Hotels & Places to Stay

King JOhn Inn Tollard Royal

The King John Inn at Tollard Royal in Dorset is one of the growing numbers of gastro, or bistro pubs with enough rooms to accommodate a shooting party, and good enough food and wines to make a team of guns and guests want to have dinner and stay there on the night before a shoot.  The King John Inn is just one of many such pubs.

Tollard Royal is a charming village with a 14th Century Church in the middle of what must surely be one of the largest concentrations of good shoots in a small area anywhere in the south of England.

Other ‘gastro’ pubs and notable establishments along the Dorset Wiltshire border include the Beckford Arms, near Tisbury, the Lamb Inn at Hindon,  Howard’s House Hotel at Teffont Evias, and the Museum at Farnham.  All these pubs have created comfortable and stylish accommodation and provide superb food and friendly service for frequent shooting parties during the season.

For instance the King John Inn at Tollard Royal has no fewer than 70 shooting parties per season thus providing a very welcome and substantial contribution to its turnover and profits.

Assuming an average spend of £200 per head, for dinner,  bed and breakfast with an average of 10 guests per party, this creates income of £2000 per shooting  party, which  multiplied  by 70  shooting parties per annum generates a  staggering £140,000 of income that otherwise would not exist.

It is therefore easy to understand why an increasing number of local Pubs are ‘raising their game’ and improving and upgrading their facilities to attract this lucrative market, creating a welcome source of income for the trades people engaged in these ‘up-grades’.

A Report on the economic, environmental and social contribution of shooting sports to the UK by Public and Corporate Economic Consultants (PACEC) identified the following:

  • 480,000 people shoot live quarry in the UK
  • shooting supports the equivalent of 70,000 full time jobs
  • Shooters spend £2 billion each year on goods and services
  • Shooting is worth £1.6 billion to the UK economy
  • Shooting is involved in the management of two-thirds of the rural land area
  • Two million hectares are actively managed for conservation as a result of shooting
  • Shooting providers spend £250 million a year on conservation
  • Shooters spend 2.7 million work days on conservation.

Historically the larger and longer established shoots are on estates that often had houses designed, or extended, to accommodate the large shooting parties of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and in some cases these are reserved for the exclusive use of their owners and their guests.

However, roving syndicates are more likely to stay in the local pub or small hotel where they receive a warm welcome and good service, and this all adds to the camaraderie of dinner the night before a shoot and at breakfast the next morning, and the anticipation of a great day ahead.

As far as the owners of these shoots are concerned the visiting guns provide much needed income for the estate but also for the teams of loaders and beaters who are crucial to a successful days shooting.

There are few things more appealing to a sociable soul than the shared experience of a friendly shoot in beautiful countryside on a beautiful day, but the first impression of the pub or hotel where you have arrived after a long journey is dictated by the warmth of the welcome you receive.

When we arrived at the King John Inn, it was  nearing the  end of its Sunday Lunch session, and the place was crowded with tables demanding their bills, but the efficient staff, led by Paolo Corgiolu, ably supported by Kate took good care of us, and made us very  welcome, despite the other pressures on them.  They quickly found  us a  table for a late lunch, and we  ordered two ‘starters’ from the main menu, chosen since we were saving our appetites for supper,.  Two glasses of wine appeared without delay and we could begin to relax and take in our surroundings.

 

King John Inn dining area and bar

The simple wooden tables in the dining and bar area

The place had a good ‘vibe’ or dare I say, ‘trendy’ feel similar to that found in London.  I struck up a  conversation with a couple on an adjoining table by admiring their Cocker Spaniel and I asked  if he  shot  with  it, only to discover  that he had a gun on an Army Shoot at the Central Ammunition Depot at Bramley, near the  Duke of Wellintgon’s home at Stratfield Saye which my late father ran for several  years in the late fifties, and on which I  know another current member, namely Andrew Speed.  ‘Speedy’ to  his  friends, was the Adjutant  at Sandhurst, and is now living in a  ‘grace and  favour’ house in Horse Guard’s Parade from whence he organises  all the  ceremonial events, including  the  Trooping of the Colour at Her Majesty’s Birthday parade.

This is proof, if it were needed, of the small world the shooting fraternity inhabit!

Anyway, after our modest but excellent lunch,  we retired to our very spacious double room with a King-size bed and a beautiful marble floored ‘en-suite’ bathroom with free standing roll top tub and separate shower with enormous rose.  This is the largest of the eight bedrooms available at The King John Inn, five of which are in the main building and three others in a converted barn opposite.  All are beautifully decorated with antique pieces mixed with modern touches to create rooms in which you just want to linger.

 

Te King Suite at The King John Inn at Tollard Royal

The King’s Room Suite

Bedrooms at King John Inn Tollard Royal

All of the rooms are dog friendly at a modest extra charge of £15.00

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The Stafford London main entrance St James's Place

 

Having experienced ‘The Stafford in the Country Experience’ at Cowdray House in West Sussex, the ancestral home of Lord & Lady Cowdray it was a natural progression to travel to ‘town’ to experience The Stafford London on its home turf and in particular the Game Bird restaurant which has been the reason behind The Stafford forming an alliance with Cowdray to supply the restaurant with fresh game from the Cowdray Estate shoots.  This has proved to be a marriage made in heaven as the Game Bird Restaurant has received glowing reviews since its launch in 2017.

Amongst the accolades heaped on The Game Bird is the interesting entitled award of, Most Civilised Restaurant in the Tatler Restaurant Awards 2018 acknowledged for being sophisticated, cultured and refined – all one could wish for your dining experience; and the reviews for the Game Bird by top critics have been full of compliments and praise; Jay Rayner of the Guardian ; Giles Coren of The Times ; Michael Deacon of The Telegraph ; Tom Parker Bowles of The Daily Mail  and Ben Norum of The Evening Standard.

It is rare for such well respected critics to be in accord about a restaurant so it is a testament to the talents of James Durrant, the Executive Chef, that he has created an award winning restaurant.

However, having launched The Game Bird to such culinary heights, James Durrant has decided to step down as Executive Chef and move on to pastures new.  The reins have been handed to The Game Bird’s Head Chef, Jozef Rogulski who has now been appointed Executive Chef.  Jozef’s path to The Game Bird has been by way of Cliveden House Hotel, The Hand and Flowers and The Waterside Inn, so it can be safely assumed that the restaurant will continue to excite its diners with innovative use of the finest produce and in particular that from the Cowdray Estate.

Another new appointment to The Stafford is Ben Tish as Culinary Director whose role will be to oversee the entire food offering, including The Game Bird Restaurant, the celebrated American Bar, private dining, suites and in-room dining.  So expect some exciting new projects for The Stafford in the years to come.

However, some stalwarts remain and are thankfully unchanged, retaining the history of The Stafford, The American Bar is a destination for any American or Canadian visiting London to reminisce about an oasis of glamour amidst the horrors of WWII – whilst the bombs were falling on London, American and Canadian officers took refuge in the bar and when the raids became too much, took shelter in the cellars.

 

The famous American Bar at The Stafford London

 

Ben Tish has only to maintain the existing excellence of The American Bar and the loyal guests who return year after year will be satisfied.  For those who have not yet experienced the unique atmosphere of The American Bar, then a treat is in store.  Sitting amongst the celebrity autographs, sailing memorabilia, artefacts and photos of people who simply love the place, one can have the best cocktails in London, fantastic food and service, all carried out under the watchful eye of Bar Manager, Benoit Provost.

The Cellars at The Stafford London and the sommelier Gino Nardella

Gino Nardella, Master Sommelier and the table laid for guests in the 380 year old cellars of The Stafford London 

Alternative dining experiences at The Stafford can be had in the 380 year old cellars which were used as an air raid shelter in WWII and there is still a museum there displaying memorabilia just abandoned by the American and Canadian officers who used The Stafford as a club during their time in London.   Special parties and wine tasting can be held here to make an unusual setting for dining with wines served by The Stafford’s Master Sommelier, Gino Nardella, who we met at the previously mentioned The Stafford in the Country Experience at Cowdray House.   Over 8,000 bottles of the world’s finest wines are stored here and Gino has tasted each and every wine over his forty years at The Stafford!

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Cowdray House at Midhurst West Sussex

We were recently invited by The Stafford London and Cowdray to attend a two day event at Cowdray Park and to stay for the night at Cowdray House, so that we could witness the style in which future clients of this new venue will be treated, and I can confirm that the answer is ‘very well’ indeed!

The future of Cowdray House has been secured by Lord Cowdray by utilising this imposing family home as an exclusive event venue, catering for such things as weddings, and other family celebrations, and corporate events, such as conferences and product launches etc.

The advantage of this solution is that the Cowdray family retain ownership of the property, but are able to rely on their very able management team to maintain and manage the buildings and grounds.

Overseen by Chief Executive, Jonathan Russell, this has happily resulted in a ‘Virtuous Circle’ – a recurring cycle of events, the result of each one being to increase the beneficial effect of the next!

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The entrance to Hambleton Hall Rutland

I first came across Hambleton Hall in 1982 when I was looking for somewhere different to spend the first night after my wedding and an hotel where we could arrive by helicopter.  There were precious few decent country house hotels in those days, but someone suggested I look at Hambleton Hall, and so I drove up there with my best man whose opinion I trusted in such matters.  We had lunch on the terrace on a beautiful summer’s day, and were smitten by the view of Rutland Water and to further my conviction that this was the perfect hotel in which to start my honeymoon, there was a perfect spot to land a helicopter.

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Audi A3 Cabriolet in front of Hotel Tresanton St MawesAudi A3 Cabriolet parked temporarily outside of Hotel Tresanton to have luggage unloaded by the ever efficient staff and then valet parked – now the relaxing can start!

A trip to Cornwall would not be complete without a visit to St. Mawes and the exemplary Tresanton Hotel. This is in no small part due to its owner, Olga Polizzi who was destined from birth to create beautiful places for people to stay, being the daughter of Lord Charles Forte.  Thankfully for all of us who have been fortunate to stay at Tresanton or Hotel Endsleigh (her country hotel at Milton Abbot near Tavistock), she is very good at it.

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Rick Stein The Seafood Restaurant glass frontIn the past year, the Rick Stein story has been turned up a notch as this well-known ‘Brand’ has been developed and promoted throughout the UK, as one  new restaurant after another has sprung up in every affluent town.

Our first encounter was at Sandbanks, notoriously known as having some of the most expensive real estate in the world, and then at what was ‘The Depot’ a well-loved riverside restaurant in Barnes, where it is now ‘bedding down’ nicely as a new Rick Stein.

Bearing in mind the extraordinary success of the Rick Stein brand, we thought we would go to where this empire was launched, the internationally recognised Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, Cornwall.

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The Audi S5 Cabriolet driving through the grounds of Hotel Endsleigh

The Audi S5 Cabriolet driving through the grounds of Hotel Endsleigh at the height of Spring 

If you are seeking the peace and tranquillity of nature, shaped by the hand of man, and a temporary escape from the stresses and strains of the 21st century, then I can highly recommend a few days at Hotel Endsleigh, situated on a stunning stretch of the Tamar valley on the edge of Dartmoor.

The house and surrounding gardens and landscape, have all been substantially restored since Olga Polizzi first saw and fell in love with this special place, and bought it in 2004.

It first opened its doors to hotel guests in 2006, and has now established itself as highly desirable hotel surrounded by some of the most beautiful gardens and impressive scenery in Britain.

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Ockenden Manor Cuckfield West Sussex garden and manor house in sunshine

On first sight Ockenden Manor tucked away in the well-heeled commuter town of Cuckfield in Sussex, might appear to be just another traditional Country House Hotel.  It is all these things but it has a delightful surprise in its ultra modern box-like Spa complex that shouldn’t work architecturally, but just does.  It makes a startling contrast to the Elizabethan manor but provides all that one could want in the way of a Spa.

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Luton Hoo Hotel Golf Course and Spa

Luton Hoo is yet another example of a once powerful and influential family losing their wealth and being forced to sell the ‘family jewels’.   Luton Hoo was one of England’s grandest stately homes, and its sale marked the final episode in the sad story of the Phillips family, who inherited the Grade I listed mansion in 1977.

When staying there one is surrounded by the history of Luton Hoo which plays a major part of the whole guest experience. So it is worth learning a little of the background story to this home and to those who had once lived and loved here.

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