Monday, 14 January 2019

Travel | Barnsley House Cotswolds spa break review

Thanks to an amazing couple of days at Barnsley House, we now have a new Christmas tradition. For the first time in the five years I've spent working freelance, I was determined to have an actual Christmas break. A full fortnight away from the laptop, resting. RESTING. And that began a few days before the kids broke up from school, with our quiet getaway to the Cotswolds.

Barnsley House crept into my consciousness at some point last year, when an Instagram friend posted picture after picture of the beautiful country manor house and its spectacular grounds. I started following the hotel's account and added them to my mental list of places I'd like to visit, seduced by the photography of the rooms and spa in particular. When we reached December and realised Mike still had a couple of days holiday to take, I front-loaded my work (can now add scheduling demon to my CV) and did the same. So, the day before the winter solstice, when it felt as though the rest of the world was up to its neck in Christmas panic, we left the city and headed to the country.

Still with harassed and busy heads on, we cut it fine, arriving at the hotel just as my spa treatment was due to begin. So my first experience of Barnsley House was a power walk through the gardens to the spa hidden in the far corner of the grounds. Walking through the gap in the hedge felt a little Lewis Carroll-ish - if the White Rabbit had access to the Swedish back, neck and shoulder massage, and ELEMIS facial that I went on to have, then we'd both have ended up feeling ridiculously relaxed and calm. The treatment was blissfully restorative and serene, with 55 minutes whizzing by in the quiet of the warm treatment room. I'm a relative late-comer to facial treatments, never having much seen the point when my skin was naturally clear and youthful. Now that I'm knocking on a bit, I'm going to get my act together and book them regularly, so visibly beneficial are the results.

Treatment tragically over, I headed up to the relaxation room where Mike sat reading in robe and slippers. Yes, it was midwinter, but the water temperature was warm enough (38C!) for a dip or two in the outdoor pool with its invigorating hydrotherapy jets. The wood fire nearby crackled brightly, its smoke wafting through the sky as the sun dropped below the horizon.

After wiling away a few hours in the warm pool, we decided to head up to the hotel and explore our room. The hotel has 18 secluded rooms, some in the main house and some in the stables out in the grounds. Ours - room number two - was a deluxe garden room, which featured a generous bedroom with lounge area, and an absolutely whopping bathroom complete with double roll-top baths and enormous shower. We immediately ran identical baths and hopped in (in fact, a high percentage of the time we were at Barnsley House was spent in water, either baths or pool). A quick ransack of the mini bar yielded a couple of beers which we drank while watching the Johnny Cash 1979 Christmas Special on the bathroom telly. Yes, this is the life! we agreed, clinking bottles across the taps.

The hotel has its own restaurant - The Potager - but we'd opted to wander down the road to Barnsley House's very own Village Pub. Happily, the staff were expecting us and had a menu ready annotated with vegan options. Yes, options PLURAL! Such a relief to be looked after so well. We'd done that useless thing where we hadn't had lunch so we were ravenous. Homemade bread and oil was wolfed a little too quickly, but then we slowed down to enjoy the most delicious squash, mushroom and quinoa dish - the chef packed so much flavour into that bowl. And luckily, the ice creams were vegan, too, so I happily put away scoops of chocolate and coconut before a nightcap or two.

Wandering back up to the hotel through Barnsley village, lights twinkling from the windows of Cotswold stone cottages, reminded me that there are still places that really do resemble a Hollywood version of the English countryside at Christmas. The driveway up to the hotel was equally picturesque, especially with a huge Christmas tree sparkling outside the front door. The whole thing was so dreamy and romantic, it squished even hardy, cynical hearts like ours.

If you asked me what I wanted from a wintry country retreat, I would immediately reply with roaring fires, comfy chairs in cosy rooms, nooks and crannies, privacy, books and newspapers. Barnsley House has all of this with bells on - there was always somewhere to hide with a cocktail in hand (that evening) or a cup of tea (the following day). After an exceptionally comfortable night's sleep in the squidgiest bed I've ever slept in, we slowly emerged, making our way to The Potager for breakfast. I'm trying really hard not to overuse the word 'relaxed' in this review, but it's proving so difficult - the breakfast timings are relaxed enough to allow for lazybones like us to straggle down at the eleventh hour (well, 10am) and still be in time for cooked breakfasts as well as the cereals, pastries, fruit and toast laid out for us to help ourselves. We bumped into friends from Bristol and had breakfast together, dipping into the papers and sharing stories before heading back to the spa once more. It had been at least an hour since we immersed ourselves in water, after all.

A little wander through the grounds on the way back to the car delayed the inevitable a little. We watched squirrels gathering crab apples on the lawn. The chapel and pond were crisp and bright in the watery sunlight, and we wandered through to the vegetable plot where brightly coloured chard, leeks and leaves decorated the ornamental garden. Back through a gate in the wall yielded the best view of Barnsley House, with its topiary hedges, knot gardens and terraces.

We categorically did not want to leave.

And then, back home and into the whirlwind of Christmas Eve and Santa and relatives and sprouts and all the other stuff that makes up Christmas. Those two days at Barnsley House made it all much easier to cope with though. Which is why our new Christmas tradition is to find a day or two before the big day to gift to ourselves.

A little quiet. A little magic. A little rest. A little time.

I'd forgo everything under the tree for a day or two at Barnsley House next Christmas.

Barnsley House


Rooms from £224 (B&B)

With thanks to Barnsley House for offering us a press discount and complimentary treatment for the purposes of this review.
All photography, words and opinions are mine. 
Thanks to you, lovely reader, for reading the posts that make this blog possible.
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