Set in the glorious Cotswolds countryside, with views of the iconic Malvern Hills, Eckington Manor is a stunning collection of buildings encompassing a working farm, cookery school and 5 star accommodation, as well as an award winning restaurant. We visited this gorgeous establishment and were overwhelmed by the hospitality and friendly atmosphere.
Situated just outside the picturesque village of Pershore, Eckington Manor is a perfect country retreat. Just 40 minutes from Stratford-upon-Avon and 30 from Cheltenham Spa, the hotel combines rural isolation with connections to exciting adventures, should you require them.
However, stepping into the hotel’s idyllic courtyard, it is difficult to see why anyone would ever want to leave Eckington Manor. The hotel buildings are set in a horseshoe shape, with the Tudor cottage, Lower End House, which acts as a relaxing communal space for guests, to the left, the Grain Barn and adjoining Apple Store, both of which double up as guest accommodation and an intimate venue for functions and weddings, to the right.
Pride of place in the centre is the hotel’s reception, cookery school and restaurant, which, we are told, is the first building to be created inside the shell of a traditional Dutch barn. This exquisite glass fronted building boasts the traditional beams and outer shell of the original barn, and now serves as the hotel’s powerhouse. Guests are greeted at reception by the Manor’s attentive front of house staff, and check in is an enjoyable experience thanks to the sumptuous leather armchairs and comfortable surroundings of the barn.
After checking into the Manor we were taken on a tour, providing us with the opportunity to learn more about this fascinating establishment and the history behind it. The Manor itself is the private residence of the hotel’s owner, Judy Gardner, who was originally a neighbour before purchasing the farm and its buildings in 2004, with a view to controlling the development of the land and preserving it for future generations.
The initial plan, we are informed, was to let a local farmer use the land for free, whilst the remaining buildings were restored and put to practical use. However, a chance remark from one of her daughters (who have both now joined Judy in the venture), led her to decide to take the project on and cultivate both a working farm and luxury accommodation.
The results are impressive, with the Manor, which is surrounded by 260 acres of water meadow pasture, now home to two prize winning herd of pedigree cattle (the majestic Aberdeen Angus and the shaggy Highland cows), as well as Lleyn Sheep, Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs and horses. Alongside the livestock the farm also holds an orchard, producing apples, quinces and various other fruits and vegetables which, along with the produce from the hotel’s herb garden, are used to produce much of the food served at the hotel.
Judy, whose former vocation was a kitchen business producing pickles and salad dressings, is experienced in the fermentation process, and produces Eckington Manor Cider from the orchard’s apples; a dry, strong cider which is served in the hotel’s bars. Alongside the cider the hotel also produces a range of chutneys and jams which guests are able to purchase from reception, providing a taste of Eckington for their home.
The farm is evidently a source of great pride, and there are mementos decorating the entire establishment: from the enchanting pencil drawings of the Highland cows on the stairway up to our room (which are so detailed that from a distance they are easily mistaken for black and white photographs), to the canvas photographs of the gardens and the eye-catching portrait of Norman, Judy’s first bull.
The entire hotel is bedecked in mementos of Judy’s unique and eclectic taste: there are deer antler lamps and Judy’s “conversation starter” blue and green chaise lounge in Lower End House, as well as two beautiful stuffed hares that preside over the entrance to the grain barn, which not only holds two bedrooms, but can also be hired out as an intimate wedding venue.
The sun lounge, a conservatory with floor to ceiling glass panels and a glorious view of the cows and the Malvern Hills, would make the perfect backdrop for beautiful wedding photos, although it is just as ideal for relaxing in after a long days walking across the Cotswold countryside.
Lower End House, the rustic Tudor façade of which greets guests upon arrival, is also a fantastic space in which to relax and unwind. In lieu of mini bars in each individual room the hotel operates a 24 hour Honesty Bar, which is located in the front room of Lower End House, allowing guests to select from a range of wines, beers and spirits (and of course, the Manor’s own cider) and pay for them by writing down their room number and selection. The bar is perfect for those who want to relax in the natural splendour of the hotel’s courtyard, which features a magnificent statue of Judy’s depiction of the Greek God of shepherds and flocks. The 2.5 metre statue gives the hotel an identity, and Judy commissioned it specifically, bringing the god up to date by omitting the cloven hooves and instead focusing on his cornucopia, which overflows with fish, horns to represent animals as well as fruits and vegetables.
Lounging on the terrace gazing at Pan is the perfect way to unwind and bask in rural splendour, but when the weather turns cooler the interior of Lower End House is equally comfortable. The house contains a number of relaxing armchairs, as well as a gorgeous dark wood table which is perfect for sitting around playing some of the board games the hotel generously provides. The dining room in Lower End House is also perfect for informal gatherings: there is a fully equipped kitchen with an Aga, where we are told guests can enjoy a cookery demonstration following a shooting event, which are often held in the summer. During our tour we saw a tea party in full swing at the dining table, highlighting the versatility of the hotel’s dedicated staff.
This is ultimately what the manor is all about: making everyone feel welcome. The hotel can cater for almost any need, and the staff are truly passionate about what they do. During dinner we overheard a waiter talking passionately about sourcing local, seasonal vegetables. Many of the staff have worked with Judy for many years in her previous ventures.
Food is at the heart of Eckington Manor, and the staff are so passionate about providing flavourful, fresh and vibrant food that the restaurant has been awarded a Gold Medal Taste award by Visit England.
This is not the only prestigious accolade the restaurant has been awarded: one of the hotel’s husband and wife Head Chef team, Mark Stinchcombe, won MasterChef: The Professionals in 2015. His crystal trophy sits in pride of place in the hotel’s reception.
Both Mark and his wife Sue, who co-runs the kitchen, are deeply passionate about providing quality food that emphasises the natural flavour in the fresh produce they use.
The menu caters for every taste and requirement, offering a selection of dishes which combine bold flavours with skilled preparation. The meal began with a refreshing amuse-bouche of chilled celeriac puree, topped with decedent blue cheese and a shard of toasted bread (all the bread served at the manor is homemade). For starter we enjoyed a rich roast onion consommé with melt in the mouth Comté gnocchi, as well as a confit guinea fowl terrine which was flavourful and deliciously moist. The main course was a crisp, succulent mushroom arancini which oozed Brie when cut into, served with truffle foam and perfectly grilled vegetables, along with the kitchen’s true triumph, perfectly cooked Eckington Manor rib eye of beef, with braised shin which fell apart on the fork, all of which was smothered in a rich red wine and caramelised onion jus.
We rounded off the meal with a delightful salted caramel cheesecake served with a rich dark chocolate sorbet and malted milk ice cream, perfectly complemented by a lightly spiced chocolate soil.
Sue emphasises that every item of the menu is freshly made, and therefore dishes can easily be adapted to suit individual dietary requirements. Some guests visit so regularly that staff remember their personal tastes and dietary requirements, and are able to automatically remove elements of the dish without needing to be asked. This high level of service pervades throughout the hotel, and is particularly evident in the kitchen where waiting staff survey every table, and are quick to offer advice and recommendations to any guest struggling to decide between the delicacies on the menu.
After dinner we were shown around the hotel’s cookery school, which hosts a number of courses on every aspect of cooking, from regional cuisine such as Italian and Indian (which is a personal favourite of a number of the waiting staff, who clearly enjoy tucking into the results), through to more general courses such as bakery and restaurant dishes at home. The school is fully equipped and designed to cater for any need, with five agas and five range cookers, so that people from all culinary backgrounds and any level of ability can feel right at home.
Ultimately that is Judy’s aim with the manor: to make everyone feel welcome. The hotel can cater to any need, and there is even a room specifically for those travelling with their dog, although any canine guests will have to be especially polite to the establishment’s true ruler, Mildred, Judy’s Chihuahua.
With friendly staff and a warm, welcoming atmosphere, it is no surprise that at the end of our stay we are sorry to say goodbye, and are already planning our return trip.
As we walk into the sunlit courtyard at the end of our blissful stay, Judy’s face lights up in a smile. After many years of building work, it must be gratifying to finally see the hotel a finished success. Judy glances around her and announces, “it never rains on Eckington Manor”. Looking around the sun-drenched courtyard, it is very easy to believe her.
Address: Hammock Road
Telephone: 01386 751600
Fax: 01386 751362
Email: i[email protected]