Bishopstrow House, Wiltshire
Regular readers will know that Elldrew like to escape the London rat race, so with the Christmas madness behind us and Ell’s birthday ahead we booked a weekend at Bishopstrow House in Wiltshire. Having done several country house weekends in the UK our favourite, by far, was a few years back when we stayed at Cowley Manor (pre-blog setup, before you go searching). Since then we’ve tried to find a good reason to go back, but being amongst the top in its class it also carries a certain premium price tag. For this trip we wanted somewhere that wouldn’t break the bank, a 3-night long weekend not too far from London.
Searching through all the usual hotel sites, Bishopstrow House kept coming up. A mere 2-hours drive away, with an on-site spa and indoor pool, it ticked all the boxes but, for Elldrew, the outstanding feature was the alleged ambience – a grand country house with a modern and relaxed feel. What we loved about Cowley was the comfy lounges where we could kick up our feet and chill with a good book and glass of wine. What Bishopstrow House seemed to offer was something similar at a more affordable rate. Having been disappointed by many higher end properties, and wanting to stick to a budget, we thought we’d give it a go and we’re definitely glad we did.
Upon arrival we were greeted by Bishopstrow’s friendly reception staff who took us on a brief tour of the hotel, en-route to our room, giving us a quick glimpse at a spa that was elegant and candlelit, a dining room that was contemporary and modern, and two lounges (‘The Drawing Room’ and ‘The Library’) that were warm and cosy, both with roaring log fires. Throughout the furnishings were a mixture of eclectic, contemporary and traditional pieces, creating an inviting atmosphere. Arriving at our room we found we had been upgraded to “Longleat”; it was huge with a large bedroom and en-suite bathroom plus a separate sitting area and private terrace. Whether the upgrade was due to the birthday or our tweet to Bishopstrow HQ earlier that day we never did find out, but given we’d booked a deal the upgrade was unexpected and gratefully received!
Did the hotel live up to this initial impression? In the interest of ensuring that this blog isn’t as drawn out as our weekend the easiest way to answer this is to talk about what we felt the hotel did and didn’t do well (well, more like the things they could do better).
Let’s get the didn’t element out of the way first; the ‘Mulberry’ restaurant.
We had booked our first evening in Bishopstrow’s ‘Mulberry’ restaurant, and well-done reception for suggesting we book in advance as it seemed almost full – we’ve actually stayed at a hotel that didn’t consider this and we ended up having dinner in our room which was unacceptable. Looking forward to a gastronomic experience it alas didn’t quite live up to expectation. The restaurant itself is a modern extension on the building and the décor isn’t in keeping with the style of the other guest areas, which is a shame, not a grumble. The staff couldn’t have been more helpful. It was the food that disappointed.
Whilst we appreciate what the chef was trying to achieve, they couldn’t quite pull off the sophisticated menu which ending up with a bit of a mish-mash eighties/nineties inspired haute cuisine. Presentation was lovely but the time spent to achieve this meant the food suffered, too light on flavour and inconsistent temperatures of items on the plate.
Bishopstrow; if you’re reading this, please focus on what you’re good at – hearty English fayre – as for the rest of the weekend we chose from the ‘All Day Dining’ menu in the lounges and everything from this menu was great; delicious fish and chips, a nice homemade burger, perfect club sandwich etc. But, and sorry for this, our only complaint from that menu would be the over use of curry flavouring (the cheese plate came with a curry jam, the coronation chicken sandwich had Masala spiced onion rings and the burger managed to have a curry relish inside it)!
Breakfast, also in the ‘Mulberry’ restaurant, was again a little hit and miss. There was nothing wrong with the cooked items (ordered a-la-carte) but the actual buffet was a rather poor display involving a handful of pastries, a bowl of mixed fruit salad, some yogurt, cereals and juices (and we had read this on TripAdvisor prior so we knew what to expect). We’re not the biggest breakfast eaters so it was ample for us, but we can imagine it not being to everyone’s liking.
Let’s quickly move on and look at what the hotel did well (the stuff that really made the visit worthwhile).
Following dinner on our first night we found ourselves back in the ‘Drawing Room’ for a nightcap, and what a nightcap that was! The relaxed atmosphere that Bishopstrow evokes allowed us to stumble upon, and into, an “Around the World” quiz that some of our fellow guests were engaged in. For the sake of preserving modesties we won’t go into too much detail but suffice to say our nightcap was more like a night bottle, and perhaps a couple of night shots, with lots of answer yelling and laughter. So a big shout out to the Ladies from Amersham (we know some of you are reading this); best of luck on the channel crossing swim Sarita, is Lisa still sleeping? But more importantly always remember – the correct answer to anything Australian is Princess Kylie!
Saturday found us feeling very lethargic so after breakfast we needed some fresh crisp air, we asked at reception for a map of some walks, which the helpful receptionist offered us a 2-hour walk or a 1-hour stroll, nonsensically commenting that “they are both identical but one is longer than the other” – we had to giggle. We took both, and equipped with our Hunters, we decided the best way to shake off the sluggishness was the 2-hour walk of a delightful tour through the Wiltshire countryside – and beautiful it was!
We did the shorter “stroll” on Sunday and can confirm that they are not identical and, with the exception of 100 yards of main road by the hotel, are completely different! Both maps provided by the hotel were interlaced with lots of local history, which made the walk interesting – we definitely recommend doing one of these walks when you visit (we also found the hidden garden that is located on the opposite side of the road, accessible by a “secret” tunnel that goes under the main road…it was a treat to explore).
This is when the hotel comes into it’s own as the rest of Saturday was spent mostly sitting in the lounge reading books and newspapers, playing parlour games, and eating both lunch and dinner and chatting to the occasional guest. It was nice; it was relaxing and it felt very therapeutic.
Sunday felt a lot like Saturday except that this time we decided to venture out for a local pub lunch. We asked the same receptionist for a recommendation and she suggested ‘The Angel’ in Heytesbury (see our blog about this nugget); we asked if it was walking distance to be told only a mere 15-minutes away. 45 minutes and 2.3 miles later we made it to the pub – instructions followed perfectly as one would think they must have got lost, but walking down a 70mph zone country road clearly distorts what a 15-minute walk looks like (we did mention to the hotel that in future they might want to advise guests it’s actually a much longer walk). Thankfully the food was divine so the walk was easily forgotten, and the bottle of red made the walk back to the hotel fly by. That afternoon we managed a splash in the heated pool before changing and resuming our positions on the comfy sofas with another well-earned glass of wine.
So, did we enjoy Bishopstrow? Yes, without a doubt. We would certainly go back. It isn‘t Babbington, The Grove or Cowley Manor, and actually we don’t think it is trying to be. When it comes to Bishopstrow the old adage “you get what you pay for” is true – we found a charming, friendly hotel with great staff. Best of all, we’re not back home stressing about the credit card bill. Sometimes paying a little less opens one’s eyes to those places that are a little more quirky, a little less “corporate perfect” and a little more fun. Bishopstrow House is one of these place and with a few food tweaks we reckon it could easily compete with the other boys but again, we’re not sure we want that if it means higher prices and a loss of some of its charm.
Thanks again for the upgrade and a lovely relaxed weekend.