A relaxing weekend away with the kids is child’s play

Bridget Galton and her family played, splashed and explored their way through a spring break at Bailiffscourt Hotel- without a Disney Channel in sight

THANK goodness the grip of winter has finally loosened and lighter spring days are raising everyone’s spirits.

But oh my, those long months when parents and kids are forced indoors with the telly tuned to the Disney channel – punctuated by the occasional trip to a hellish soft play centre.

Of course I did my share of baking, reading and museum visits with my two boys this winter. But it made a refreshing change in late February to turn off the Nintendo DS and head to a hotel that prides itself on being both child and dog friendly.

Bailiffscourt in East Sussex has teamed up with traditional games company Jaques to offer more wholesome family entertainment than the usual electronic consoles.

You’ll have heard of quoits, chess, dominoes, table skittles, backgammon and ludo, but the beautifully made mahogany and walnut games here number less well known attractions such as shut the box, crokinole, shove halfpenny and bagatelle – an early form of pinball machine.

Envelopes of rules are on hand for the uninitiated, and Bailiffscourt’s friendly staff are trained to answer questions on how to play.

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It helps, as well, that this rather special place is surrounded by lush water meadows right by the beach – and has a great restaurant and excellent spa.

The hotel’s history is perhaps unique. Turning off the beach road at Climping you wind towards what resembles a hamlet of thatched houses beside an ancient manor house.

Get up close and if like me you live with a heritage nerd, you might notice the oak door is 15th century, the mullioned windows 13th and 14th and the golden sandstone at odds with local building materials.

For Bailiffscourt is an architectural fantasy, constructed in 1927 by antiquarian and architect Amyas Phillips for wealthy Lord Moyne; Walter Guinness of the brewing dynasty.

His wife Evelyn had a passion for the medieval style and there on 750 acres of water meadows they built a folly, reclaiming – or plundering – bits from priories, churches and ancient dwellings to conjure the illusion of age.

You can’t really call it all faux medieval, because the stone flags have been worn by centuries of footsteps and the timbered wood is weathered with age.

Sadly, Evelyn died in 1939, Walter was assassinated in 1944 while a government minister, and Bailiffscourt became a hotel four years later.

The result is an unusually intimate domestic set up. Downstairs, a series of interconnecting snug sitting rooms, are colour washed, tapestry hung, and stuffed with period sofas and plumped cushions. Some guests take an underground tunnel, past the pool room, to their bedroom in the thatched hamlet.

We, however, were ensconced in medieval splendour. Reached by – what else – a stone staircase our suite was charismatic yet comfy, complete with heavy drapes, four poster and flat screen TV.

We dumped bags, hauled on wellies and headed down a signposted path to the beach; our two-and-a-half-year-old joyfully splashing through muddy puddles before attempting to fling himself into the sea. It took some effort to haul him back from the briney by luring him into a search for flints, a climb across the rocks and a slobbery chat with the many dogs enjoying their walkies on a mild February day.

An hour later, we were changing into swimming gear at Bailiffscourt’s spa. It’s not often one wins an architectural award but this timber and glass construction, complete with outdoor and indoor heated pools and hot tubs, fits so sympathetically into the landscape and setting, and has such a restful vibe, that it truly deserves its gong.

The following day, I had an aromatherapy massage in one of the restful upstairs rooms, which, for this stressed out working mum, really put the treat into treatment.

There’s an eclectic mix of thoroughly British clientele, a sprinkling of wealthy elderly types, spooning couples, child-free weekenders, and families like ours. Those without offspring can rest assured that kids are only allowed in the pools for two and a half hours each day. When our time was up, we met up with the hotel’s affable manager Chris in the games room for an enjoyable session learning everything from poker dice to solitaire.

Bailiffscourt has good quality children’s meals and a baby listening service so when ours were fed and watered, we descended at leisure for a glass or two of the excellent local sparkling wine before sitting down in the beamed baronial splendour of the main restaurant.

The a la carte menu (�46 for three courses) is ambitious fine dining, but delivers. The smoked salmon, salmon rillette with beetroot dressing, rabbit ballotine with black pudding and prosciutto, wood pigeon with wild mushroom terrine, and venison Bourgignon with bacon and red wine jus were well executed with a well judged balance of flavours that sent us rolling upstairs to the four poster for a well-earned rest.

Breakfast lived up to expectations, with everything from porridge to haddock to the full English, accompanied by local apple juice, fresh pastries and fruits.

You can venture out to the delights of Chichester and the coast beyond but we paid a visit to nearby Arundel, where there was a farmers’ market beside the river and great views of the sadly closed-for-the-winter castle.

It was with some regret that we turned home for London, our 36 hours in East Sussex had been everything you need from a weekend away, invigorating, relaxing and pampering in equal measure – and not a soft play centre in sight.

Fact box

Rooms at Bailiffscourt start at �210 for a double room with breakfast. Contact 01903 723511.

The Indoor Games Break is priced at �280 per room from Sunday to Thursday and at �340 per room on Friday or Saturdays. For more information please visit www.hshotels.co.uk

Further details on board games at www.jaqueslondon.co.uk