“Yes it could be, but you will have to wait for the answers” stated the HF Holidays guide as patrons of Abingworth Hall sat clustered in groups in the main lounge and conservatory. The guide had dispersed a number of obscure antique items that in yesteryear had some purpose, and it was our job to guess exactly what they were?
Having spent the day trawling the antique emporiums of nearby Arundel, whilst fellow HF’ers were hiking the countryside, may well have given me a distinct advantage. This was the after dinner entertainment; simple, fun, inclusive and probably what everyone required before heading for bed to prepare for the next day’s activities. It had a quintessentially British feel to proceedings, which in our fast paced world, can sometimes be easily overlooked.
HF Holidays organise guided and self-guided holidays in the UK (and abroad) across 18 country houses the length and breadth of the UK and offer a completely different kind of detox. One that mixes the old-world (the company has been operating since 1913) with the new-world, and well-being, both mental and physical, with exercise. One that also brought back childhood memories of long forgotten family walks and stays in rural corners of the UK.
Abingworth Hall is nestled in the West Sussex countryside, between the South Downs and The Weald. Having pottered along rural roads covered by a canopy of autumnal colours, we finally arrived at the colonnaded portico entrance, which felt somewhat stately and inviting. Inside, the wood clad main hallway harked back to another era, one where time was measured by the tick-tock of a grandfather clock, with tea served punctually at four, which is exactly what greeted us after checking-in. Tea, scones and jam starts the initiation for all guests and was a chance to socialise. Even, the distinct and homely tea-time aroma, permeated my memory banks, instantly taking me back to family breaks in Cornwall. All these ingredients fused together as soon as one stepped over the threshold and pointed to a uniquely British experience in a charming, cosy and well run property.
The house has history; one can imagine the many hands that have slid along the heavy oak bannister that angles its way up towards the bedrooms. Abingworth Hall’s current appearance with a high-pitched roof, came as a consequence of fire and was rebuilt by owner Charles Peach in 1910. After changing hands, it was then occupied by Captain Frank E Stobart and family from 1928 to the outbreak of WWII. In the 1950s the Hall became a hotel, sometimes hosting glamorous clientele, reflected today within the various lounges; one of which has a library, telescope and views out to well-manicured lawns.
Nearby Abingworth, self-guiders can plan their own countryside walks with the help of HF Holiday material provided ahead of the trip, as we did, to take in the history and culture of the surrounding areas. The highlight was walking at a more leisurely pace in the historically significant town of Arundel.
The majestic Roman Catholic Arundel Cathedral was founded by Henry 15th Duke of Norfolk, dating back to 1873, whilst the original Arundel Castle was founded at the end of the 11th century and like the nearby cathedral stands imperiously above the town and River Arun, looking out across the South Downs. It’s one of the longest-inhabited stately houses in England, and is the seat and home of the current Duke of Norfolk.
The castle may be the major draw for international visitors and contributes to a multi-cultural and energetic feel, but this is married with a strong sense of local community, especially as the day we arrived the town centre had been closed to traffic for Remembrance Sunday.
For 2020, the Castle has announced a busy calendar of exciting living history events and record-breaking flower displays for its 2020 season. From April to October, visitors will have the chance to experience 16 events including the Annual Tulip Festival, International Jousting Tournament and learn about 12,000 Years of Combat.
For a relatively small town, Arundel is a highly creative and interesting place, with a diverse range of antique, curio, retro and craft shops peppering the steep incline of the high street, as it sweeps down towards the river. Just off the high street ‘Nineveh House’, a fine Victorian former church, now houses an arts and crafts and antique market in Tarrant Street. It is home to around 16 dealers selling a range of collectables and interior furnishings, this kept us occupied until the aroma of freshly ground coffee wooed us towards one of many cafés.
Littlehampton was a 2km drive from Arundel and the ideal setting for a coastal walk and location to consume the hand-made picnic boxes put together by the HF Holidays team, before making our way back for dinner.
After dinner our team did rather well identifying the Antique obscurities, however, having mistaken a ‘glove finger stretcher’ for a ‘Victorian skirt-lifter’ (yes, these things did exist!), gave me the excuse to retire to bed.
Abingworth Hall, Storrington Road, Storrington, Pulborough, West Sussex, RH20 3EF, England.
Ramy James Salameh is an award-winning travel journalist and works as an International Reporter for ‘Conference + Meetings World Magazine’. He writes about all aspects of travel in the MICE, business travel, luxury, lifestyle and cultural tourism sectors.