So you may remember that a few weekends ago I mentioned that Mr MC and I were heading off for a couple of nights on our own. We’d been invited by Warner Hotels to spend a weekend at Thoresby Hall and it was a real treat. As you know, I’ve been travelling up and down to London a lot recently and so we’ve haven’t seen much of each other. At times like these we fall back on the well oiled wheels of our routine and our relationship shifts into the realms of the functional. So the idea of a couple of days away not having to think about anything was the very definition of bliss.
Like lots of couples, we’re quite different people with different interests however if you’ve been reading for a long time, you’ll know that we share a love of art and so if we have a night away, it’s usually hinged on an exhibition that we both want to see. This of course means that we end up in a big city. I love cities but they’re rarely restful and so although we may return home feeling intellectually refreshed, physically we’re usually even more tired than we were before we left home (and of course that has nothing to do with our other shared love of exploring nice restaurants and bars in the evening). So you can see the appeal of a Warner weekend at a former stately home in the middle of the countryside where everything you could possibly want is laid on for you. Come along with me and let me show you what we did – and of course what I wore.
A wander round Lincoln
We set off early because although check-in wasn’t until late afternoon, I’d noticed on the map how close the hotel was to Lincoln. I have great affection for Lincoln. You see way back in 1985 when I was in the first year of my course at Nottingham Uni, I fell head over heels for a boy who was in my eyes, the very definition of tall, dark and handsome. We got together after the first term when one of the girls in my hall (single sex in those days) came up to say that he was on the same course as her and was driving her mad by going on about his dream girl (me, apparently). So would I please at least go out for a drink with him.
I did, we clicked and we were an item from then onwards. His birthday fell just after the summer exams had finished so I decided to book a night away. Somehow I found a B&B in Lincoln (it’s hard to imagine how without the internet isn’t it?) but I remember ringing from a phone box to book a room and then going to the Post Office to get a postal order that I could send off (via Royal Mail) for the deposit. The whole process sounds like something from a different era now… and I suppose it is.
I’d never been away with a boy before so I gave our names as Mr and Mrs (but not Smith) and it felt so illicit on the train when we donned the cheap gold rings that I’d bought from Woolworths (ah Woolworths, another piece of late 20th century British history)! We had a great time and I’ve never forgotten the beauty of the cathedral. I’ve always wanted to go back so this was my chance. And if you’re wondering what happened to the tall, dark, handsome chap… when we arrived back at university for our second year he roundly dumped me, telling me that he’d had enough of his ‘dream girl’ and had decided to try his chances with a model. I cried for days until his younger brother (who had just started at the same uni) came round to comfort me… and he turned out to be my love for the next four years. I had the added satisfaction of watching his elder sibling remain frustratedly single. All’s fair in love and war!
Anyway, as always I digress, let’s get back to the weekend. The cathedral was just as stunning as I remembered it – I love religious buildings, regardless of the belief that they belong to. I just think that they’re testament to the power of human faith in something more. I was testing out the camera on my phone…
… and this is the shot I got…It’s hard to compute that this was built in the mid 13th century.
The Bishop of Lincoln was one of the signatories of the Magna Carta and so for a long time one of the four original copies was displayed here. This is a facsimile but the original is still in Lincoln Castle. The Magna Carta of course was the first piece of legislation to limit the absolute power of Kings, giving the people of England rights. I hadn’t realised that it was brought in specifically to control King John who we all know as the baddie in the Robin Hood story. He had been taxing the people ruthlessly to pay for his battles in France.
This is St Hugh’s Choir built at the turn of the 13th century – I was stretching my brain, trying to decipher the Latin dedication on each stall. It’s the sort of thing my inner geek could do for hours, however it’s not remotely Mr MC’s idea of fun.
As you can see, each one is dedicated to a local parish.
And then we entered the peace of the cloisters, just as the bells began to ring. You’ve seen this dress before (and on lots of other bloggers too).
Zara dress SS18 (sold out): Sandals
To our mutual joy there was a café – we hadn’t had time for breakfast or lunch so we had cake. And this was courgette and avocado cake so it was practically a salad…
There was then just time for a quick walk around the Cathedral Precinct. Now I have to say that other than Ludlow, I haven’t seen a city or town centre quite like this one. There wasn’t a single branch of any of the multiple retailers, each shop was independent and appeared to be thriving. There were little clothes boutiques, wine shops, gift shops and (my favourite) a fudge shop where they were busy with a boiling vat of fresh fudge which we bought and ate.
Somebody needs to get Lincoln’s town planners down to Westminster to explain how they’ve managed to restrict the multiples to the edge of town and keep the centre sacrosanct. What a difference it would make if every British city had this unique stamp.
So it was time for the twenty minute drive to check in to the hotel… and here it is. Originally owned by the Manvers family, it went through an unfortunate period of being sold to different owners until Warner Leisure rescued it. After a £20 million investment, it re-opened in 2000 and what a stunning place it is.
Usually I groan when I hear that a hotel group has bought a place like this because they tend to bring in a corporate hotel designer who wipes out all the character and standardises everything. That hasn’t happened here. In fact it has been so very well done that it feels as though the family has just stepped out for a while. This is the Great Hall with its minstrels gallery. There are comfortable mismatching sofas where you can sit and read with a cup of coffee…
… and here is my absolute favourite room – the library with huge French doors that were thrown open onto the garden. It’s stuffed with books and there’s a bar next door so it’s probably my very definition of heaven.
It’s a grade 1 listed building so Warner have added a modern complex to the site which houses the leisure facilities, reception area and a block of new bedrooms which is where we were staying in one of the Signature rooms. It was lovely…
…. if we go back though I would definitely pay the supplement to stay in one of the historic rooms in the old house…
… – it would be worth every penny.
And so we had a wander round the grounds for a while. They were designed by Humphry Repton in 1791 and the landscape goes on for as far as the eye can see. I’m sure I lived somewhere like this in a previous life because I very soon had the feeling that I belonged(!) This is outside the front door, I’m sitting on the horse mounting block, waiting for my carriage to arrive.
And so then it felt like the right moment to have cocktails on the terrace… this gives you that Friday night feeling
After which with only a shared slice of ‘cake salad’ on our stomachs, it felt like it was time for a nap… but instead we got changed for dinner.
Jumpsuit (now in the sale); Sézane sandals SS17; Jigsaw clutch AW16
For the first night we thought we’d try the Sherwood Restaurant in the new wing. We got things a bit wrong here by rolling up at 8.10pm not realising that dinner was only served until 8pm to enable people to move on to the entertainment options. However the staff were very accommodating and welcomed us in. Dinner is served buffet style and so there was a choice of curries or a carvery of roasts with vegetables. How they manage to serve such a high standard of food in this way I don’t know because it all tasted fresh and the vegetables were crunchy.
And despite our best intentions, by the end of dinner we were drooping. So we sat for a while in one of the many patios with a glass of wine and then called it a night.
The next morning we were up bright and early and raring to go. We returned to the Sherwood Restaurant for a truly sumptuous breakfast. There was an unlimited choice of absolutely any kind of breakfast dish you could wish for, some buffet style, some cooked to order.
Thoresby Hall is a ten minute drive from Sherwood Forest and so it would have been crazy not to go for a morning walk which we did…
Oasis tie shirt SS18 (sold out); Shorts; Sandals; Bag (coming soon to Midlifechic)
… ending up at Robin Hood’s oak. It’s hard to see from this picture but being over 1,150 years old, it’s held up by metal poles. However it is still the legendary spot where Robin Hood met with his band of Merry Men. And so of course this tied up nicely with seeing the Magna Carta which put a stop to Bad King John’s tax collecting antics…
Back in the grounds of the hotel we were fully in the mood for a spot of archery training. Mr MC has done archery a few times with the boys and so knew what he was doing. I was clueless and felt a bit of an idiot when I not only kept missing the target but completely losing my arrows in the trees some distance away. Thankfully the trainer and the rest of the group were very patient and in fact really good fun (well I was so bad that you had to laugh).
My heart was thumping when they divided us into teams for a competition but somehow it suddenly clicked and I stunned myself and everyone else by not only hitting the target but getting a gold. Mr MC’s team still won but at least I didn’t let our side down.
And then we had a quandary. You see it was the day of the World Cup Quarter Finals and England were playing Sweden. I don’t usually watch football but I do like a tournament. Mr MC however loathes it. I think it’s partly because he’s spent so many years as a rugby prop forward and sees footballers as a load of jessies who spend too much time rolling around on the pitch whining (can you tell I’ve heard him say that more than once?!). However I’ve decided it’s mostly a result of being the youngest of six football mad brothers – he grew up determined to make his own mark in every way.
So, he really didn’t want to watch it and I really did. We compromised on a spot where I could at least hear what was going on and run across for the exciting bits whilst chatting to my grumpy husband in the meantime. As you can see, Warner had set up a screen outside so people could watch in the sunshine if they wanted to.
Thankfully it was an easy win with no extra time and so we then went on to the Spa for a swim, sauna, steam and jacuzzi. I’d completely forgotten to pack a swimming costume so it was lucky that they had some sporty numbers for sale. In fact one of the good things about the complex was that there was a number of shops selling different things and they were all very reasonably priced – the swimming costume for example was £20. Given that they have a captive audience, they could charge far more but they don’t which gives you a good feeling.
And by the time we’d got a few lengths in it was getting late. We’d booked ourselves into the Blue Grill – the restaurant in the old house for the evening. It was next to my much loved library and so I was really looking forward to it. Those with keen eyes will spot that I’m wearing the Modern Rarity dress from John Lewis that was a runner up in your votes when I was trying to choose a dress for the garden party. I happened to be working on my laptop late one night when the email came in saying that the John Lewis Clearance had started and there it was at half price and clearly with my name on it! (By the way there were still quite a few left when I was in John Lewis on Oxford Street last week).
Modern Rarity by Eudon Choi dress SS18 (sold out online); JD Williams Sandals SS18 (sold out); Jigsaw clutch (past season)
I didn’t feel comfortable taking a lot of pictures of the Blue Grill because people were there for a quiet dinner but this gives you an idea of how beautiful it is. A pianist was playing which added to the atmosphere.
The food was absolutely superb, I had scallops to start with…
Mr MC had a black pudding Scotch Egg. The only criticism I would have is that the dinner plates didn’t really work with the restaurant – white porcelain would have been much nicer. Oh and crystal glasses too…
We both had steak and chips for our main course…
… and after that I was pretty full so I had a lemon sorbet with meringue crisps…
… Mr MC had a trio of chocolate.
Now I would happily have moved through to the quiet bar next to the restaurant for the rest of the evening. However, everyone we had spoken to over the course of the day had come specifically to see ‘Collabro’ – the group that were performing at 9.30pm. So we walked back to the new wing to see what the excitement was about.
Collabro were the winners of Britain’s Got Talent in 2014 and although they’re not really my kind of thing, they clearly have a devoted following. I could see that quite a few of the audience were moved to tears by their singing. Entertainment is a key focus of the breaks for a lot of people and coming up soon at Thoresby Hall are singers such as Paul Young and Toyah Wilcox. We stayed and watched Collabro for a little while and then moved on to find another quiet patio, taking a bottle of wine with us. We relaxed in the gardens and watched the stars come out.
Sunday began with a long, lazy breakfast and we sat and discussed what we might do next. There were endless activities at the hotel and having developed my aim, I was tempted by the crossbow and rifle shooting lessons. Another option was falconry where they allow you to hold the birds and watch them fly – my bird phobia is better but it hasn’t extended to doing anything like that yet.
However, one thing was niggling at the back of my mind. Earlier this year I’d seen on the news that a new museum had opened near Lincoln dedicated to Bomber Command. I’d hoped we might go there after the cathedral but we ran out of time. You see my dad was in Bomber Command during World War Two. As soon as peace was declared, Bomber Command was almost discredited. The political mood changed and the mass bombing campaigns that they’d been ordered to undertake were seen as having been a bad strategy. No campaign medals were issued and Winston Churchill deliberately omitted them from his roll of gratitude.
The death rate in Bomber Command was 45% and my dad saw a lot of his friends killed in action. So it was particularly hard when both the government and the public seemed to turn their backs on those who took part. He rarely talked about it to me but my brothers tell me that he always said “at the time we did what we had to do. There was no choice.”
It’s wonderful that a proper memorial has finally been erected to the 55,000 members of the RAF who lost their lives. You can see it behind me here and it measures the same as the wingspan of a Lancaster Bomber, the plane that my dad flew.
Dress (in the sale); Jigsaw sandals SS18 (sold out)
And here’s my dad in the early days of his squadron with his beloved plane (he’s 5th from the left on the front row).
The International Bomber Command Centre is a brilliant, modern museum which is very interactive and tells lots of stories about what it was like for the men and women in Bomber Command. We both really enjoyed it and I came out feeling incredibly moved but also closer to my dad who always remembered the war years as some of the best of his life.
As we were leaving we saw that they were taking donations towards a ribbon of remembrance so I ordered a stone for him. If you ever visit, do track my dad down for me and say hello.
When it goes down, the stone will be dedicated to ‘Flight Lieutenant Fred Sowerby, 514 Squadron’. It will be a long time before we’re able to go to Lincoln to see it so if you do spot his name, please could you send me a photo?
My thoughts about Warner Hotel Weekends
Quite a few of you sent messages when I was doing my Instagram Stories saying you’d seen ads for Warner Hotels but never been able to decide what the breaks are like because they’re adult only. It’s a bit strange at first not having any children around but in a way it does make it more relaxing. Particularly if you’re sitting outside because the gardens would be a child heaven and so nowhere near as peaceful.
We noticed that there were a lot of families staying in multi-generational groups – often older teens with their parents and grandparents. They seemed to peel off to do different things during the day, coming together for meals and to spend the evening together. I have to say that Thoresby Hall would have been a blessing had I known about it when my parents were still alive. It caters very well for anyone with any mobility problems and I noticed how respectful all of the staff were towards the elderly, not once did I see anyone being patronised.
Talking to other guests, many of whom were Warner regulars, we soon discovered that Thoresby Hall is the Warner flagship. Everyone we spoke to seemed to have their own version of a Warner weekend. A lot of people simply park their car in the car park on a Friday afternoon and, Center Parks style, don’t leave the grounds for the duration of their stay. There is so much space and so much going on that it would be an easy thing to do.
Some couples had come just to relax and enjoy a well earned rest, whereas others were there specifically for the activities and were booking themselves into every opportunity. And then there were those like us who were mixing time in the hotel with the chance to explore the area.
I suspect that no two couples would have the same experience because everything is laid on for you to pick and choose from. If we go back (and we may well one day to see my dad’s stone), this is how I would do it: book into the historic part of the hotel with dinner in the Blue Grill both nights and arrange for breakfast in bed for one of the mornings (a reasonable tray charge of £5). Leave the hotel to visit Lincoln for a full day because there were quite a few places that we didn’t manage to visit. Spend a full day at the hotel doing a mix of archery and rifle shooting followed by a swim and sauna with a massage in the Spa. I’d then like to see more of the gardens and spend more time sitting in the library with a good book, imagining that I lived there.
One of the remarkable things was that despite the fact that this is a huge set up, the only times that it felt a bit busy were when we popped into the entertainment auditorium and when we were using the Sherwood restaurant. Otherwise the old house in particular was almost empty so it really did feel like yours. I have never seen such a beautifully and sympathetically restored stately home hotel in the UK, Warner really have done it so well.
So, here’s the opportunity to experience it for yourself. Warner Hotels are offering Midlifechic readers £20 off per person, per break until 31st December 2018. Use code MCHICWLH when booking here.
And it just leaves me to say a big thank you from both of us to Warner Hotels for our lovely weekend – you gave us the opportunity to relax and reconnect – as you can see.