Travel feature: Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire
- Credit: Archant
»I have to say I’ve always fancied the life of a country gent.
I tend to think tweed jackets and flat caps would rather suit me.
Unfortunately, living in an urban sprawl deep in Zone 2 offers only limited opportunities for clay pigeon shooting and brisk countryside constitutionals.
However, a trip to Brocket Hall, an elegant Grade-I listed residence in Hertfordshire, allows you to act, at least for a night or two, as though you were genuinely to the manor born.
A pleasant 30-minute jaunt from Finsbury Park, the hall dates back to the 1700s and nestles in more than 540 acres of rolling green hills.
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Disembarking at Welwyn Garden City’s slightly unusual shopping centre-based railway station, there is then a 10-minute taxi journey to the grounds – a trip only slightly marred by our cheeky cabbie’s insistence that the trains were cancelled for the rest of the weekend (they weren’t) with a kind offer to take us to Cockfosters for a mere £40 (we declined).
He further excelled himself by delivering us not to the reception, but to an isolated part of the estate where there was no sign of anyone with room keys.
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No matter though; a swift reconnaissance mission soon located the front desk and before long we were settling into out well-appointed period room – dubbed Sun Chariot after a racehorse owned by a former Lord Brocket – in the Melbourne Lodge.
We reclined on the sumptuous bed, trod water in the enormous bath and got ourselves spruced up – in the manner fitting a lord and lady – for the evening’s entertainment; a visit to the very-well-regarded Auberge du Lac restaurant.
We sauntered past the beautiful main building, complete with billiards room, imposing staircase and Grand Saloon, which, judging from the hoots of revelry emitting from its austere walls, had been hired out for some kind of do.
And then on we went around the lake, on the south edge of which the restaurant sits. It must be an absolute peach of an eating place in the summer, with tables available right up to the water’s edge, but on the blustery winter night of our visit it represented a cosy and romantic little nook.
The fire blazed and the plentiful staff bustled back and forth as we shook the rain from our coats and settled into a couple of martinis.
A seasonal, game-dominated theme pervaded the menu. While the six-course taster did look tempting, we went à la carte, not least because that gave us the chance to get involved with the fantastic-looking cheese trolley we saw lurking in the corner.
We did, however, indulge in the luxury of asking the excellent sommelier to pair our dishes with some of the finest offerings of his cellar.
The service and presentation were both immaculate, nothing was too much trouble and the food was, pretty much without exception, of a very high standard.
A quails-egg amuse-bouche set the ball rolling on a succession of delicate but well-thought out dishes.
The starters particularly impressed – excellent, fleshy monkfish paired with thin strips of smoky mutton and an adventurous, slightly Japanese-influenced beef shin and marrow affair, served with a slightly sweet mushroom tea.
Worthy of particular note was the aforementioned cheeseboard – a tour de force that we had been able to smell since we first sat down.
The fromager seemed as excited about it as we were, and we spent a very pleasant quarter of an hour discussing different varieties while he sliced up a few of his favourites.
Then we luxuriated in a couple of digestifs, safe in the knowledge our journey home was nothing so much as a gentle stroll though the grounds to our quarters, within which we fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
Awakening to a surprisingly clement morning, we decided to do what any rustic squires would do – take a wander round the estate .
In my case, however, I was determined to incorporate a cheeky nine hole on Brocket Hall’s famous Melbourne course.
We broke our fast first, naturally, enjoying excellent eggs Benedict, smoked salmon and a gallon of coffee in the relaxed surround- ings of the Watershyppes restaurant.
Thus refreshed, we headed to the first tee, and I have to say, when the heavens opened things were looking a bit dicey for my scorecard.
It was lashing it down – the rain was horizontal – and within seconds I was soaked to the skin. It was touch and go whether we carried on, and it’s a rare day that I throw in the towel when I have got the chance to show off my distinctly average swing.
But, as if by some divine golfing providence, the clouds dispersed as soon as we had cleared the first green and a beautiful crisp spell of winter sunshine ensued.
The well-maintained grounds drained as if by magic and we got to enjoy what really is a gorgeous course; challenging drives across rivers, fairways that run through ancient trees and alongside elegant bridges – the surroundings nearly made me forget my wayward short game.
As with all pleasurable things, the trip was over far too quickly and we had to wind our way back to the grey, gauche, belching metropolis.
But it’s nice to know that such a civilised weekend retreat, where we urbanites can play the country gent for a while, lies only a stone’s throw away.