24-Hour Room Service: Lower Slaughter Manor, Cotswolds, Gloucestershire
Saturday 06 December 2008
There's no getting past the name. And there's a faint disappointment that Slaughter is not a reference to a bloodied battlefield or even an abattoir; it is actually a confused local stab at speaking French. William the Conqueror gave this corner of the Cotswolds to the Norman knight Philip de Sloitre and his reward was to have his name massacred.
It is also about the only disappointment available in Lower Slaughter, an almost eerily picturesque hamlet of stone houses surrounding the imposing 17th-century manor. Built by a scion of Sir Christopher Wren's favourite family of stonemasons, the wonderfully named Valentine Strong, and set in five acres of chestnut trees and striped lawns, it offers a fantasy version of the English countryside luxuriously updated to the exacting standards of the Von Essen hotel group.
Crunching into the driveway at night to see the manor house lit by the soft yellow light of storm candles is an arrival into the most cosseted country living imaginable. His and hers Wellington boots and neat stacks of logs make you look around for a labrador to walk. Ranks of armchairs, sofas and fireplaces demand to be sat upon and tartan blankets have been thoughtfully left for knees that need a little extra love. It's not a setting that encourages spartan eating and the menu on offer is heavy on indulgence. In fact, it is heavy altogether.
The dining room is dressed with chocolate silk walls and modern designer chandeliers. Lords and ladies of the manor can expand into deep, soft banquet seats. And while the award-winning Welsh chef, David Kelman, boasts of local produce, it is the French classics that feel appropriate. Unsurprisingly the atmosphere is subdued – it's a place for murmuring not shouting. There can, by law, be no cigars in the drawing room but a deep list of digestifs bolstered by some distinguished armagnacs cushions that particular blow.
Mornings here were made for sunshine and weddings, of which there are both. Ice buckets full of champagne, a harp on the lawn and a canary yellow Lamborghini serve as reminders that this is a place of wish fulfilment.
The village beyond colludes in the fantasy. Sleepy stone houses line up peacefully on either side of the impossibly gentle River Eye. Two foot bridges offer you safe passage over this unthreatening stream, taunting you to a game of poohsticks among the reeds and ducks.
A stroll away, Lower Slaughter's Old Mill knows its business is nostalgia and offers premium fayre. Ice cream with an emphasis on cream can fortify you for the mile trek to Upper Slaughter. As a woman with more than a passing resemblance to a Second World War wren cycles past with loaves of bread in her wicker basket, it starts to feel overdone. I can't escape the feeling that the ducks are groomed before they're allowed to paddle idly by.
Lower Slaughter Manor, Lower Slaughter, Gloucestershire, GL54 2HP (01451 820456; lowerslaughter.co.uk ). The hotel is in the heart of the Cotswolds, around five minutes' drive from Stow-on-the-Wold and 20 minutes from Cheltenham.
Time from nearest mainline station: Moreton-in-Marsh – on the First Great Western line between London Paddington, Oxford and Worcester – is about 15 minutes away. A taxi is about £25; it is advisable to book in advance via the manor.
We were in the converted coach house. Deep carpets and low beamed ceilings make the otherwise vast rooms cosy. There's a truce between the old and new world with a large plasma screen offering an alternative to the stone windowsill. Robes and slippers hang in the walk-in wardrobe. The bathroom attempts to think of everything from a delightful dressing table to a waterproof television mounted in the tiling above the bath. Each of the 19 rooms at the Manor is decorated differently, with checks, floral, masculine and country-house styling.
Freebies: Molton Brown toiletries in the bathroom; a decanter of rather sickly fruit brandy.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Double rooms start at £250, including full English breakfast. Two-night Winter Warmer weekend breaks in a deluxe room with three-course dinner and breakfast costs £430 per room per night, or £350 during the week.
I'm not paying that:
Then you're unlikely to stay in Lower Slaughter. Nearby Lords of the Manor in Upper Slaughter offers doubles from £195 including breakfast (01451 820 243; lordsofthemanor.com ), while Yew Tree Cottage in Turkdean is a cosy B&B where doubles start at £80 (01451 860222; bestcotswold.com ).
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