I may not be a fan of his infamous stout, but Walter Guinness brewed up a real gem when he created Bailiffscourt back in the 1920s. Today, the enchanting cluster of mediaeval buildings houses 39 bedrooms and suites, an award-winning restaurant and one of the UK’s best spas. Its higgledy-piggledy setup reveals room after room of oak beams, wood panelling, stone arches and roaring log fires, all hugging a wonderfully ornate courtyard. Set within 30 acres of parkland and gardens, this historic hotel is just minutes from Climping beach and offers a cosy weekend away packed with character.
After braving the howling coastal winds and exploring the grounds it didn’t take me long to select my favourite lounge, kick off my shoes and snuggle up on an elaborate purple velvet sofa in front of the fire—literally barefoot luxury. This hotel invites you to make yourself at home, scattering books, magazines and board games around for you to use at your leisure.
And, when it comes to dining, you are free to do it how you like, where you like—we chose to enjoy our scones and clotted cream snuggled up on the sofa by the fire, our Vietnamese salad in the spa and our dinners in the Tapestry Restaurant. Run by Head Chef Russell Williams, the restaurant oozes warmth; from the yolk-yellow walls that dance around the elegant stone arches and oak panelling, to the polished stone floors and of course, it wouldn’t be complete without a tapestry or two.
For my starter I had to go for the aptly named ‘Climping Beach’; local crab mayonnaise with brown shrimps, crowned with generous chunks of local lobster and finished off with seaweed butter—a winner. This was followed by a rich, slow-cooked ox cheek that literally melted in the mouth. Despite being full to bursting point I thought it rude not to try the pear tart… which I demolished in minutes.
The hotel’s rooms are spread over the main house and various outbuildings. We were in the main building, in the Tattersham room, tucked away at the top of a narrow and inconspicuous stone staircase (trust me, I walked past it lost and confused every day).
As requested, our room was made up as a twin and featured medieval iron windows, grand artworks and even an open log fire. It was the perfect base for our girls’ weekend away. Having danced around in my underwear with a glass of fizz getting ready for dinner, rollers and all, I finally cottoned on to the fact that our room looked directly over the main entrance—my bad.
Who goes there?
As tempting as it is to simply say ‘people who like classy breaks with character’, I wouldn’t be doing the hotel’s eclectic guest list justice. On our visit there were the excited young couple on their first romantic weekend away (this is a presumptuous assumption, based on their doe-eyed glances, perfectly choreographed twin walking steps and holdie handies in the hot tub), the older couples who flock there for the afternoon teas by the fireside, the friends indulging in the spa and—my particular favourites—the wonderfully camp couple who joined Annika and me as we attempted to play Scrabble, with their pug puppy on a pink lead and another little fluff ball called Lulu in tow.
Out and about:
With 30 acres of parkland and the coast to explore, plus the magnet that is the spa, you could be forgiven for not venturing outside this secluded retreat. Frankly it would be a crime not to spend a morning in the spa (one of the best designed spas we have visited). We loved the outdoor Jacuzzi; as we gossiped amidst the bubbles we watched rabbits, squirrels and woodpeckers pass us by.
On my visit I also experienced the unusual ‘Brush with Heaven’ treatment, which saw my friendly therapist Tori brush my body from head to toe with various brushes. It was a surreal moment as I lay topless with Tori delicately brushing warm oil around my breasts—move over Christian Grey. The treatment was completed with an intense facial that left me glowing—well, it was that or the oil.
My pregnant friend Annika indulged in the ‘New Beginnings’ pregnancy massage, which she said was, without doubt, the best one she has experienced throughout her pregnancy so far. Plus we both loved the heated water-filled massage beds that every treatment room boasts.
However, if despite all this self-indulgence you do wish to adventure beyond the grounds, Arundel would be at the top of our list. Just 15 minutes’ drive away, this buzzy market town boasts not only its famous castle and stunning cathedral, but also a fantastic selection of boutiques, galleries, cafes and restaurants to peruse.
The worst bit:
Bailiffscourt is like a treasure hunt of historic buildings, from the main house and the elegant chapel to the dramatic gate house and quaint dovecote. Having roamed around the grounds and perused the various outbuildings, my heart sank a little on seeing the newer buildings, which house more modern rooms; they simply don’t do their neighbouring stone and timber edifices justice. To experience the real history and character of the hotel, request a room in the main house.
The best bit:
It’s hard to pick one thing; the spa is superb, the history is innate and the genuine make-yourself-at-home atmosphere is a rare achievement. You will arrive as a guest and it will feel like home when you leave.