At the heart of literary Britain, tucked away in the sacred woods of Ashdown Forest, in which the world of A A Milne and his penned adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin are brought to life, Ashdown Park hotel has its own story to tell. This 19th-century manor house offers a peaceful escape upon the ridge-top of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in West Sussex, and is surrounded by lush green woodlands and manicured gardens where the only passing sound is the flute-like call of the mistle thrush or gentle rustle of a foraging deer.
The original mansion house, located at the centre of the building where the grand reception room now stands, was built around 1867 by Thomas Charles Thompson, a Member of Parliament for Durham at the time, who went on to build a small church – to save the family the long three-mile walk to Hartfield – school room and a school house for local children in the grounds. After
his death the house passed through many hands until 1919, when Sister Marie des Saints Anges of the Order of the Notre Dame visited Ashdown Park and considered it ideal for a convent and, by spring 1920, the first Sisters of Notre Dame, together with 33 Novices, arrived. Using stone quarried from the grounds, a west wing was erected in 1922 followed by the Church of Our Lady and St Richard in 1924, and an East Wing in 1938, today all forming part of the luxurious hotel. The church was constructed with beautiful marble from Italy, Switzerland and Sweden with stunning stained glass windows in the Lady Chapel and an impressive organ still in use today. The nuns lived at Ashdown Park for almost 50 years until the United States International University took over in 1971, though it didn’t stay that way for long. The hotel finally became just that in 1993, transforming the huge Grade II listed manor house into a 106-bedroom, four-star establishment boasting 186 acres of grounds, including landscaped woodlands, grazing land where wild deer roam freely, and picturesque gardens for guests to enjoy.
Nestled just 15 minutes away from AA Milne’s former home, Ashdown Park, owned by Elite Hotels, exudes all the elegance and luxury you would expect to find in an English country manor, from the intricate carvings, Gothic arches and sweeping staircase found in the foyer to the cosy armchairs, roaring fires and opulent fabrics adorning each of the guest lounges, where tea can be taken over an old-fashioned board game, while the Anderida Restaurant transports guests back to a bygone age of decadence with elegant silver service and hearty British fare enjoyed to the tune of a grand piano. No two of the hotel’s bedrooms are the same, each individually decorated and ranging from single rooms to high-end master suites and everything in between, even including dog-friendly accommodation complete with treats. Stay in spacious surroundings with lofty windows revealing panoramic views, enjoy a soak in the generous bath tub, with complimentary Molton Brown toiletries, before retiring to a huge comfy bed with soft goose down pillows and even a home-made biscuit left to nibble on during turndown.
Food is an extra special affair in the two AA Rosette award-winning restaurant surrounded by stunning high
windows framed by heavy drapes and candlelit tables covered in crisp white tablecloths. Chef Andrew Wilson heads up a team of talented chefs to offer lunch, dinner, tasting and a la carte menus boasting tempting starters such as goats’ cheese and apple textures, salad of Kentish pork loin, and Orkney scallop ceviche, followed by mouth-watering mains including olive oil poached monkfish with leeks and cockles, thyme roasted saddle of lamb with rhubarb and chicory, and onion tart tatin with lemon pesto and a scrumptious blue cheese bonbon. Dinner is an event to be savoured, taking plenty of time in between courses to wash everything down with a glass of locally-produced wine, ensuring you have room left for dessert, with temptations such as baked honey cake with pistachio and roasted plums, or rich peanut and chocolate mousse on offer, while blue cheese gougéres with apple, beetroot and fennel is not to be missed by those with a more savoury tooth.
After a restful night, breakfast beckons guests back down to the dining room with smells of sizzling bacon and freshly brewed coffee, where a generous banquet of hot and cold options are laid out in wait. From croissants, muffins and bread fresh from the kitchen bakery to yoghurts, fruits and home-made porridge, there are plenty of continental choices before tucking into a cooked breakfast, with a choice of grilled kippers, omelettes, eggs benedict and, of course, a hearty full English – tasty vegetarian sausages are also available – to set you up for the day.
Feeling full, why not work your breakfast off on one of the many walking and jogging trails around the estate, or head across the way to the hotel’s own country club and spa complete with a gym, swimming pool, whirlpool and sauna, with a wealth of massage therapies and treatments available to indulge in afterwards? Outside you might be lucky enough to spot a deer rut taking place, or grab a handful of complimentary fish food and take a trip down to the carp-filled lake for an hour or two. Close by, the historic towns of East Grinstead, Uckfield and Crowborough offer plenty of dining and shopping opportunities, while Wakehurst Place has acre upon acre of picturesque botanical gardens to peruse, or why not book on to a private hack on horseback to explore Ashdown Forest and find out just why A A Milne found it such an inspiring setting for his stories?
No matter what you choose to do, Ashdown Park promises a storybook ending after an indulgent stay in their opulent manor, where you’ll be warmly welcomed to relax and recuperate in cosy surroundings, with an extra special touch of class thrown in found only in this calming corner of Pooh Bear’s woods.