Turn off the northbound A1 towards Stamford and the William Cecil stands just a mile down the road at the head of High Street St Martins. The main thoroughfare to one of Britain’s prettiest towns curves tantalisingly downhill towards a crenelated horizon of church towers and honey-coloured houses, but there’s much to be enjoyed first at this welcoming hotel, which has recently been refurbished to a high standard.
William Cecil will be a familiar figure to lovers of Tudor novels or period costume drama. Owner of nearby Burghley House – ‘England’s greatest Elizabethan house’ – Cecil was created Lord Burghley by Elizabeth 1 in 1558, her loyal Treasurer and trusted friend.
And the 27 Classic, Chic and Luxury bedrooms at his namesake hotel have been largely redesigned to reflect the collections at Burghley House, whilst a few adopt a later style in deference to Stamford’s Regency period, when Jane Austen visited.
I was booked into Chinois on the first floor, a spacious, high-ceilinged room decorated in blue and white with display of appropriate porcelain on one wall, and a bathroom with bath and separate shower on a slightly lower level. Only thing that disappointed was the view over the flat kitchen roof to the trees that fringe Burghley Park beyond. But it’s a small niggle. Beds here are blissfully comfortable with Egyptian cotton linen and I was soon settled with a relaxing cuppa from the welcome tray and a packet of crisp biscuits.
The gardens behind the hotel lead directly into the vast park surrounding Burghley House. Open all year round, this glorious open space is an irresistible temptation to walkers like me. I found the cute cricket pitch with its half-timbered pavilion just inside the perimeter fence, with the majestic house visible in the distance. Visitors arriving by car will find the main vehicle entrance just one mile outside the town.
Step out of the hotel’s front door back onto High Street St Martin’s – the plain High Street runs at right angles beyond the river Witham – and you are just minutes’ walk from the historic centre. If, that is, you don’t get tempted by the well-stocked St Martin’s Antique Centre on the way or the packed shelves of antiquarian books at St Mary’s Books.
One of England’s finest towns, Stamford was designated the country’s first Conservation Area in 1967 for its wealth of churches, houses, hospitals and public buildings that span the Middle Ages to the 19th century. Pick up the Town Trail brochure from the Tourist Office to explore its architectural and historic heritage in four interlinked areas.
Meanwhile, back at The William Cecil, I found the friendly staff and intimate public areas conducive to a real chill-out stay. Manager Paul Brown was always quietly in evidence, and reception and serving staff seemed genuinely interested in their customers.
Take an aperitif – or a light meal – in the Olympic Bar which is decorated with black and white photographs of David Cecil, 6th Marquess of Exeter who, as Lord Burghley, won Gold in the 400 metre hurdles at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. Cecil was portrayed by actor Nigel Havers in the movie blockbuster Chariots of Fire. Contrary to the film’s storyline however, it was actually Burghley who held – and still retains – the record for running around Trinity College Great Courtyard in Cambridge whilst the clock struck 12!
The main restaurant is open every evening and Head Chef Phil Kent has been awarded an AA Rosette for his creative menus and commitment to locally-sourced seasonal produce. I loved the twice-baked Lincolnshire poacher soufflé with pear, beetroot & walnut salad which comes in starter or main course size. Menus change with the season, but other ‘slow food’ options during my late spring stay included Sirloin of Lincoln Red Beef and Rack of local Southdown lamb.
And even if, like me, you’re not big on breakfast, you’ll find it hard to resist the early morning spread, taken in the main restaurant with its wooden tables and heather-coloured panelling and curtains. The vanilla poached pineapple is to die for and if you don’t fancy one of the many hot options, there are a variety of cereals, bread and fresh pastries to choose from.
The William Cecil is an unpretentious hotel which promises ‘quirky luxury’ and delivers it well. It’s an old building and some things, like my sash window, can be temperamental, but the warm feeling pervades every aspect of the operation. And if you want to take the family pet along too, there’s even a Dog Room Service Menu which includes organic breast of chicken, 3 pork sausages or a 7oz sirloin steak, all with Baker’s Sprinkles. William Cecil would surely have approved!
The William Cecil