joy, as is rootling around the antique shops of nearby Bruton, and the area is a perfect base for exploring the Mendip Hills and medieval Wells. What’s more, on Friday, February 12 and Saturday, February 13, Hauser & Wirth Somerset is throwing a colourful Indian Feast Weekend at its Roth Bar & Grill to coincide with Subodh Gupta’s current solo exhibition, ‘Invisible Reality’. Call 0174–981 4700 to make a reservation (www.hauserwirthsomerset.com)
The racecourse at Ratcheugh Farm, Alnwick, Northumberland, is well known for providing spectators with a pacy, knuckle-clenching finish; let the Percy’s meeting on Valentine’s Day be no exception. First race at 1.30pm (www.alnwickraces.co.uk). Afterwards, head into the impossibly picturesque market town itself, once described by none other than us at Country Life as the best place to live in Britain, for a scone and a pot of tea at Bari Tea Brewery, which boasts more than 30 varieties of the stuff—including, of course, that named for Northumberland’s great char connoisseur, Earl Grey (www.baritea.co.uk).
Alnwick Castle (www.alnwickcastle.com), the second largest inhabited castle in England after Windsor, and Howick Hall’s blanket of snowdrops (www.howickhallgardens.org) are well worth a visit, too, not to mention the magically cavernous second-hand bookshop Barter Books, in Alnwick’s old Victorian railway station (www.barterbooks.co.uk).
If a day of Champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberry quaffing, spa pampering and generally being waited on hand and foot followed by an intimate supper and a night’s slumber on luxury Egyptian-cotton isn’t your idea of Paradise, then you leave me with no option but to state that there’s no pleasing some people. The Celebration Break For Two at five-star Alexander House Hotel and Utopia Spa (the clue is in the name), on the border of Sussex and Surrey, right on the edge of the enchanted Ashdown Forest, is the romantic treat that dreams are made of. From £530 per room, including a spa treatment each, Champagne, strawberries and other delicious perks, dinner and a classic full English (www.alexanderhotels.co.uk).
Shotguns and ear defenders aren’t necessarily the first things that come to mind with Valentine’s Day on the horizon, but that’s not to say they can’t be ingredients for a truly amorous countryside day out. Award-winning shooting ground E. J. Churchill, on the whimsically Italianate West Wycombe estate in Buckinghamshire, has teamed up with Caviar House & Prunier to offer a shooting lesson for two, followed by a delicious Champagne and smoked-salmon lunch. The Cupid Clay Package costs £125, including clays, cartridges, gun hire, safety gear and professional instruction, and is available throughout the month of February—visit www.ejchurchill.com or telephone 01494 883227 to book.