England Grand Tour (2021): Day 7: G & Tea

Off to Bombay

Once again, the day started with an inclusive breakfast at the Hilton. Today’s plan was to have it at 9am and to eat something closer to a ‘full English’, in the hope that it would keep us going until Afternoon Tea at 4:30pm. After showering, packing and checking out of the Hilton, we took to the roads of Hampshire around 11am. Our first objective was the Bombay Sapphire distillery, situated at Laverstoke (west of Basingstoke), where we had a booking on the 12-noon tour. The former paper mill became the home of Bombay Sapphire in 2014, production having moved from an industrial estate in northwest England.

Although we had intentionally arrived nice and early, it didn’t seem too long until we were starting on what soon proved to be an excellent tour. Predictably, this started with an overview of the history, geography and layout of the site, which had been specifically chosen for its location on the crystal-clear – I think they said “gin-clear” – River Test. Of particular interest were the two striking, modern glasshouses, one Mediterranean and one tropical, used for growing the required botanicals. They were designed by Thomas Heatherwick, who also provided the winning design for London’s ‘New Routemaster’ bus. Also included was a ‘sniffing session’, where we each rated the various fragrances and chose our included drink accordingly.

Afterwards, we set off on the final part of the drive to Tylney Hall, a ‘country house’ hotel and estate near Hook, a small town east of Basingstoke. This transfer was completed quickly and easily, being largely on the M3 motorway.

Settling in at Tylney Hall

After getting settled into our latest accommodation, we went for Afternoon Tea at the appointed time, soon discovering that we were the last customers of the day for this service. The surroundings were very plush and the food was nice enough, but while the young staff were commendably polite and friendly, we both agreed that the service was haphazard and unpolished. (This impression came about both as a result of our own experience and from overheard comments at other tables.) Our conclusion was exactly in line with comments that Bruce had read on Tripadvisor, suggesting deficiencies in the provision of proper support and training for the young staff. It was impossible to become annoyed with the front-line staff when it seemed clear that they were doing their best, but lacked proper training.

Afterwards, we explored the extensive and beautiful grounds in glorious evening weather. Regardless of management issues indoors, the estate was undoubtedly a superb asset of this business. We finished the day with a ‘Manhattan’ cocktail in the bar, an experience that again revealed issues with quality of service.