When I want to leave London behind for a day or two, my favourite escape is Bailiffscourt hotel in Climping, Sussex. I’m in good company: last time we stayed there we had cream tea (£32 per person) in the walled rose garden next to a cabinet minister. The appeal is immediate on arrival: just two hours from London awaits an idyllic scene of lushly planted grounds, a lavender-lined driveway leading to what looks like a grand old manor house. But Bailiffscourt was in fact only built in 1927, for politician and businessman Walter Guinness, 1st Lord Moyne. His brief to architect and antiquarian Amyas Phillips was to create a paean to medievalism, and the resulting house, built from salvaged stone, hosted high society until the death of Lady Moyne in 1939.
In the 1940s, the property was converted into a hotel, which I came to as a child to ride on Thelwell-sized ponies, but it wasn’t till the 1990s that Bailiffscourt was returned to its former glory, lovingly restored by Historic Sussex Hotels. The interior has a playful sense of history, with dark Jacobean chairs, working fireplaces, mullioned windows, and myriad nooks and crannies where one can curl up to read, drink tea or have pre-dinner drinks. There are 39 bedrooms (from £265) across the main building and and a number of cottages on the grounds, where peacocks roam outside your door. I have stayed in several – all have rather resplendent features, rich in brocade, tapestry and marble, and some with imposing four-poster beds. Yet it is still homely. Dogs are allowed almost everywhere.
From breakfast onwards, food is fresh and mainly locally sourced. Chef Russell Williams has come up with several different menus, including the highly recommended “Sussex Menu” (£68 per person), which features lobster, shrimp and oysters.
But the real selling point here is the spa. It’s set within a huge barn-like building and has two large pools – one indoors, one outdoors. I enjoy lounging here, but for my more active companions there is croquet and tennis too. And a six-minute walk through blackberry brambles brings you to Climping beach, which, with its pebbles and rock pools alive with scampering crabs, takes me straight back to my childhood.