For my BFF's hen party, we spent a relaxing weekend playing ladies of the manor at Ashdown Park Hotel in the beautiful Sussex countryside. We got on the train after work on Friday with a bottle of Champagne and arrived an hour later, getting a taxi from East Grinstead to this beautiful Victorian gothic manor house in the heart of the Ashdown Forest.
We checked into our luxurious twin bedroom, finished with traditional furnishings and period pieces, overlooking the pristine landscaped gardens and lake, before heading down for an aperitif on the lawn and then dinner at the two AA Rosette award-winning Anderida restaurant.
The dining room is elegantly decorated with damask wallpaper and dark wood panelled walls, high windows framed with heavy drapes, smart silver candlesticks and a tinkling piano. The menu, by Head Chef Andrew Wilson - who honed his skills at Michelin-starred restaurants in Knightsbridge and Surrey - was all good, especially the warm, fresh foccacia-style bread and real butter, creamy goat's cheese and pistachio amuse bouche, healthy, light dover sole and bacon and panna cotta petits fours.
The next day we woke up for an early breakfast and headed over to the the adjoining country club for a day at the spa. We booked Kerstin Florian organic aromatherapy massages, for 85 minutes of calming essential oils, a eucalyptus foot bath, gentle muscle stretches, deep tissue massage and acupressure. Feeling rejuvenated, we padded out of the treatment rooms in our slippers and fluffy robes to wake up with some herbal tea, then went in the sauna, jacuzzi and swam in the indoor pool before having a light lunch and hitting the picturesque woodland trail.
The luxury country house hotel is surrounded by 186 acres of gardens and woodland, which was the inspiration for the Hundred Acre Woods in A.A. Milne's wonderful Winnie the Pooh stories, as the author lived nearby. Yes we did play poohsticks.
In the grounds there are roaming wild deer, tennis courts, croquet lawns, a gym, an 18 hole golf course and a llama park bordering the estate. So beautiful. We came back to the house to toast the bride-to-be with some champagne in the sunshine, before feasting on afternoon tea in the drawing room.
There was sandwiches galore - smoked salmon, honey roasted ham and mustard and cucumber and cream cheese - and huge freshly baked scones with clotted cream and jam. It took us about an hour to admit defeat that we couldn't finish it. Worth the trip for the afternoon tea alone.
Ashdown Park, Wych Cross, Nr Forest Row, East Sussex RH18 5JR