Part 3: The Hotel
“Ettington Park Hotel, the only AA 4 Red Star hotel in Stratford-Upon-Avon, is set in 40 acres of parkland in a verdant valley with the River Stour meandering through it. Perfect for weekend breaks in Stratford -Upon-Avon with complimentary onsite parking and situated just six miles from the centre of the famed home of Shakespeare and just a few miles from the start of The Cotswold Way, this spectacular property is a world apart from the hustle and bustle of contemporary life. Built from six types of Cotswold stone, Ettington Park is furnished with fine paintings and decorated with friezes that trace its centuries of tradition and heritage. This is a country house where historic extravagance meets contemporary comfort.” ~ Ettington Park Hotel website
It sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?
If you’ve followed my Ettington Park series from the start, you know why I chose to visit this hotel. It wasn’t for the luxury suites or fancy dinner (I normally don’t require such indulgences), and it wasn’t even for the extensive grounds (I love being outdoors so I admittedly do appreciate estates with a decent amount of acreage). A 56-year-old horror movie brought me here, a detail that I was initially a bit embarrassed to admit, but one that ended up being a source of excitement for many of people I revealed it to.
During my preliminary research about the hotel, I came to the conclusion it would be relatively easy to get to; as the website says, it’s located in Stratford and I’ve been to Stratford before so I was at least superficially familiar with the area. It turns out that the town is a much larger than I thought, and the hotel is further away from its center than I anticipated. When you’re actually there, it feels like it’s more-or-less in the middle of nowhere, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just something to keep in mind when you’re planning on staying there. It’s about a 15 minute drive from many of the Shakespeare-related points of interest (as well as the train station), which is an important piece of information to possess, especially if you’re relying on public transportation for the bulk of your stay in England (as I was).
Frankly, I hadn’t done enough homework to determine its precise whereabouts in relation to the part of Stratford I knew. As a result, I was blissfully unaware of how inadequately prepared I was regarding transportation to and from the hotel. I figured I’d jump on a train, then either a take a long walk or short taxi ride to my destination. Easy peasy. (For the record, it would have been entirely possible for me to do that, it just would have been more difficult than I expected.)
Luckily, I was not without friends while visiting a foreign country. One such woman, a lovely professor named Angela, inquired as to what I planned on doing during my holiday. Amongst other details, I sheepishly confessed that I’d be spending one night in Ettington Park because of my love for The Haunting. She lit up and exclaimed that her husband loved the same movie, so much so that they once spent their anniversary at Ettington Park themselves. She went on to tentatively offer to drive me there, provided that her husband confirmed they didn’t have anything else planned that day.
Two days later I found myself in a car with Angela, her husband, and her son, on our way to the hotel. That’s when I discovered just how far it was from where I expected it to be, and I realized how much time and money Angela and her family had saved me. After we parked, the trio walked around the property with me for a bit, showing me some of the features they thought would be of interest (like the church ruins and the carving of the toad in the wall). They stayed with me until I was able to check my bags (and confirm my reservation), at which point we said our goodbyes, I thanked them for their kindness, and they were on their way.
This was my first view of the hotel:
I was left to my own devices for the next 3 ½ hours, and I assure you, I had more than enough to keep me occupied during that time. In fact, I was so absorbed in my survey of surrounding area that I ended up checking in a half an hour later than I planned.
In addition to exploring the church ruins, the mausoleum, and the graveyard (which I wrote about in Part 2 of my Ettington Park trilogy), I wandered the grounds for a while. Below is a small sampling of what I came across during that time…
I found the River Stour:
I also discovered what I would later learn was the original road leading to the manor, including the bridge that crossed the river:
This is a close-up of the gate on the other side of the bridge:
I was sorely tempted to climb over the wooden gate (in the first photo of the bridge) and investigate further, but the bridge didn’t look structurally sound from the side and I ultimately decided that I didn’t want to risk taking an unplanned dip into the river:
After I had seen the bulk of the parkland, I returned to the reception desk. The gentleman there was all smiles and politeness, as he was earlier when he arranged for my bags to be placed in a secure room. I mentioned The Haunting as the porter approached with my suitcase and backpack, and both men beamed, thrilled that I was familiar with the film. It turns out that the porter is a huge horror movie fan, so we bonded over our shared love of the macabre on the way to my room, which was located in an extension build on the back of the building.
You can see the extension on the right side of the image below—you can tell it’s not part of the original building because the stone/style doesn’t quite match. I had the room all the way on the end of the first floor (the 4th set of windows); the center “window” was not a window at all, but a door that opened up into an area right next to the garden:
Here’s my room:
My view looking straight out, including the side of the orangery on the left, the tower section of the church ruins in the middle, and part of the gardens on the right:
And the view if I looked to the right—there’s the back of the mansion, with the private chapel jutting out towards the viewer:
Once I settled in, I read the entire guest directory, which included a 14 page history of the property, the social and political history of the Shirley family (who’s owned it since at least 1066) and descriptions of several ghostly encounters people have experienced in the building. Then I wandered around for a few more hours, revisiting places I had already seen to snap a few more photographs and discovering new features along the way.
First I stopped by the lobby to take a quick picture:
Then I headed over to the courtyard. This one of the fireplaces I came across on the way:
I took this standing in courtyard, facing the building, with the infamous spiral staircase on the left:
There were several old photographs of the hotel on display in the hallway. Here’s one of them:
I also went out back for a while. This image shows the side of the hotel on the left, the outside of the mausoleum on the right, and the remains of the original town cross to the right of the white bench, in front of the mausoleum:
Soon it was time for dinner; I had wisely made a reservation at the Oak Room Restaurant, as suggested when I booked my room. However, when I arrived at the dining room at the appointed time I was escorted to the Great Drawing Room instead. I was a little confused about what was happening at first, but all was revealed upon entering the Great Drawing Room. I was seated in a comfortable chair and presented with a menu…this was apparently where I would be ordering my meal. After I had carefully chosen a beverage and main course, I sat back and relaxed, taking in the splendor around me.
A few minutes later my drink was served (the least expensive glass of wine available, since I knew the rest of my meal would cost more money than I usually spend) along with some pre-dinner snacks—wasabi peas and vegetable chips:
A surprisingly short time later I was brought back to the dining room and seated. I was given a complimentary appetizer (I had chosen not to order one…I typically skip appetizers so I have room for dessert) of tomato soup with crouton and an onion roll:
Next came the main course, Herefordshire beef (12hr braised featherblade, roasted rump noissette, Dauphinoise potato, kale, shallot petals, celeriac puree, thyme jus):
This was followed by dessert. I had brought a book to read in between courses (I didn’t want to be obnoxious in a nice restaurant by being glued to my cell phone the whole time), so I didn’t notice how long it was taking for it to come out. When I finally glanced at my watch and noticed that it was later than I thought, the maître d’ approached my table. She was an impeccably dressed woman with her blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun; I had been occasionally watching her work—she was constantly making sure that the members of the wait staff were on point and frequently checked in with diners to see if everything was to their liking. I was impressed with what I had seen, and was a little startled when she addressed me in a deathly serious tone, “I’m sorry to inform you that the chocolate fondant has collapsed.” The way she said it made it sound like a national tragedy had occurred, and it inspired an equally solemn response from me. “Oh no!” I gasped before my brain had time to process the news, as if the collapse of the fondant was the equivalent of the collapse of a building. In the seconds it took to utter those words, I realized that this wasn’t a big deal at all and was about to tell her not to worry about it when she continued. “The chef has started making you another, but it will take some time.” She gestured to a member of her staff standing on the side, who presented me with a selection of sweets. “While you wait, please enjoy these with his compliments.”
Um… free extra dessert? Yes, please! This is what I received:
Later, when she brought out the second attempt at chocolate fondant, she apologized for the fact that it was partially collapsed. I assured her that I was happy to consume it regardless. Here it is, with peanut butter ice cream and honeycomb:
Everything about my dinner was delectable, and I would highly recommend the Oak Room Restaurant to anyone in the area (even if you’re not staying in the hotel). It was a bit pricey for me, but the quality of the food was excellent, and the service was impeccable, so you certainly get what you’re paying for.
After dinner it was almost time for bed, but first I took some spooky photographs of the buildings all lit up in the dark.
Here’s the church ruins:
And the front of the hotel:
The next morning I returned to the Oak Room Restaurant for breakfast, where I ordered a three egg omelette with cheese, fresh herbs, and bacon. When asked if “mixed toast” was acceptable, I said yes, not really knowing what I had agreed to until a toast rack containing five different types of toasted bread was placed on my table. Each and every one was delicious, as was the omlette, of course.
I didn’t take any pictures of my breakfast, but I did manage to get a few of the dining room:
The coats of arms on the wood paneling represent families that married members of the Shirley family:
Breakfast was followed by a brief tour of the hotel by the porter, one of the many amenities listed in the hotel guest directory. I guess it had been a while since someone requested a tour because the porter was noticeably excited by the prospect. We began in the lobby, where he pointed out this exquisitely carved mantelpiece. I defer to the description given in the article The History of Ettington Park and the Shirley Family, which was included in the guest directory: “The neo-Elizabethan oak mantle-piece. . .was carved by Wilcox of Warwick in 1857. It features two shields bearing the ancient and modern coat of arms of the family. The three carved figures represent Faith, Hope, and Charity. Incorporated into the design are two secret panels.”
Here it is:
The secret panels are the areas of wood bearing the shields, which can be removed. According to the porter, the figure of Charity has a pointed “devil’s tail” (see the lower left side of the figure in the image below) indicating that there’s something special about the piece:
After examining the mantel closely, I was absolutely delighted to discover that we weren’t alone. Upon turning around, I saw a large group lingering behind us. It was composed of the entire wait staff, including the very prim and proper maître d’ from the night before, in addition to several other hotel staff members, all listening intently as the porter regaled me with the house’s history. They smiled at us as we walked past them and the porter commented that it had been a while since he’d done a tour for the staff—perhaps it was time he did another.
On our way out of the lobby, we stopped to admire this watercolor painting depicting major events in the Shirley family’s history:
As we walked around the hotel, he told me that the Shirley family motto was “Loyal je Suis” and pointed out numerous places where it had been incorporated into the building. My favorite was the tile mosaic found on the floor near the entrance to the dining room:
He went on to show me “Shakespeare’s balcony,” the carving of the toad in the wall, the mausoleum, and the entrance to a secret passage that leads to the house (all of which I detailed in Part 2 of my Ettington Park trilogy).
Once my tour was over, I knew my time at Ettington Park was coming to an end so I took one final short stroll around the house and soaked in the view:
Then I reluctantly packed my belongings, arranged for a taxi to pick me up, and returned to the lobby to check out. I was pleased that both the porter and the gentleman who had checked me in the day before were both present so I could enthusiastically express what an absolute pleasure it was to be a guest at Ettington Park Hotel.
I admired the adorable frog/book carving on the reception desk one last time before heading outside to await my taxi.
And despite the fact that I had already taken hundreds of pictures (sadly, that’s not an exaggeration), I felt the need to take a few more before I departed, especially since the bright sunny day was such a contrast to the cloudy, drizzly weather the day before.
I leave you with one of my final shots, and hope that you’ve enjoyed my comprehensive exploration of the Ettington Park Hotel. If you’re ever in the area, I encourage you to stop by and check it out. Even if you don’t have the funds or inclination to stay the night, it appears that people are welcome to walk the grounds and even take a look around some of the common areas of the hotel without being a paying guest. My experience was better than I imagined it could be, and though my room and dinner cost more than I would usually spend on vacation, it was absolutely worth every penny. If I ever have the opportunity to visit England again, I’m definitely going to make it a point to spend another night in this magnificent mansion.
Did you miss the first two parts of this series? Go back to Part 1, where I do a shot-by-shot comparison of the building and the 1963 horror classic The Haunting, or go to Part 2, and learn all about the history of the entire estate—manor house, ruins, and grounds.