There can’t be many deluxe 19th-century hotels where the kids’ lunch menu includes Kanga cup cakes and Tigger’s sponge. Ashdown Park’s does, but with good reason: its location, within East Sussex’s Ashdown Forest, is in deepest Winnie the Pooh country.
AA Milne’s former home is 15 minutes’ drive away, as is the prototypical Pooh Sticks bridge. Other attractions accessible by car within the time it takes to eat a honey sandwich include Bolney Wine Estate, Hever Castle, Sheffield Park Gardens and the Bluebell steam railway.
TV trivia buffs might also want to note that Ashdown Forest was used as a location for HBO’s acclaimed Second World War drama Band of Brothers. GI pie, however, is not a lunch option.
Apparently no two of Ashdown Park’s 106 bedrooms are identical. I say apparently, because I only get to see one of them. One is enough though: my room is huge, with the lofty windows characteristic of the period unveiling a beautiful panorama of the grounds, which stretch as far as the horizon. It’s all luxuriously appointed, the one minor criticism being the fire door that leaks sound from the conjoining room’s TV. Although my neighbours are mercifully quiet after sunset, the sounds of Noel Edmonds and Captain Mainwearing (yes, it’s clear enough to tell) don’t do much for my post-lunch siesta.
Exploring the corridors and staircases within the main building feels like walking around an Escher painting — I keep winding up in the same place I started. Near the main bar and dining hall, I stumble upon a cosy two-table snooker room benefitting from unusually scenic views and an abundance of natural light. I resolve to return here later, cocktail in hand, after my tour of the grounds.
Slipping out through the ornate entrance hall’s sliding doors, I head west to find the spa complex. Here, there’s a tennis court, gym facilities, treatment rooms, a bar and a pool area that’s suitably dimly lit and so humid it feels like a rainforest at dusk.
At the opposite end of the complex, the East wing houses a sympathetically converted chapel that’s used as a wedding venue. With its stained glass windows and vaulted Gothic ceilings, it’d surely do anyone’s nuptials proud, although one small enclosed section containing a TV tuned to Sky Sports News feels a bit corporate and won’t be to everyone’s taste. Each to their own, I guess.
While the hotel building is indeed impressive, arguably the star here is the countryside on its doorstep. Stretched out in front of my window are 186 acres of forest and grazing land, with bluebell woods, an 18-hole golf course and a carp-filled lake. Deer, apparently, roam freely here, a claim sadly backed by a nearby road sign informing of 240 collisions over the past year. Despite this, I don’t spot a single one on my afternoon stroll. I do, however, see some llamas, which comes as a surprising form of compensation.
In accordance with my previous experience of Ashdown’s parent company Elite hotels (click here for our review of The Grand, Eastbourne), the staff are highly trained, very friendly and appear to enjoy their work. The attention to detail is generally top class, apart from in one department — the food.
The breakfast is very good, as are the pre-dinner cocktails. Dinner in the two AA Rosette Anderida restaurant, however, is surprisingly hit and miss. My lamb main is rich, nicely cooked and well spiced, if a bit salty. Other elements, however, miss the mark regarding balance of flavour. My wife’s main course of pork belly is too sweet, while her side dish has clearly been sitting around for a while. She describes it as “murdered broccoli hidden under a tarpaulin of cheese”. It’s a shame the elegant presentation promises more than is delivered on the plate.
Culinary quibbles aside, Ashdown Park’s period grandeur, stunning grounds and unstuffy service mean it should satisfy even the most irascible of Eeyores.
Address: Wych Cross, East Grinstead, RH18 5JR. www.ashdownpark.com
Radio Times Rating: 8.5/10. This impressive period property provides a luxurious base from which to explore some of England’s finest countryside
Radio Times was hosted by Elite Hotels, all of our contributors maintain editorial independence at all times and conduct first-hand research.