Celeb heaven in Barnsley

By Adam Edwards, Evening Standard

Last updated at 17:29 06 October 2003

It is more than likely that if a smart Londoner is offered a weekend break in Barnsley he will ask if the second prize is two weekends in the old Yorkshire mining town.

Barnsley is not a premier destination on the wish-list of the urban weekender. It may be the spiritual home of the whippet, cloth cap and the chip butty brigade.

It may boast a nightclub called Hedonism, but chic it ain't. Celebrity spotting is a sighting of an extra from the TV soap Emmerdale.

But there is another Barnsley, a tiny Cotswold-stone village five miles from Cirencester where the labrador, tweed cap and four-by-four dominate.

It is a village where the Barnsley chop has been transmogrified into Agnello in Salsa all 'Aglio, where the clogs are Manolo Blahnik and the B&B is B&B Italia furniture from the Brompton Road that complements the recently renovated Barnsley House.

Barnsley House is très chic. A celebrity in Barnsley House is Elizabeth Hurley or Hugh Grant, Kate Moss, Gary Kemp or Anne Robinson. They are as common as halter-tops in Hedonism.

The 17th century Barnsley House, built from locally quarried stone, is arguably the most glorious house and gardens in the Cotswolds.

It was the home of Rosemary Verey, the gardener who helped Prince Charles design his gardens at nearby Highgrove.

Verey bought the building in the 1950s and transformed the garden into one of the finest in the country. It was visited by tourists from around the globe until her death last year, which forced its sale and closure.

However, no sooner was it on the market than the joint landlords of the local Barnsley boozer, The Village Pub, made a bid for it.

Publicans Tim Haigh and Rupert Pendred had ambitious plans to turn the elderly Barnsley House into the most avant-garde country-house hotel in Britain. It opened this autumn - and they might just have succeeded.

There are two types of country-house hotel. There is the easy chair, hunting print and polished brass hostelry where the chintz shouts and the customers whisper.

The rural metropolitan country retreat is where abstract paintings, Armani-clad staff, celebrity chefs and the plasma screens overlooking the his'n'her bath are rustic necessities for the frazzled slicker and the famous star.

If they wanted mud, they would go to a health spa, if they wanted wide-open spaces, fauna or flora they would jog across Richmond Park.

What they want from the country is a change of pace with a large measure of urb in rus (DVD, ISDN, Sky) and all within easy striking distance of London.

As I drove up to the old-fashioned, elderly, stone doorway of Barnsley House I considered this modern view of rural England.

The gardens were magnificent (mind you, with seven gardeners, so they should be) and the house, with its wash-and-brush-up, looked a most respectable dowager.

I was greeted at a sensible low glass table resting on squat stone pillars that doubled as reception in the painted stone hallway - so far, so conservative chic.

It did not, however, prepare me for the bar. The early Seventies-style, pillar-box red leatherette armchairs are complemented by red milk churn-like stools in a room that is hung with dark-red crepe drapes and lit like an Old Compton Street bar.

'Atmosphere is all-important,' said the well-spoken Tim Haigh as he gently uncorked a bottle of Veuve Clicquot.

Bedrooms are in spartan, contemporary pastel while bathrooms ooze film-star luxury - 'if you think it is over the top, you are probably over the hill,' said Haigh pointedly.

The ensuite room was so à point that I worried that it would be out of fashion by the time I got back after dinner.

It was at dinner (cooked by Graham Grafton, formerly of Le Caprice and Bibendum, and overseen by Franco Taruschio of the Walnut Tree Inn) that I saw the delectable Miss Hurley.

She stays at the hotel when she visits Gloucestershire while her own house, which is less than a mile away, is being restored.

She slipped into the dining room like a painted sylph and then vanished out the back without a trace. She had probably popped out to the flapping track to see how her whippet was running.

Way to go

Barnsley House Hotel, Barnsley, Gloucestershire (Tel: 01285 740000; www.barnsleyhouse.com). Double rooms from £250 to £450 a night B&B. Minimum two-night stay weekends.

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