Eckington Manor is just outside the market town of Pershore, Worcestershire, and could well provide one of the most memorable breaks you have had in the UK. Well, if you are passionate about food that’s almost bound to be the case.
Eckington Manor is well situated for exploring both Worcestershire and the Cotswolds. Visit the Malvern Hills, historic Worcester cathedral, Cheltenham, and play a round of golf at the Vale Golf Club, just 15 minutes away. Worcestershire is a rich culinary destination, though. It produces some of the best British fruit and veg and that land also feeds prize herds of cows and sheep and pigs. What better place for a cookery school and especially one that has a farm tagged on?
Your original intention might have been to take a course at the celebrated cookery school but, human nature being what it is, you will be just as interested in where you will lay your head for a night or two. It’s probable that you will be shown your room before you even don an apron, and you will be astounded. This will likely be the best Bed & Breakfast experience you have had.
The main accommodation building is a sympathetically restored 13th century farmhouse. Worcestershire boasts some marvellous examples of homes from every century since parish records began. Around the corner of every picturesque country lane one can find chocolate-box cottages or even farm buildings that one might be tempted to buy and convert into a dream home. That’s almost what Judy Gardner did when she acquired a rundown half-timbered structure, but her dream was to incorporate that soon-to-be stunner into a successful business of high-end accommodation and cookery school.
This isn’t just any old house. It’s said to be one of the oldest in Worcestershire. Its wooden beams are not just a characterful feature of the exterior, and there are original flagstone floors and fireplaces (with wood-burning stoves ideal for those cold winter nights), all of which have been retained and showcased on the inside of this cosy B & B. This should have a name other than ‘B & B’, which conjures visions of a stay in someone’s back bedroom, a sink in the corner and a pile of mismatched and sandpapery towels. Eckington Manor, on the other hand, is as good as you will find anywhere and can compete with the very best of boutique 5-star hotels.
It might have been tempting for Judy to play too much on the historic aspect of this old building. There could have been too many rustic touches of copper, brass and farm implements. Ever a woman of refined taste, she has focused on the contemporary with daring dashes of colour. The chaise-longue on the upper landing is said to have come from the “big house” in Windsor. I can’t prove it and I only say it’s rumoured.
Our room was a vision of sophistication with a French chair contrasted against original stonework, crisp white linen acting as a counterpoint to the aforementioned beams. The bathroom was striking with piles of fluffy towels, and toiletries to match the class of the amenities. Attention to detail and no corners cut with regard to quality and elegance. We slept soundly after a good meal at a local restaurant. There are light meals available here on request, too.
We were looking forward to breakfast at the school which is just across the yard. A modern building housing not only the school kitchen but a restaurant for breakfast and a kitchen shop which is well worth a look. The breakfast did not disappoint, with the ingredients being locally sourced – apart from the orange juice, tea and coffee. The farm sausages should not be missed. We had a chance to meet our fellow students who ranged in age from early twenties with no previous conviction for kitchen behaviour, to others who were seasoned veterans of the range.
This was the first time I has attended a hands-on cooking class. I have enjoyed many a cooking demonstration at close quarters but this was far more rewarding even for a fairly practised home cook like me. Paul and Chris were our chefs and they evidently had a wealth of experience, giving confidence to the wary novice and expert advanced tuition to the enthusiast. We had a knife-skill master class and prepared two dishes. There were no failures, although the intricate garnishes proved to be more taxing to accomplish than the preparation of the 2-course meal! A positive learning experience and great fun.
We took the plates of food we had made with our very own, and now more able, hands to the dining room and enjoyed the fruits of our labours. Potato ravioli stuffed with mushrooms and served with a mushroom sauce, followed by salmon en papillote with julienned vegetables. A glass of wine with new-found friends completed a couple of days touring one of Britain’s most beautiful counties.
Eckington Manor is polished. It offers its guests a chance to relax in a unique environment of bespoke chic comfort. Whilst the classes are not compulsory it would be a shame to let such an opportunity pass. There are lots of courses to choose from and all conducted by professionals: Italian, Thai, Great British Classics, Modern British, Bread, and Fish classes, courses for children, teenagers, students and one just for men. I can thoroughly recommend a stay here.
Eckington Manor Cookery School
Manor Road, Eckington, Worcestershire WR10 3BH
Phone: 01386 751600
Fax: 01386 751362
Travel review by Chrissie Walker © 2018