Billesley Manor Hotel in the Heart of Shakespeare’s England
I’ve stayed in enough hotels over the years to know that, quite often, the true measure of an establishment is not in what it gets right, but in how it corrects what it gets wrong.
It was during a stay at the charming Billesley Manor Hotel, in the heart of Shakespeare country, that a simple faux pas at dinner put the customer service skills to the test.
I’d ordered pork for my main course. It ticked more boxes than the other eight items on the menu and within minutes of our delicious starters being dusted off, my wife and I were being served our next dish.
Her chicken looked excellent so I peered onto my plate as the waiter lowered it down on to the table. But there was something fishy going on with my belly pork. Somehow my request for pork had been confused with “hake”. It looked lovely, but it wasn’t pork.
I stayed cool and politely pointed the error out to the waiter who looked startled at first, then confused, then a little frightened and then confused again.
He apologised and skipped over to the waitress in the corner of the dining room, who was tapping away on a computer screen, and she came over to instantly confess her error and apologise so profusely you’d think she’d just run over my dog.
At first, I must admit, I did wonder whether I’d mistakenly asked for hake and instantly felt terrible. I’d flirted with the idea of having fish until I was swayed by the roulade as a starter. But the wife set me straight. I definitely asked for pork.
In fairness, English wasn’t a first language for either the waiter or the waitress. There was a bit of background noise in the dining room, with its wooden-clad walls. And pork sounds a little bit like hake, doesn’t it?
Anyway, I was promised it would be sorted out as soon as possible. The clock was ticking. My wife couldn’t wait to tuck into her chicken and my only option was to sit, twiddle my thumbs and give them a chance to sort it out.
During this time another apology was served up – this time by an English lady who appeared to be in charge and who, once again, seemed shocked and disturbed by what had happened. At this point, I genuinely didn’t mind. And I wasn’t going to mind for perhaps another five minutes or so. Mistakes happen. That’s why pencils have erasers and all that. Like I say, it’s how efficiently mistakes are rectified that serve up the true test.
Amazingly, I only had to wait a few minutes in the end. The pork arrived and was absolutely spot on. The error couldn’t have been handled better and the only bitter taste came from the pint of beer I polished off during the meal.
Our room had been, up to this point, the obvious highlight of the hotel. We’d arrived in the dark so we’d not realised just how staggeringly beautiful the frontage and topiary gardens were, but room 36 was an absolute delight. Warm, comfortable, clean and with all the facilities we wanted and expected.
Truth be told, the journey to the room was a disappointment. The chintzy carpets seemed out of keeping with such a grand old building and where very worn in places. But the quality and size of the room more than made up for it and we slept very well on the huge bed.
Breakfast the next day wasn’t quite up to the fantastic standard of dinner the night before. The plates were cold and the buffet was good, but not as flawless as we were expecting. The bacon was a tad disappointing, if I’m being brutal.
It’s built around a 17th Century Elizabethan Manor House and it’s complete with all the features you’d like to see, from the over-the-top fireplaces to the heavy-set narrow windows.
The topiary garden, which we overlooked from our room, was an absolute highlight. We decided to explore this before setting off, rather than spending time in the spa, which is attached to the hotel and has very good reviews.
After what became quite a late checkout we decided to head off on the tourist trail and soak up the sights connected to the area’s biggest boast – the legacy left by William Shakespeare.
Stratford-upon-Avon itself needs no introduction. It’s a beautiful town full of history and heritage and with plenty of nods to its most famous former inhabitant. But we didn’t spend long in the town because I’d heard the best time of the year to see one of the five Shakespeare houses, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, was autumn.
And it was a bright, sunny and unseasonably warm autumn day, so we took the tip and headed off.
The cottage itself is set up like a time warp, decorated and laid out to give a feel of what it would have been like for the Hathaway family of farmers, whose daughter was to become the object of a young William Shakespeare’s affections.
In those days it was a tenanted, 90-acre farm with the beautiful cottage at its heart and today the cottage garden, orchard, river and a woodland walk are all immaculately kept to show off what life was like in the days Shakespeare was courting his wife-to-be.
But as impressive as the cottage is, the real highlight for me – and perhaps it was because of the time of year, was the arboretum. Sculptures are dotted around depict characters from Shakespeare’s plays, while the fascinating mix of trees are all there because they’ve been mentioned in scenes.
Plaques sit by many of the trees, hedges and shrubs to remind us in what famous lines they were mentioned. It’s an enchanting place and well worth half an hour or so of exploration, especially when the leaves are at their most colourful.
From Shakespeare’s birthplace to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s world-renowned theatre on the banks of the Avon, you will never be short of something to do in this picturesque area. Especially if you have an interest in its literary history.
To help you plan, Shakespeare’s England has an excellent website, which lists and categorises all the highlights of the area – not just those centred around the bard.
It’s a place the wife and I have been back to several times but, on each occasion, we only ever scratch the surface of things to see and do.
Now, I suppose I should end this with some appropriate Shakespearean quote about time being short, or not sparing enough time for recreation but, even after immersing myself in Shakespeare’s prose for another weekend, I’m afraid I still don’t have the foggiest idea what he was on about.
That’s not to say I’m not looking forward to going back though. It might all be nonsense to me, but it’s nonsense in its most beautiful and fascinating form. I love it.
To find out more about Billesely Manor visit www.thehotelcollection.co.uk/hotels/billesley-manor-hotel-stratford-upon-avon
For everything you need to know about what to see and do in Shakespeare’s England visit the official website at shakespeares-england.co.uk