So in between the pain and disruption caused by that small hospitalisation last week, we also had the weekend event that we were planning for my parents. My father is 70 this year, and my mother is 65 – so we had a bit of a think among ourselves about how we’d like to mark this year. The answer was to have a weekend where we could all gather together.
The venue that we picked was the Barton Grange Hotel, which is just outside Preston. The decision was mostly fuelled by my mum having mentioned that they had eaten at the Walled Garden (it’s restaurant) before, and that they had greatly enjoyed it. After a bit of back and forth, we got it all sorted, so I was looking forward to it immensely, despite the discomfort.
Our journey had to start later than most while we waited for my daughter to come back from a holiday with her mum on the Isle of Wight, but we were fortunate with the traffic and made good time, punctuated by reports from those who had already arrived that they were enjoying themselves. As it was, we got there a little after ten pm and this was where the arrangement to book us all in to a small converted cottage on their grounds paid off. We were able to stay and chatter away with convivial drinks and snacks without worrying over much about disturbing anyone else. It really helped reproduce the long nights of, well just plain wittering to be honest, that is often a hallmark of when we all get together.
The breakfast in the morning was excellent – and this really allowed everyone to both fuel up and appreciate the quality of the hotel. As with every other aspect of the planning and execution of our stay, the staff were helpful without ever making us feel crowded. T’other half made use of the gym facilities while we all pootled around and then went our separate ways for a while.
The big discovery of the day for us was the simple games room with a pool table. Lined with dark wood panels and split into smaller discrete areas, we basically had a very lazy day with drinks and endless games. My daughter and her cousin took the opportunity to squirrel themselves away back at her room so that they could do some writing and spend some girly time away from all the boring adults, so no one felt constrained to be in any one area. I think that’s part of what was so enjoyable. Despite it being a busy area, and with a wedding party arriving and starting to set up next door, we never felt under any rush or that anything was too much trouble.
By the time we came to the evening meal, I think it’s safe to say that we were all relaxed and looking forward to a grand experience. Although the bar’s lounge area was busy (full of people waiting for the wedding that was due to start at the same time as our meal), that soon emptied and we were invited to the large table set aside for us. One particularly nice feature was how they dealt with any superstition around the number of us seated that evening. There were thirteen of us booked in, so they also put on the table a small plush teddy bear called Igor – complete with a name badge naming him as our fourteenth guest. He was much admired and several people wanted to take him home.
The menu – wow, not only was the food perfectly executed and delivered with speed and charm, but the portions were good as well. I had some very spicy spring rolls for a starter, followed by an amazing grilled bacon steak, for lack of a better description. Pudding was one of the finest creme brulees I’ve tasted in a long time. A birthday cake provided through the hotel provided us with the opportunity to amaze, bemuse and even slightly embarrass both parents with an excuse to sing happy birthday at high volume at them.
A simple but very high quality cheeseboard allowed us to round off the evening gently and we all gradually drifted back to the cottage for post-prandial drinks and chatter.
It was a fantastic meal and we were all waddling slightly towards the end of it. I can’t praise the staff highly enough for the levels of service they gave us. They worked with me all the way from the first enquiry to allow the evening to go as smoothly as possible so that we didn’t even have any need to linger awkwardly and sort out the bills. This was because we’d already arranged to split the bills per room and prepaid much of it in advance. All that was left to do on checkout therefore was to sort out any drinks that had been charged to rooms – all very civilised…
I had to be somewhat abstemious – mainly because I was still needing to take strong painkillers. Even though I passed the stone quite soon after arrival, my body was definitely feeling aftershocks and pangs that were extremely uncomfortable – so I ended up drinking a lot of water and any other soft drinks I could get my hands on across the weekend. Even so – a great success and we’ll be going back at some point if only to eat next time we’re up there.