Step back in time for a weekend on an upmarket golf break to one of the West Country’s hidden gems. As Carly Frost discovered, you’ll feel like a member of the aristocracy when you stay at The Manor House in Wiltshire.
Hidden in the heart of the Cotswolds is a 17th century chocolate box village that appears to have been frozen in time. Castle Combe in Wiltshire is like something from a fake movie set, with steep, narrow windy streets and dainty rows of stone houses that look fit for dwarfs with doorways barely high enough for me, a mere 5 foot 1, to enter. This pretty village is undoubtedly one of the best preserved examples of this bygone era in the country and right at the heart of it is the spectacular Manor House Hotel.
Book a night’s stay here and you’ll be treated like a lady of the Manor. A butler will greet you at the entrance and escort you to a very grand room where you can get dressed for a very relaxing pre-dinner drink over-looking the croquet lawn before enjoying a delicious meal in the Manor’s Michelin-starred Bybrook restaurant. Afterwards you can choose to relax in the bar or the Manor’s many well-appointed social rooms before retiring to your luxurious suite where a large four poster bed is the centrepiece of a room which has been cleverly transformed into a 21 st century boudoir with every modern touch you could imagine including a TV opposite the bath, while still retaining the feel of the traditional stately home.
The Manor House Hotel dates back to the 14 th century and is every bit the quintessential Englishman’s country house. Situated just a short drive from Bath it is the perfect hidden retreat away from the hustle and bustle of town life for those seeking privacy and a quiet weekend. The 365 acre estate was originally the site of an old Norman castle settlement which has hosted a number of Lords throughout its history, the most famous of which was Sir John Oldcastle , the figure Shakespeare based his character of Sir John Falstaff upon in his play Henry IV in the late 16th century. It was also the home of English geologist and political economist George Poulett Scrope throughout the 19th century who lived at the Manor House until the death of his first wife Emma in 1866; his wife’s family has owned the property since the 14th century and only converted it to a hotel recent years converted.
Nowadays it is run by the Exclusive Golf Group who offer a high-end service, among the hotel’s honours include recently being named a five black star property by the official AA Hotel Services.
Many repeat visitors to the Manor House come here simply to enjoy the fine dining. The hotel’s Michelin-starred Bybrook restaurant is a big attraction and the ‘foodies’ amongst you with delight in the menu prepared by Richard Davis and his team of chefs, who use the best ingredients from the Manor’s own kitchen garden and local suppliers, to ensure that every taste combination is delicious. I’d highly recommend the 7-course tasting menu, which gives you the opportunity to sample a wide selection of dishes from the menu, in the form of mini meals.
The hotel also has its own cellar and if you choose the option to pair your wines with each dish served you’ll not only discover some delightful new tastes you perhaps wouldn’t have tried before, you’ll also be treated to a fascinating explanation of the reason why each wine perfectly complements the dish by the restaurant’s sommelier.
While many choose to come to the Castle Combe estate just to relax, for most the main attraction of a mini break here is the great golf on offer.
The Manor House has its own championship course, designed by Peter Alliss and Clive Clark, which weaves through the valley where the hotel nestles with the River Bybrook meandering through the middle. Aside from the beautiful setting what I love about a round of golf here is that it tests every golfing skill and doesn’t just favour the big hitter, making it a fun choice for ladies.
The mixture of holes is fascinating, from strategic par 4s; pretty par 3s to imposing par 5s. You get to experience the strategy of the challenge right from the word go as the opening par 4 is short enough for the confident hitter to have a go at driving the green. The sensible shot is a long iron or fairway wood to the wide part of the fairway avoiding the deep wispy rough that surrounds the long, narrow green. The short downhill second hole is the first of five excellent par 3s culminating in what most visitors would agree is one of the best hole on the course. “Burton Brook” is the spectacular par 3 17th , where the drop to the green is nearly as steep as the distance of the hole.
The contrasting challenge of this course is epitomised by the third hole, a monster of a par 5 which plays a startling 600 yards from the championship tips (although a fairer 450 yards from the ladies tees). You simply have to hit a driver here and you have to hit it straight as the hole is long and narrow, the fairway flanked by tall trees either side. Play the opening three holes in level par and you can give yourself a pat on the back.
Anyhow you begin to get the picture… I don’t want to spoil the fun of playing this course for the first time by going into detail about every hole; you must go and experience it for yourself. Needless to say it is one of my personal favourites and has received high praise from many who have visited it including European Tour star Luke Donald, who regularly ranks it atop of his must-play list.
The Manor House truly is a hidden gem of a golf course and hard to critique, although if I had to pick a downside of a round of golf here it would be the monumental walks between several greens and the next tee. I made the mistake of carrying my bag around the course the first time I visited here and felt like I was doing my Duke of Edinburgh Award’s expedition all over again! This time around I sensibly chose to ride on a buggy, which made the whole experience far more enjoyable and faster, leaving more time for that all-important relaxing back at the hotel, which believe you me, you’ll want to enjoy!