Home on the grange
Matthew Dennison tries his hand at self-catering on a right royal scale
FEW married men can match my boast of having been taught how to plump cushions by an interior decorator with a warrant to the Prince of Wales. The decorator in question was Dudley Poplak. The cushions, it goes without saying, were splendidly fat. I think of Poplak while my wife and I are staying in Grange Farmhouse on the Duchy of Cornwall’s 364ha Harewood End estate in Herefordshire. The last pink hawthorn overlaps with the first pink dog roses in hedgerows; at the end of a lane, partly shadowed by four tall limes, as poker-straight as the women of the House of Windsor, the renovated early 17th-century farmhouse overlooks bosomy green country.
Outside, manicured perfection reigns. Within, interiors are by Annabel Elliot. Cushions come in all shapes and sizes: needlepoint, striped linen, quilted Provencale cotton. Do they pass the Poplak test? Indeed they do: plump, soft and rounded as a shepherdess’s forearms.
Self-catering in Britain? Think chipped lino that sprouts sand overnight; crisp, thin towels like melba toast; kitchen equipment circa 1970s. But not when the Prince of Wales is your holiday maestro. Grange Farmhouse has more in common with an Olga Polizzi hotel. The Duchy of Cornwall bought Harewood End in May 2000. The Big House was long gone, demolished in 1959 after ignominious senility as an SAS practice target. Beside it a stable block, walled garden and the improbable-sounding St Denis’s chapel languished similarly forlorn.
Cow parsley and tall nettles held sway amid the family graves, cocking a snook presumably at the departed Hoskyns baronets’ outlandish taste in Christian names: Hungerford, Chandos, Bennet . . . the list goes on. Most of the estate buildings had stood empty for 30 years.
Grange Farmhouse, a stone’s throw from the main house complex, had the saggy, bruised look of used teabags. A facelift is a marvellous thing: £1.8 million ($4.2 million) later and Grange Farmhouse, which opened as a holiday rental last year, is looking positively skittish. Local oak bolsters its embarrassment of half-timbering, and local sandstone from a reopened quarry plugs the holes. There are new leaded windows, a new roof, a herb garden and a fledgling orchard beyond the lawn.
Architect Craig Hamilton has rustled up a partly open-sided barn housing a log store and a games room. It is utterly and completely beguiling, a vision of life perfected, expensive to those who recognise the signs but understated, casual even, as if the Bloomsbury Group had sharpened up its act a bit and put behind them all that bed-hopping silliness in the interests of comfort and an easy life.
The life here is easy, too. The housekeeper’s welcome pack of Duchy Originals essentials eases us into the appropriate mood. From then on, the subconscious takes over and, assisted by a few subtle pointers, we willingly surrender to total immersion in the wonderful world of Duchy land.
Some of the signals are obvious: window latches and wall sconces feature the shield from the Duchy’s coat of arms, while bathroom tiles are decorated with Prince of Wales feathers and the Duchy’s heraldic supporters, red-legged crow cousins called Cornish choughs.
On the bookshelves, guides to the royal collection, royal cooking and the duchy punctuate the ranks of Conan Doyle, James Herriot and Joanna Trollope. Other signs are less immediate. In one of the two sitting rooms is a series of antique sporting prints chronicling the first known steeplechase (sport of kings and all that), while the no-nonsense fire tools in the dining hall include a mighty poker that once may have seen service at Edward II’s grisly demise. Ecologically friendly lightbulbs wink at the gentler concerns of a modern monarch-in-waiting.
This is not a small house. In our grandparents’ book, five bedrooms and four bathrooms made for eight bedrooms. But none of the rooms is large and the atmosphere is of comfort and manageability. Take Grange Farmhouse for the glories of the Golden Valley, for Herefordshire’s wealth of muscular Border castles, for the ancient churches of Kilpeck, Abbey Dore and Skenfrith. Most of all, take it because it’s so easy. This just may be the most relaxing (as well as the most stylish) self-catering in Britain you could do. The Spectator
Sheer luxury: Manicured perfection reigns after a $4 million facelift at the Duchy of Cornwall’s Grange Farmhouse in Herefordshire
Pass the cushion: Interior designer Annabel Elliot has restyled the rooms