Since 1889 the Neo-Gothic mansion at Audleys Wood has sat quietly in its peaceful pocket of mature woodland. It has remained oblivious to the traffic that races past on the M3 a few miles away.
Many of those cars accelerate on to Portsmouth’s historic shipyards, Bournemouth’s beaches, the New Forest or Southampton’s big city attractions. If you spend a few days at Audleys Wood you may wish to drive south to Hampshire’s better-known attractions.
First, though, North Hampshire has much to offer. Audleys Wood is just 12 miles from Jane Austen’s House Museum. Janeites take pilgrimages from all over the globe to step back into the early 18th Century at the cottage in Chawton, the home where Austen wrote her six novels before dying at the early age of 41.
Visit The Vyne, a 16th Century House and Country estate, which is today carefully preserved by The National Trust. For yet more English heritage and history it is only a short drive to Winchester and it’s cathedral.
Audleys Wood itself is a slice of history. Although the expansive house was built in the late 19th Century, the oak panelling, intricately carved fireplaces and vaulted ceilings refer back to earlier ages. The hefty front door, blackened and warped with age, is rumoured to originate from Shrewsbury cathedral some five or six centuries ago. With the mansion’s quirky and irregular design there is a touch of Harry Potter and Hogwarts to the place.
If you stay in one of the seven feature rooms in the main house, or even the Jane Austen suite with its four-poster bed, there is a hint of the easy lifestyle of the landed gentry: but with the 21st century comforts of wi-fi, large screen television and instant hot water.
The feature rooms are named after the movers and shakers who have featured in the house’s rich history. During the Second World War, Audley’s Wood was leased to Lord Camrose, the proprietor and editor of the Daily Telegraph, whilst his more expansive home served as a hospital for wounded Canadian troops. Some of Camrose’s visitors to Audleys Wood such as Lord Curzon, have rooms named after them. In memory of Lord Camrose there is always a copy of the Daily Telegraph in the lounge.
With just 72 rooms, Audleys Wood, is more intimate and more welcoming than many English Country Hotels. It has been a hotel since 1989 when Thistle added a wing of modern double rooms. Though in recent years it is Handpicked Hotels who have put their hallmark care to Audleys. A member of staff takes you to your room and explains its features. There is fresh milk in the fridge for that cup of tea. Within 15 minutes there is a phone call to check that all is well with your room and there’s the Audley’s range of toiletries designed by Gilchrist and Soames.
Another nice touch is a selection of wellies for you to take a stroll through the estate and the countryside beyond. There are maps to guide you. Look out for Boris and Doris, Audleys’ pet Guinea Fowl.
Once the vast tall conservatory, with its Minstrels Gallery for the musicians, hosted glamorous balls. Today it is the elegant Gallery Restaurant which is a popular afternoon tea haunt for Hampshire’s ladies. Many of the hotel's guests stay for several days, either for business or to explore Hampshire, so there is an extensive menu and even more extensive wine list.
So, finally, who was Audley? There never was a Lord Audley, not even a Mr Audley. Domesday Day Book records refer to Oddele. Over the last nine centuries the name has been modernised to Audleys.
Find out more
Find out more about Audleys Wood at https://www.handpickedhotels.co.uk/audleyswood
Check out Jane Austen House Museum at https://www.jane-austens-house-museum.org.uk/
Learn more about The Vyne at https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/the-vyne