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More about the Glorious Battle of the Hill House, Ross on Wye

I can\’t stand minimalist hotels and painfully tidy guesthouses. They fail the very first test of compatibility – which is books.

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If I go into someone\’s house and there are no books visible, I sort of prowl around looking for them. Where\’s the loo? I ask. Oh dear, I didn\’t mean to go upstairs, I didn\’t realise you had one downstairs… Amazing décor, I say, however did you do it? Yes, I\’d love to have The Tour.

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What I really want to know is, what books do you have and where are they? Are they in the bedroom only? In the hall? In the dining room? In the living room, kitchen, loo, spare bedroom, with overflow in the garage and garden shed?

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What do you mean, you don\’t have any books? At all? Just a Kindle?

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Not even a Kindle?

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I hope I\’m not a total intellectual snob, but I have no idea what to say to someone who doesn\’t read. Or only reads magazines which they call books. I don\’t think they\’re stupid or bad, I just don\’t share their culture and it\’s going to be a bit of a struggle finding things of mutual interest to talk about.

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So going into the Hill House, Howle Hill, Ross-on-Wye for the first time, I was immediately reassured. I only know about it because of watching a particular episode of The Hotel Inspector a few years ago and then blogging delightedly on the way the proprieter saw off Alex Polizzi. That blog apparently brought in some new guests and the heroic proprieter, Duncan Stayton, got in touch via my website… End result, here I am, staying overnight on the way to Hay Festival with my games-designing genius daughter.

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I once had dinner years ago at the Hotel Tresanton in Cornwall, owned by Olga Polizzi, Alex Polizzi\’s mother. I remember a beautifully designed space and some excellent food – but where were the books?

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At the Hill House, there are books everywhere and a lot of them are books I own too (the entire series of Patrick O\’Brien books? Didn\’t people steal them?). The house is wonderfully gothic and eccentric, there\’s a dog called Basil, there are cats, Duncan Stayton and his wife Alex are the kind of naturally hospitable hosts you always hope for and rarely meet and Duncan is one hell of a fine cook… (As is Alex on the veggie side, according to my daughter). But it\’s the books in every available space that make me relax and say… yes. This is the place for me.

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As for the breakfast… I could devote an entire blog to the wonders of the locally sourced, organic Hill House breakfast. I didn\’t take a photo because my phone disdains to share its photos with any stupid old laptop, but it was everything the Full English breakfast should be, and generally isn\’t, at bed-and-breakfast joints.Duncan even fried me some extra black pudding because I whinged so pathetically about it.   Games-designing genius daughter is vegetarian and raved equally enthusiastically about her veggie Full English (an abomination, I say, but that\’s another story).

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The only thing that slowed me down was the fact I\’d eaten an equally huge and delicious dinner the night before, including nettle soup, Lord Whosit\’s lamb with asparagus and rosemary sauce, followed by glorious locally-made ice cream that I couldn\’t even finish. The lovely friendly other guests were as silent as me as we focused on making our taste buds happy.

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My one criticism (and a very unusual one for me) is that Duncan needs to cut his portion sizes. A dinner serving for one would probably keep a reasonable-sized army going for a week. This induces an unnecessary feeling of sorrow when you simply can\’t fit any more delicious grub into your protesting tum – and I have the spare tyres to prove how greedy I am. Basically, I didn\’t really need to eat until the following day.

6 Comments

  1. Adrienne says:

    I think I may be the one that indirectly connected you with Duncan… As a result of reading your blog about that episode of Hotel Inspector I went to stay at Hill House in May last year. I told them about your blog and after my stay emailed them the link to your blog. I’m so pleased that he got in touch and that you too experienced their wonderful hospitality. I haven’t read your blog lately so have just seen this post, hence the late comment.

    1. patricia says:

      No worries – I’ve only just got round to your comment. Yes, thank you so much for the connection because me and my daughter had an absolutely brilliant time and waddled off to the Hay Festival after possibly the best breakfast ever.

  2. Susan Alexander says:

    I have just seen The Hotel Inspectior. Duncan – what a nice man and wonderful cook. I hope to visit!

    1. patricia says:

      I recommend it – a wonderfully strange house and Duncan and his family are lovely. Convenient for the Hay on Wye book festival too.

  3. Alison Fairgrieve says:

    I am looking up The Hill House after watching a five year old episode of The Hotel Inspector (2011) and wanted to know what it costs now. Alas the hotel website dated from 2010. I am still interested as it actually has a single room -a rare find.

    Applause to your blog. Anyone without books or animals arouses my suspicions immediately.

    1. patricia says:

      Quite. And they’re usually far too tidy.

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