Living like a lady at Brocket Hall
Gazing longingly past the iron gateway and onto the manicured estate beyond was the closest I had ever got to Brocket Hall in my 23 years of living a stone’s throw away. But good fortune has been on my side of late and to commemorate the house’s 250th anniversary, I was invited to go and explore the grounds on a weekend jolly.
My sister Elise was to be my chaperone and the two of us arrived at the Brocket Hall gates just in time for afternoon tea. With Broadwater Lake shimmering to our right and a mid-eighteenth century country home beaming in the background, the drive up to the hall was akin to approaching Mr Darcy’s Pemberley in a chaise and four.
The Brocket Hall butlers were to cater to our every whim and it was a very chipper one who led us up the grand, spiralling staircase to our rooms. Each adorned with gold-framed paintings, a four poster bed and stand-alone bath tubs, all 30 rooms at Brocket Hall are worthy of royalty and we heard rumours that The Prince Regent suite still boasted its original Chinese wallpaper, hand painted many moons ago.
Tearing ourselves away from the window and its view of Brocket Hall’s Championship golf courses, Elise and I headed downstairs (passing numerous Chippendale bookcases on the way) to the Morning Room for afternoon tea. The most English of feasts, we heartily tucked into mounds of cream-filled oyster madeleines, lemon meringue cups and, of course, warm scones sandwiched together with great slabs of clotted cream and strawberry jam.
Stuffed full of cake and cups of Earl Grey, we waddled to the entrance hall to meet resident historian David Elvin, a Brocket buff who is readily available for wedding parties and other such gatherings. Spanning as far back as the 1200s, the estate oozes historic intrigue and among the most impressive sites on our tour was the 60 ft-long ballroom, where the resident Lady Caroline Lamb (famous for her passionate affair with the poet Byron) introduced the waltz to England.
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There is no escaping the authenticity of Brocket Hall: even some of the guest rooms were opened up for the history tour and, aside from the addition of hot water and light bulbs, the hall seems happily stuck in the 1700s. Portraits of grand, important-looking men are two a penny but you would be hard pressed to find a computer and it was back to basics with the TV.
But who needs Sky when there are two championship golf courses outside to enjoy? Water is the distinguishing feature of both the Melbourne and Palmerston courses – the wonderfully quaint foot-ferry to get to the 18th hole is not to be missed – and the Palmerston Academy has produced some of the best young golfing talents in England.
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There is nothing like whizzing around a 500 acre estate in a golf buggy to work up an appetite, so after a quick change into our frocks Elise and I made our way to the terrace for pre-dinner cocktails and posh nibbles. Michelin-starred chef Phil Thompson, whose restaurant L’Auberge du Lac is happily situated on the other side of the lake, drew up the evening’s menu and we were to dine in the ballroom.
Adorned with ceiling paintings by Sir Francis Wheatley, the ballroom cost half the price of the whole house when it was built in 1760 and it was here that Lord Melbourne entertained royalty as Prime Minister. It felt almost inappropriate to eat in a room so steeped in history but the aroma of braised leek boudin with poached hen egg soon kicked me into touch and, although it took a fair few mouthfuls to adjust to a cold starter, I learnt to like it and polished off Elise’s too.
The herb-rolled seared swordfish with parsley mayonnaise was served sashimi-style – my palette prefers the juices of a seared swordfish steak – and, although my vegetarian balsamic and roasted vegetable tart lacked imagination (oh the trials and tribulations of vegetarian dining), Elise had nothing but praise for her cut-like-butter slow-roasted rib-eye of British Excellence beef. Pudding, a pear and almond tart, was fine, but the blob of caramelised almond ice cream on the side was sublime: stick two scoops in a cone with a flake, and you’ve got yourself a winner.
After what was one of the most lavish mini-breaks of our lives, Elise and I were in the mood for Pimms and polo for the rest of the week and the elegant lady within me longs to go back to Brocket Hall. Sure, you’ll have to pay a hefty price to live like Lady Caroline Lamb but a stay at this exquisite Hertfordshire hot spot is certainly worth saving your pennies for.