Birthday Weekend: Studley CastleWednesday, June 22, 2011
Now the only thing better than a big British breakfast is a big British Castle.
For the rest of my birthday weekend, I had politely requested that we do what I've always wanted to do since arriving here in the Land of the Long Cloud: go to Stratford Upon Avon. I love our little literary excursions: we've done Jane Austen's Bath and Lewis Carroll's Oxford, and now it was time to visit Shakespeare's Stratford Upon Avon. I was ready. I even chose the perfect place to stay for the night:
This is Studley Castle. And that's the driveway.
This particular version of the castle was built in 1833, but the site dates back to 1086 where it was fondly known as The Old Castle.
I love the architecture: it's like a mishmash of turrets, squares, spires and arches made up of bricks from different decades.
It's a family-sized castle with a large modern annexe added on to the rear of the castle - that's where the majority of the bedrooms are, as well as the service areas like the kitchen.
Our room was small and very reasonably priced (about the same price as a Premier Inn room), and it had the most bizarre photograph of a gargoyle above the bed! I thought it might act like a reverse dream-catcher, but the bed was so comfortable that I fell fast asleep and didn't have any time for bad dreams. The photography, incidentally, was reproduced all over the hotel and featured scenes or images from the hotel's exterior in black and white printed on canvases like this one.
Outside, the grounds are expansive and pretty. The areas around the castle seem to be let out to various families and businesses but they all keep in with the idyllic country setting so it makes it even more appealing. Above, manicured farmlands in various shades of green.
There were hundreds of sheep around the castle grounds, all maa-ing and ehh-ing away. They seem to have been recently sheared but a quick Google search didn't tell me the location of nearby yarn shops, boo.
I think that they must be quite used to the tourists staring at them for hours and pointing cameras. Needless to say, when there was lamb on the menu that night, I couldn't bring myself to order it.
Here's us, looking as pleased as punch that we're staying at a castle amongst rolling meadows populated with herds of sheep. Ah, country life! This is also when the sun popped it's face out and decided that it would show us city slickers a thing or two: by the end of the next day we were both horribly sunburnt with tell-tale sunglasses outlines!
Anyway, the grounds were fairly large and we went marching around, exploring an abandoned building, rifling through the groves, getting stung by the nettles (argh!) and enjoying the scenery.
Very pretty! We discovered these pretty foxgloves amidst the ruined wall of the castle's grounds (next to an authentic fallen tree log and a real tree swing, I kid you not).
Moving on to tastier pastures: dinner time.
Now, I had worried a little bit about our dinner service because, after reading the menu, I realised that our dinner was going to cost more than the room! Which is to say, it didn't cost very much by London restaurant standards, but still - it's the principle of the thing.
Studley Castle is a three-star hotel and we were expecting three-star dining, but we got exceptional service in a beautiful room with immaculate place-settings and delicious food. I'd award it a four-star certification at least.
We ordered the same dish for dinner: Roast Beef Topside with (giant) Yorkshire Pudding. Served on a bed of roast potatoes (and swede, I think) with gravy, this was an impressive dish. We were also given a side dish of steamed vegetables (carrots, baby marrows and green beans) to share, and our waiter dished out a spoon-full of horse-radish on our plates too.
That was followed by G's choice of rhubarb tart with vanilla pod custard, and my choice of honeycomb and banana sundae, both of which, in my opinion, were considerably less enthusiastic and exciting than the main course - something I seldom utter when it comes to desserts! Ah well, the ambiance and service made up for it. Plus, they had the best rosé I've ever had.
Believe it or not, it's about 9pm in this photograph and we've already got ten times more freckles than when we arrived in Studley (thanks, sun).
Okay, by this point you're probably skipping all the text and just looking at the pictures (and I don't blame you, there's an awful lot to say about Studley and I've been a bit blabby) so I'm going to end off with a quick glance at breakfast:
It was a buffet-style traditional breakfast serving up hashbrowns, beans, buttered button mushrooms, grilled tomatoes (they're there somewhere), eggs, sausages and bacon. Can you already guess that this isn't my breakfast?
... and those are soya-filled sausages at the back there.
We finished up with berry coulis with plain yoghurt, kiwi fruit and starfruit (carambola) which I've never had before: it has a strange solid texture that seems to be a cross between the crisp water-retentive watermelon and sweet melon. Ugh.
And one final silly thing to add: I left my ring behind in the room. After getting a very early start the next morning, we had just about arrived in Stratford when I realised it was missing - and we turned around and went right back to search the room. I couldn't find it, but I managed to tell everyone I could find (housekeeping, receptionists, etc.) that it was missing and I'd call back. It put a bit of a damper on our day of Shakespeare but when I called back they had found it! Hurrah! Under a teacup, no less. I decided right then and there that they were all lovely people, that the hotel was lovely, and that it could definitely become a highly-recommended holiday tradition.