Park House Hotel – Sussex
Park House Hotel offers everything a team of Guns could need, says Patrick Tillard, and then so much more.
Here's the plan. We'll book ourselves into a hotel and then see what shoots are available in the area,” says nobody, ever.
It's always the other way around. The shoot venue is booked, and then accommodation – if detached – is the addendum. But this phrase, now more so than ever, seems plausible, thanks to a visit to Park House Hotel in West Sussex.
The M25 had been in one of her tetchy ‘Friday at 5pm' funks. Being caught in this excruciating ruckus sent me, as usual, into an irrational frenzy that involved vomiting expletives and grinding my teeth to the point of dental treatment. But as I left the infernal congestion behind in a puff of exhaust fumes, the roads becoming more and more intimate, from M to A to B, the frustration soon sapped away. The last mile to the hotel, the country lane cloaked by high arching tree canopies and the tar-black of night, was somewhat disorientating.
The hotel is only 30 miles or so from my born-and-bred hometown of Lewes, but as I swung into Park House's ambiently illumined driveway, I had no inkling as to my scenic surroundings. It wasn't until the chorus of songbirds, partridge chuckles and crow caws awoke me at sunrise that I rightly appreciated the hotel's location. Drawing the curtain strings, the chalky South Downs – the Highlands of the South – stretched proudly into the distance with maize stubble fields and thick russet and olive hedgerows, rich with sloes and crab apples, sweeping beneath them.
Only 50 miles from London, and an hour from home, I felt as if I was in the middle of nowhere. And it was bliss.
For Guns, the reputation of these hills far precedes them. They, and the contiguous Sussex Weald, are host to some of the most premier driven game shooting the UK has to offer. Cocking, Goodwood, Arundel and Cowdray, to name a few, all within ear shot – the latter's chattels marked with school bus-yellow window frames in the characterful nearby market town of Midhurst.
The family-run hotel is now in its fourth generation, with Ioné and Michael O'Brien first welcoming the public in the late 1940s. A swift nose around the opulent interior ratifies that Park House is a topflight home-from-home that offers everything a team of Guns could need, and then so much more that they may have thought they didn't. Bring your guns in. Bring your dogs in. Bring your appetite with you. And bring as many aches and pains as you dare carry – the M25-inflicted wrath included – as the adjoining spa will soon put paid to that.
An indoor pool, gym, sauna, and an intoxicating catalogue of massage and beauty treatments await. It's a his and hers haven, the perfect getaway: me sitting plum in the Jacuzzi with an ice tea, sporting cucumber goggles, while my other half dons her wellies and plus-fours.
The food was as expected – epic. Venison, partridge, pheasant, mallard and pigeon all feature on the agrestic menu, reflecting the time of year and diversity of local bounty roaming wild in the fields and skies and flourishing in the vegetable garden. After much toing and froing, I settled on duck confit terrine with pickled pumpkin, followed by fallow with Spätzle main course, which melted in my mouth in the way that only the finest meat does. Presentation: tick. Taste: tick, tick, tick. Eating myself beyond comfort: tick. So much so, in fact, that I did something I never do. I turned down pudding.
I take my hat off to you Callum Keir (the head chef who emphatically knows his way around a kitchen). Born in Scotland, he is classically trained, with stints in Paris and with the British Michelin-starred chef Martin Blunos under his belt. The regret of this irrational sweet-toothed decision irritated me like a cloud of Hebridean midges later that evening, but I swatted them to one side at the sight of Callum's breakfast buffet and full English the next morning.
In the crisp autumnal daylight I was able to soak in the hotel's sanctity. Bowls lawn. Croquet. Grass tennis courts. A putting green and pitch-and-putt golf course. Neat botanical gardens, and lily-padded ponds rippling with goldfish. It's all very quintessentially English.
“Don't you ever say anything negative in your reviews?” a sullen friend recently asked me. Truth be told, if the occasion warranted it, I really would. Show me a bunkum hotel and I'll gladly harp on at length about the concrete mattress, boorish staff and food that tastes like the dregs of a wheelie bin.
But, happily, there's a delightful avant-garde sweeping UK country hotels at present that bares little to no flaws, and while those like Park House continue to offer fieldsports enthusiasts a nigh-on perfect experience, with
a soothing spa twist, there is simply no room for negativity. Unapologetically, I have nothing but praise for this particular hotel.
“Here's the plan. We'll book ourselves into a hotel and then see what shoots are available in the area,” says me, as of now.
Park House has 21 luxurious en-suite bedrooms in the main hotel building and three surrounding cottages. There is a gun safe, and dogs are welcome in a number of bedrooms, where there is ground floor access to the gardens. Specially tailored breakfasts, elevenses baskets, lunches and dinners can be organised for shooting parties, and transport to and from the shoots can also be arranged.