I think everyone has a “happy place” they call upon when stressed, bored, or simply daydreaming. That location they mentally return to again and again to reminisce about good times, and which serves as a reminder to revisit in person as soon as possible. I consider myself fortunate to have several such places; some are located halfway around the globe and are more difficult to get to on a regular basis, but there is one that is practically on my doorstep: the Manor House in Castle Combe.
The village of Castle Combe sits tucked away down English back roads and surrounded by towns with names like Long Dean and Tiddlywink. It might look familiar: it has been used in films such as the 1967 version Doctor Doolittle, when the Bybrook River was dammed to form a miniature harbor, and more recent movies like Stardust and Warhorse. The thing that attracts Hollywood filmmakers—the picturesque houses that seem untouched by the centuries—has also led to Castle Combe being voted one of the most attractive villages in England.
But what casual visitors don’t see is where the filmmakers themselves tend to stay. Located just a stone’s throw from the main street, the Manor House is a resort that is the perfect base from which to explore the area. Parts of it date to the 14th century, when it housed the lords of the manor, but over the centuries it has been enlarged and updated, and now serves as a five-star hotel. Rooms are available in either the main house or a modern annex that manages to capture the feel of a bygone age. In whichever area you stay, you are guaranteed a comfortable, and memorable, time.
For those looking for peace and tranquility, the 365-acre grounds of the Manor House are the perfect place to escape. You can explore the Italian Garden or the miles of walking trails that surround the village (just ask to borrow a pair of wellies if it’s been raining!). In the winter, you can curl up with a book in front of the roaring fire or just watch the world go by.
If you prefer to live life in the fast lane, there is the Castle Combe Circuit. Opened in 1950 on a former airfield, this is one of the oldest motor racing tracks in the country. It is still buzzing today with regular races and rallies, and there is also the opportunity to take part in experiences that will put you in the driver’s seat of vehicles such as the Lotus Elise or single-seater race cars.
The Manor House itself is also home to a highly rated golf club, with a course created by noted British designers Peter Alliss and Clive Clarke. Holiday breaks that combine a stay in the Waterfall Lodge overlooking the course, great food at the club’s very own pub, and a round on this undulating and picturesque course are popular with avid golfers throughout the year.
From tee times to teatime, afternoon tea at the Manor House is not to be missed, and can be booked whether you’re a guest or not. The tea selection is extensive, and don’t be put off by what looks like a small meal. The scones, sandwiches, and seasonal cakes are incredibly delicious and filling. I’ve never left without needing a doggie bag! But if you can, save some room for dinner at the award-winning, Michelin-starred Bybrook Restaurant later in the evening.
It may seem a bit strange to travel just a few minutes from my own home to spend a night or two at a hotel. But whether celebrating special occasions or just because I need time away, the Manor House has truly become a “happy place” … and a home away from home.
Elaine is an American expat living in the UK and writes about travel, history, nature, and occasionally tea on the MissElaineous blog.