I’m loitering outside the impossibly grand entrance to Stoke Park when I hear footsteps on gravel and a voice.
“You are a clever and resourceful man, Mr Hawkins.”
“Why thank you,” I reply. “Perhaps too clever...”
Any guests familiar with the hotel and country club’s cameo in 1964’s Goldfinger may, like me, find themselves drifting off into an embarrassing Bond-flavoured daydream.
The triggers are all there: the towering pillars, the walls the colour of proper custard, the domed cupola perched on top, and, of course, the championship golf course where Auric Goldfinger and Sean Connery’s cheesier-than-the-Neal’s-Yard-stockroom James Bond go hole-for-hole.
Though Goldfinger was Stoke Park’s finest role, the hotel’s movie career didn’t begin or end with 007 shanking balls down its lush fairways. The first appearance was in 1945 ventriloquism/golf-themed spookfest Dead of Night, and its latest was in Guy Ritchie’s RocknRolla, where a pleasant round of golf at Stoke Park takes a gangster twist (involving knees and a putter...).
In between times, Bond returned (this time with a lady friend for a quick, er, round in Tomorrow Never Dies); Hugh Grant’s grown-up public schoolboy sleazebag took Renée Zellweger for a romantic mini-break (Bridget Jones’s Diary), and a character in Guy Ritchie’s Layer Cake (Madonna’s ex is obviously a Stoke Park fan) was given lifetime membership to the club in lieu of a £3.5m debt. It’s a lovely place, but that’s a terrible deal by anyone’s standards.
But you don’t even need a passing interest in the flicks to enjoy Stoke Park which, while hardly a budget option, is hard to beat for a special weekend – whether or not you’re on Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
For lovers of sport, the country club – the first in the UK when it was founded in 1908 – has 13 tennis courts, a 27-hole championship golf course and a 4,500 sq ft gym, plus an award-winning spa and a pool.
I’d need more than Oddjob’s caddying to turn me into a decent golfer, but relaxing in the spa, splashing in the pool and lazily belting balls imitating Novak Djokovic (star of Stoke Park’s Boodles tennis championship in June), now that I can do.
Which is fortunate, considering the real trump card in Stoke Park’s armoury is fine-dining restaurant Humphry’s, where even the most restrained diner will find themselves giving in to chef Chris Wheeler’s innovative food. Roast supreme of duck was beautifully matched with a lip-smacking blackberry jus, and a fillet of sea bass with samphire, clams and a mussel broth was like eating the sea distilled on a plate. (Without the pollution, the litter or the boats.) There’s a dose of humour on the menu, too – Humphry’s Snickers is a deconstructed tribute to the chocolate snack formally known as the Marathon bar.
We retired, plump and happy, to a cavernous suite full of suitably grand furniture and a bed large enough to live on. At the window we looked out across the immaculate golf course, where Bond and Goldfinger were about to tee-off.
Actually, I may have been mistaken about the last bit. I’ll put that down to too many Martinis – all in the name of getting into character, obviously.
Want to stay like a film star? Try these other hotels...
Make Like Hugh and Andie @ The Crown, Amersham
No, the Crown isn’t the palatial setting of Four Wedding’s first set of nuptials – you remember, the one where bumbling Hugh ‘it’s my fault rest of the world still thinks all British people are posh’ Grant and Andie ‘I’ve made a career out of two facial expressions’ MacDowell first meet. It’s the setting, a quarter of an hour or so later (in the film, that is – Hugh isn’t that charming) where the pair first bump uglies. It might not be romantic in the strictest sense but, hey, it’s a thoughtful gesture for a fan. Or a frosty, monotonous American woman you met at a wedding.
PRICE: A main inn room starts from £129, including breakfast.
HOW TO GET THERE: Amersham is at the end of the Metropolitan Line, and regular trains from Marylebone take 35 minutes. It’s also within easy access of the M40.
Make like a witch @ The Headland, Newquay
If it’s too soon for a romantic weekend away, how about a terrifying one? If you’re a 1980s baby you were almost certainly one of the thousands of children permanently scarred by the 1990 film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches. Well, as it turns out, the creepy-looking residence the old crones stay in for a teachers’ conference in the film is, in fact, a real-life hotel. Rumour has it the staff at the Headland have been known to partake in occult rituals, such as leaving sugary sweets underneath the pillows of guests, and placing circular paper coverings on each room’s toilet seat, so as to ward off evil spirits. Spooky stuff.
PRICE: From £89 per room including breakfast (based on two sharing).
HOW TO GET THERE: Flybe offers daily flights from Gatwick to Newquay, or there are direct trains from London.
Make like Maximus @ Bourne Wood, Surrey
Bourne Wood, Surrey
Are you not entertained? Let me rephrase that. Would you prefer a cheaper suggestion? Bourne Wood near Farnham, Surrey is the setting for Gladiator’s opening battle scene, and has been used for many other films, TV shows and ads. Stay at a nearby campsite and make like Russell Crowe by sprinting across the copse yelling: “I will have my vengeance!” Don’t yell too loud, locals often complain about the disruption caused by film crews. And wannabe Roman army commanders.
HOW TO GET THERE: Trains go regularly from London Waterloo to Farnham.