Serenity is an achievable state of mind at England’s Coworth Park. The track leads away from the stone manor house and wends through a glen of old trees, past gardens laid out like charms on a bracelet; it carries on between and beyond meadows that roll away from its paved edges and off toward the shadowy haze at the rim of the world. Everything is damp. Everything carries the scent of earth and morning.
Amidst this daybreak sea of emerald and birdsong, small clusters of long-legged Thoroughbreds graze contently beneath the pale English sun. Through the mist, three riders appear, clip-clopping in single file on their way to exercise some of the svelte equine residents of Coworth Park. My husband and I step to the side, envious of the view afforded them from the horse’s backs. This is Ascot, famed for its history of racing, a tradition that brings countless visitors here during each sporting season from May to October, culminating in grandness during Royal Ascot week. Then, traditional dress codes ensure that race goers look sufficiently posh as members of the Royal Family, who will likely never notice them, arrive to attend the race meeting in splendid, horse-drawn carriages.
Only later, when I’m home, will I discover that Royal Ascot’s official style guide for attendees lays out the preferred cut of a gentleman’s waistcoat, and just how whimsical a lady’s hat may be. According to the guide, “Ladies are kindly asked to note the following: Fascinators are not permitted; neither are headpieces which do not have a solid base covering a sufficient area of the head (4 inches/10cm).”
I did not bring a hat. There are other things on my mind, and headgear is not among them. Ahead, stone columns mark a pathway along a shallow, lily-filled pool. The ground rises slightly. A sculpture of an elongated, impossibly graceful woman comes into view. Behind her, the low spa building with its roof of living grass occupies a fold of hillside. Inside is a sanctuary of water and fragrant herbs; of soothing, scented oils and candlelit spaces. The hall’s curved walls are an effective transition, suggesting a passage that leads from the world at large to somewhere safe and secret.
The relaxation area is a light-filled parlor with soft sofas and daybeds. Tall windows overlook the spa garden and its majestic trees. There’s a bookshelf overflowing with reading options, and a stack of thick, cozy throws. Heavy blue glasses rest on a tray with a selection of freshly infused waters: mint and cucumber, lemon and lime. But it’s a brisk day, and the teas are more attractive. I can’t make up my mind. The pomegranate oolong blend wins. The Japanese sencha can wait until tomorrow. I remove a small tart artfully constructed of fruits and nuts from a beautiful plate. Who knows how long I may have to wait?
Only long enough, it turns out, to select the Traveller’s Tonic from the menu of treatments. My therapist, Kerry, asks me to choose a scented oil. There’s a light dry-brushing, then warm vetiver-bergamot oil is applied. Kerry silently addresses my tight shoulders and even tighter hips, using a variety of massage techniques culled from assorted traditions designed to stretch my joints and muscles. After 80 minutes, she steps back, standing motionless beside the table, as though surveying her work. She’s done a good job. I can’t move, and loll, half-conscious, among the rumpled sheets, unsure of my ability to stand.
Eventually, it is time to leave. The treatment room is needed for another weary traveler. I’ll find my way back to the steam rooms and glass-enclosed pool, edged with tall split amethyst crystals, but not just yet. The gardens spill down the hillside, irresistible. There is water and stone, and benches that are impossible to walk past.
Surrender takes the form of a wide seat built from twisting tree limbs. By teatime, when the longing for something warm transcends temptation, a young woman in a tidy uniform ushers me past the Conservatory and off to a soft, upholstered sofa in the Drawing Room in the main manor house, and returns shortly with a tray. She smiles and pours tea into a china cup, asking me if I enjoyed my visit to the spa. Perhaps she saw me as I walked unsteadily in a wobbling pattern across the terrace, visible from this room. Perhaps, she says, I would like strawberry jam with my scone.
She is correct, and in the act of spooning strawberries onto my plate, becomes complicit in the sticky fingerprints that appear later on the doorknob of my room, the Weston Suite. Inside, light spills through a wall of soaring windows, framed by fluttering drapes. There are fresh flowers everywhere. The elegant Georgian style of the architecture dates to the house’s construction in 1776. The views beyond the glass have been enjoyed by past residents including the horse-loving 17th Earl of Derby; and more recently by Galen Weston, owner of Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges department stores.
Since 2010, the property and its 240 acres have been part of the select Dorchester Collection. Every space reflects an aesthetic of refined elegance. The main area of the suite, defined by blues and earth tones, is split into a sleeping area with a canopied bed, and a drawing room with silky sofas, deep chairs, a collection of tables and several seating areas clearly arranged for both solitude and socializing. Like the rest of the estate, original horse- and nature-themed art and photography intensify the sense of place. The vast dressing room could hold my entire wardrobe, had I possessed the energy to pack more than a carryon.
In the bathroom, marble and glass open to an enormous walk-in shower and a wide area that frames a deep, free-standing soaking tub finished in copper; resplendent and shining. Behind the tub, the entire wall is a blown-up photograph of fields and trees. I turn down the lights and twist the taps to full capacity. Bubbles spill across the rim as I sink beneath the warmth, the illusion of surrounding forest lulling me into a meditative state.
It’s only when the water cools that I remember dinner. I’m to meet my husband at The Barn, one of the estate’s two main restaurants, located a short walk from the manor. I make my way down the lobby staircase, a wooden work of art; then out the wide front doors and across a bridge above still water dotted with regal swans. Ahead and to the side, parkland spreads out in the gloaming, a mosaic of gray-greens and blues and purples. There is a perfect meeting of sky and fields. Distant neighing marks evening feeding hour, when the horses are doled out their nightly meal. My lifetime spent in the company of horses tells me there will be foot stamping; the sweet smell of hay and grainy horse nuts.
At the equestrian center, a riding program is available to every level of enthusiast, but the original stables have been converted to a restaurant where the best and freshest local dairy products, produce, jams, honeys and meats are brought to the table in a casually upscale setting. My husband is waiting at a rustic wooden table in front of a massive stone fireplace. I choose a flavorful tomato-mozzarella-pesto salad, grilled perch and later, for dessert, a delicately sweet lemon sponge.
In the morning, I butterfly stroke my way up and down the heated pool in the purple-hued light of the spa’s lower level, then sink to the bottom like a mermaid, eyes closed, listening to a concert of underwater music flowing from submerged speakers. The laps and an aromatic steam bath precede a Kerstin Florian Sublime Prescription Facial, then a full body English Rose Wrap with damask rose oil and warm rose gel. At the head of the table, the therapist allows me to drift while she massages my neck and scalp.
I wonder where my husband is. He could be anywhere. Shopping for a waistcoat, perhaps. Wandering, happily, among the meadows. He might be buying me a hat. The thought brings a smile. He’s a smart man. It’s far more likely that he’ll bring me a horse.
Photography By Coworth Park, Debra Bokur, Travel & Wellness Editor
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