Time for tea at English manor house

THERE can be few things as quintessentially English as afternoon tea on the lawn of a country manor, the sounds of croquet mingling with the ringing of church bells in the distance, and a copy of The Times crossword close at hand.

A selection of finger sandwiches, slices of cake and sumptuous scones are there for the taking beside a pot of fresh tea and a glass of bubbly. The sun is shining and the smell of freshly cut grass hangs in the air. It is indeed, quite, quite perfect.

And undoubtedly, was it not for the occasional reminder of the outside world from the distant sound of planes flying from nearby Gatwick Airport, much of what you can find at Ghyll Manor Hotel in Rusper, West Sussex would not be out of place in an Evelyn Waugh novel, offering an interwar ambiance which has been lost from so much of this country.

Although Rusper is conveniently positioned to offer easy access to nearby attractions including Arundel Castle, Brighton and Beachy Head, there’s something to be said for getting away from such distractions and spending a whole weekend soaking up the charms of the hotel and surrounding village.

Escaping the pressures of the M25 and seeking solace in tree-lined country lanes made for an enjoyable drive down to Rusper, a small village located not far from Horsham, where the centrepiece is a picturesque church proudly flying the flag of St George.

Ghyll Manor dates back to the 17th century, and is set in 40 acres of elegantly designed private grounds, including a lake, fountains, several ponds and outbuildings, and boasts a classic yet contemporary style which pays respect to its traditions without ever appearing antiquated.

Our room was called the Rafters, which true to its name is located in the very apex of the original manor house, with thick wooden beams running the length and width of the ceiling, and with a view which overlooked the spectacular grounds.

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Although most of the d�cor was in keeping with the building’s history, the expansive bathroom was very much of a contemporary theme, with a huge walk-in shower and deep bath alongside embossed lighting and white tiling. The contrast didn’t jar in the slightest, and it proved a welcome feature of the suite.

The rest of the hotel continues the fusion of ancient tradition and modern luxury, with many of the 29 individually designed rooms featuring their own style, but with the option of choosing a more contemporary flavour in the later extensions to the hotel’s accommodation.

As you might expect, weddings are much in demand at Ghyll Manor, with the choice of having the entire proceedings on the premises or holding the reception in the beautiful Tithe barn following a church ceremony. Naturally, the timeless gardens prove a perfect backdrop to any photos, and drinks on the terrace on a summer’s afternoon are also very popular.

We arrived late on a Friday evening, and just had time for an aperitif in the conservatory before being invited into the restaurant for dinner.

Head chef Alec Mackins uses local and seasonal produce to create traditional and classic dishes with a modern twist, and the quality of food was quite exceptional, ensuring the gourmet guest will certainly not be disappointed.

Over the course of our stay we enjoyed starters including carrot and ginger soup, mussels marini�re with garlic crostini, potato soup and pressed ham hock with celeriac salad and balsamic reduction.

For our mains we opted for fish and chips with peas and homemade tartare sauce, pan fried salmon with crushed new potato, baby spinach and tomato sauce, and followed this up the next evening with confit duck leg accompanied by rosti potato and braised red cabbage in a port jus, and seared scallops served with pancetta lentils and cauliflower puree.

The choice of desserts proved too tantalising to resist, and we enjoyed white chocolate and cranberry terrine with honey roasted mango, glazed peaches with toasted brioche, fruit crumble with cinnamon ice cream, and chocolate cr�me brulee.

Breakfast the following morning offered a choice of specially prepared dishes like smoked salmon and scrambled eggs or French toast, and on the second day of our stay we took advantage of the early sunshine to enjoy our meal al fresco in the courtyard, the splendour of the grounds providing the perfect vista.

The opportunity to spend our weekend just relaxing from the pressures of work was too much to resist, and after a session in the small but well equipped hotel gym we headed for one of the two village pubs for lunch and the weekend’s papers.

There isn’t a great deal to do in Rusper beyond the obvious attractions of the pubs, the church and Ghyll Manor itself, but that’s really part of the appeal to the place. There’s nothing quite like whiling away an afternoon staring into space or immersed in a good book, and this is one of those hotels where even these simple pleasures can be heightened by added features like a Royal English afternoon tea – complete with champagne – and the luxurious surroundings you find yourself in.

For the couple looking for a quiet getaway with close proximity to London and the highest standards of service and quality, Ghyll Manor is a hidden gem nestled in the depths of beautiful countryside from which you will come away feeling refreshed and revitalised.

And if you’re looking for the perfect base from which to explore the delights of West Sussex, then this is the sort of retreat where you will truly feel like the lord and lady of the manor.