Arriving for a restful weekend
We arrived in Warwickshire late one Friday afternoon in February. It was one of those rare and deliciously crisp and bright winter days – we were shocked to think that spring might finally be on its way. The Landmark Trust’s detailed instructions on how to reach the Bath House were extremely useful, but not being the most gifted of map readers (I refer to myself), we drove past the turning at least four times. Eventually, we found the correct gate off the main road – unmarked, locked and leading to a dirt track, straight into a dark wood. We dodged pheasants as we drove further into the trees, arriving ten minutes later at an upturned wheelbarrow and a single parking space. I glimpsed the Bath House through leaves – patches of grey stone and a rather severe frontage. (It was actually the back of the building.) We grabbed our bags, boots and coats and made our way down a steep path, then let ourselves in and flicked on the lamps.
Well! This is what we’d been so excited to see. The ceiling and walls of this folly’s main room are decorated with shells and icicle-like plasterwork, in festoons but also in octagonal patterns which follow the lines of the octagonal and domed ceiling. The shell decorations had looked large in pictures I’d seen but really nothing could quite prepare me for their immense scale. And then, over to the windows. We threw open the shutters and marvelled at the view – the sun was now setting over the rolling green hills, bathing them in peach light.
We carried on exploring – here a little mahogany bookcase stuffed with fascinating tomes and well-thumbed pamphlets (grottoes! Shell houses! Rococo gardens!), there a terracotta vase full of beautiful, delicate, pale spring daffodils. A snug kitchen just off the main room on one side, on the other a winding staircase with a rope for a handrail. We ventured downwards first and found trickling water and a locked door which we knew led to the Bath House’s real surprise – the cold plunge pool.
Back up the stairs and what felt like seventy steps later we came to a small but perfectly formed bathroom, hovering somewhere above the main room. We slept soundly that night, happy and warm in our bed after dinner at a pub down the road. Saturday was spent out and about – breakfast at a local farm shop, fleeting visits to favourite towns, lunch at a favourite pub (I had a very good cheese soufflé), but come the early afternoon all we wanted to do was race back to our beloved Bath House. We spent many a hazy hour by the fire with the newspapers and a radio tinkling away gently in the background. We read, we snoozed, we spotted deer from the windows.
I spread myself out on the floor with a pile of cushions to allow for true appreciation of the elegant shells and dripping icicles, which seemed to have been arranged ‘by some invisible sea-nymph or Triton for their private amusement’. The decorations were the idea of Mrs Delany, better known for her flower pictures, who advised the daughters of the Bath House’s original owner, Sir Charles Mordaunt, on where to locate the shells. Reading up on the history of the Bath House, we were blown away by the scale of work involved in restoring the building and the level of attention paid by the Landmark Trust. The festoons, for example, were restored using only shells that would have been possible to find in Georgian England.
At one point we unlocked the downstairs door and crept around the sides of the pool, spellbound by the deep turquoise colour of the water. We decided not to venture in this time. I’m sure it does wonders for the body and soul and it’s no doubt quite heavenly on a hot July afternoon, but we had other things on our minds. Supper, mainly. Duncan began to potter in the kitchen, opening a bottle of wine and roasting a chicken. We lit a few candles and sat down for a quiet dinner in the centre of that dazzling room, talking non-stop about our imaginary folly in the countryside and how exactly we would choose to decorate it. (With eight-foot festoons of shells, we decided, of course.) I remember a pause when we both looked around us, mouths open at the sheer splendour of those shells and the glow of the candlelight bouncing off their iridescent inners. Could there be a more magical room in England?
Book The Bath House for two guests, for just £43.13 per person per night.