DORSET: Purbeck

archery at corfe castle lr


By Tim Saunders

If a bit of pampering is required then it’s a weekend away at Knoll House Hotel in Studland for you.

This charming, sprawling country house was once frequented by the children’s author Enid Blyton, who favoured eating at table number three in the corner of the vast dining room (which we estimate is actually larger than our whole house!). The same table my family and I find ourselves at just after we arrive one Friday night. There are wonderful sea views from the large windows.

On our way down the A338 towards Bournemouth the Red Arrows do a little display for us because our visit coincides with Bournemouth Air Festival. Our sat nav wants us to go on the toll ferry so we end up having to divert to Wareham and then get to the hotel just in the nick of time for din dins.

“The Red Arrows had been waiting to perform all day,” we overhear a fellow diner tell her friends. “They couldn’t because it was so cloudy.” Weren’t we lucky?

Well, the sun is certainly shining now and it continues throughout our stay.

Our three course meal consists of homemade carrot and coriander soup for Caroline and I, followed by tasty skate and boiled potatoes for me and potato gratin with hake for Caroline. Harriett (12) and Heidi (10) select pizza starters, chips and cheese and tomato pasta. Henry (7) prefers to eat simple foods so opts for the pizza starter followed by chips and a bread roll. The pleasant waitress accommodates our needs. Each table is dressed in a crisp white table cloth, there are freshly laundered napkins and correctly laid out cutlery, all of which really helps to make this experience a special occasion. In fact a couple from London celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary are on the table of eight opposite. Our children are well behaved, which helps no end. Desserts of chocolate torte and a selection of New Forest ice creams round this meal off.

We retire to our family suite, which consists of three interconnecting rooms and an en-suite. It provides comfortable, tastefully decorated accommodation.

The hotel is extremely family friendly and even offers a baby listening service, much to my surprise. Surely parents don’t leave their precious little ones in a room all alone while they go off and dine…. They’re merely responding to changing times. Reading the hotel literature I’m pleased to see that guests are asked to resist the temptation of using their mobiles while dining. Here here. Sadly though it seems that very few guests actually do read this request. One teenager, glued to his device during breakfast, proudly exclaims to his grandparents: “I’m at an all boys school and we all smuggle them in.” You’d think his grandparents would have known that already, wouldn’t you?

Food is a real celebration at Knoll House. For breakfast there’s continental and full English from which to choose. Both are superb. We enjoy chatting to the staff and there are a variety of accents. One waiter is from Portugal, another from Scotland and there’s a nice waitress from Poland. They all do anything they can to make our stay as comfortable as possible. Dinner on our second night is another three course extravagance. If we stayed more than a couple of days nobody would recognise us back at home because we’d be double the size! Caroline, Harriett and I have starters of parsnip soup, which is delicious. I was expecting it to taste quite earthy as parsnip does but the cream creates a really tasty dish. Caroline and I then go for the wild mushroom ravioli, which is enjoyable. Heidi and Henry choose melon balls for starters while Heidi has pasta like Harriett and Henry sticks to his chips. They are crispy.

Dinner takes a couple of hours and so it’s helpful for Henry that we can wander over to the games room in between courses for a game of table tennis or snooker, which breaks it up nicely for him.

On the Saturday we drive down the road to Norden railway station where we go back in time and travel by steam train to Swanage, a twenty minute journey. It’s a great way to travel and saves the legs, which helps, especially as Henry is quite lethargic having not slept very well. At Swanage there’s enough time for us to get to the seafront, have a little bite to eat (we’re all mainly still full from our fabulous breakfasts) and savour another magnificent sea view. An hour later we’re back at the station waiting for our steam train to Corfe Castle. This is an excellent way of travelling locally because you don’t need to worry about car parking, which at the height of the holiday season is a bit of a nightmare.

We head for the National Trust attraction, which is a stone’s throw from the station. I’m giving Henry a piggyback, which he requires for the duration of our trip round Corfe Castle. Blimey. What a Dad must do. Where’s my medal? So, I’m on my knees walking up the hill from the entrance and am really pleased to see that there’s archery at the foot of the castle. What fun. Henry perks up. He’s off and finds a bow and arrow and would you believe it, the little toe-rag only gets a bullseye! Try as I might I can’t although I do eventually manage to hit the frame. Harriett gets a bullseye, too. After twenty minutes or so we feel we have to make a move and explore this wonderful historic site built around 1066 by William the Conquerer. “It’s like the acropolis,” pants one American as he walks past me down the hill. The stone path is not the easiest to carry a child on your shoulders but somehow we safely make it, stopping at intervals. At one such stop the girls are asked to design a crest, which they duly do. At another we play hoopla briefly because by now Henry is becoming a bit bored and pulling my ears. To be fair it’s a hot day and he’s doing well, despite not feeling a hundred per cent. We meet a couch driver who is also a tour guide and he enjoys telling us some really interesting facts about the toilets at Corfe Castle - not today’s but the original ones - and how when they emptied them they would always shout to people below so that their robes were not dirtied. He mentions the Bankes family, how they were connected to the castle and how grateful we all should be that it wasn’t completely destroyed, just put out of action so to speak. It was a favourite fortress of King John, too, remaining his residence until 1572. It’s about 80 feet high and there are breathtaking views over the village.  

Heading back to Knoll House we really feel that we’ve crammed a lot into our day. Back at the hotel we discover a rather distressed baby grand piano, which Heidi just has to play and then I have to, too…

On our final day we walk from the hotel to Knoll beach, just over the road through grounds where we see either a snake or a lizard beside the golf course and tennis courts, and head down a partly tree-lined path, which takes us through a National Trust car park on to the beach, which is absolutely heaving with holidaymakers. Our plan was to try and walk to Old Harry rocks but it’s so hot we decide to head back to the hotel. We spend the entire day swimming in the indoor and outdoor pools. When the children allow, I venture into the sauna and steam room and we all go in the Jacuzzi. Caroline and I manage to do some laps and enjoy lying on our backs in the outdoor pool and looking up at the clear blue sky where there are swallows happily darting about. Of course when Henry drags me to the Jacuzzi for the umpteenth time “because it’s warm”. Harriett comes in and informs us that the Red Arrows have just flown over and made a heart in the sky. I would miss that. Typical. As I return outside I note the chunky Purbeck stone lining the grounds around the swimming pool and really appreciate the peace and quiet of this location. There’s not a motorway for miles. It really is out of the way.

We all feel very much relaxed and the swimming prevents the children worrying about their first day back at school for the autumn term. We’re all fully recharged.

Before we leave, the rascals play on the pirate ship and then as we make our way to our car we spy a family of deer at the edge of the car park. “Didn’t you see the deer when we arrived?” Caroline says to me.

We head home, feeling at peace with the world.

For more information visit:
Tim Saunders on Facebook
Tim Saunders on Twitter
Tim Saunders on LinkedIn