Cricket St Thomas, Somerset, (review published 2006)

Back in the early 1980s there were three things the average English family would do together almost religiously on a Sunday.
There was church in the morning, a traditional roast dinner in the afternoon and then in the evening up to 24 million of us would gather round the TV to watch To The Manor Born.
How we wished that one day we would be rich enough to stay in stately Grantleigh Manor like millionaire grocer Richard De Vere and upper crust Audrey fforbes-Hamilton.
Well, dream no more because Grantleigh Manor, or Cricket St Thomas House as it is properly known, now forms part of an adults-only Warner Breaks Historic Hotel.
And with prices from £211 for a weekend or midweek break staying half board, it is within reach of common folk like me.
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Cricket St Thomas
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Cricket St Thomas, in south Somerset, is set in a peaceful river valley with beautiful landscape gardens based on designs by England’s green-fingered great, Capability Brown.
Tea and teacakes are served on the terrace that overlooks the bowling green, putting green and croquet lawn (all of which are free to play for guests).
It’s the very essence of Englishness. In fact, it seems the only thing that’s missing in Cricket St Thomas is, er, cricket.
But if you ever tire of this English idyll you’ve got Africa, Asia and South America on your doorstep because the gardens form part of a walk-through wildlife park. It’s home to 600 species including old favourites such as leopards, zebras and emus.
But the undoubted stars of the show are the friendly residents of Lemur Wood – the red-fronted, ring-tailed and black and white ruffled varieties.
They spend most of their day balancing high up in the branches but will show their cute little faces when it’s feeding time.
A word to the wise: For obvious reasons, try not to walk directly beneath the lemurs when they’re in the trees.
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Cricket St Thomas Wildlife Park
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Cricket St Thomas guests can have unlimited access to the wildlife park during opening hours throughout their stay for the reduced price of £6.
The park gates close at 6pm (4pm in winter) but you can still get up close to meerkats, camels and monkeys from the hotel gardens as you walk off your dinner.
There are many more ways to fill your days at Cricket St Thomas.
During our weekend stay there was a cider-making demonstration, curling and skittles competitions, music and trivia quizzes plus lessons in line-dancing, archery and shooting.
The hotel also has an indoor pool, sauna, gym and beauty salon.
Just 20 minutes from the estate is the Jurassic Coast at Lyme Regis where you can enjoy some great clifftop walks or a spot of fossil hunting on the beach below.
Returning for dinner you’ll find a choice of a la carte or carvery and after desert guests head for the cabaret room for the nightly dose of themed entertainment, be it comedy, music or dance.
Some of the star names lined up for next year include Catchphrase host Roy Walker, leading Abba tribute band Bjorn Again and the legendary Lulu.
But for sheer star quality, Grantleigh Manor is hard to beat.
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Travel file
Prices for a three-night weekend break at Cricket St Thomas start from £211 per person including dinner, bed and breakfast, nightly live entertainment and daytime activities.
 You can upgrade to a decadent new Signature room with flatscreen TV and dvd player (so pack those To The Manor Born dvds).
Or for the ultimate lord of the manor experience pay a little extra for a Royale room in the main house, most of which have four-poster beds and spa baths (Audrey’s butler Brabinger not included).
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Cricket St Thomas
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To The Manor Born
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Peter Spence was married to the daughter of the owners of Cricket St Thomas when he began penning the show for radio in the late 1960s. Ten years later he suggested the estate as a location for the TV series.
Richard was played by Peter Bowles and Audrey by Penelope Keith, who was already a household name thanks to her role in The Good Life.
The show ran for three series and 24 million viewers watched the final episode on November 29, 1981, the biggest ever audience for a single programme. The record was finally broken in 1996 by Only Fools And Horses.
Filming at Cricket St Thomas was often interrupted by the trumpeting of an elephant from the wildlife park.
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Cricket St Thomas

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