Glorious Goodwood – A Perfect Country Retreat:
Chichester, a fine Cathedral City in West Sussex is around 60 miles from London. A few miles from the City Centre, set in the rolling hills of the South Downs, is Goodwood House and Hotel. Most of us know Goodwood for sporting events; horse racing, golf and the Goodwood Revival and Festival of Speed. But, it’s a fascinating place to visit any time of the year as well as being somewhere to relax, enjoy great food from the Estate farm and treat yourself in the Health Club and Spa. After the house move, followed swiftly by Christmas, I was delighted to be invited to visit and learn more about the Estate.
About six months ago, in preparation for the Great Move, I took out a subscription to ZipCar. I must admit I had intentions of hiring vans, moving furniture and generally doing a lot more of the move myself, but unfortunately a bad wrist sprain killed any chance of that happening. But, while it’s easy enough to get to Chichester by train, I rather liked the idea of driving to Goodwood so that I could explore some of the charming Sussex villages on the way. Getting to Goodwood from London isn’t difficult, even for someone like me with a sense of direction that often takes me round in circles. So, I booked my local ZipCar Golf, parked five minutes from home. I was both excited and apprehensive about driving. The car was an automatic (and I’ve never driven one before). And, I was going to be driving through a part of South London I really don’t know with only my mobile phone to help me navigate.
In fact, my main challenges with the car were fairly basic. Having never driven an automatic I really didn’t know how to start moving forward. And, at the other end of the journey, although I could stop the car, I didn’t realise you had to put the car into the automatic version of neutral before removing the key. Luckily all it took was a quick call to zipcar to get that sorted. I didn’t have to add any extra petrol, but had I needed to do so, there was a petrol card in the car. And, once I returned the car to it’s home, I struggled to put the key back because I kept trying to push the key itself rather than the ZipCar dongle into the holder.
You approach Goodwood Hotel along a narrow country lane. Turn into the car park to find ample space and a building which has been extended to include a large health club and spa as well as a number of different room options. Rather impressively for a country hotel, it appears to have provided good disabled access. My suite, on the ground floor had good sized doorways and plenty of space. And, it managed to create a home from home feeling, with comfy tweedy blankets on the beds and a few well chosen books to read in addition to the usual range of hotel magazines.
The bathroom was stunning, with a walk-in shower and large, modern free-standing bathtub. Fluffy towels and robes were provided too. In fact everything I needed was there for a comfortable stay – even a TV in the lounge area AND one in the bedroom.
Off to the health spa, there’s a good sized pool, sauna, steam-room and jacuzzi as well as the treatment rooms. While I am no expert about facials, my hour long Harmoniser facial from Elemental Herbology was relaxing and soothing. I had the remains of a winter cold – that kind of stuffed-up feeling in my ears that is hard to get rid of. By the time I’d spent an hour being pampered with a facial and scalp massage, all the tension had gone and I felt like a new woman. My skin was beautifully soft and moist – none of that ‘squeaky-clean tightness’ I’ve sometimes experienced.
The health club was busy but not unpleasantly so. I’d arrived during ‘family’ time and the club is open to residents and non-residents so there were quite a few children in the pool. The opening hours are quite long though and it’s easy enough to avoid the kids by going first thing in the morning or after 6pm in the evening.
Back in my room, I relaxed for an hour or so before an excellent dinner, which I will cover in a separate piece.
A superbly comfortable kingsize bed and a quiet location both contributed to an excellent night’s sleep and I woke up the next morning feeling revitalised. I’d have stayed a lot longer in bed, but farm and house tour had been booked for 10am and I didn’t want to miss breakfast.
I’m very glad I made the effort – my full English (minus egg) was spot on and there was a great range of yoghurts, cereals, fruits, cheese and meats, mostly from the Estate. I didn’t try the milk or the full fat yoghurt, but once I’d been around the farm I rather regretted that omission.
It wasn’t the best day to be going round the farm. Despite some very English rain, safe in the comfort of the Estate Land Rover, I discovered the farm is something quite special. The largest lowland organic farm in the UK, it is home to high quality dairy, meat and arable farming. Goodwood Home Farm achieved full organic status in 2004 with the first dairy herd to be totally organically fed in this country. Produce from the estate is used at Goodwood house and hotel but there is also a flourishing specialist wholesale business and an online retail farm shop.
Like everything else I found at Goodwood, there’s a passion for getting it right. I was told that all the milk is non-homogenised and they also sell limited quantities of raw milk directly to consumers. The sheep are Southdown, the cattle Dairy Shorthorn for milk and deep-red Sussex for beef. Ancient local breeds that have been carefully managed to ensure the best results. There’s a small cheese-making business too.
I hadn’t realised that the grounds of Goodwood House itself form the Motor Circuit. Greeted by Tony, the estate’s oldest serving member of staff, I learnt that the first Duke of Richmond was the illegitimate son of King Charles II and his French mistress, Louise de Keroualle. Extended over the centuries, the house reflects the passions of various Dukes. There is a fine collection of art. The third Duke was an early patron of George Stubbs and also commissioned a collection of Sevres porcelain, unique because it depicts birds in nature for the first time. Housed in glass cabinets in the Card Room, I was told the shelves literally rattle when the motor racing circuit is in use.
The House today is open to the public at certain times during the summer as well as providing a home for corporate sponsors during the festival. And, it is hired for weddings and corporate events. I was shown round while the house was closed to the public, though some ghostly voices humming softly made me wonder if perhaps the place was haunted. Entering the State Room, for a moment I thought my fears were confirmed; at one end of the room there was a scaffolding tower, a woman aloft wearing ghostbuster style overalls, backpack and hose. But, it turned out to be part of a bi-annual deep clean, the voices just the cleaners singing as they went about their chores. Or so I was told.
The enduring memory I took away from my visit was of passion. A passion for perfection and to showcase the best. In so many ways the estate reflects the interests of the owners over time. Every so often a new Duke introduces a new element. So, the cricket pitch, the first where cricket was played regularly on any estate, was the passion of the first Duke, the Motor circuit was founded by the 9th Duke. And the Golf course, regarded as one of the finest in the country was first opened in 1914 but transformed by Lord March, son of the current Duke and the current resident of the house itself, to elevate it to a world class course.
The good news is that, right at the moment there are some great deals at Goodwood Hotel.
Find out more from the Goodwood Hotel Website. I will be adding a review of my meal in the Richmond Arms, but can heartily recommend the food.
For more about ZipCar check the ZipCar website
*Stop Press* The Goodwood Hotel are currently offering a special treat of a £20 gift voucher for visitors staying at the hotel. With the exception of a few special dates, the gift is for all guests staying between now and the end of March at normal rates and can be used for a treat in the spa or to buy a nice bottle of wine in the restaurant.
Disclaimer: The first two photos are copyright Goodwood Estate – January weather isn’t the best for taking pictures outdoors!