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Hartwell House
Hartwel House,
Oxford Road,
Nr. Aylesbury,
HP17 8NR

A chance last-minute booking and some extremely
accommodating staff resulted in what we both acknowledge to
be one of our finest teatime finds. A beautiful 17th Century stately
home, basking in the sheep-strewn Buckinghamshire
countryside, Hartwell House Nr. Aylesbury could afford no better
setting for a table and two 5 o'clock armchairs. And so it was, on
a chilly sort of a spring afternoon, that we found our
ever-widening rumps so sumptuously accommodated. Like many
an unsustainable rural estate, H-H has tapped into the luxury
hotel and restaurant market. Rich oils and tapestries line the
walls while antique rugs and soft furnishings can't help you feel
pretty well established yourself.

Official teatime was over but a charming steward set us up in
one of the majestic bay windows. Dragging a sofa about to make
room, and rearranging a pile of old manuscripts and fresh cut
flowers, a new table was laid for us with serene - perhaps
studied - effortlessness. Seemingly from nowhere were
produced a king's ransom in silver and fine-bone china and a
plate of tiny, delicate sandwiches and scones (which were wont
to explode with cheeksome impropriety).

As far as we could tell we were the only guests there, and could
have been - judging by the deference with which we were treated
- the first in 400 years; only a very well oiled service suggested
that they might have been rehearsed. There were no cracks in
the plaster, from our timely arrival to the discrete, almost
apologetic way in which the bill was settled. A tea like this makes
even the heftiest of cheques seem to pay themselves, and even
in the aftershock we've been thinking up trivial reasons to find
ourselves Nr. Aylesbury in the near future.