An Early Christmas Treat

Issue 54

With Christmas looming, I wanted to take my wife Lisa somewhere for a romantic night out for two in sumptuous surroundings – but I wanted it to be a surprise. With subtle hints being dropped daily which I pretended not to pick up on, all was kept under wraps until one particularly drab Monday morning.

Working from home and halfway through the Victoria Derbyshire show, I told her of my idea which had long been in the planning. I announced with some ceremony that we were going for a night at Matfen Hall, the ancestral home of Sir Hugh and Lady Blackett. After initial joy came a rebuke for my deception followed by the inevitable phrase, “but I’ve got nothing to wear….”.

With three wardrobes to choose from, one solely for shoes, I assured her she would not be followed around all day by the Fashion Police if she wore an outfit for a second time. In the end, I relented and my plastic took a right bashing as a result. Never mind, it was all in the cause of making Lisa’s Christmas special and you can’t put a price on that – although my bank manager might hold a different view!

Matfen Hall is a very imposing estate which is surrounded by 27 holes of the North East’s best golf. It has a rich history that, like me, local people may not know about. William Blackett, its first baronet, was born in 1621 in Hamsterley, Co Durham into a family of merchants and became its first baronet in 1673. He had a hugely successful career as a trader in his own right and became a member of the Merchant Adventurers, trading in such commodities as flax, cloth, timber and linen before moving into lead and coal and subsequently becoming a substantial owner of lead and coal mining interests.

Matfen Hall was completely rebuilt between 1832- 6 on the site of an earlier Jacobean house owned by Sir Edward Blackett, the 6th Baronet. The last family member to live in Matfen Hall was Sir Hugh Blackett, 8th baronet, who died in 1961. Following his death, the Hall was leased to the Leonard Chesire Foundation. Following a major revamp, the Hall was re-opened as a hotel in 1999 followed by the addition of an extensive spa, golf course and leisure facilities in 2004. This 4-star hotel is now owned and successfully run by the 12th Baronet Sir Hugh Blackett and his wife Anna.

All of this rich history certainly impressed Lisa and that was the object of the exercise. After unpacking, we headed for the Keeper’s Lodge on the 19th hole of the golf course, the place where yours truly has missed many a short putt and enjoyed a couple of glasses of fizz before getting ready for dinner.

There are four venues to choose from including the Juice Bar, with a variety of choices ranging from healthy to the sumptuously indulgent. We swerved the former for the latter and dined regally in the beautiful Library restaurant. The fine dining restaurant presents a combination of classic and contemporary dining in magnificent stately surroundings.

As it was a special trip, we pushed the boat out with Lisa enjoying asparagus soup with a raw quails egg to gently poach in the broth followed by a wonderful portion of beef Wellington, whilst I kicked off with the scallop spring roll and followed up with my preferred dish of all time, namely, fillet steak with peppercorn sauce. Very, very good food and service which would grace any London 5-star hotel.

We lingered into the night over a good bottle of rioja and several more glasses of fizz which rounded off the perfect day. The following morning, whilst not exactly up with the larks, I smugly crawled to the Spa for a low exertion, “pretend” workout whilst Lisa passed this dubious honour in favour of a Full English breakfast!

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