There is slide rule precision to the sandwiches. Grains of sand flow from the timer as we wait for our tea to brew: three minutes for Darjeeling, five for Chai. Scones are wrapped in a thick white cloth to retain their warmth. Here, afternoon tea is a science in very convivial surroundings.
Afternoon tea is taken very seriously at Burnham Beeches Hotel. A white Georgian house tranquilly reclining close to the Buckinghamshire and Berkshire border.
Originally built as a hunting lodge in Windsor Park, way back in 1727, royalty frequently called in for rest and refreshment.
At the next table there is a dispute. Two smartly dressed ladies have enjoyed the lower layer of sandwiches, Welsh rarebit tartlet and a delicate Coronation Chicken roll. Where next?
“I’m a northerner. Cake first, scones last,” says one lady, declaring her preferred strategy as she reaches for a choux pastry eclair filled with raspberry cream and topped with fragments of dried raspberry.
They agree to differ as her friend prefers the middle layer of scones, cream and strawberry jam. Later there is another scone controversy. Jam or cream first? The jury is still out.
As this aristocratic looking house approaches its 300th birthday, The Tea Room celebrates Georgian design with its alcoves, chandeliers and cornices. Dove grey walls gently contrast with soft plum scarves topping the silver curtains. Three gleaming silver tea pots, displayed on a shelf, remind guests that this room is a glorious shrine to the Great British afternoon tea ceremony.
Though afternoon tea only dates from Victorian times. Anna the 7th Duchess of Bedford countered a mid-afternoon “sinking feeling” with tea, sandwiches and cakes. Soon it became a trend. Tea clippers, like the Cutty Sark, raced from India to fill tea caddies.
The Duchess would approve of the afternoon menu. There is a choice of afternoon tea with tea or coffee, Prosecco or Champagne Afternoon Tea and a children’s tea too. A vegan tea includes Lebanese hummus and beetroot sandwiches, vegan cheese sandwiches and vegan scones.
With afternoon tea served between noon and four o’clock, for many it follows a morning in the Soul Spa. An indulgent session of body-polish treatments, facials and massages. Or anticipating the calorie rush other residents head to the gym and indoor swimming pool first.
As well as the dedicated Tea Room, there is fine dining in the Oak Restaurant which has been awarded two AA rosettes. Breakfast is served in the 1727 Bistro which also offers lunch and dinner.
Only a 40 minute rail journey from London Paddington and mere minutes from the M4, Burnham Beeches Hotel is set in a surprisingly quiet and rural ten acres. Though it is not as rural as in bygone days. After a visit to see his wealthy uncle, who owned the house, Thomas Grey was inspired to write one of the most famous poems in the English Language, “Elegy written in a country churchyard”, celebrating the peace of rural life.
That solemn stillness was shattered in 1996 when England’s football squad used Burnham Beeches Hotel as their base during the Euro’s tournament. Football memorabilia celebrate an era when Gazza, Lineker and co may have listened to Football’s Coming Home on the odd occasion.
Guests can either opt for rooms in the Georgian wing or in the more recent extension. In the deluxe rooms, a misty impressionistic print of a forest at dawn echoes the views across the hotel’s 10 acres.
The contemporary rooms, with an entrance hall, have a Georgian sense of space: as well as six-foot-wide doubles, they have a writing desk and small table for room service. A welcome of a fresh fruit platter and hand-made chocolates is a very nice touch.
Although Burnham Beeches Hotel is well placed for visiting Windsor and the attractions of The Thames Valley, most guests make time for the legendary afternoon tea and some unwinding in the Soul Spa.
If you enjoyed Georgian elegance at Burnham Beeches in Buckinghamshire, you’ll find more relaxing country hotel breaks on our Travel channel.Tags: Burnham Beeches Hotel, Michael Edwards Last modified: March 25, 2022