Hugh’s British Holiday

April 23, 2012

After all the excitement of Downton, it was time for Hugh Bonneville to kick back and take a holiday (with a Lexus and a copy of C&TH for company).

I may be wrong but I think I'm on to something about one of the simple courtesies we exchange every day. The words 'thank you' used to elicit a 'you're welcome' or a 'my pleasure' in response, warming the cockles of both the thanker and the thanked. You might occasionally get a 'not at all'; a bit tepid maybe, but you still get a sense of the day going well. But in the last few years I've detected a shift in emphasis:

'Are you having the halibut/are you checking in, sir? '

'Yes. Thank you.'

'Not a problem.'

Not a problem? This implies that on any other day being of service might have been an issue. It's just that today, oh customer, you got lucky. Having absorbed this subliminal message, your brain is now on the lookout for problems rather than pleasures. And you haven't even unpacked yet.

THE PIG near Brockenhurst in the New Forest really is not a problem. It's so not a problem I want to live there. The cosy rooms have sherbet dib-dabs and Fruit Salad chews in the mini-bar, for heaven's sake - of course I want to live there.

THE PIG describes itself as a 'restaurant with rooms' - the emphasis here is on the kitchen, the menu being determined by what the forager has sourced that day and what magic the chef has then worked with it. The dining room, a conservatory that feels more rustic chic than Kew Gardens hothouse, is spacious and relaxed. The heads of porcine ancestors look down from the walls- which reminds me, the pre-dinner porky nibbles are fantastic.

Next morning, after quite possibly the best sausages I've ever eaten, I hoiked our bags in the boot of my car. Except it wasn't my car, it the Lexus RX 450h I'd been lent. It's fabulous, comfortable and handles superbly. I can't pretend to tell you how the whole hybrid thing works, but from time to time pretty graphics pop up on the satnav screen explaining that you are the most fuel inefficient driver ever and you've just missed the turning. Driving feel safe and decidedly more chipper about life than usual. I had hoped that lovely Nigel from Lexus Birmingham would let me keep it forever. Well, a man can dream, can't he?

We turned into the drive of Bovey Castle as night fell. Approaching across the golf course, the imposing house loomed out of the darkness, and I half expected to hear the howl of a BaskenviIIe hound. Built in 1907 for the family of WH Smith (yes, that one), the hotel has the air of a hunting lodge on a highland estate. It's long and narrow and made of stone, with lung-refreshing views across the River Bovey.

Young Matthew, in plus fours, emerged from the grand porch to welcome us and spirited our suitcases away.