Home on the grange

Matthew Den­ni­son tries his hand at self-ca­ter­ing on a right royal scale

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Britain -

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

www.duchy­of­corn­wall­hol­i­day­cottages.co.uk

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

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