The Barnsdale, a former hunting lodge, has been transformed into a refined yet relaxed destination, discovers Alexandra Henton
For many of those who have grown up in or near Rutland, Barnsdale Lodge will long have been a fixture. In my memory it played host to a hunt bash where I was taken with someone particularly unsuitable, but thankfully those murky days (well, they were also quite fun) are long past.
THE BARNSDALE HOTEL REVIEW
The lodge too has recently thrown off its past. Hector Ross, chief executive of The Signet Collection, added this Rutland venue to his growing hotel portfolio earlier in 2023, joining The Mitre near Hampton Court and The Retreat near Newbury. Rebranded as The Barnsdale, the hotel has completed the first stage of refurbishment: 45 individually designed bedrooms, each named after a fish or bird, with interiors (orchestrated by Ross’ wife Samantha) that boast an easy elegance and have the sort of flooring, fabric and furnishings that you’ll want to take note of. At the time of publication the second phase will be under way: a brand-new spa with swimming pool, treatment rooms and salons followed by a new barn, to be built using reclaimed wood with solar panels on the roof, for weddings and conference guests. The Barnsdale is set to be a hub, a destination and a meeting point. Think Cotswold chic finally making its way to Rutland. It’s an exciting prospect.
Originally a hunting lodge, the refurbishment at The Barnsdale has retained its charm while sprucing things up just enough. The updated bar area boasts muted pastel upholstery and refurbished old settles, with Vanity Fair ‘Spy’ prints lining the wall. There is the 1760 brasserie, named for the year in which The Barnsdale was built (each Signet hotel uses this naming device), a refined space for intimate dining. Or plump for the Rod Room or the Orangery, the perfect spots for tea or convivial family groups, which also run an all-day menu from 12pm to 5pm. When it comes to private dining, there is a wealth of options. The Shooting Breakfast room can seat 12, the Exton 20 and both are used regularly during the season for local shoot lunches. Two further private dining rooms mean that it’s the ideal location for those catching up with friends or family for a night or two. There are dog-friendly rooms on the ground floor, with doggy welcome packages and dogs allowed in the dining room too, from £30 per night. And Barnsdale is the ideal place for those congregating for Burghley this month, within easy reach of the event and the A1. It is offering a special deal of £825 for a three-night stay over the horse-trial period.
We arrived at The Barnsdale after a busy Monday in town and were delighted by the easy and relaxed atmosphere. For supper we decided on 1760 and had the best cauliflower I’ve eaten to date – a cauliflower popcorn in a rich teriyaki sauce. It’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, so the recipe is provided on a small card for guests keen to recreate it at home. Trout with brown shrimps and heritage beef tartare were easy brasserie dishes. The ethos at The Barnsdale is to champion local, from the delicious Mallard gin distilled in Essendine to the trout from neighbouring Rutland Water (great for cycling round if you have time – an electric bicycle shop is shortly to be installed at the hotel). There are chickens, a bull and beehives on site; a vegetable garden sits next to the helipad and plans are in place for a farm shop, gin tastings, Wine & Spirit Education Trust courses and more.
The enthusiastic Barnsdale is starting to build itself into a destination: a relaxed luxury hotel, spa, conference and wedding venue with a modern rustic vibe and club-like feel, but open to all. It is fascinating to see the start of this transformation. And for those locals who may not have visited recently, now is the time to put it back on the list.
For those who require some serious peace, the cedar-clad lodges are ideal. Accommodating two to three people, they boast their own catering facilities and are sited just across the road from The Barnsdale. One can keep to the solitude, use the hotel facilities or chefs from The Barnsdale can come over to barbecue for you if required. There are wood-burning stoves, secluded gardens and it is dog-friendly to boot.
KEY INFORMATION FOR THE BARNSDALE
The Barnsdale, The Avenue, Oakham, Rutland LE15 8AH
Tel: 01572 724678
Rooms from £140 a night