A special occasion demands a special venue, and so for my father’s 70th birthday we wrestled our boys into smart shirts and bundled them off to Stapleford Park, a country-house hotel in the depths of rural north Leicestershire, close to where my father lives. My dad knew this house, during my own childhood, as home to a small zoo, and though these days its pleasures are more refined, kids can certainly still have fun here – there’s a pool, a kids’ club, bike loan, activities including falconry and even a summer camp.
The main event during our visit was of course lunch with my dad in the formal but child-friendly restaurant, and following that coffee and a 70-candled birthday cake in the more casual lounge, where my main concern was fending off the elderly widows who seemed intent on coming over to wish him congratulations, a mischievous twinkle in their eyes.
But since it was a long way home for us, we’d decided to stay on and splurge on a night’s mini-break at the hotel with the boys. The swimming pool gave us the opportunity to burn off some of the calories we’d consumed at lunch, while the giant outdoor chess encouraged us to get some fresh air out in the vast grounds.
Inside it was all wooden rocking horses, teddy bears, boars’ and stag’s heads on the wood-panelled walls, and eccentric oil paintings of dogs and owls dressed up as humans (shudder). Framed photos pictured the famous people who have stayed here over the decades – my middle son Ripley was delighted to spot his idol Michael Jackson among them.
Guestrooms, meanwhile, are all individually designed, many by prominent names such as Nina Campbell and Crabtree & Evelyn. One, Harebell, by a local artist, has an amazing woodland mural. We had a two-bedroom suite created by the interconnecting of the flamboyant Lorca room and the more muted Osborne & Little Suite. It was extremely comfortable, as befits the high prices, but we were impressed by thoughtful little touches such as a decanter of sloe gin and the housekeeper dropping by to offer us a hot-water bottle (this was deepest January).
In the morning, my husband and I bundled the children into the OFSTED-approved kids’ club. We were worried it would be a bit quiet since this wasn’t the school holidays, but in fact it was full of the children of people doing classes in the hotel’s health complex so the kids had playmates galore and we didn’t feel too burdened by parental guilt as we sloped off and enjoyed treatments in the Clarins spa. It would have been rude not to.
Read more about family breaks at Stapleford Park.