Though I do have "bah, humbug" moments, I am generally well-disposed towards Christmas. As time has passed, however, my idea of a satisfactory one has changed. I love my family – all three generations of them – but decided a couple of years ago that I, and they, would enjoy the festivities more if we celebrated them separately.
I didn't want to become the miserable old grouch spoiling the party for everyone else because I thought the music was too penetrating, the chatter too loud and the pace too hectic. And, worst of all, unable to seek refuge in alcohol because I had to drive myself home from the generous hospitality of my daughter or my son.
So, in 2012, I and the lady in my life (who is in a broadly similar situation) decided to spend Christmas in a hotel. Not a large hotel, we decided, because the company of two hundred or more other people wasn't our idea of fun. And not the sort of hotel that lays on a dawn to dusk programme of "festivities". We could imagine nothing worse than spending Christmas Eve dancing to a Glen Miller tribute band.
It took less than an hour's internet research to come up with the perfect solution. Perfect for us, anyway. A delightful hotel in the Cotswolds which, when full, accommodates no more than six or seven dozen guests and which realised that Christmas is best enjoyed in good company with excellent food and wine and conversation, delightful, friendly, service and the minimum of fuss.
We enjoyed it so much that we returned for Christmas, 2013 and the memories of our three-night stay are still fresh. It was, if anything, better the second time around.
The Hatton Court Hotel is in the village of Upton Saint Leonards which, in turn, lies on the outskirts of Gloucester. I imagine it began life as a substantial private home, but has been converted into my idea of a top quality country house hotel.
It has log fires and polished brass, a welcoming and friendly staff, well equipped bedrooms – some with four-posters – and just about everything you would expect from a home away from home. It also has excellent food, well presented, and a decent selection of wines. In short, exactly what we look for as far as a short break holiday is concerned.
As it was Christmas, there were extras. Tasteful decorations and well trimmed trees, mulled wine and refreshments on arrival, hot cocoa and chunky biscuits waiting one's return from the Christmas Eve service in the village church (they laid on a minibus). And a plump stocking hanging on one's bedroom door on Christmas morning, containing fruit and small chocolate bars and – best of all – a little net bag crammed with chocolate coins.
For those who were so inclined, there were boxes of board games to play in the comfort of the lounge bar. I succumbed to Scrabble, but there was Trivial Pursuit and even Monopoly for the stronger-willed. (Was mine the only family in Britain who had to ban the game because of the quarrels it caused?)
On the evening of Christmas Day – after our Bucks Fizz breakfast, a mid-morning walk for the energetic, a traditional Christmas lunch, and a light buffet dinner – we assembled in the larger lounge next to the bar for a quiz. You know the sort of thing I mean, I'm sure. The sort of quiz that everyone says is "just for fun", but which becomes a matter of life or death as you get into it. We could not identify the famous author who became Governor General of Canada, but had no trouble with "Sideshow Bob" from The Simpsons. It was great fun.
All in all, we had a wonderful time. And, judging from their comments, so did our fellow guests. Most were Silver Travellers, but at least three younger couples had brought their children, whose delight at the magic of Christmas made our enjoyment all the greater.
(One of my best memories is of having a serious conversation with a little girl about how Santa Claus now has a sat. nav. on his sleigh, especially to help him find children who are spending Christmas away from home. And of watching the faces of other adults, gravely nodding in agreement.)
In 2012 we drove into Gloucester on Boxing Day and became riotously involved with Morris Dancers and Mummers, first in a packed pub and then in front of the Cathedral. That year, however, the rain took some of the gilt off the gingerbread. This time we drove off to find adventure elsewhere and ended up having lunch at a pub/hotel called the Royal George in the nearby village of Birdlip. It was everything we could have wished for.
So, I would thoroughly recommend a Christmas break at the Hatton Court Hotel. Indeed, you can sample a short break there at any time of the year.
Hatton Court Hotel
Upton St Leonards