We are living in the age of the Stay-cation. Or at least that’s what I’m led to believe.
But despite the persistent rumour that more Brits than ever are shunning the delights of the European beach holiday (can you hear the collective sigh of relief from over the channel?), the idea of a weekend in some provincial corner of the UK has never really done it for me – give me Provençe any day. That is, until now.
I’m the first to admit that I’ve remained shamelessly ignorant of the delights our drizzly little island has to offer, and seemingly impervious to the marketing that would have us all believing the likes of Liverpool can match Vienna and Barcelona in the cultural stakes (though having never been to Liverpool, I’m in no position to doubt that might indeed be the case). So when I was offered the chance to spend a night in the lap of luxury at Close House Hotel, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to broaden my geographic horizons a little… and stock up on some top-notch complimentary toiletries while I was at it. Nestled in deepest Northumbria, I couldn’t help but notice that in the seven and a half hours I’d spent travelling there by coach, I could easily have reached somewhere more exotic by plane. And had I gone instead by train (without having the foresight to book two months in advance) it would probably have cost about the same, too. That’s not to say it wasn’t a pleasant journey – it occurred to me en route that the art of ‘travelling’- of enjoying the journey itself – is something we have long since forgotten to appreciate. And if, like me, you are unfortunate enough to be trapped next to a young French gentleman who insists on offering you carrots (whole, and still sporting mud) for the duration of the trip? Then just embrace it all as part of the experience.
Close House, an imposing Georgian pile that straddles the Tyne Valley, was lent something curiously atmospheric by the drizzle and mist that seem to have been the dominant weather force these last few weeks. It conjured up images of Miss Havisham’s Satis House (pre-jilt days, perhaps – it was, after all, spotlessly clean) or Jayne Eyre’s Thornfield Hall (minus the unbalanced, pyromaniac locked in the attic, one would hope). Not bleak, just inherently English – and therein lies the beauty. Everything here is very carefully considered; the grounds are painstakingly manicured, in striking contrast to the rugged panorama of the Tyne’s surrounding hills. The golf cart that whisked me away to my room came with a nicely heated blanket. The staff are warm, courteous and more accommodating than any I have ever met (thought it might just be that people generally are in this patch of England). And in the rooms themselves? It’s safe to say nothing has been overlooked – either in the main hotel’s nineteen bedrooms, or the twelve secreted away in the newly renovated courtyard. I’m generally not one to linger in a hotel room – I’d sooner be safely installed at the bar, or off getting lost somewhere. But it was rather nice to sit in the complimentary bath robe on the heated marble floor of the bathroom for a while, pondering the purpose of the various buttons and switches displayed across the wall.
Alas, a girl’s got to eat. And drink. So it was inevitable that at some point I would wrench myself away from this marvellously well-appointed hotel room in search of sustenance, first at the bar (well-stocked, with a decent menu and tireless bartenders), and then at the Argent D’Or, the hotel’s restaurant. As the name would perhaps suggest to anyone with pigeon-French, the décor is pretty darn opulent. Everything is custom-made to a high specification, and the inspiration for the interior (James Bond’s Casino Royale, allegedly) is overtly discernible. I must say that with the abundance of reclaimed furniture, chicken wire and industrial lighting spilling out from most restaurants nowadays, it makes a nice change. This is restaurant dining, old-school; there are linen napkins, chandeliers and impeccably-dressed, intuitive and dedicated waiters, who wear polished shoes and starched shirts. The menu might seem tame given current dining trends, but what it does, it does very well. My locally foraged wild mushrooms on toasted sourdough were everything they should have been – rich (but not cloying), nutty and sharp, and my venison with juniper and baby vegetables was tender, well-seasoned and well cooked. There’s no gastronomically life-changing experience to be had here, but you will leave content and well-looked after.
And so, to the golf. I won’t profess to know much about the sport (is it a sport? It seems barely possible to even break sweat, unless you’re in the Algarve), but it seems it’s no longer the dominion of overweight retirees trying to avoid their wives; indeed, Close House are waging a pretty furious campaign to get more children, young adults and even (gasp!) women involved in the game. With two 18-hole golf courses, and academy that boasts some pretty mind-blowing gadgetry in its tuition bays, and a custom fit suite where even I was tempted to buy a fetching set of purple clubs, this is probably a good place to get started. And if you’re not so keen, but a significant other to someone that is, then prop yourself up in the No. 19 clubhouse with a G&T until they’ve exhausted themselves with all that putting. The staff are PGA qualified professionals, and their Attached Tour Professional is Lee Westwood. Even I know who he is.
So no, it’s not Mexico. You probably won’t get a tan – a real one, anyway – and you might still need a pocket translator handy. But I’ve discovered that sometimes, it’s nice just to explore your own little corner of the world, and challenge your perceptions. Because even if it is guaranteed to rain ninety percent of the time, we’re made of pretty stern stuff over here – a drop rain never dampened our spirits. So scrap Playa del English, and take a trip somewhere closer to home. You might just find you like it.
More information see: here
words Aimee Hunt