Isn’t it funny how sometimes time crawls to a stop, a pace worthy of a teenage snail having to do chores, but at other times it gallops faster than a Grand National winner crossing the finish line?
Case in point: when we found out that Polly was coming home for Christmas from Qatar, it seemed to take forever for those months to crawl past, and yet the half dozen or so hours that we spent chatting with her gathered around a table of the Gumstool Inn at Calcot Manor seemed to hurtle past. It just isn’t fair, is it? Why can’t we choose the pace of our seconds, minutes and hours?
We’d usually spend a leisurely lunch or brunch with her, Mr Sunshine and their gorgeous little sunbeam, Sophia, when they are in London, but this time Polly suggested a day trip out of London. All being travel bloggers addicted to the thrill of a new vista, Angie, Aftab, Binny and I excitedly hopped onto a train bound for the southern end of the Cotswolds, armed with coffees, (mostly) charged phones and enough cameras to make paparazzi envious – and reminisced about our stay at Bovey Castle earlier in the year.
We met Madam and Miss Sunshine with massive hugs and a bevy of excited squeals at Stroud station (I hadn’t seen her since my trip to Qatar six months earlier, where I enjoyed her lovely hospitality and ridiculously amazing views over the Middle Eastern metropolis of Doha) and excitedly tumbled into Polly’s Father’s car for the 20-minute drive to Calcot Manor Spa.
Calcot is lush. Set in the Gloucestershire countryside, and comprising of proper Cotswold stone that would make the Brontë sisters scribe paragraphs of prose, the Manor is surrounded by 220 acres of meadowlands and is a gorgeous combination of comfort and luxury. A proper retreat from the busyness of London, and only an hour and a half on the train from Paddington.
Recommended by Polly’s Father, we trooped into the Gumstool Inn, a cosy pub complete with roaring fireplace and festive decorations. Beginning as every good meal does, with a thorough perusal of the seasonal menu (demonstrated beautifully by blogger-in-training Sophia below) assisted by a round of butter, bread and the delicate tinkle of glasses we eventually selected our fulsome lunch courses and settled in for a languid afternoon of chatter.
Our table soon became laden with sharing aperterifs; baked Camemberts with bread and tangy apple and pear chutney, a hearty butternut squash winter soup rich with onion bhajis, plus a wee trout and fennel jam mini pie that Polly and I accidentally devoured between us. Oops.
For our mains, there was a smattering of dishes that appeared; from duck ragu, cep and truffle lasagne hot out of the oven – which was unctious and deliciously ridiculous…
…truffled chicken Kievs served with mushrooms, parsley mash and beans…
… Cornish hake with aubergine caponata, cavolo nero with anchovy and fennel butter, plus a child’s serving of fish and chips served with mushy peas that had us adults envious, despite the feast in front of our own forks.
It was good, so good. Hearty, rustic, countryside fare that didn’t forget the delicacy of the Manor house it adjoins.
Dessert we spent a much longer time mulling over, mostly to revive our almost defeated appetites, eventually choosing a couple of creme brulees, sticky toffee puddings and scoops of ice cream to round our celebratory meal.
Once we had cleared our table, and giggled at the antics of an Aftab chasing a delighted Sophia around the now empty bar, we took a quick turn around the Spa and grounds before retiring to one of the cosily appointed lounges with hot beverages and a selection of books. It was simple, and utterly perfect as twilight fell and the fireplaces filled with flickering flames.
Sadly we just missed another one of our lovely London blogger friends who had only left that very morning – what are the odds of that! – which made our visit slightly surreal as we’d admired her cosy stay with her family in these very rooms. It’s a strange sensation to say the least, as her instastories literally came alive in front of us.
Eventually we said our fond farewells to the sunshine gang and made our way back through the rain to our London-bound train, all looking back with regret to the 35-rooms at this country house hotel which twinkled prettily between droplets.
We’ll be back to Calcot Manor I’m sure. And the next time we’ll just kidnap Polly for good, and Mr Sunshine won’t be able to do anything about it…
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