The Weekender: Kent
Seaside and a slice of history… we head to Kent and stay in an historic manor house
If you fancy yourself as lord or lady of your own grand manor, the illusion is within your reach. Many stately homes have been converted into hotels where you can indulge in a sense of nostalgia, and be waited on hand and foot. Trouble is, you usually have to share them with many other guests, all with similar grand plans to lord it about. The alternative is your own self-catering manor house and while you may have to take turns playing butler, you do get the place to yourself.
We headed to Mount Ephraim, a grade II-listed late Victorian manor, which was added to in 1913, and is set in stunning gardens overlooking the Kent countryside. We had the run of the Garden Wing, complete with six bedrooms, games room, lofty reception room and acres of gardens. The grounds are open to the public at certain times – but that only added to the charm as we sat out on the vast terrace quaffing a glass of sparkly. One was almost tempted to do a rather regal wave at the passers-by who were craning to see if we looked important, or not. We also had use of the tennis court, there’s a lake, rose garden, fountain and even the most beautiful maze created from ornamental grasses and herbaceous perennials. Hell, there’s even a haha (we had no idea either, we had to look it up).
Our party of seven settled in, and after our glass of fizz, and nibbles from the excellent Macknade Fine Foods in nearby Faversham (more on which later) we took a turn around the gardens as the sun set. The kids loved the freedom of the grounds (supervised due to the water features), and everything felt quintessentially British – there was even a cricket match taking place on the adjacent green.
As keen cooks, we were impressed by the vast kitchen, which is in-keeping with the property but thoroughly modern with everything you’d need to cater for a large group. There’s an Aga but for speed we opted for the regular oven to cook our large joint of porchetta… which we had picked up from Macknade – to call it a farm shop would be something of an understatement. Think of it more akin to a vast countryside Fortnum & Masons. It was packed to the rafters with delicious food and drink and, needless to say, we overbought, stacking our boot with Kentish ales, meats, fruit and vegetables.
We spent the evening feasting like lords then repaired to the games room with its full-size snooker table. Any remaining energy zapped, we curled up in the drawing room next to the woodburner. Recently refurbished bedrooms awaited, complete with the comfiest of beds. The bathrooms have been kept in the period style complete with wooden toilet seats and roll-top baths.
The property is only 15 minutes’ drive from the seaside town of Whitstable, so the next morning we set off for a stroll along the pebbly beach with a plan for a seaside lunch. Just the other side of the harbour, you’ll find the Lobster Shack, and it is well worth seeking out. It was just the vibe we were looking for – informal (you order at the counter) but quirky cool, and you can tuck into fantastic fish and chips and seafood while looking out at the sea. On warmer days, you can sit out on the beach. And there’s a log burner inside for the colder months.
We headed back to Mount Ephraim for a pre-supper game of tennis, and therefore feel justified to gorge ourselves with more great food: our plunder from the Whitstable Fish Market – huge steaks of delicious hake.
Packing up the next day (oh to have a butler), we felt privileged to have stayed in such a place. The modern-day owners of estates such as these have a great responsibility in both preserving a slice of history but also making it work as a business. Mount Ephraim is used as a wedding venue, a B&B, public gardens with a café as well as a self-catering venue. Our experience of the Garden Wing is that it does so beautifully. There are no weddings on during your stay, and garden guests are restricted to certain times. There are a few quirks that come with such an historic building – namely dividing it up for different purposes, so, for example, there are quite a number of doors leading off to the main house marked private, which was a little disconcerting.
This is a unique experience, and it was fascinating to get a small peak into what life might have been like in such a grand home, albeit with its modern trappings. We loved being lord and lady of the manor, and it is the perfect spot to play host for a weekend away with friends and family.
On our way back to London, we took a small detour to 14th Century Ightham Mote for another trip back in time, with different periods of history unveiled through the rooms. It is an incredible place but our kids were unimpressed with the massive games room: “Our house had one of them,” said the eldest, referring to Mount Ephraim’s huge snooker table. There was also an old ornate steel door leading to the strong room – passé it seems (“Our house had one of those too,” said the youngest)…. Nothing like instilling delusions of grandeur at an early age…
The Garden Wing at Mount Ephraim: £1575 for 3 nights / £1925 for 7 nights with Mulberry Cottages.