Getting out of the big smoke into the countryside is always a pleasure and doubly so when the invitation includes polo and a stately home! And so it was that I headed by train to Cowdray in leafy Sussex for the Cowdray Park Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup. I’d visited nearby Goodwood a few times so knew how lovely the countryside is in these parts. In a little over an hour we arrived at Haslemere and from there it was a 20 minute cab ride to the 16,500 acre Cowdray Estate. There’s an 18 hole championship golf course on the estate and a clay pigeon shooting school. Arriving at Cowdray House, you immediately get the wow factor. It’s a beautiful building that dates from the 19th century and is surrounded by 110 acres of parkland.
Formerly the home of Lord and Lady Cowdray, this luxurious retreat is now available for private hire. They still own Cowdray Estate, live nearby and take a keen interest in the running of the house. Lady Cowdray is a talented artist and her sculptures are dotted around the grounds. These have a spiritual element as she and her husband are practitioners of transcendental meditation. At Cowdray Hall, also on the estate, visitors can sign up to a variety of wellbeing classes, including mindfulness, tai chi and yoga.
Buck Hall is the jewel in Cowdray Park House’s crown with its double-vaulted ceiling and stained glass window. It can be hired for a private dinner seating up to 150, with musicians playing from the minstrel’s gallery if you wish.
Family portraits adorn the walls, including those of the Viscount and Viscountess.
There’s a lovely billiards room and a grand wooden staircase leads up to the bedrooms.
The Diamond Room is the bridal suite and has a huge walk-in wardrobe, beautiful bathroom with a sunken mosaic bath and panoramic views over the South Downs.
However, Golden Topaz could well be my favourite for its wood-panelled walls and four poster bed. There are 22 en-suite rooms in the main house and North Wing, sleeping 42.
Guests can also enjoy indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts and even a bowling alley.
After our tour we enjoyed champagne and canapes in the Drawing Room with Jonathan Russell, the CEO of Cowdray, before heading to lunch in the beautiful wood-panelled Dining Room which seats up to 60. As you can see, the food was a real treat
Soon after, we drove the short distance to Cowdray Park Polo Club for the iconic Gold Cup. Cowdray is considered to be the home of British polo and the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup ranks alongside the Argentine Open and USA Open in importance. Taking place from 27 June to 23 July, it’s a great day out for the whole family with children under 12 entering for free and tickets from a very democratic £5 depending on the match.
Each team is composed of four players, with the game divided into periods known as chukkas. I was fortunate to learn how to play polo last year and it makes you appreciate the real players’ skill even more!
To make each game fair, players are given a handicap depending on their ability. A beginner, for example, would have a handicap of -2 whereas a top player would have a 10 goal handicap. By adding together the team’s handicaps, you arrive at the team handicap with low goal polo being from – 8 to 8 goals and high goal polo such as the Jaeger-LeCoultre Gold Cup being from 18 upwards.
It’s an incredibly fast-paced game and an excellent spectator sport ;-). Sipping our Louis Roederer Brut champagne, we admired the dexterity of the horses and players.
The opening match, playing for the Carlos Gracida Memorial Trophy, was a tough contest between Edouard Carmignac’s Talandracas team and Corinne Ricard’s Murus Sanctus team. Corinne is the only woman playing in the Gold Cup and she brought her team to a 9 goals to 8 victory against Talandracas. We had to leave before the second match, which was a 11 to 9 goal win by the El Remanso team, playing against La Bamba de Areco.
From the polo grounds, you can see the remains of Cowdray House, a Tudor mansion once visited by King Henry VIII. Much of the tower was destroyed by a fire in 1793, however a surprise awaited us inside…
…this Renaissance Art Studio, where art courses and private dinners are held. It was sadly time to leave the lush Sussex countryside and head back to the capital, but we first made a quick stop at Cowdray’s lovely Farm Shop and Café. They have some fantastic artisan cheeses, estate-reared meat and a good selection of gifts in the shop, whilst the cafe serves up delicious healthy food and afternoon teas. I was impressed with the friendliness of the people we met as well as the beauty of the estate. If you have the chance to hire it for a special event or to visit for a polo match, you’ll no doubt be as enamoured as I was!
Have you ever been to a polo match?