Ravenwood Hall Hotel – Suffolk


Dearest Ruminators – I wanted to spill the beans with you on one of our favourite family bolt-holes …

Ravenwood Hall Hotel – close to Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk 

…not least because we’ve been returning to Ravenwood for a two night flop-bot, (anyone who’s enjoyed the brilliant James Herriot chronicles will recognise the very technical term ‘flop-bot’) recuperative sleepover for the past 6 years, (excluding the infamous 2020 Covid year).

Somehow, Ravenwood Hall has sort of morphed into a dependable family tradition that sees our festively toxic, post-Christmas bones crawl there for a couple of night’s respite before the onslaught of New Year shindigs.

Like many we usually host Christmas, and with The Egg’s large and extended fam that’s no mean feat – there’re bloomin’ loads of ‘em!  All loved and cherished of course, and it’s a mad house of family fun but – it’s a still a very full-on high energy non-stop catering marathon to feed and water so many excited festive tummies (water doesn’t really come into it much to be fair).  So a couple of nights away afterwards to recover and continue the toxifying quest is eagerly anticipated.

However, there are a few conditions –

  1. First, it can’t be too far away.  The idea of travelling more than two hours after busting your guts to make two tonnes of yummy mince-pies and ship-sinking quantities of Jamie’s Get Ahead Gravy doesn’t sit well.

Although to be honest, the trouble with Jamie’s Get Ahead Gravy is that we never actually get ahead with it.  It’s usually a last minute panic just before all the family arrive when we realise, panic stricken that we’ve forgotten THE GET AHEAD GRAVY! Then follows a frantic boiling of the carefully pre-ordered but since forgotten turkey neck, amidst clouds of smelly ‘turkey neck steam’ and bemused faces. Which – lets face it – slightly negates the get ahead bit.  In fact we could write the manual on ‘How To Get Behind With The Get Ahead Gravy’.  But I promise I’m working on it and will have it boiled, bottled and frozen by 10th December this year, I’m certain.  Anyway, that’s the plan. Again. (Sigh…)

But I’ve gone off piste….

2. Second – and deal breakingly important – it has to involve somewhere that isn’t going to cost the earth!

Like most folks, after Christmas we’re abso-fricking-lutely skint!  And Ravenwood Hall kind of works for us.  It doesn’t cost the earth.  And it’s started to feel like a comfy pair of slippers. Which is not necessarily a good thing when I think of the men/boys in our house’s slippers – not as fresh as they might be and visibly curling at the edges with the customary cheesy crusty whiff, but you know what I mean…. no, no – I don’t mean that Ravenwood Hall smells cheesy or crusty or anything like that – just getting that out of the way immediately – save you asking ….I just mean in a comfortable and familiar way …. think of a well worn-in bra….I’m not selling it here am I…….stay with me……

So, what to expect at Ravenwood? 

Well, for starters – expect an atmosphere conjured by the romantic ideology of Henry VIII visiting during historic hunting trips!  Turns out Ravenwood Hall was originally built for the ebullient King Henry as a hunting lodge, and parts of the  house still retain their original Tudor features.  Comfy armchairs, huge log fires and a sort of quintessential, traditional England meets gritty but comforting Scottish heritage.  The owners have Scottish ancestry which is beautifully reflected in the traditionally inspired original – and really interesting – décor. I’d describe it as warm, comfortable (in a – to be perfectly honest, very slightly shabby sort of a way,) and a little bit quirky, which I like and which makes it interesting.

The artwork will delight and intrigue, it’s a bit off the wall – (yes, sorry, that was rubbish wasn’t it, I can only apologise but it’s the best way to describe it…)  For example you can enjoy a cosy pre-dinner drink watched over by the inimitable Scottish ledge, Sean Connery.  I think he might have stayed there once…. they’ve got a bit of a ‘we’ve had lots of famous people stay here’ sort of vibe going on.

In addition, several of the key bedrooms boast handsome antique four poster beds – The Oak Room springs to mind, where you have to literally climb on board, it’s beguilingly high – in fact so high it hurts if you fall off – (don’t ask) –  But most of the rooms we’ve seen or stayed in have elegant wood-panelled walls, crooked creaky floors and heavily draped antique beds.  All rooms give a nudge and in some cases a hefty boot to the significant and intriguing history of this wonderful Tudor house.

 

 

What else is good about staying at Ravenwood?

Well, it’s in close proximity (15 minutes drive) to Bury St Edmunds – historic market town with impressive, architecturally inspiring Cathedral.  There’s also Lavenham Village close by – even more thrillingly historic with wibbly-wobbly houses and original-fronted shops, not to mention the amazing ancient square at the top of the village where ‘wibbly-wobbly’ aptly defines the place. The village is chock-full of intriguing delights!  If you enjoy antique shops, quaint galleries (I recommend the local artist Paul Evans at the top of the hill), fascinating twisty houses – a sort of a Hovis vibe if you will – and afternoon tea snuggled next to a roaring fire, nestled deeply into a big old armchair – and who the hell doesn’t? – you’ll love Lavenham!

Watering holes of note – the Angel Inn at the top of the market place is renowned (in a good way), and very popular, serving good food in a stunningly original building, plus it has rooms.  The Swan Inn near the bottom of the village – again renowned for its stunning original Elizabethan features but, also, for a sometimes rather dismissive-occasionally-stretching-to-rude (been on the end of it) attitude.  But in a way I quite like a bit of rude – gives you something to moan about, and we all secretly enjoy a good moan…. However in their defence, they serve good, aforementioned afternoon teas and the building itself is stunning.  A word of warning for The Swan – book ahead for tea, they get very busy.

Kentwell Manor is also close to Ravenwood in a ‘day/afternoon out’ sort of way, and is a great place to entertain the kids during the summer months.  Look it up – lots to see there.

 

Any more to tell about Ravenwood Hall Hotel itself?

Well, when we’ve been there I can tell you that the chef knows his way around a kitchen.  The food is unexpectedly good to (sometimes) great, which can be unusual for a smallish country house hotel.  The only exception to this was on one pretty non-descript stay when the menu was a bit thin and unexciting, which one could construe as displaying a lack of consistency.  However, as it was immediately after the dreaded Christmas of Covid when staff levels and local supplies were compromised pretty much everywhere, I think we should overlook that. The restaurant has since been back to it’s usual reliably excellent, delicious self.  The wine list has a few inexpensive gems!

Breakfast – in spite of some other quite negative reviews I read from customers – we have found to be hearty, generous and delicious, with local produce being a key focus.  If I’m being picky – and I am because it think it’s important – it could be improved by the toast being freshly cut from a locally baked or even homemade loaf, rather than the bog-standard ready-sliced supermarket bread/toast we were served. It’s just a bit more satisfying if there are plentiful chunky slices cut from a fresh bloomer, or a bit of sourdough?  But I’ll let that one go as otherwise it’s actually a really good brekkie.  The croissants were good, maybe they’ve changed suppliers from the reviews that mention poor croissants?

Get to know Sammi – he works there six months of the year and then goes home to his native Cyprus to work in his family business.  He’s a character, and will brighten your stay and become your best friend whilst you’re there if you let him.

At Christmas time Ravenwood comes into its own, but there’s also an attractive outdoor pool area which one must assume can be enjoyed during the summer months, and the grounds and surrounding woodland walks are lovely.

Summing up –

Ravenwood isn’t 5* – in fact it would be fair to say it’s a teeny bit tired in places and some of the carpets are a tad frayed and in need of replacing.  But that’s not the point of Ravenwood.

It’s a bit like saying you don’t like Venice because it isn’t perfectly clean and smells. I hasten to add, once again, that Ravenwood Hall certainly doesn’t smell! – but – it isn’t perfect and could do with a bit of a spruce-up.

But on the assumption that the family owners will at some point soon perhaps update one or two of the en-suites (The Oak Room bedroom is delightful but the bathroom could do with a bit of love), perhaps replace a carpet or two (sic) and possibly have a shooftie at one or two of the not terribly fluffy pillows (not being uber critical, just saying…) – I can say with hand on heart that Ravenwood Hall Hotel has become a cherished find for our family, where we relax, play dice games after dinner in front of the big old fire in the bar, enjoy glorious walks with The Incorrigible Lab and – simply unwind.

And to be honest – we’re not that easily pleased.  Ravenwood Hall Hotel has history, charm, humour, good food and real heart, and I’d go a long way to find all of those elements under one wonderfully historic, tiled roof.

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Ruminations Of A Mad Cow

 

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November 14, 2023




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