The countryside is having a moment. It’s no coincidence that SoHo House Group, which owns and operates a string of private member’s clubs, opened its own manor retreat in 2015. Every weekend well-heeled Londoners trade Aldgate for acres of pristine countryside, swapping their Walter Steigers for wellies and retreating into the sanctuary of endless emerald fields.
Wilderness is something a little more authentic. Set in the picturesque pastoral setting of Yox valley on the Heritage Coast, it’s only a two hour train ride from London Liverpool Street but feels worlds apart. We were immediately transported back in time by the arrival of vintage motors at Darsham station to take us to the reserve in style.
Having taken the 6pm train (many guests arrive straight from a day at the office) we entered Wilderness under nightfall. With only starlight to guide us, we found our way to The Farmhouse (one of ten properties), a beautifully restored building with exposed wooden beams, copper bathtubs and a large communal kitchen.
That night we were greeted by a champagne reception and the smell of dinner already underway. Most of the properties can be booked self-catered or serviced, but after a long day were were glad it was the latter. Wilderness has recruited Michelin-trained chefs and luckily for me, ours specialised in Pacific-fusion and seafood.
Following a starter of Coddenham Suffolk blue cheese, candied walnuts and roasted fig salad, we tucked into a roasted cod with pan fried crab and potato cake main. This was soon followed by sticky date and bitter chocolate cake, served with honey and Maldon rock salt mascarpone for dessert. With dinner taken care of, our evening spilled into conversation and music (each property comes digitally furnished, with high-speed WiFi, wireless speakers and cable television).
After a wonderful night’s sleep, helped in no small part by a relaxing bath with Noble Isle products, I awoke to the sound of breakfast being prepared downstairs. Again our chefs and waiting staff were there to greet us, while outside, that morning’s activity was already taking shape.
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Guests at Wilderness are invited to try any of the activities on offer, including the use of its rowing boats, Pashley bicycles (the beach is just a 45-minute ride away) and tennis courts. Clay pigeon shooting and archery must be tried under professional supervision.
Unleashing my inner Robin Hood, I took up my bow and arrow. We would have enjoyed hours of goodnatured fun if the heavens hadn’t opened and turned our range into a river. Retreating back indoors, we dried off in front of the roaring fire and warmed our bones with some freshly made mulled wine to get us in the festive mood.
It being bonfire night, we watched the fireworks at nearby Heveningham Hall, the 18th-century Suffolk estate owned by Wilderness and Foxtons founder Jon Hunt. The billionaire property mogul began buying land in the mid-90s, gradually piecing together the 5,000 acre estate while restoring buildings and overseeing the reintroduction of wildlife and various species of flora and fauna.
Aside from The Farmhouse, there’s Sibton Park (12 bedrooms), The Walled Garden (eight bedrooms), Garden Cottage (four bedrooms), Moat Cottage (six bedrooms), The Clockhouse (four bedrooms), The Barn (three bedrooms), The Cartshed (four bedrooms) and The Gate Lodges (one bedroom). There’s also Hex Cottage, a one-bedroom former forester’s home with open fires in the bedroom and sitting room, an outdoor larder where milk and croissants are delivered each morning, and no electricity.
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Wilderness offers fully catered escapism or off-grid adventure; it’s up to guests to decide how much contact they want with the outside world. It’s great for families and groups of all sizes, romantic weekends and corporate away days. The beauty is that each property has its own unique look and feel, so no two stays are the same.
The cosy coastal towns of Orford, Thorpeness, Dunwich and Alderburgh are just a drive or cycle away. Go on an adrenaline-fuelled powerboat excursion or take a journey through history at the Cold War museum in Rendlesham. Suffolk is also known for its award-winning gastro pubs, bakeries and delis, including the Unruly Pig, Butley Orford Oysterage and Black Olive.
While it was magical seeing nature’s autumnal transformation, something tells me I’ll be back next summer when the wildflowers are waist-high and the outdoor pool is open!
Accommodation at Wilderness starts from £231 per night at Hex Cottage (sleeps two) and The Gate Lodges (sleeps two), up to £2,821 per night at Sibton Park (sleeps 24). For more information visit Wildnerness Reserve.com.