Exploring Cowdray – Polo and much more at Cowdray:
Arriving at the magnificent Cowdray House, we drove through the gates flanked by two demi-gryphons, half eagle, half lion, each holding a millstone,(the crest of the Cowdray family) and up the sweeping driveway. It was something of a Brideshead moment and I can just imagine how wonderful it would be to drive here on your wedding day or for a special anniversary party.
Although I studied at Sussex University and know the area between Shoreham and Lewes reasonably well, much of Sussex remains a secret. Once a Kingdom, the historic county is so large that it is divided into two administrative counties. Cowdray, in West Sussex, sits due north of Chichester, right in the centre of the South Downs National Park and next door to Goodwood. Of course, I’d heard of Cowdray – the ‘Home of British Polo’. But that was all I knew. And the Polo season doesn’t start until 29th April this year, so I was intrigued to find out what else was on offer. Take a look around with me, in this short video
The first Viscount Cowdray was a Yorkshireman who took over his grandfather’s publishing business, Pearson, and then diversified into engineering and more. He entered politics as the Liberal member of Parliament for Colchester (Much of the Estate is still painted ‘Liberal yellow’) and became Baron Cowdray, then Viscount after his leadership in munitions during the First World War. While Cowdray House is a relatively ‘modern’ stately home, it is, nevertheless impressive. Bought by Viscount Cowdray in 1909, the house was originally built by the seventh Earl Egmont in around 1875.
The current Lord and Lady Cowdray decided that it was not the best place to bring up their young family and instead have refurbished the house to a very high standard. It’s now available for exclusive private hire, perfect for a wedding or corporate event.
We were shown around the stunning rooms. The house itself has a large banqueting hall, lounge, snooker room and even a bowling alley. And, there are fifteen ensuite bedrooms in the house itself, with further accommodation in self-catering cottages on the Estate.
I struggled to pick myself a room. This one would do nicely I think? With that rather spectacular four poster that I suspect I’d struggle to leave.
The lure of an indoor swimming pool might just work. Or of some of the activities on Cowdray where, apart from walking around the 16,500 acre estate, there’s a golf course, polo, clay pigeon, fly fishing and more. There’s even a polo academy – where better to learn?
It’s worth visiting the Farm Shop where you’ll find an array of local produce, carefully sourced deli goods and where you can buy the home cooked cakes from Lady Cowdray’s own kitchen, or get the butcher to cut you a fine piece of Estate venison. Everything you need for a Sussex Feast.
If you prefer not to make your own, then the cafe serves an excellent light lunch or tea, all home-cooked and made from scratch. I enjoyed a Venison burger, while other options included fresh salmon and salads or cakes made in Lady Cowdray’s kitchen.
There are also a range of healthy drinks. I actually quite enjoyed my turmeric shot, and there’s a whole range of what are described as ‘Unicorn Lattes’ – all vegan and made with almond milk flavoured and coloured with beetroot, turmeric, maca or matcha.
And of course, there’s the original Cowdray House to visit. It’s one of the most important early Tudor houses in England and if you do get a chance to go, you’ll be following in the footsteps of royalty. Cowdray was visited by both Queen Elizabeth I and King Henry VIII before it fell into disrepair.
Partially destroyed by fire in 1793, the building was never repaired and gradually dilapidated until the estate was purchased by the first Viscount Cowdray who put a halt to the ongoing decay by clearing the building of ivy and establishing an ongoing maintenance programme.
Today it is listed by English Heritage under the Historic Buildings and Ancient Monuments Act for its special historic interest.
There are some special places in the ruins to look out for.
I was impressed by the intricately carved ceiling of the square porch and enjoyed trying to visualise Buck Hall and the Chapel from the diagrams on display. And, while the building is largely in ruins, the kitchen tower remains intact.
And, apart from details of the ovens and chimneys, a winding spiral staircase takes you up the into the tower itself where, almost at the top, the current Lady Cowdray championed the restoration of one of the tower rooms into a Rennaisance art studio.
The artist in residence, David Cranswick, is a renaissance specialist and a figurative painter. He runs a number of workshops where you can learn about the art of Renaissance painting, from egg tempera and gilding to the use of traditional berries and roots to make coloured pigments.
I’d like to be at the ruins for sunset or sunrise. The original Cowdray House, like its more recent successor, is a stunning building and in the half light, I am sure I’d be able to visualise it in its former glory.
Meanwhile, I’m now on the search for a wealthy Prince or Viscount looking for a wife. While I might never be able to live at Cowdray, I could at least get married there…
If like me, you think you MIGHT just want to go there (again), why not pin this post for later
With many thanks to the team at Cowdray for hosting us on this visit.