To the Manor Born – An Oxfordshire Escape.
The peaceful country welcome that greets the visitor to The Manor Country House Hotel belies the fact that it is a mere hour’s drive from noisy North London. While the weather was not much different – frequent rain showers in June – the atmosphere was a world away as we turned into the gravel drive that leads up to the hotel.
Situated in Oxfordshire, near the village of Weston-on-the-Green, the hotel is a perfect place from which to venture forth to explore some of the highlights of the area. Blenheim Palace is 10 miles away in Woodstock, while Waddesdon Manor is a 15-mile drive. Both provide a good day out amidst the splendour of a bygone age. A visit to Oxford is easily accessed too. For those who enjoy retail therapy, the shopping village of Bicester is literally down the road and the hotel has a variety of packages on offer.
The Manor Country House Hotel is itself from a bygone age and one of the pleasures of staying there is dipping back into its past history. This may not be of prime concern to the many wedding parties that frequent the hotel, but I like a bit of dynasty with my dinner. On arrival at the hotel, I noticed a pamphlet entitled History of Weston Manor which related the story of the house and the area since the Domesday Book.
Our bedroom overlooked the front of the hotel and the parking area with many trees and much greenery. I threw open the two sash windows to enjoy the fresh country air. The room itself – a standard double – was simply decorated and ticked all requirements. A comfortable bed, two small armchairs, a few lamps, desk and bedside tables. There was plenty of cupboard space and enough room to move about comfortably. The tea making facilities in the wardrobe included a kettle and a couple of biscuits, tea bags and sachets of instant coffee plus long-life milk. Guests can ring down to reception for fresh milk to be delivered if preferred. Another cupboard housed a fan, ironing board, iron and hairdryer along with two fluffy, white bathrobes. Should guests prefer a more elaborate affair, rooms with four-poster beds and some suites are also available.
The bathroom had a small bath and over bath shower. Ebony soap and shampoo were provided along with fluffy towels. The decor was rather dated but the refurbished bathrooms in some of the other rooms perhaps indicate that this too will have its turn to be modernised.
The rain stopped long enough for a relaxing walk around the grounds. We came across the hidden swimming pool which looked very tempting if only it were a few degrees warmer and a bit less wet. It would be wonderful to sit around the pool on a hot day. Other sports include tennis and croquet but once again the weather was not on our side. I did have a photo opportunity though in the stocks, an Elizabethan artefact we found in the middle of the main lawn.
The grounds are full of mature trees as well as contrasting manicured hedges, topiary and even a sunken garden. I can quite understand why the venue is popular for weddings as there are so many beautiful spots for photographs as well as expansive lawns for marquees. When the weather is favourable, there are benches aplenty to sit on should one wish to rest or read in the garden. There is also a sunny terrace on which one can enjoy tea alongside the garden.
Standing in the gardens one gets a marvellous view of the house which is both historic and handsome. It gives the visitor a good sense of what a country manor house looked like and remains authentic both inside and out.
The core of the house is sixteenth century, with many surviving Tudor features including the vast fireplace in the entrance. Sitting on a Chesterfield sofa beneath the moulded ceiling and examining the fireplace with Classic FM playing in the background was most soothing. In the corridor, there is a fireplace dating back to the 15th century. The Baron’s Hall dates back to the medieval period when it became the seat of the Abbot of Osney’s bailiff, who held his courts there. The house remained in family hands for centuries until 1917 when the last Bertie heir was tragically killed in World War 1. It passed through several owners until becoming a privately-owned hotel in 1983.
The most outstanding feature of The Manor Country House Hotel is surely the medieval Baron’s Hall. Measuring 42 feet x 19 feet, it is an impressive and imposing space. It is wood panelled with a minstrel’s gallery accessed via a spiral staircase. I had a close-up view of the wooden beams holding up the fifteenth-century roof and the expanse below.
We booked a table for afternoon tea which was served in the lovely Morning Room and we were seated overlooking the garden. The cobalt blue walls contrasted with the fresh look of the tables laid with white napery and napkins. Attractive sugar bowls sat on the table and soon teapots arrived with a tasty mix of Assam and Darjeeling. The teapots were refilled on request. We sampled both the Afternoon Tea and the Cream Tea.
Along with a selection of finger sandwiches and dainty cakes, I was delighted to find that there were really good scones. The quest for a decent scone has become a bit of an obsession as I have eaten through a fair number of afternoon teas where the scones disappoint. These did not. They were light, fluffy, warm and tasty.
Before dinner, we popped into Bertie’s Bar – named after the Berties, Earls of Abingdon, one of the landowning families who owned The Manor House in the eighteenth century. It is a snug space with wooden tables and mismatching furniture which gives it a relaxed atmosphere. Meals can be taken here rather than the more formal dining areas.
I had hoped that we might eat our dinner in the splendid surroundings of this historic space but it was not open for dinner perhaps due to there having been a lunch celebration a few hours earlier. Dinner was served in the Drawing Room, this one painted a pleasing grey, offsetting the white framed windows overlooking the gardens. The menu comprises three starters, mains and desserts. While we perused the options, we ordered a bottle of Andean Vineyards Malbec – Mendoza, Argentina.
From the starter selection, I chose soup of the day which was cauliflower with truffle oil while my companion chose potted crayfish. The soup arrived hot, just the way I like it, and had a good flavour along with a scattering of chopped chives and a few slicks of truffle oil adding a luxurious touch. The potted crayfish was served with ribbons of pickled cucumber and dill. The dish was rather lacked flavour, tasting of dill but little else.
My companion’s main course choice cheered him up – an 8 oz rib eye steak served with triple cooked chips, Béarnaise sauce, portobello mushroom and tomato. The steak was cooked to order and tender, the sauce was well executed and the chips large, chunky, crispy and rather moreish. My main was equally satisfying. The waiter assured me that the Chicken and Rabbit Tarragon Pie was one of the house favourites and I was grateful for her advice.
A moulded, dome of puff pastry – very pretty indeed – was accompanied by a quenelle of creamed mash potato and a wedge of beautifully grilled Hispi cabbage. The pastry once opened, revealed a delicious filling of cubes of tender chicken, pulled rabbit meat and tiny dice of carrots. The tarragon flavour shone through, assisted on its way by a jug of sauce. I cleaned the plate.
I was really rather too full for dessert but pressed on nevertheless, tempted by the sound of lemon posset, raspberry compote, shortbread and meringue. A glass coupe was filled with a layer of lemon posset in which nestled a shortbread biscuit. On top of this was a layer of raspberry compote and this, in turn, was finished off with a gorgeous swirl of meringue that had just had a short grilling with a blowtorch. It resembled a Baked Alaska perched on a lemon posset and was such a lovely sweet end to the meal that I managed to eat most of it.
My companion got to work on the Selection of British Cheese – a plate of 4 slices of cheese – Driftwood, Tunworth, Farmhouse Cheddar and Bath Blue. These were accompanied by a small pile of interesting crackers, a puddle of chutney, a couple of slices of membrillo and a small stick of celery.
The service was friendly and attentive which must be said for the whole experience at The Manor Country House Hotel – from the warm reception to the staff throughout.
The next morning breakfast was served in the Drawing Room. A beautiful, long wooden table with a distinguished history (or so it seemed to me) took pride of place down the centre of the light-filled room. On it was an array of cereals in boxes, muesli in packets, dried fruit, fruit salad, nuts, yoghurt, pastries, a plate of charcuterie and one of sliced sandwich cheese.
Tea and coffee were brought to our table along with an impressive menu of hot breakfast items including eggs every which way as well as the Full English. After such a large meal the previous night I was not especially hungry but managed a single poached egg on sourdough with avocado and tomato. A few cups of tea later it was time to reluctantly pack up and check out.
As we drove down the tree lined drive to the exit, I noticed two lovely bicycles at the gate, an advert for the weddings in which The Manor Country House Hotel specialises. Unless we renew our vows, a wedding is not on the cards, but if I was asked whether I would like to return to the hotel I would have to reply, ‘I do’.
Manor Country House Hotel
Bicester OX25 3QL
Looking for something similar in a different part of the UK? We loved Highbullen in Devon, a country house hotel with an 18 hole golf course! Or how about the charming Peat Spade Inn in Hampshire, perfect if you want to indulge in a little fly fishing.
Disclosure: We were guests of The Manor. All content is editorially given.