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.
Returning 35 years later with my second wife, Chrissy.….., it was a delight to see that Hambleton Hall still has that special instant appeal and that the original owner, Tim Hart has completed all his plans to restore the house to its original glories. It is a testament to Mr. and Mrs. Hart’s special relationship with this property that they are still the owners, making Hambleton Hall unique as a luxury country house hotel in that it has not changed hands since it opened in 1980.
It was back in 1979 that Tom Hart and his wife, Stefa, purchased Hambleton Hall, a late Victorian house that had been built for Walter Marshall, a brewery magnate and fanatical fox hunter, as his hunting box (for the uninitiated, this is the correct term for a hunting lodge or house near or on a hunting area.) Rutland is renowned for having two of the finest Hunts in the UK, the Cottesmore and the Belvoir and enthusiasts travel hundreds of miles to enjoy the thrill of riding to hounds in this Hunting paradise. Tim Hart can be counted amongst these enthusiasts and it played a large part in his desire to purchase Hambleton Hall as a centre for his own passion for hunting, Mr. Hart was a past Master of the Cottesmore Hunt, and shooting. In fact Hambleton Hall is well placed to accommodate shooting parties as Rutland boasts several top quality shoots including Belvoir Castle, Exton Park and The Grange at Pickworth. Hambleton Hall makes a perfect hotel to host a pre-shoot dinner and hearty breakfast before departing for a wonderful day enjoying the delights of shooting in the stunning countryside of Rutland.
The original owner of Hambleton Hall, Walter Marshal, died a bachelor so bequeathed the Hall to his younger sister, Eva Astley Paston Cooper, who presided over a group of fashionable young people of the age including Malcolm Sargent and Noel Coward, after whom some of the rooms are named. The motto over the front entrance probably sums up the fun and good times that were had in this house, Fay ce que voudras which roughly translates to – do whatever you wish, and whilst I would not advocate too raucous behaviour at Hambleton Hall I would suggest that the superb staff will ensure a superlative standard of service and cuisine is met without fuss and with unobtrusive attention.
In the intervening 35 years since my first visit, Tim Hart has achieved his ambition in completely restoring this beautiful Victorian building and has added to the formal gardens and the parkland with judicious planting in the traditional style of Capability Brown and Humphrey Repton.
He has also to my delight added his personal touch by commissioning two Neo-Classical pavilions in the style of Quinlan Terry and these form a most effective barrier between the formal garden and the parkland below, whilst also providing the framework for a superb croquet lawn. One of our yardsticks as to the quality of a Country House Hotel is its croquet lawn and Hambleton Hall passed our critique with flying colours.
Walter Marshall certainly had a good eye when it came to choosing such a commanding site for his hunting box but he would not have known what a stunning view would be created in 1970 when the Gwash Valley was chosen to be flooded to provide much needed water for the ever expanding population in the surrounding area. One casualty of the flooding would have been Normanton Church which would have been partly submerged and therefore its foundations compromised if it had not been for the public outcry to save the church. A charity was set up to save the church from a watery grave and it was decided to fill the lower half with rubble and create a new concrete floor so that the church could become a museum and be used for civil weddings and music concerts. As a consequence Normanton Church has become one of the most iconic landmarks of Rutland and attracts visitors from far and wide.
Overall the reservoir has been a success, for not only solving the county’s water problem but for becoming a major attraction for sailing, fishing and bird watching and all manner of recreational pursuits from cycling, walking and riding to just enjoying a picnic in the picturesque landscape.
Hambleton Hall commands an enviable position overlooking Rutland Water sitting as it does on top of a promontory which extends into the middle of the reservoir making it the ideal place to stay to make the most of this stunning area. Because of strict planning regulations, the view from the hotel is the same as it was in 1979, with not a house to be seen, and undulating green fields and beautiful trees down to the water’s edge, as a result Hambleton Hall probably commands the best views in the county.
So, whatever your reason for being in Rutland, upon your return to Hambleton Hall after the days’ activities, the comforts of this exceptional, quintessentially English Country House Hotel await you. Maybe a stroll through the formal parterre garden planted to provide interest throughout the year and if the weather permits a dip in the walled swimming pool with view over the parkland and once inside, amply upholstered sofas and chairs invite you to linger over the daily papers.
And after some downtime resting in the flawless bedrooms, decorated imaginatively with fabrics and wallpapers and the beds dressed with hand stitched Italian linen and mirrored armoires for wardrobes, retro styled Robert radios and marble bathrooms, perhaps a pre-dinner cocktail in the very inviting bar decorated with deep red fabrics and panelled walls.
The dining room continues the traditionally English style of the hotel, and of course it is expected that guests dress in the appropriate manner but that does not mean that there is anything stuffy about the atmosphere, just an anticipation of the delights from the kitchen under the safe hands of Aaron Peterson.
It is no surprise that Hambleton Hall excels with its cuisine. From as early as 1982 they achieved their first Michelin star under the chef Nicholas Gill earning a reputation for fantastic food served in an idyllic setting. They were pioneers of nouvelle cuisine in the UK and over the years many of the finest kitchens in restaurants and pubs in Rutland are run by Hambleton Hall trained chefs.
Nicholas was followed by Julian Carter, a master baker who still plays a key role at Hambleton, but for the last twenty five years the kitchens have been under the talented hands of Aaron Peterson, who has maintained the Michelin star which Hambleton Hall has now held for a spectacular 34 years, impressively the longest held Michelin Star in the UK.
Julian Carter was head chef for nine years and after that time he decided to return to his first love of baking, which was in ingrained in his DNA, having come from ten generations of bakers. So as not to lose his talents totally, Tim Hart, suggested that they open a bakery together which would also supply the hotel with first class artisan breads and cakes. Not surprisingly, in the talented hands of Julian, the bakery has become a tremendous success. It was named Britain’s Best Bakery in 2012 and now supplies six Hambleton Bakery Shops in the area along with pubs, farm shops, delis, cafes and a local school. Many a hotel guest has been known to take a small detour to Exton on their departure to take home a small culinary memory of the delicious breads served in the restaurant.
Continuing the high standards of his predecessors, Aaron is particularly keen on game cookery and uses game from the local shoot at Exton and produce sold to the them by local foragers; mushrooms, elderflower, horseradish, wild garlic, blackberries, sloes and in the summer truffles all are utilised in this kitchen. Even sorrel and hogweed which are prolific in the area are used and are particularly delicious in salads.
I can confidently state that whatever you chose to eat from the ever changing seasonal menu, it will be delicious. One way in which to experience as many of the dishes created from Aaron’s kitchen is to opt for the six course tasting menu which will reflect whatever is seasonal at the time of your stay.
Of course the natural partner to fine food, is fine wine. The role of Sommelier at Hambleton Hall is in the capable hands of Dominique Baduel, who along with Tim Hart select the wines for the cellars. Their preference is for wines from the smaller producers as they love to introduce the diners to something new.
An exciting introduction to the ‘wine paraphernalia’ is the Coravin System. This is a wine gadget that The Vintage Magazine featured in an article by Leona de Pasquale, our wine correspondent, this time last year as the perfect Christmas present for the wine connoisseur – Dear Santa, A Coravin Please?
This system allows Dominique to offer a larger selection of wines by the glass, including mature Bordeaux and Burgundy, both red and white as well as some to New World wines and even Yquem – a perfect solution to the problem of tasting fine wines without having to drink a whole bottle, particularly preferable when there are just two dining or different dishes are chosen requiring different wines to perfectly match the ingredients.
Although Hambleton House is full of traditional values, it is also very aware of all the 21st century amenities that none of us want to be deprived of wherever we are or whatever we are doing. So the wi-fi is superb and whether you arrive by ‘old fashioned’ helicopter or the latest hybrid car, you will be assured of a warm welcome.
The way in which Hambleton Hall has developed over the years reflects the Hart’s special relationship with Rutland and this particular property.
In summary, Hambleton Hall is a superb hotel and worthy of a special trip to the smallest county in England.
Robert Jarman has spent a lifetime observing and commenting on the habits and habitats of that endangered species, the British Aristocracy, including their houses, art collections, sports and pastimes.
He was a part-owner and Managing Director of Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage, which he acquired and rescued from near extinction in 1976, and built into an international publishing company.
He published the catalogues for a number of major Exhibitions at the V&A and the Royal Academy in the UK, the Cooper Hewitt and MOMA in New York, and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington.
He also conceived and created an important contemporary reference book called, ‘People of Today’, first published in 1981which is the ultimate study of the UK’s most successful and influential people.
He is therefore well-qualified to publish and edit The Vintage Magazine, an on-line publication aimed at, but not limited to, the affluent and active, over 50s who number over 23 million in the UK, and control 80% of the wealth of the country.