For 50 years, the grande dame of health spas has welcomed stressed-out actors, the rich and famous, and locals, through its heavy Gothic doors to rest, relax and recharge. So the sudden announcement on Nov 20 of its permanent closure must be a kick in the guts for its loyal guests – something of an irony for the first British medical spa to offer the award-winning Mayr Detox Gut Health Regime.
Michael Parkinson was a regular guest and a young Roger Moore is said to have had to apologise to the owners after holding a rowdy drinks party around the pool. I didn’t experience any such hijinks during my last visit, just peace, tranquillity and guests padding around the characterful country house in comfy robes and slippers.
Once the home of Lord Alfred Tennyson, the stately manor house with its squishy sofas, regal armchairs, attractive ceiling mouldings and carved fireplaces, engineered a friendly house-party atmosphere, which I felt set Grayshott apart from other soulless, modern spas.
Guests chatted to one another in the lounges. Many I spoke to were on an annual wellbeing pilgrimage; a few came more frequently.
Grayshott has always attracted a loyal following. Its elegance – which perhaps faded a little in recent years – exuded a charm enjoyed by a mainly older clientele. Younger guests were more likely to be with a parent than friends. Critics have called it old fashioned. Personally, I loved the grandeur.
The minimum two-night stay, with rooms costing upwards of £515 per person, was probably also a bar to younger guests and there were no day visitors to boost footfall. On the plus side, no day visitors meant no jostling for loungers around the fabulous pool (which in the morning I usually had to myself) or fighting for a seat in the whirlpool.
Ironically, I first visited Grayshott Hall, as it was called then, as a day guest in 1991 when health farms were reinventing themselves as pampering spas. The Hall exuded an exclusive, intimate air, with guests often on strict health and eating regimes. The day, at £75 a pop, included a wonderful facial, and reflexology, which cost extra. Sadly, the detox and absence of caffeine gave me a headache for much of the day.
If there was one thing I loved most about Grayshott it was the food, which was exceptional. Nutritious meals such as a memorable Thai prawn and red mullet curry with lemongrass and ginger were outstanding, and soups and salads literally burst with flavour and goodness. The charming wood-panelled dining room provided an intimate setting, though service could be a bit hit and miss.
I couldn’t fault the facilities, treatments – think fabulous reviving glow facials – or the variety of daily walks, exercise classes, films and talks on offer either. The grounds surrounded by 700 acres of National Trust land were beautiful.
Following new ownership in 2017, Grayshott introduced medical treatments and became a registered CQC medical clinic spa in 2019, but alas Covid-19 crisis has put paid to any future plans.
The words inscribed above the grand Gothic entrance are a fitting legacy: Pax intreantibus, sales exeuntibus – “Peace to those who enter, good health to those who depart”. Sadly, it’s now time to turn off the lights.
Five spa hotels for a post-lockdown pamper
There are still some wonderfully enchanting country house spa hotels out there to smoothe, stretch and pummel you into post-lockdown bliss. Please check relevant guidance before booking or travelling.
Ripon, Yorkshire, England
Castle Cary, Somerset, England
Tetbury, Cotswolds, England
Taplow, Berkshire, England