I begin this Blog with Happy News: BB having featured regularly in my tales over the last ten years has become HH: the Handsome Husband.
Our East London wedding celebrations in June saw us tie the knot at Hackney Town Hall where our celebrants Niala and Ayo dispelled any fears of being “just” one of the many weddings queued outside. We were by all accounts the only couple in the world splicing our lives that day. Legalities signed we, our siblings and children climbed aboard a prompt and pink No 55 bus to the wedding breakfast, where we shared ongoing celebrations with our closest friends. It was a special day indeed.
In these days of ghastly post-Brexit melee required to leave the UK, we opted to spend a Mini-Moon relaxing in the English countryside. The following Sunday HH and I climbed aboard Eric The Camper, his legendary and much-loved VW and chugged in exemplary style from gritty Hackney Wick to the glorious environs of Warwickshire and luxe comforts of Salford Hall, our destination of choice for a whole week of pampered bliss.
The journey was not quite as smooth as hoped however, for as we exited the A40 something seemed not quite right; one look outside revealed a blown tyre … although Eric is undoubtedly in need of some TLC, his performance is usually seamless. A somewhat inept AA mechanic eventually summoned a more adept contractor who waved us on our way within minutes … some three hours later.
Having appraised the unflappable Salford Hall Team of our substantial delay, and despite the kitchen closing a good hour prior to our arrival, a table awaited dressed with champagne … and a most delicious dinner. The Great Hall of Henry VIII was ours alone, save the kind attention of those who stayed late to serve us. The King himself was undoubtedly at the table too … and rightfully proud.
Our bags already in situ upstairs, we arrived to survey our home for the week; a high-ceilinged room lined with ancient oak panels. A substantial and deep Chesterfield sofa, generous writing desk, super-king-size bed, luxury thread-count bed linen and super-modern ensuite. Glorious Tudor windows gave uninterrupted views of hill, vale and fading rays of sunset. This was bliss indeed.
A delicious breakfast heralded a slow morning after which HH set out to find local VW specialists who replaced the remaining tired tyres. In his absence what else could I do, but enjoy a massage conducted by the accomplished Emma, who also provided recommendations for local spots to visit and things to see, excellent advice that led us to relaxed excursions and interesting places.
The village of Broadway proved a huge success; we alighted at the Gordon Russell Design Museum, a delightful celebration of a brilliant furniture designer who, commissioned by post-war Government produced the clean lines of Utility furniture now regarded as the forerunner to British mid-century design excellence. Whilst his story is largely unsung, his talents were extraordinary and we saw the evolution of his own brand of interior design featuring now classic, highly collectable pieces. We watched an absorbing film about him and the factory he built there employing over 300 craftsmen; it included features about his family, not least his entrepreneurial father who bought a near-derelict building on the high street, now the celebrated Lygon Arms where a light lunch completed our visit.
Returning home to the warm embrace of Salford Hall, dinner awaited and we again took our place in the Great Hall, this time in the company of other guests, some resident at the hotel and others local coming for the sheer excellence of the food and wine for, dear reader, The Hall wine list is something to behold. HH whose love of the stuff is informed by a wine diploma, confirmed the quality and provenance of the bottles on offer, chose a delicious and rounded burgundy. We retired to our room replete and very happy.
Stratford-upon-Avon has thus far escaped us both in life, so we drove there one morning and booked ourselves onto the Countess of Evesham lunchtime cruise. Very good food was cooked on board and amusingly, we were by some considerable years the youngest guests afloat. Our own table for two sat by a large window from where we enjoyed the encountering of various locks, views of The Globe Theatre, myriad weirs and more. Our server was a young woman studying psychology, a subject that clearly gave her much insight into the science of her work; she was welcoming, professional and engaging all whilst being highly efficient. A catch indeed for the Countess of Evesham.
Cruise and lunch over, we wandered the touristy streets of Stratford-upon-Avon; we dipped in and out of various clumsily themed shops that nestled between the ubiquitous facades of M&S, McDonalds, Boots and more. Once upon a time I suspect independent locally-owned retail and restaurants flourished here, but landlord-world has created a high-street that all but masks its Shakespearean originality. Then it really, really rained.
A cat-nap and light Great Hall dinner gave way to clear skies; we drove up hill and down dale, through narrow country lanes until we found our sunset-friendly spot. From here, we watched the pale sky turn aflame, the delicate clouds shapeshifting into all manner of dragons and mythical creatures, the rosy light illuminating their skirts as the sun sank slowly into the hills.
The following day, HH made a final Eric TLC trip, while I returned to Emma for some expert reflexology, the most relaxing of high-pamper therapies. Leaving the spa studio, Emma showed me the Priest Hole where Catholic Fathers hid during the purging of the faith; this is just a small slice of Salford Hall magic, for every up-and-down of step, each twist-and-turn of corridor reveals history that is a joy to uncover and discover. Salford Hall is not just any old hotel, it holds within its Tudor walls fascinating intrigues of the past, whilst offering every luxury of the present. The retreat is a recent addition to its owner’s portfolio and discreet works in progress can be seen – if you look for them. A gym, spa and pool are being created and as yet infant kitchen gardens show fresh promise of even greater culinary excellence to come.
We decided that evening to dine at a promising pub we had passed a few times; the Fish and Anchor was what we wanted right then and a table by the window just the ticket. Our server listed the specials, my modest fried mushrooms being so utterly delicious that spying the chef, I made my way to ask how he did them: No-one makes fried mushrooms as good as mine, I declared, tell me! Chef seemed rather pleased and very graciously, he spilled the beans. After supper we stayed seated to nurse our wine, for this was Karaoke Night at the Fish and Anchor and although we couldn’t see the performers from our table, I can declare that what we heard was astonishingly good: Offenham Has Talent.
The next day was spent within The Hall; in the games room I was by no means covered in glory at either darts or billiards, although my increasingly grumpy efforts generated much hilarity for HH. Finding (for me) better luck in the library we returned to our spacious room for a lazy afternoon where we alternately read, slept, chatted and bathed.
This being our penultimate night, after another fine dinner and by now on chatting terms with other guests, we meandered into the bar to collect a couple of large brandies. These, we took into as yet unexplored gardens where games galore awaited. Alighting on the Boules I drew on my father’s expert talent of Italian Boccia, which, when combined with an unashamedly competitive streak took me to a 15 to 8 win. And another large brandy … chin chin!
Like all good things and all-too-soon, our Salford Hall week came to an end, with the Exemplary Team gathering to bid us farewell and a safe journey home. If like us, you cannot endure the thought of the carnage and indignity involved in travelling abroad, look no further than Salford Hall in the Vale of Evesham on the Cotswold border, where you will find wonderful people to look after you, fabulous food and wine, discreet relaxed luxury and historical charms to enthral and delight.
The lesser discovered gem of Salford Hall marks an auspicious start to our Very Exciting Adventure in life … and oh yes, we’ll be back.
© Giovanna Forte 2022