I wish I could bottle the smell of an old country inn. Freshly ground coffee mixed with an infusion of crispy toast, Cumberland sausage, hints of lavender, rural air and a certain, je ne sais quoi.
Right now London’s hub stations will be bustling with people travelling hundreds of miles in search of just that. Bags packed at Paddington for The Cotswolds, wellies on at Euston en route to the Lake District and flat caps at the ready in Kings Cross headed for the Yorkshire Dales. But getting away needn’t be so taxing – you can get the same deal just half an hour out of Victoria.
Sat in the heart of an area that was once the lavender capital of the world is the Greyhound Hotel in Carshalton, an old coaching inn dating back to the 1700s with bags of history and oodles of comforting, homely aromas. The hotel boasts huge country chic rooms with all the amenities that help you switch off in an instant. Dressing gowns hanging in the cupboard, big chairs sat next to old books and magazines, intoxicating soaps and shampoos and a bed so large you can starfish all night without fear of reprisal.
As the proprietor puts it, if you could put their rooms on a train to Victoria and plonk them by the Thames they would sell for £300 a night, and it’s hard to disagree. But the location very much shapes its character. Across the road lies a country pond and The Grove park features a watermill, a cascade and a bridge designed by Venetian architect Giacomo Leoni. Beats any central London pad in my books.
But therein lies the charm. Book a West End show by all means and fill your boots with the best restaurants and bars the country has to offer in central London, but rather than rattle through urban suburbs for half an hour back to digs you’ve shelled out a small fortune on you can be out in the Surrey air in no time with a room and a view that will put most central lodgings to shame.
Just be careful no to get too comfortable. The Greyhound has a fantastic pub and beer garden that offers cosy quarters in the winter and a spacious, airy drinking environment in the summer. The restaurant must also be sampled. Proper English grub is served up to a high spec with the menu featuring teasing entrees such as Grilled lamb medallions with pea shoots, feta, green minted puree and Brixham crab fishcakes with cucumber, fennel and watercress with salsa verde.
For a fair price you can indulge in a stunning Pan-roasted hake with jersey royals, purple broccoli and lemon prawn sauce for main course, or Wild mushroom, roasted squash, courgette and pepper risotto with rocket and a parmesan cup is similarly delightful. Other pub classics such as fish and chips, pies, chicken kievs and cheese burgers are also on offer, and you could do worse than finishing the night with a healthy sampling of cheese and port.
Thanks to its location The Greyhound in Carshalton offers the best of both worlds. If you, like me, are interested in a country escape that gets you out of the city without breaking the bank or your patience with British Rail then this is a perfect getaway. If you’re looking for quick access to the city without having to pay the extortionate fees associated with city-centre dwelling then you have an idyllic place to stay too.
Either way, it’s win win.