When I decided to plan a world journey organized around friend’s homes I thought every place would emerge for me in its best form. I thought, “I’ll know everywhere in the same way it exists in the eyes of the people I love.” As it turns out, standing in someone else’s shoes is harder to achieve than one might think. Relationships to space are complicated and I should have known from personal experience, the place where you have a house isn’t always the place you love most in the whole world. Home isn’t always uncomplicated and rosy but, I’m happy to report, lunch at Endsleigh is. I’ve been to about a million dinners with Loll and I’ve never heard her say, “This is my favorite place.” But she does have a favorite that is, not surprisingly, about 30 minutes from her home. Her family has been going there since the girls were tiny and long before Hotel Endsleigh turned into a posh country destination. It is truly their place for better or worse but largely better. This was what I wanted from my travel plan; I wanted to know a place like I’d spent years enjoying it.
Endsleigh has been around a lot of years. It’s first life was spent as a landscaped hunting lodge for royalty. Now it’s a historic hotel, fishing lodge, and gourmet restaurant. It has a thousand remarkable details left over from those past lives. There is, for example, a patio made of series of tiny pieces of lamb’s bone. The Patio’s grayish macabre beauty opens to an impressive expanse that blends a well cultivated garden, with rose gates and promenades, into a tall, old forest. Through the usual British layer of rainy mist the trees rise, secretive. It would be nice to walk through as their temporary shaded guest and then be safe inside with a beer before nightfall.
Melissa began taking her girls to this sylvan castle when it still served very basic tea and Sunday roasts. Now the afternoon tea is a table of expertly crafted cakes, expensive china, homemade scones and breads. Beyond the tea table set out in the quiet library is a tiny dark wood bar room with bottles of whiskey and port ready for a drink to compliment some afternoon reading. The whole thing has the feel of a home left quietly set for owners who never got around to coming back. Suddenly I know how Goldie Locks felt before the bears came back to their chairs and porridge.
Lunch began with a bottle of Champaign. You know, as you do. Sitting in the lovely drawing room and sipping our bubble we moaned over being forced to choose just three things from the menu. Loll kept repeating, “This is where my wedding will be.” Lets be clear here: she’s not a romantic person in the traditional or silly girly way. Endsleigh just has an effortless magic and a sense of lasting that pervades it’s grounds, from the tiny collected bones in the patio, to the aged port, to the ageless distant trees. Suddenly our feminist sensibilities were won over with the temptations of fairy tales and period dramas.
Before the meal Loll kept warning me, “This is my favorite place so I love it no matter what. Just remember, the food is not actually the best I’ve tasted.” All I can say is, when you get into the realm of the word delicious it seems stupid to go any further and rank its applications. Loll’s warnings were just plain silly.
After hours of lunch, champagne and wine, we had to leave. It was heartbreaking. Ensley felt like it belonged to us. There had been no one else in the drawing room, then no one in the sitting room, then no one else in the garden. This could have been sort of gently awkward but we celebrated the seclusion and entertained fantasies of royalty. At the end of the meal, perhaps because the manager thought Loll and I were actually planning our own wedding to each other since we just wouldn’t stop gushing but never mentioned any specific boys (because they don’t yet exist!), we got to see into a few vacant rooms. Loll and I kept gushing, now about the beautifully bound classic editions of novels resting on chairs and tables in every room. What a wonderful reading and eating vacation this might be! The two things we like best! We selected my maid of honor bedroom for when she gets married here.
The fantasy day didn’t really end when we got back into the car. This area has some of the most impressive countryside I’ve ever seen; massive reaches of grey and green appear in blinks after every wind in the road. Loll likes to joke about another American guest who yelled out with joy every five minutes as they drove. He just could not curtail his response to the beauty at each gap in the tree line. I’m sympathetic. On this drive, however, we all sat in silence. Well, in the ‘silence’ of expertly chosen music. These are the Haywoods after all, and they do everything to the low tones of drum and base. The building wher-wham of electronic music was the perfect anachronism for winding glimpses of a quickly fading dark hued fairyland. We were flying on the energy of our fantasies even as we left their heartland behind.