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If the notion of stepping back in time to enjoy the surroundings of one of the West Country’s finest estates grabs your attention, here are the details: secluded in deepest Wiltshire, the Manor House Hotel & Golf Club delivers understated luxury at every level, writes Carly Frost

Hidden in the heart of the Cotswolds is a 17th century chocolate box village that appears to have been frozen in time. Castle Combe, in Wiltshire, is like something from a fake movie set, with steep, narrow windy streets and dainty rows of stone houses that look fit for dwarfs, with doorways barely high enough for me – a mere 5 foot 1 – to enter. This charmed village is one of the best preserved examples of this bygone era in the country, and at its centre is the glorious Manor House Hotel.

Book a stay here and you can look forward to being treated like a lady of the Manor. A butler will greet you at the entrance and escort you to a grand bedroom where you can prepare for a relaxing pre-dinner drink overlooking the croquet lawn before enjoying a meal in the Manor’s Michelin-starred Bybrook restaurant. Afterwards, you can choose to relax in the bar or in one of the Manor’s many well-appointed social rooms before retiring to your suite where a four poster bed is likely to be the centrepiece of a room that has been transformed into a 21st century boudoir – with every modern touch you could imagine.

The Manor House Hotel dates to the 14th century and is every bit the quintessential Englishman’s country house.

Situated just a short drive from Bath is the perfect retreat, hidden away from the hustle and bustle of town life, perfect for those seeking a little sanctuary. The 365 acre estate was originally the site of an old Norman settlement, and has hosted a number of Lords throughout its history, the most famous being Sir John Oldcastle, on whom Shakespeare is said to have based the character of Sir John Falstaff in Henry IV in the late 16th century. It was also the 19th century home of the English geologist and political economist George Poulett Scrope, who lived at the Manor House until the death of his wife, Emma, in 1866; his wife’s family has owned the property since the 14th century and only converted it to a hotel in recent years. Nowadays it is run by the Exclusive Golf Group who offer a high-end service that has been recognised with several honours, most recently earning a five black star nomination by the AA Hotel Services.

A sizeable proportion of regulars come here simply for the dining. The Michelin-starred Bybrook restaurant is a significant attraction and the ‘foodies’ amongst you will delight in the menu prepared by Richard Davis and his team of chefs, who supplement the local suppliers with the best ingredients from the Manor’s own kitchen garden to ensure that every plate is delicious. I’d highly recommend the 7- course tasting menu, which gives you the opportunity to sample a wide selection of dishes from the versatile menu in the form of ‘mini meals’. The hotel also has its own cellar, and those who choose the option of pairing their wines with each dish served will not only discover delightful new tastes but also be treated to a fascinating explanation of the reason why a certain wine complements the dish by the restaurant’s sommelier.

While many choose to come to the Castle Combe estate purely to relax, for most the main attraction of a stay here is the quality of the golf on offer. The Manor House has its own championship course, designed by Peter Alliss and Clive Clark, which weaves around the estate, making the most of its valley setting and the River Bybrook, which meanders through the middle. Aside from this most intoxicating setting, what I think I love most about a round of golf here is that it tests all of your golfing skill – this is not one of those courses that favours the big hitter, and as such it’s a fun layout for ladies. The mixture of holes is fascinating, from strategic par fours and pretty short holes to imposing par fives. And you get to experience the strategy of the challenge right from the word go as the opening par four is one of those holes that tempts a confident hitter to have a go at driving the green. It’s all risk/reward. The sensible shot is a long iron or fairway wood to the wide part of the fairway, avoiding the deep wispy rough that surrounds the long, narrow green, and leaving yourself a lovely approach.

The short downhill second is the first of five excellent par threes, the last of which generally regarded as one of the best holes on the course. The 17th, “Burton Brook”, is a spectacular one-shotter, where the vertical drop to the green is nearly as far as the hole is long!

The contrasting challenge of this course is epitomised by the 3rd hole, a monster of a par five which plays at a startling 600 yards from the championship tips (but a much more appatising 450 yards from the red tees!). You simply have to hit a driver here – and you have to hit it straight, as the hole is narrow, the fairway flanked by tall trees either side. Survive the opening three holes somewhere around your handicap and you can give yourself a pat on the back!

Anyhow you begin to get the picture… I don’t want to spoil the fun of playing this course for the first time by going into detail about every hole; this is a golf course you simply have to go and experience for yourself. It is certainly one of my favourites.

It’s an expression that is too often banded about liberally, but the Manor House truly is a hidden gem of a golf course and the hotel one of the finest of its kind anywhere in the world. If I had to be picky, the only thing that is slightly disappointing are a couple of monumental walks between the greens and tees. I made the mistake of carrying my bag the first time I visited and by the end of the round felt like I was doing my Duke of Edinburgh Award’s expedition all over again! This time I chose to ride on a buggy, which made the whole experience far more enjoyable – and speedier. Which meant that I had more time for that allimportant soak in the bath before making the most of all there is to enjoy in that glorious hotel!

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine

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