“Just forty miles from Brighton, feels like a million miles away,” declared the advertisment. The first half of the statement was certainly accurate. The journey to Rusper, a few miles into the countryside from the Horsham turn off on the A23, took almost exactly forty minutes, even taking into account the never-ending road works at Handcross. But did it feel like a million miles away?
We only booked a one night stay, but a million miles away was very appealing, seeing as we departed a few days after the intensity and chaos of Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Not that we got to see much of the West Sussex countryside, with the unrelenting rain and wind of the wettest winter in memory. However, what we did get was peace, relaxation, comfort and wonderful food. The country walk could wait!
Ghyll Manor is a relic of a long-lost England in more than one way. Being a typically lovely country house hotel, it has a sense of character and history. The focal point of the building is 17th Century with 19th Century additions, and the occupants have included the great and the good over the centuries. It is undoubtedly a charming building.
It isn’t just the bricks and mortar that take you back in time albeit to a decidedly 20th Century phenomenom. Ghyll Manor is, in fact, the jewel in the crown of the Civil Service Motoring Association (CSMA), the members club for employees in the civil service. Today holidays are individualistic affairs, with most of us searching the web and checking prices on comparison sites. In the not-so-distant past, recreation was much more of a collective affair with unions, large companies or public sector organisations laying on holiday camps or guest houses for the members or employees. It wasn’t uncommon to spend two weeks away with the work-mates you spent the rest of the year with.
The CSMA is now one of Brighton’s biggest employers, looking after approximately 300,000 members, offering a wide range of leisure and holiday discounts. It still owns holiday parks, mainly in the West Country, and, of course, Ghyll Manor.
Time have changed and Ghyll Manor is, quite rightly, promoted as a luxury Sussex country house hotel for everyone, under the experienced stewardship of the General Manager, Adam Salter. Adam has spend his working life in luxury London and country hotels and restaurants including The Dorchester, Claridges and Brocket Hall, before spending several years as a freelance hotel consultant. His emphasis is on quality and service, but also in creating a hotel where people feel relaxed.
“I want people to step inside Ghyll Manor and feel at home,” says Adam, aware that historic hotels can feel oppressive rather than welcoming. On the winter’s afternoon we arrived, Ghyll Manor certainly felt like a homely escape from the driving rain, complete with a crackling fire in the lounge.
The restaurant, overlooking the fine grounds, lived up to the standards set by Adam, with a tempting menu. I started with a beautifully constructed Smoked chicken and ham hock terrine, while my partner chose the lighter option of Honeydew melon with prosciutto and balsamic reduction – a welcome relief after the Christmas excess.
We both chose the Pan-fried bream with braised fennel, green beans and caper sauce. Light and exquisite, this was a healthier New Year’s treat.
The dessert was another treat though probably not as healthy – a tangy Glazed lemon tart with raspberry ripple ice cream – still the best ice cream flavour invented.
Back in the lounge, we met a retired couple from Norfolk who have been regularly staying at the hotel for as many years as they can remember, and always look forward to their visits.
Ghyll manor still benefits from the loyalty of its CSMA members but it now attracts visitors on its own merits. The only clue to its ownership is the members magazine in the spacious and appealing bedroom. There is one other indication though – the price! This is a wonderful rural retreat with the pricing of a privilege club. Check the website for details – especially their late offers. It really is one of the county’s best kept secrets.
So back to the question – did it feel like a million miles away. Absolutely. We had a brief, but thoroughly enjoyable and leisurely stay. We will definitely be back. I’m told the 40 acres of private Sussex countryside are pretty spectacular, but that is for another, less torrential occasion.