I’ve always suspected that 19th-century British art critic and cultural arbiter John Ruskin, subject of much of my college research, would have hated Madewood, simply because of its Greek-Revival purity, a style that he found cold and uninspiring.
What is even more distressing is that I’m certain he would have loved Augill Castle, a 19th-century English Gothic-Revival retreat, cheek-by-jowl with the poet Wordsworth’s beloved Lake District, which is the final home and resting place, near Coniston Water, of the insufferably arrogant but frustratingly endearing Ruskin.
I first learned of Augill Castle in an e-mail a week or so ago from Simon Temple-Bennett, who while surfing the Internet had stumbled onto a recent How’s Bayou? column about difficult guests and Trip Advisor.
It seems that after a career in journalism and international hotel management, Simon decided to get married, move to London and buy into a restaurant in toney Mayfair, all within a month.
The castle’s website picks up the tale several years later: “In 1997 he and Wendy found Augill Castle for sale at the same price as a two-bedroom West London townhouse on which they’d just made an offer. Wendy thought it a ‘no brainer’; Simon thought the idea plain nuts.”
On the strength of the posts found at www.simonslifeinacountrycastle.blogspot.co.uk, one would be tempted to side with Simon, though the rewards of maintaining and developing Augill have been many. My favorite post — “The deathly hallows” — recounts the demise of a guest on the premises, something no one in this business likes to contemplate.
I don’t want to spoil what will be one of your best reads this week, but a few of my favorite lines — just to whet your appetite for the stiff-upper-lip mayhem of the event, follow. The piece begins, sang froid, in earnest:
“The Grim Reaper is not a regular visitor to the castle but when he does come it is usually with a heavy dose of chaos.”
In this case, Simon maintains, the innkeeper’a handbook was completely lacking. “There was no section on ‘Fatality, In House, Dealing With.'”
Oliver, their son, seemed equally practical: “What about the bill? Did you have to knock off the cost of his breakfast?” he asks his father. Daughter Emily was more concerned with the logistics of corpse disposition.
I’m sure you can guess where this is going.
Simon’s new book, Undressed for Dinner, drawn from his roll-over-and-die-laughing blog, chronicles the family’s life in the castle. (This treasury of exceptional anecdotes and life experiences can be ordered on the castle’s site for just £12, plus postage.)
Simon and Wendy have infinitely more confidence and energy than do Millie and I.
They offer, for example, “Fun cooking days in the castle’s main kitchen” — for 7- to-14-year-olds. I recall the Christmas Heritage Celebration at Madewood when a friend’s daughter, 9 at the time, told a noted guest chef that she’d throw the tureen of hot soup she was carrying in his face if he didn’t get out of her way. So much for kids in Madewood’s kitchen.
They do film nights, Sunday lunch and Afternoon Tea (which I’m certain is excellent, as they avoid the lamentable modern sacrilege of referring to the repast as High Tea). But what really captured my attention was “Fawlty Towers Comes to Augill Castle” — a dinner show touted as “the World’s Number One Fawlty Towers tribute show.” As we reprise Fawlty Towers very well on our own at Madewood every now and again, I see no need to import the show to Bayou Lafourche.
What we may import is the Temple-Bennett family this summer, as Simon has suggested a room swap between Augill and Madewood.
I know we’ll seem mild in comparison, but that may be just what they’re looking for. And if not, please don’t write us up on Trip Advisor.