Pringle is in a bit of a grump. She’s had a taste of the high life, you see, a peak behind the curtain at the theatre of what-could-be. She’s effectively flown business class for the first (and last) time in her life, and the economy cabin will never seem the same.
Pringle is my dog – a bit old and disheveled now, more reminiscent of a miniature fox than a hound, and named neither after the crisps nor the jumpers, FYI. We’ve just been to Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire, where we stayed for two nights in a suite so luxurious that both of us are in a bit of a grump to have left.
A 40-minute drive from west London, on 375 acres of National Trust land, this giant, grand, creaky manor is the sort of place with so much history hanging, fog-like, in the confines of its walls, you lower your voice to a whisper as soon as you enter. I didn’t even know of its storied past before I arrived, but as I later discovered, it’s the good kind of history: the scandalous, juicy sort that changes the air inside for good.
Cliveden House was first built in 1666, but was burned down twice after that (once in 1795, then again in 1849). Its current manifestation was built in 1851 in the ‘Italianate’ style – an aesthetic which emerged in the early 19th century when the English basically started copying Italian Renaissance architecture from 300 years before.
Inside, it’s something of a mash-up: both floofy and classical, stately and resplendent. At times, you feel like you’re in a Tudor castle, at others, a French Rococo palace. Over the years, Cliveden has been home to one earl, three countesses, two dukes, a Prince of Wales and most famously in recent times, the Astors.
The Astors – a stupendously wealthy family that gained prominence during the 19th Century – had Cliveden between the two World Wars, and they certainly knew how to party. Guests at their wild weekend soirees during this heyday included Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Joseph Kennedy, George Bernard Shaw, Mahatma Gandhi, F.D. Roosevelt, Lawrence of Arabia, Henry James and Rudyard Kipling.
Cliveden also played host to the infamous ‘Profumo affair’ – a Bill Clinton-style “I did not have sexual relations with that women” scandal from the mid-60s involving John Profumo, then Britain’s Secretary of State for War, who absolutely did have extra-marital sexual relations with young showgirl Christine Keeler at Cliveden.
Anyway, this vast mansion is also Britain’s most dog-friendly hotel, according to the pet travel specialists at PetsPyjamas, which was why Pringle and I were there. I’m writing about it for the Telegraph. If I weren’t, a single night in the Canning Suite would have cost just shy of a grand (£1,000 – for my American readers, or around $1,400). And we stayed two nights.
I’ve always regarded hotels, pubs, shops and restaurants that don’t allow dogs to be unnecessarily mean. Dogs are no less hygenic (and much more charming) than toddlers with snotty noses, for example. In fact, banning snotty toddlers from certain public spaces is something I can easily get behind, but when was the last time you saw a dog in a pub and thought, “uh, get it away from me“?
It’s really quite the opposite. I’d say, from anecdotal observation, that 97% of peoples’ faces light up when a dog appears unexpectedly, on the Tube say. Even the sternest of commuters. Even sociopaths. Hitler loved his dogs.
…but I digress. Cliveden House welcomes them with open arms. Pringle got her own, size-appropriate dog bed set up at the foot of my whopping four-poster, along with a food and water bowl, feeding mat and treats.
We were both the gloating recipients of treats: she, a selection of toys and some lavender-infused ‘bedtime’ biscuits courtesy of PetsPyjamas; I, a mini-bottle of champagne, some monogrammed slippers, a welcome scroll tied with a royal blue ribbon, and a nice book (The Mistresses of Cliveden: Three Centuries of Scandal).
It’s weird being a travel writer, in that you don’t get paid very much at all for your words, but you do fairly regularly get to go on holiday like an extremely rich person. And the novelty of this never wears off.
I always spend the first 15 minutes or so after checking in to a hotel of this splendour just dancing around a bit, stroking the cushions, boinging on the cloud-like mattress, perusing the miniature bathroom potions, inspecting the room service menu, opening vacuous drawers in wardrobes, twitching the curtain and perving on the view. Pinching myself, essentially.
It’s the first time Pringle has been party to it, and she behaved much the same: trotting around sniffing and surveying, eyes bright with chaotic joy. And when I awoke the first morning I found her, to my utmost surprise, coiled in a regal pose on her dog bed, not where she usually is, which is with me, nestled behind my calves. This says much as to the quality of her dog bed.
Breakfast was served in our room: mushrooms and tomatoes on toast, a potent espresso and fresh peppermint tea for me; a china bowlful of chopped up Cumberland sausage and bacon for Pringle. I’m a vegetarian. My fridge hasn’t harboured chopped up pig since 2014 – so this was a big moment for my canine sidekick. I was actually astonished when she didn’t puke, such was the volume of pork and the speed at which she consumed it.
Pringle was relegated to our suite while I plodded down to the spa for a hot oil massage, after which we were off for a walk. It was raining, because England, but the daffodil-dotted grounds were beautiful nonetheless. We disappeared downhill into the forest to emerge at the banks of a quiet river…
Swans slid through the silvery rapids, Canadian geese torpedoed far-less gracefully through the skies, and a pair of mallards peddled close to the shore. We found a lonely boat called ‘Annabel’ bobbing next to a ramshackle jetty. No other humans were present.
The plan was to then have afternoon tea at Cliveden, but it’s £60 a head for a pyramid of dainty pastel cakes, I don’t really have a sweet tooth, and all my companion was interested in was more pig please, a portion of which I’d stashed in our room. So she settled down for some of that and an afternoon nap, while I turned to Google for some advice on local pubs.
We’re a mere four miles from the country’s oldest freehouse, The Royal Standard of England, I discover, and thank goodness I do. This place is great. What’s a freehouse, you ask? It’s a pub which is independent of the brewery that supplies it, Google informs me. Again, the dusty walls of this 950-year-old abode leak history.
“Our Saxon alehouse survived the raids of the Dark Ages because of its secluded location just out of reach of the Thames,” the website reads. “In the car park, there is occasionally the sound of a drum beating. The noise beats through the pub sounding the alarm of the young drummer boy, killed by the Roundheads in 1643.”
It’s laid out like a Hobbit house, all low ceilings and wonky tunnels that lead into a maze of cave-like corners. The chairs are wooden and wobbly. A very old, clumpy-furred black cat snoozes next to a hissing fire. There are candlesticks and proper lamps. The walls are dressed with a clash of oil paintings, antlers, ancient weapons and at least one human skull. The wine glasses are cloudy.
I never want to leave, until I remember I’ve got Cliveden House to come home to.
Dinner that night was enjoyed at the hotel’s Astor Grill, and Pringle got to come with me. Better yet, she got to sit next to me (not at my feet) and was presented with her own menu. This is obviously ridiculously OTT, but in the best way possible. A few months ago, she was diagnosed with heart disease at the age of ten, so we are now entering our final chapter together. Damn right she had filet steak (lightly tossed with gravy-moistened rice) for dinner. It will be one of our fondest memories.
That night, as if the proprietors of Cliveden have paid it to do so, the fat white moon burned through the clouds over the gold-gilded clock tower, and the dappled inky sky was scattered with pinprick stars as we took our final nighttime stroll.
This time, Pringle condescended to sleep with me in the big bed.
It’s a lovely thing, to take your dog off on a jaunt with you, especially one in its twilight years. And I can’t imagine a more interesting or indulgent place to do so…