Lower Slaughter Manor, in the Cotswolds village of Lower Slaughter, is described on its website as displaying “regal luxury”. Not just any old luxury; “regal luxury”. The village so perfectly fulfils the imagined idea we all have of the Cotswolds that it might have been created by Disney. It wasn’t; it’s real. And the drive through the Cotswolds to reach Lower Slaughter is as beautiful a drive as England has to offer.
The first sight of the hotel is imposing and tantalising.
The first sight. The second is not so wonderful. My worries as to the luxury element of the hotel — it is a Relais & Chateaux, which is usually a badge of superb quality — began when I had to help the porter take our not especially vast, but nonetheless heavy, luggage from the car up the four flights of stairs to our top floor room; the poor man simply couldn’t cope on his own, and the hotel seemed not have anything so basic as a trolley for him to use.
As for the room, as a rule, when I see dirt, I leave. So it was with some concern that we noticed the state of the bathroom ceiling. Maybe it was mould; maybe it wasn’t. But you know what they say: if it looks like a duck and it quacks…
It meant we weren’t that surprised by the cobwebs and dust in the rest of our room. Perhaps that’s what the hotel is referring to when it advertises its “inspired contemporary design complementing fine period features to exalted effect”. The period cobwebs complemented the period dust.
Pride of place by the dressing table was an iPod dock, with speakers on other walls. We put our iPod in. And out came… silence. The engineer popped up when we called down; he fiddled around and pronounced the cause of the silence: the dock wasn’t working. Would anything be done about it? Have a guess.
Not that the room was entirely silent: the windows rattled every time there was a breeze —– such as half the night — as if they were trying to escape. We knew how they felt.
On our first day, we went for a walk to the village of Bourton-on-the-Water — a lovely walk, a not-so-lovely village; exactly the Disneyfied tourist trap that Lower Slaughter is not.
The weather was glorious but, after a long period of rain, it was muddy. When we returned to our room, dry mud left a trail on the beige carpet. By the same time the following day — after the room had been serviced — the mud remained, untouched. If it’s the little touches that make for “regal luxury”, it’s the little untouches that seriously let it down.
Breakfast the next day looked promising. I ordered the veggie fry-up. What I received was a plate which would have looked out of place as a nouvelle cuisine caricature in the 1980s. Three circles of fried potato, each the size of a two penny piece; what seemed like one egg, scrambled; and a mini saucepan with 20 baked beans (I counted). And everything stone cold — apart from the pungent BO of the waiter, which left a trail. And this for £20 per person.
After another walk, on another sunlit morning, we returned, looking perhaps slightly dishevelled. The door was opened for us on our return. How kind, I thought. Until the man looked us up and down and asked, his lip curled, what our business was in the hotel.
We were hungry but in no mood to eat a full meal, and sitting in the bar seemed a crime in such weather. There were plenty of tables and chairs outside, and the cheese platter from the bar menu looked perfect. But when I asked the manager if we could have it outside, she reacted as if I’d asked for the dairy cow to be slaughtered in front of us. Her expression was one of bemused contempt, bewildered that anyone could be so uncouth. After a frank exchange of views in which I told her it ought not to be beyond the capacity of the hotel to bring a piece of bread and some cheese through the garden door, she consented.
We waited for an hour for the platter (and my wife’s smoked salmon sandwich). With no sign of its arrival, we gave up and walked to another hotel which was able to prepare a piece of bread and cheese and a sandwich.
Oh, and the hotel thinks my wife is a liar. The only mirrors in the room were a shaving mirror in the bathroom and a small, bevelled mirror on a table. This meant that Sam was unable to look in a mirror as she dried her hair. We asked for a long mirror to be brought.
What came was a mirror smaller even than the existing mirrors. When she rang down to explain that they had missed the point, she was told in the tone in which one addresses a stupid child that every room had a full length mirror and ours was on the inside of our cupboard. Sam pointed out that she was in the room, and there was no mirror. “Yes, there is,” she was told. It was not.
The lure of escape was overwhelming. We made no excuses and left.
I’ve stayed in all sorts of hotels. Some expensive, some cheap; some which tried their best, and some which didn’t give a damn. But never before have I been anywhere as bad, as above its station and as much of a rip-off as Lower Slaughter Manor. Whoever came up with a minimum cost of £310 a night must, indeed, have been slaughtered.
Lower Slaughter Manor, Gloucestershire, GL54 2HP (www.lowerslaughter.co.uk; 1451 820456) has double rooms from £310 per night including breakfast; £490 per night per double, including dinner.