March 26, 2022 at 9:00 p.m.
What a find, what a steal. Just on the Essex border with Suffolk was my much-anticipated weekend at The Hatchery. Brand new with only half a dozen guests to date, and super upscale with no expense spared, this plush cushion of a stylish contemporary barn conversion has it all and more.
Indeed, I only had to show up with my suitcase for everything else to be taken care of. Because, being able to accommodate eight people in its four en-suite bedrooms, it is equipped for all imaginable eventualities, with all modern comforts and the latest appliances.
It’s ultra-chic and a perfect setting for friends to meet and reconnect and pamper each other in luxury, especially after two years of Covid isolation, and it’s ideal for formal gatherings like family reunions and Christmas. You can cook and eat together, socialize or take a country walk side by side to catch up on that precious time away from each other.
Outside, the building has its own quirky and humorous character with sculptures of butterflies and spiders on the wall and roof respectively. In the halls, reference the origins of the building with names of chicken breeds such as Orpington and Burford. And The Hatchery has an “inside-outside” feel with three large patio doors that took me right into the state-of-the-art hot tub and latest style BBQ on the landscaped patio.
The interior is open and designed for modern living, with a kitchen equipped with a Miele stove and LG refrigerator, and where you can cook while you chat with others. The layout is split level with a bridge across to the upstairs bedrooms, which have fans and walk-in closets and one with gorgeous patio doors that overlook the pond and beyond.
The living room has wooden flooring softened by woven jute rugs, a huge 75 inch cinematic television and intriguing aerial photography towering over three huge sofas and a lovely wood burning stove to gather around. There’s even underfloor heating and an electric car charger.
Steeple Bumpstead, the local village, has links to Edith Cavour, with a number of moated houses, a perversely steepleless church and, not far from ‘Balance Wood’, a field called ‘Bloody Pightle’. There’s something about the purity of the open countryside with its endless folds of cultivated fields, and I loved the cheery little cottages parched with their Union Jacks already proudly celebrating the Jubilee, it seemed.
The hatchery is perfectly positioned for a range of exciting excursions, with Audley End House a short drive away and, even closer, the picturesque market town of Clare, Suffolk’s smallest, is a county of leafy villages, old-fashioned petrol pumps and red telephone booths, bright pink and yellow thatched-topped cottages, stately grand halls overlooking vast fields and rolling hills.
For a change, I ate in the village of Bartlow, at The Three Hills (thethreehills.co.uk) named after three local Roman hills. Inside are a number of rooms, including the main restaurant which is housed in a spacious barn decorated with elegant frames of dried flowers, old milk crates feeding flower bulbs fixed to the slab floor and wooden bulls. rattan adorning the white painted wooden walls. Here, I enjoyed grilled mackerel with apple, miso and horseradish, followed by corn-fed chicken with tomato and red pepper orzo, chorizo, baby spinach and Parma ham. It was very atmospheric the night I went, with a happy crowd full of locals, which is always a good sign. It was only when I left that I sadly saw the warm and cozy library-tea room with its crackling fire.
From The Hatchery I drove half an hour to Cambridge where, a century ago, I had been an undergraduate, and where now, interestingly, students are trying to make their way through the tourists whose shops now dominate Kings Parade and beyond. If you’re lucky, you might just peek inside a university gate to its first courtyard, or take in the full Kings College Chapel and Trinity Great Court, visible at least from The Backs and its route south of the river.
In the chic and timeless boutique of the Graduate Hotel, perfectly situated along the River Cam, is the hotel’s restaurant, the Garden House (graduatehotels.com). It focuses on grilling and what could be better, after a delicious rich and creamy mushroom soup, for a Sunday roast with its fire-cooked seasonal produce? It was from this warm and comfortable, spacious and bright dining room that I looked out through the bay windows with humor to observe people negotiating the platforms for the first time and the paths taken by the most experienced or the least ambitious.
After a long walk (because I had forgotten how spacious this very special city was, with its great green spaces that include Jesus Green and Parkers Piece), I finally sat down at the University Arms, the former hotel of the city’s favorite traditional restaurant, for dinner at the hotel’s Parker’s Tavern (parkerstavern.com). You cross the library and its crackling fire, past the bar and the tea room to this spacious and chic brasserie. Hearing the international clientele put the world in order, I sat on my red leather banquette surrounded by paintings in the University’s light blue colors adorning the lanterns of Parkers’ Piece. After my toast of roasted porcini mushrooms with garlic, herbs and ricotta, I tasted smoked salmon served with fresh cream and young herbs, then goat cheese with walnuts in the oven on crouton with roasted pears, honey and thyme and finally by a nostalgic couple of rippling raspberry balls. All carefully considered. I was totally taken care of…just like I was at The Hatchery.
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Price: £2,622 per week for up to eight people