Start of 1,000 word article, ending with "If You Go" information. Pictures available


by Pam Hobbs

In ye olden days, strangers approaching New Hall, just east of Birmingham, would see the drawbridge unceremoniously raised to prevent their entry. But not any more. Now the drawbridge is permanently lowered over a lilly-filled moat, and would-be guests are received with a warmth that has become legendary for this award-winning hotel in the heart of England.

Set on 11ha (27 acres) of formal gardens and woodlands, this is England's oldest moated house. For much of the past 800 years, it was inhabited by the Earls of Warwick. Thistle Hotels acquired the property in 1985, invited Caroline and Ian Parks to oversee its conversion to a luxurious Country House Hotel, then sensibly installed them as joint managers. The service and comfort they provide are of such high calibre the hotel wins top awards with monotonous regularity. Royals and entertainment celebrities come here for a bit of quiet relaxation. Business people and politicians select it for their power meetings. Wedding groups revel in the grandeur, while an American visitor told me she loves the hotel's "Englishness" which reminds her of an historical novel.

Almost every period since the 12th century is represented here. The great hall and dining rooms have been around since the beginning, mullioned windows and oak panelling date from the 1500s. The moat was dug in medieval times to provide protection; terraces leading from it were laid a hundred years later. In public lounges, comfortably modern seating arrangements artfully blend with antiques and collectibles......