REVIEW: Victorian magnificence and service at Ashdown Park worthy of Downton itself
In a recent interview, the world's leading trainer of Rolls-Royce chauffeurs Andi McCann said you should never underestimate the importance of the first few seconds at the start of a journey nor the closing moments.
“It’s those last few movements that you make which can make the lasting difference to the memory of that journey, even if you have done everything else perfectly,” he said.
There are great parallels with a stay in a magnificent hotel.
The welcome you receive on arrival and the smoothness of the checkout are critical points in any visit.
Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club is one such magnificent venue.
It is not merely its location which sets it apart - it sits with grace and aplomb within the Ashdown Forest - but its pedigree is everything.
It exudes Victorian splendour of the finest Gothic order. Vast reception rooms, a wonderful staircase, an adjoining chapel now converted to a function area with a dance floor flanked by majestic stained glass windows.
Roaring log fires burnt in the various grates while in the elaborate dining room a pianist explained through music why dinner was such a serene affair.
Waiters and waitresses smartly attired as if serving at Downton, lifted silver domes covering the main courses with perfect timing and a sweep of showmanship.
Fresh flowers everywhere; a cocktail lounge redolent of Bertie Wooster and the inimitable Jeeves; and ensuite bathrooms in the master suites as large as many people’s sitting rooms ... all these signalled an hotel of quality.
They reflected the impeccable standards of the man who had the house constructed. Mr Thomas Charles Thompson died in 1892 leaving in his Will a black suit to each of his employees in order that they would be smartly dressed for his funeral.
But on our visit in November it was the welcome and concluding moments which made the greatest impression. For all the right reasons.
Philip showed us to our room, carrying the cases.
He judged just the right tone - and pace. We had arrived at 2pm and were ready for lunch. So he told us what we needed to know about the bedroom while ensuring we were not delayed in ordering the hotel’s club sandwich.
Like Ashdown’s famous afternoon teas, the club sandwich is as masterpiece.
An entire meal with a side of chips included, it is the best sandwich I have experienced. Ever.
It alone makes a visit worth while.
After lunch, we strolled around the grounds. We knew there was a secret garden lurking somewhere but failed to find it.
Instead we kept an eye open for the wild Ashdown deer which tend to stay close to the hotel during the colder months.
There is plenty of recreation on offer.
The country club has a pool, gym, sauna, steam room, Jacuzzi and an additional lounge.
There are a wide range of spa treatments in one of the six treatment rooms and nail bar.
For golfers there is a driving range and 18 hole par 3 course and an 18 hole putting green plus a snooker room with full size snooker tables downstairs from the cocktail lounge.
The large, stately dining room, the Anderida Restaurant, was bustling when we arrived for our evening meal.
There were large gatherings of family around grand circular tables celebrating everything from birthdays to anniversaries. Elsewhere, couples enjoyed more intimate meals.
There was a tasting menu, a full a la carte and a dinner menu where two courses were £34 and three courses £42.50 (price correct in November 2016).
I enjoyed the wild mushroom bruschetta with chilli, walnut and beetroot salsa, and goats cheese for starter. My wife chose the smoked salmon tartare.
Neither of us could resist the three-hour poached rump of lamb for main with cauliflower textures, spinach and jus. The meat was sublimely tender and free of fat.
There were a range of desserts including a chocolate and cherry tart and honeycomb cheesecake but we resisted and plumped for the cheeseboard - a great choice.
The following day, after a full English breakfast, we checked out.
Reception made it a simple and efficient process.
But young concierge Ben bursting with enthusiasm for the hotel asked if we had enjoyed the grounds. We said we had failed to find the secret garden.
With painstaking care he drew a map and pointed us in the right direction.
He was a great young man whose final act of kindness sealed to perfection a great stay.
Ashdown Park Hotel I Wych Cross I Nr Forest Row I East Sussex I RH18 5JR.