Thursday, 8 November 2012

A stay at the Lainston House Hotel and a trip to Winchester

I've been craving the opportunity to get out of London recently. I dream of the open road. Unfortunately, between my job and the other half's crazy project schedule plus mutual fiscal control issues, it hasn't really been possible.

But last weekend I was determined to escape. We had a car at our disposal, we had a bit of money for once and we had at least a day and a half with no obligations.

Faced with all this freedom, neither of us had any idea where to go. In the end we settled on Winchester because I'd been there briefly for work and thought it would merit a re-visit with a bit more time to actually see the town. It's very pretty with lots of history - did you know Winchester was once the centre of England's political power? - and wasn't too far to drive.

But we still had no idea where to stay - staying in a Travelodge-style hotel wasn't really an option. I needed something nice, rather than something that just was. And then my debit card got suspended, so we couldn't book anything online ruling out lots of bargain options.

In the end we settled on the Lainston House Hotel mainly because it looked nice, still had a room available and didn't mind if we turned up late and paid in cash.
The hotel was formerly a country house for one of England's many landed families and the main structure dates back to the 17th century. It's set in 63 acres of land and comes complete with it's very own ruins - a 12th century chapel from an earlier house on the same site. Sounds nice, doesn't it? It looks very pretty too and we were quite excited as we drove up the long, winding approach road.

Approaching the hotel from the car park
However, the room they initially put us in wasn't really worth the £150+ we paid. It was at the very end of the farthest corridor from the main building and felt small and dated. And the bathroom was a bit too all-singing all-dancing - there were coloured lights that moved and changed around the baths and in the shower. And a TV at the end of the bath.
Not really my idea of luxury so we asked to see another room which was pretty similar. However, the third room they showed us was much more what we'd been expecting - big high ceiling, lots of dark wood, shuttered windows overlooking the approach, four poster bed, roll top bath. Really nice.

Aside from the small mound of dead flies by each window - which were quickly dealt with - and a short fire alarm interlude.
Lovely collection of dead flies
The staff were polite and accommodating despite having been asked to show us three different rooms when we'd arrived after 9.30pm. Although I did find it a bit disquieting that we were initially guided to our room by a member of staff who carried our bags, which really wasn't necessary, and then actually waited in the room to be tipped - I haven't experienced that outside of the US before. Is it just me or is that unusual and a bit odd in a British hotel?
The room came with an iPhone/iPod dock so we could play our own music and even set an alarm for the morning via our phones. And the bed was blissfully large and sink-into-able with lots of good deep pillows. Rather than a 'do not disturb' sign, they give you a stuffed owl to put outside your door, which was an odd touch.
I really can't sing the praises of the bathroom enough. The toiletries provided all smelled good and I got up early to have both a wonderful shower and a lazy bath in the morning - I couldn't resist trying them both out!
I was exceedingly happy to walk into the bathroom and find this
Morning bath, complete with complementary copy of the Independent
Breakfast was nothing special - perfectly fine. But the views down through the grounds from the dining room were lovely.
Tarted up a little courtesy of Instagram
We had a good ramble around after we'd eaten, exploring the ruined chapel next to the hotel and examining the slightly grown over outdoor chess set, and then into the hotel's own kitchen garden which provides some of the fresh produce for the kitchen (although possibly not at this time of year as it looked a bit sparse). Plus the added thrill of an aviary full of falcons! It turns out that the falconry is the baby of former cricketer Billy Taylor (and his lovely dog) who has set up a residency at Lainston with his collection of birds of prey. If you fancy it you can even book a day's hunting with the falcons. And there were also owls, which I love, and a golden eagle called Anna.

The chapel

And then we drove off for an amble around Winchester, taking in the ruins of the castle and learning what a sally port was and then visiting the Winchester City Museum which is surprisingly good and the perfect size (quite small). And then we took in the Cathedral and had a bite to eat before driving home. It was only a day but it was enough to feel like we'd been away and blow a bit of the London smog out of my brain.