It’s not Summer in England but let’s pretend (see a view, above, from room 2 at gorgeously-rural Summer Lodge, Red Carnation’s idyllic get-away under three hours’ drive west-south-west of London).
Think English Summers and croquet springs to mind. Girlahead is reminded there was once a regular croquet player at Hurlingham who claimed a double Gordon’s and tonic put her eye ‘in’ before it was time to show what her mallet could achieve. Today, at Summer Lodge in Evershot, in the Thomas Hardy area of Dorset, some say have a good cream tea first. Whatever, the outdoor pursuit of using long-handled mallets to get your ball through a low hoop stuck in the grass is highly competitive, and can lead to tears, or cross words or more – or lots of hilarious fun. Croquet, after all, takes no time to learn but a lifetime to master
Careful. Summer Lodge’s croquet hoops aren’t exactly on a flat lawn. Mallets and wood balls are a-plenty, and helpful hints come for free, too. Come to think of it there’s plenty to do at this country-village hotel. Summer Lodge’s four acres include a conservatory with indoor swimming pool, spa and fitness centre, a tennis court and gardens for exploring.
And the house, a 1789 mansion later enlarged by Thomas Hardy, obviously immortalised for his writings but he was also a qualified architect. Devour today’s Financial Times as you sit in the main Drawing Room by a real log fire. Look out through a 1.5-metre wide ground-reaching sash window that Hardy installed so that a pet donkey could come in and out.
The idiosyncracies of such a 25-room hotel add to its charm. Which staircase do you use? Floorboards do perhaps creak from time to time. What IS that cricket match on one wall-set oil, whose is the horse on another? Rooms, by the way, are thoroughly modernised when it comes to perfect beds and WiFi. Fabric half-testers tower over some beds, and home made shortbreads cram a tin on the tea-making tray.
Dining, on pheasant-decorated china by nearby artist Richard Bramble, is mainly a few hours’ drive fare. Elderberry and marsh samphire botanicals give Conker Gin, from Bournemouth, a unique flavour. Study the menu, perhaps starting with glazed goats cheese, followed by Holway Farm lamb rump from Holway Farm, 2.6 miles south of Evershot.
Breakfast tables are dominated by 18 inch-long pheasant sculptures, siblings of those at Mosimann’s Club in London: they’re all fashioned in real silver in Patrick Mavros’ community studio in Harare. Everything else here at Summer Lodge at breakfast, however, is exclusively English, William Edwards china, Arthur Price cutlery, Tiptree jams. Buttercup-yellow butter, and sourdough from Evershot Bakery, along the road. There’s smoked salmon and local cheese on the bijou buffet but head for a Summer Lodge eggs benedict, perfectly poached, on muffins. English, of course. And, says Girlahead, plan your next croquet tactic.
Let’s listen again to Red Carnation’s Jonathan Raggett, actually talking in the gardens of Summer Lodge: