WHO WENT Maria Jenkins 38, her partner Chris, 40, and their children Mira, 7, and Ossie, 5
WHERE WE WENT A two-night break at one of East Sussex’s finest country house hotels, which reserves an extra special welcome for its littlest guests
With Chris reckoning on not finishing work until 6.30pm on the Friday, I opted to take the train with the children after they had finished school, and he would join us later for dinner. The hour-long journey from London Victoria to East Grinstead proved to be somewhat eventful, with Mira spotting a huge fire out of the window. Soon the whole carriage was craning their necks to see (we later discovered it was sadly the Battersea Arts Centre that was ablaze), which led to much chattering and speculation among the passengers, making the time pass even more quickly. Once deposited at the station, we hailed a cab for the short ride to the hotel.
Sweeping up the majestic drive, Ashdown Park gradually came into view, leading little Ossie to sum up our initial impressions succinctly with an: “Oh wow!” The hotel is everything you’d imagine an especially grand Victorian manor house to be with fabulous neo Gothic architecture and even an adjacent church! Its fairytale appearance certainly caught my children’s imaginations, and they were haring up the pathway to the suitably ornate entrance before the taxi driver had even offloaded our suitcase. Once inside, their wonderment continued, as they took in the grand lobby, complete with roaring fireplace, and jostled for space on one of the high backed chairs, while I proceeded to check in. After a labyrinthine walk up and down creaky staircases and through narrow corridors (Mira in typical big sister style, took the opportunity to terrorise Ossie with tales of ghosts) we were finally shown our room, and any eeriness was immediately dissipated as we surveyed the vast quarters. Taking centre stage was a huge canopied bed swathed in rich velvet fabrics, while thoughtfully placed nearby were two put-you-ups for the children (a name that actually does them a disservice as they were equally as comfortable as standard beds). A sumptuous lounge area and a gleaming chrome and marble bathroom completed our temporary abode, and while all very gorgeous, there was an even more magnificent beauty to assail us, namely the view from our balcony over the stunning grounds and forest – simply breathtaking in the fading sunlight. Not that the children were showing much interest, preferring to focus on the goodie bags they’d discovered, filled with soft toys, crayons, activities and games. Indeed, the hotel takes great pride in its child friendliness and it certainly didn’t disappoint during our stay.
Ashdown Forest, in which the hotel stands (the original manor house was enclosed by decree in 1693) was once a favoured hunting ground of Henry VIII, but today it is perhaps more famous as the fictional stomping ground of Winnie the Pooh (author A. A. Milne resided on the northern edge from which he would regularly go walking with his son, Christopher Robin). You can immediately see why Ashdown proved so inspirational – its elevated position affords it the most superb vistas over the rolling Sussex countryside, while the forest itself is a haven for wildlife. The children, big Pooh fans before our visit, were delighted to be in such close proximity to their ursine idol, although Ossie did confess at the end of our stay to being a tad disappointed that he never actually got to meet the furry fellow!
WHAT WE DID
Occupied by the contents of their goodie bags, I took the brief respite to flop on the wonderfully comfy bed, after which we went for a lovely sunset wander around the hotel’s spectacular grounds. As we discovered, the facilities really are second to none, with a golf course, tennis court, croquet lawn, swimming pool, gym and spa all on the doorstep. With Chris’s arrival, we made our way to the Anderida Restaurant for dinner. A vast, chandeliered room that suggests formality but actually proved to have a relaxed ambience and several families with young children were occupying tables, making us feel perfectly at home.
The children’s menu is far more extensive than the norm (the adults are amply catered for, too), and our meals really could not be faulted on the two occasions we dined there. Particularly worthy of note was the Sussex venison, which was meltingly tender and packed full of flavour, while my sweet-toothed children couldn’t get enough of the puddings, especially the banana split and strawberry sundae.
The next morning, after a glorious night’s sleep, Chris took Mira and Ossie for a dip in the pool before joining me for a delicious buffet breakfast, with the children returning for seconds – the swimming no doubt honing their appetites. Then a day in Brighton beckoned, being a short drive away and where Chris’s folks live, so the children not only got a bit of beach action, but some Nana and Grandpa time too. The following morning we were up bright and early, and fortified by another hearty breakfast, we ventured further into the forest. It looked absolutely magical in the dappled sunlight, and was made even more special by the appearance of a herd of wild deer. It was the perfect end to a perfect weekend – even if a certain bear was nowhere to be seen.
A family room at Ashdown Park Hotel starts from £250 per night. For more information visit ashdownpark.com or telephone 01342 824988