by Jeanette Smith
We were nearly there after a long drive, when, out of the blue a deer cantered down the hill and hit our car. We were in shock, but as we were still moving we had little time to think as the animal sprinted into the opposite field and down the hillside.
Shaken, we arrived at the impressive grand canopied entrance, after a half-mile driveway through manicured lawns and clipped shrubbery. We were welcomed warmly by Lizzie who was extremely helpful in obtaining the number of the RSPCA as we were concerned the animal might be lying somewhere injured and dying.
This was an inauspicious start to what we hoped would be a luxurious stay in a comfortable hotel with the motto ‘our home is your home’. We stayed in a double deluxe refurbished room, overlooking the carriage-drive courtyard that is the grand entrance to an old Edwardian mansion originating in 1911, sympathetically extended in local stone.
There’s valet parking with 500 spaces – which we welcomed, once ensconced in the warm and welcoming lobby of Slaley Hall. Our room held a massive bed with an extremely comfortable mattress, crisp linen, and comfy pillows, plus two easy chairs and a table, with heavy draped curtains to keep the warmth in and the cold out. A flat screen tv, with video player, i-pod dock, games console control, and free wi-fi certainly made it a ‘home away from home’.
The only problem after our first night was that the air conditioning wasn’t working. Although the temperature outside was chilly, inside we were warmer than toast. A call to reception saw a young man swiftly at our door, and, after removing a ceiling tile, found that the a/c engineers had forgotten to turn on a switch in the bedroom! This was typical of all the staff, friendly and helpful, keen to deal with any hitch or query.
One night we ate in the fine dining restaurant – Dukes Grill – to entertain some special friends, who had taken a luxurious three-bedroomed lodge in the grounds. Although the hotel, has 142 bedrooms and over 30 lodges, the place was not full. But, the service was incredibly slow and, as a host, embarrassing. The menu was more expansive than in the three other eateries, with prices to match, and it should have been a treat.
The food, was beautifully cooked and presented, including such entrees as steamed Scottish mussels with Chablis white wine cream sauce (£9.50), mains including Chateaubriand for two (£70) and yummy deserts such as lemon tart with mango sorbet (£6.50) and a delicious giant diet-busting pud of Chocolate fudge ganache, hazelnut meringue and raspberries (£7).
The next day we received a fulsome apology from Marcin, the food and beverages manager, who had already expeditiously adjusted the bill. We were impressed with his professionalism.
Mainly we ate in Hadrian’s Brasserie, £21.60 for two courses, £25.60 for three, a popular haunt with a nice selection of dishes and good service. It’s in here that the extensive buffet breakfast is taken with a selection of traditional cooked items, cereals, fruit, cheese and meat, with special orders available such as tasty Eggs Benedict on spinach.
There is also a pleasant heated pool, a small well equipped gym, and a spa. But what many guests come for is the golf – for there are two championship standard courses to test those of all abilities. On offer also is quad biking, off road 4x4, clay pigeon shooting, archery, and paintballing, as well as lovely walks around the grounds.
We enjoyed our few days at Slaley Hall, though at times lost ourselves in the myriad quirky corridors. It is a ‘home away from home’ right in the middle of nowhere, a place where you can truly kick off your shoes and relax. But watch out for the deer on your way there!