UK Road Trip Part III: Playing Posh at Buckland Manor

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This is where we would be spending the night. Seriously. I felt like I had died and gone to Downton Abbey. And the food. Oh my god, the food! I’ll begin where we left off — The Dukes Hotel in Bath.

The next morning, before checking out, we decided to finally make use of the free breakfast in the dining room. All of the hotels in England seem to provide free breakfast but we had neglected to try out the breakfast at The Dukes. The dining room is on the bottom floor (you enter on the second level). We had not yet bothered to actually go down the stairs, as we were too preoccupied with the effort of climbing up them. Once on the lower level we saw that The Dukes actually had its own honor bar, though not as nice as the one at Jeake’s House. We might have gone down there had we been told about it by reception. Oh well.

Our primary memory of breakfast has less to do with the food and more to do with the obvious age gap. We were younger than anyone else in the room by at least 30 years. This has happened to us before. I’m not sure if it has to do with my choice of hotels, our destinations, or simply the fact that retirees travel more than 30 year olds, who are generally too busy raising kids and climbing the ladder. Whatever the reason, we got some funny looks at breakfast and couldn’t help but feel like our breakfast companions were whispering about us.

Navigating our way out of Bath was painless and before we knew it we were driving through some of the most beautiful farmland I have ever seen.

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We took a scenic route through the Cotswolds, which had us driving through tiny one-lane roads and through endless yellow fields of what we later learned was rapeseed (i.e., canola oil).

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One of the more charming things we found driving through the countryside were the gates on public roads. Living on a ranch in Texas, we’re used to opening and closing gates, but I’d never seen one on a public road. I presume the sheep here are either free roaming across multiple pieces of land or one person owns the land on both sides of the road. Rather than restrict the sheep, this farmer restricted the people.

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The English appear to approach the concept of private land much differently than we do in America. In America, we fence off our property and anyone who crosses that fence is trespassing. To Americans, privately owned land is an absolute (at least in theory). The English, on the other hand, have something called “rights of way”. These are essentially just walking paths through private property that connect the various small villages, but I thought the concept was fascinating. The English have balanced private property rights with the right of the people to travel by foot and everyone seems totally cool with it. I have a theory that this is connected to the English history of feudalism but, then again, the Brits may just really love hiking.

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We made a pit stop in the town of Cirencester, which turned out to be less “chocolate box village” and more modern shopping district. It was still a cute little town and honestly, I’m still trying to figure out exactly what a “chocolate box village” might look like. Apparently a British candy company used to sell boxes of chocolates with a quaint village pictured on top, but I’m either too young or too American to have ever seen one.

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However, I never complain about a good shopping opportunity. I found some fun socks and an amazing pair of art-deco inspired earrings at this shop.

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And at another shop I found a fancy black jumpsuit and a pair of strappy green heels to wear for our dinner at Buckland Manor. Of course, I couldn’t resist trying on a fascinator — and it looked fabulous! So posh! I still regret not buying that hat.

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We saw even more bright yellow fields after leaving Cirencester. The deeper you get into the Cotswolds, the more beautiful it gets.

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We arrived at Buckland Manor in the early afternoon. We were greeted by the porter (Dave) and his yellow lab Oscar. Dave carried in our bags while Oscar supervised. We aren’t used to staying places like this and the high standard of service really caught us off-guard. It was as if Dave was offended that we both attempted to carry our own bags.  That’s his job! The guests are supposed to feel special and pampered at all times.

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Yes, this place is stunningly gorgeous, but it is the service that really sets it apart. They strive to make every guest feel like the most important person in the world, no matter who they are in real life. Whatever you want, they will try to make it happen. Forgot your hiking boots or umbrella? Easy, they have a number available to borrow, free of charge. Want a special type of pillow? They have all of them — feather, hypoallergenic, memory foam. Just ask. There was even an old-fashioned hot water bottle in our room. They use them to warm the sheets on cold nights. Dinner is typically served between 6pm and 9pm, but if you want dinner at 5pm or dinner at 11pm. Totally okay! Just ask. And because there are only 15 guest rooms, the staff knows each guest by name. I know this was only possible because they asked for my arrival time when I made the reservation, but I was still impressed to be greeted by name at check-in — “You must be Mrs. French. Welcome to Buckland Manor.”

The only special request we made was for a fan. We read in our welcome packet that they had fans and heaters available on request. We are both very attached to sleeping with the noise of a fan, so much so that we had been using our iPad to play a constant loop of an album called “Box Fan Sounds” each night of the trip thus far. We were absolutely delighted when Dave returned to our room with a small metal fan, though we felt a bit guilty as he was covered in dust from climbing into the attic to retrieve it. It rarely gets hot in England and I suspect few guests ever ask for a fan.

We had not stopped for lunch and were starving. Those of you that have been following along for a while may remember my giddy excitement when Brandon took me to my first high tea in Victoria, British Columbia. Something about tiny deserts and delicate crustless sandwiches makes me very happy. And this one came with champagne!

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We had a selection of roast beef and ham, served with horseradish and mustard.

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I couldn’t even tell you what was in some of these deserts but we ate all of them. My favorites were the two pink ones towards the front. Both are not what they look like. The one on the right is a lemon tart with a raspberry candy on top. It looks like a dollop of frosting but it was actually crunchy, like toasted, fluffed sugar. The one on the left looks like sherbet but was actually a jelly-coated cream cake!

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We had only just begun to butter our scones when we noticed Oscar’s nose protruding from under the side table. He’s clearly gotten used to free nibbles from the guests. Oscar is the resident dog and semi-official mascot of Buckland Manor. Oscar doesn’t actually live at the manor. He belongs to Dave, the porter, and goes home with Dave every night. But during the day Oscar can be found roaming the grounds, greeting guests, or sleeping on his plush dog bed behind the reception desk. Dave has worked at the manor for longer than he cared to admit to us but did tell us that Oscar is actually the second of his dogs to take on the role of official Buckland Manor pup. The first manor dog passed away a few years ago.

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Brandon giving Oscar the side eye for thinking he would get a bite of his scone!

One of the staff members noticed Oscar’s begging and shooed him away.

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Traveling as a couple, we always struggle to get pictures that include both of us. For this photo I’d like to give thanks to the couch that acted as an excellent tripod.

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We were staying in the “Summer Room”, which was beautiful but by no means the largest, most elegant room at the manor. Technically, this is one of the “budget”. Like I’ve said, this was a splurge, but we couldn’t blow the whole kitty on one night!

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As an avid tea drinker I’ve loved the morning beverage set-ups at English hotels. So many tea choices! America runs on coffee, often leaving tea drinkers at hotels with no tea kettle and one sad bag of Lipton. Buckland Manor, of course, didn’t disappoint. But they also included something new — a bottle of apple flavored syrup, which I used to flavor the bottled water. I don’t know if this was its intended purpose, possibly it was for some other British custom I’m unfamiliar with.

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Another interesting thing about the manor was the no key policy. This is the only place I’ve ever stayed that doesn’t provide a key to your room. You can lock it from the inside but not from the outside when you leave. It felt so safe here that it was really a non-issue, but I still asked about it out of curiosity. Apparently, the doors are mostly original and use old skeleton-style keys. Changing the locks on the antique doors every time someone looses a key is a huge pain so they just stopped giving them out. They haven’t had any issues and no one seems to mind. However, if you are concerned they will still give you the key and also provide a safe for stowing valuables.

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After tea we took a walk through the grounds. I wish we could grow plants like this in Texas!

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An old animal powered grain mill.

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A short trail behind the manor leads to a woodland garden, obviously carefully manicured but designed to look natural. It was like a fairytale wonderland and seriously made me want to plant an entire field of wildflowers at our place in Texas.

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And of course the ubiquitous sheep across the fence line. These fluffy critters are literally everywhere in England.

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The view from the meadow overlooking the manor was so lovely that we thought it deserved a photoshoot. Featuring me, of course. Brandon says I’m his muse ; )

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We followed the photo shoot with the world’s worst round of croquet. I knew how awful I was at golf so my skills at croquet were not shocking.

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I just couldn’t get over the perfectly manicured gardens and lawn here. I understand that this level of meticulousness requires hiring a gardener (in this case multiple gardeners) but still, a girl can dream.

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After our walk we went for a drive around the nearby village of Broadway. It was nice and all but we had already done our shopping and honestly didn’t see anything else to do besides buy things that probably wouldn’t even fit in out already overloaded suitcases. Plus, we were more interested in spending time enjoying the facilities at our fancy-pants hotel.

Back at the manor, Brandon took a nap while I took a bath in a tub that was longer than I am, using all of the complementary fancy bath products. Sometimes all a girl really needs is a giant bathtub and some fancy soap.

We both got dressed for dinner in our new duds and I must day, we looked pretty darn fabulous. So fabulous that I enlisted the help of someone at the front desk to take our photo in front of the manor entrance.

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We walked into the dining room expecting to be escorted to our table. Instead we were asked if we would like a pre-dinner cocktail on the patio. Why yes, of course I would like a pre-dinner cocktail on the patio! Along with our drinks they brought along some light appetizers. A goat cheese foam in a cheese cracker cone and a salmon mousse on some other type of cracker. Both were spectacular, though the goat cheese cone should come with a warning. If you don’t eat it all in one bite it will spill all over your shirt.

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After our drinks we were escorted into the dining room for dinner. As they had throughout the entire day, the staff made us feel like the most important people in the room. The dinner itself was incredible. Probably the best meal I have ever had. Supposedly, the only reason this place is not a Michelin starred restaurant is because it is only available to hotel guests and therefore too exclusive to have caught the eye of the reviewers. The chef, however, has won numerous awards for his cooking.

Each course was spectacular. Absolutely delectable and beautifully plated. I had the wine pairing and enjoyed hearing the servers explanations of how each would complement the meal. It was clear that they had actually tried each of the wines themselves.  And for what its worth, each of the wine pairings was actually a full serving, making this quite an  intoxicating meal. Brandon stuck with his usual whiskey sour, which he said was prepared perfectly.

I really wanted to take photos of each end every dish because they were all so exquisite but decided that this was just not a moment to intrude with my camera. Not only did it seem out-of-place, but I also wanted to enjoy the romantic dinner with my husband. It’s not often that we do something like this. So sorry Dad, I know how you love the food photos but you’ll just have to use your imagination. To help you along, here is the menu we were served that night:

Carrot Velouté: crab, curry cracker, coriander

Wine Pairing: Summer Days, Kerry Vale Vineyards, Shropshire 2014

Seared Scallop: Suffolk chorizo, lemon confit, pork scratching

Wine Pairing: Château Dereszla, Tokaji 2015

Iberico Pork Cutlet: wild garlic, asparagus, violet potato, grain mustard jus

Wine Pairing: Sancerre Rouge, Domaine Bailly, Loire Vally 2014

Mint Chocolate Aero: cardamom mousse, caramelized orange

Passion Fruit Delice: mango gel, candied pine nuts, passion fruit sorbet

Wine Pairing: Petit Manning, Domaine Capmartin, South West 2012

Re-reading the menu as I type it, I can tell you that it does no justice to how amazing the food tasted in real life. It was incredible.

I understand that not everyone can afford to stay at the Buckland Manor. If I remember correctly we paid £280 for one night, which included the fancy dinner for two but not the afternoon tea. Our nightly hotel budget for this trip was less than half of that. But it was still totally worth it. It felt fabulous to be treated like royalty (if only for a day) and it gave us the opportunity to actually gussy up (which we almost never do). My point is this, when traveling I recommend planning a splurge day (or afternoon, whatever that means for your budget and travel location). Whatever you do, whether it’s the hour long massage you didn’t think was worth it or the fancy dinner, you will feel pampered and special. Yes, the feeling is artificial and will wear off as soon as you leave, but it’s still worth it. The memories of whatever you did will last longer than the money you saved.

Plus, you might be able to get some photos of you and your family all dolled up and those are priceless.

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Seriously loving these funky earrings I found, those these were not a splurge. I think I paid £7.

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I was honestly sad to leave the next morning, but I made sure to say goodbye to Oscar before we left. Hopefully we’ll get to visit his incredible “second home” again sometime.

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