A fine late-Victorian hunting box which today specialises in comfort and good food. Hambleton Hall is the real deal, says Mike Barnes.
Thirty minutes from the Fieldsports offices, and yet it was as if we had found ourselves ensconced in some far flung corner of the British Isles. I’m talking about Hambleton Hall, the small (ish, 17 rooms) hotel with a big reputation, qualities shared by the county in which it sits, tucked away at the top of the peninsula on Rutland Water.
This fine late-Victorian hunting box today specialises in comfort and good food – simple. But that it became a hotel at all was down to pure chance.
After 10 years spent in the city with Lehman Brothers, a successful career in banking only increased Tim Hart’s desire to find a way of making a living in the country. Born and brought-up on the Suffolk/ Essex borders, shooting and fishing were always a passion, as was hunting, the latter bringing him to Rutland to hunt with the Cottesmore (mostly), Belvoir and Quorn.
The hall was for sale as the natives were restless at the 1976 flooding of much of their beloved countryside to create Rutland Water. Understandably, the mood was in the present. Tim, meanwhile, became rather more absorbed in the future. He could see that this huge new lake could be the making of the county. Moreover, the hall would lend itself perfectly to transformation into a hotel in what was (and always will be) an exceptional location.
So from first seeing it in 1978, buying it the next year at the age of 32 in a visionary stroke of bravado, he and wife Stefa opened Hambleton Hall Hotel in 1980.
It quickly made its mark and a flow of glowing reviews are a reflection of the consistency of service over the 35 years since – Michelin star after two years, and then Relais & Chateaux membership. Meanwhile, outside, strict planning regulations mean that the views over the water are forever.
Food has always been a priority, and head chef and director Aaron Patterson has a big reputation. He is both creative and delivers dishes that are easy on the eye and palate. Game dishes regularly feature (genuinely) – the owner is happy to source the ingredients himself as he shoots quite a lot locally – and stalks and fishes, too – both in Rutland and Scotland.
Interiors are Stefa’s forte and she clearly has a gift – the décor is on the ‘now’ end of country house hotel – i.e. comfort with tweaks, no gimmicks. No sign of a bath tub marooned in the middle of the bedroom (who said that was a good idea?!).
The affable manager Chris Hurst clearly runs a slick operation, and the place has a great feel to it – probably borrowed from its past, the heyday of hunting and the ‘resort’ reputation in the area.
One curiosity... just two weeks earlier we stayed at a Mercure’s ‘Country House Hotel’ in the West Midlands. Like Hambleton it was rated as a four-star. And yet in every other respect it had nothing in common – very confusing to the unsuspecting.
Hambleton, however, is the real deal.