Magazine article The Spectator

Home on the Grange

Magazine article The Spectator

Home on the Grange

Article excerpt

Few married men can match my boast of having been taught how to plump cushions by an interior decorator with a warrant to the Prince of Wales. The decorator in question was the late Dudley Poplak. The cushions, it goes without saying, were splendidly fat.

I thought of Dudley recently. My wife and I were staying in Grange Farmhouse on the Duchy of Cornwall's 900-acre Harewood End estate in Herefordshire. Last pink hawthorn overlapped with first pink dog roses in hedgerows as luxuriantly tangled as the tottering updos of King's Road teenagers. At the end of a lane, partly shadowed by four tall limes poker-straight as the women of the House of Windsor, the renovated early 17th-century farmhouse overlooked bosomy green country. Outside, manicured perfection reigned. Within, interiors were by Annabel Elliot. Cushions came in all shapes and sizes -- needlepoint, striped linen, quilted Provençale cotton. Did they pass the Poplak test?

Indeed they did: plump, soft and rounded as a shepherdess's forearms.

Anyone over the age of five knows what self-catering in this country involves: chipped lino that sprouts sand overnight; crisp, thin towels like Melba toast; kitchen equipment fresh from the Generation Game conveyor belt circa 1976. But not when the Prince of Wales is your holiday maestro. Grange Farmhouse has more in common with an Olga Polizzi hotel or the weekend boltholes of Notting Hill media types than the Anaglypta gulags of yesterday's rentals.

The Duchy of Cornwall bought Harewood End in May 2000. The Big House was long gone, demolished in 1959 after ignominious senility as an SAS practice target. Beside it a stable block, walled garden and the improbable-sounding St Denis's chapel languished similarly forlorn. Cow parsley and tall nettles held sway amid the family graves, cocking a snook presumably at the departed Hoskyns baronets' outlandish taste in Christian names: Hungerford, Chandos, Bennet -- the list goes on. Most of the estate buildings had stood empty for 30 years. Grange Farmhouse, a stone's throw away from the main house complex, had the saggy, bruised look of used teabags. In nearby Ross-on-Wye and Hereford, the 21st century began its roundelay. But here the nymphs had departed.

A facelift is a marvellous thing: £800,000 later and Grange Farmhouse, which opened as a holiday rental last year, is looking positively skittish. …

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