There are many good excuses for a party, and probably many more for a long, leisurely weekend away, but what happens if you want both? Well that depends on numerous factors, and I say this with some confidence as I have just hosted such an occasion and, though I say it myself, with some success.
Firstly, though, I made things complicated. Those who know me will say ‘twas ever thus’, but in this case I was two men down before kick-off. The reason was this party was to take on that special twist of being a surprise. Yes I know, it’s a lovely idea and all that carry on, but actually when the surprise is for someone who can guess what you’re thinking before you have even formed the thought it becomes rather tricky to say the least – of course I’m talking about my wife. What’s more, when her specific request is ‘no party but to just be with the children’ you know that the potential for disaster lies in wait at every corner. Perhaps that’s why I especially relished the prospect! What’s more, I knew, as did the children, that a special celebration was in order. So we made a plan.
Now some people love organising parties – others hate the prospect. I love it, but there are always key factors to consider first, which are the WWWs (not the internet, but the basics): where, when, who and what (sorry that’s one too many.) All these simple questions need to be resolved so nail them early and leave the details for later. For me the date was easy as the birthday (a special one) fell at a weekend, so that was that. Fortunately it was also on the cusp of February and March which also proved handy. The who is always an issue. Family: if you have them, you’ve got to ask. Friends: I know she’s lovely, but he’s such a pain... you know the sort. Thankfully, given it was my decision alone I was happy to take any fall-out so I set a few hard rules and stuck to them.
The what would develop over time but above all I wanted to find a venue to accommodate certain specifics. There were some great options but nothing quite worked... until I found what looked to be a really special place, surrounded by beautiful Northumbrian countryside. Guyzance Hall is a spectacular house enjoying a dominant position overlooking the gloriously photogenic Coquet Valley. If ever a house was made for a memorable weekend, this is it. The beautifully proportioned property, which dates from the late 19th century, has, under new ownership, been brought back to its very best. Yet despite the luxurious finishes and the large proportions such a property affords, it maintains the most delightful homely feel.
Although the original grand entrance overlooks the south-facing rolling gardens the house is best approached through the more obvious front door which leads into a small lobby and hallway. To its right is a pleasant and well-equipped kitchen with French doors onto the garden. Opposite is the small breakfast room which though cosy, gives a somewhat contrary impression of what lies beyond. It would be dull to list the reception rooms by rote but the dining room has at its heart a gorgeous dining table which seats 26 guests. The sitting rooms which adjoin the central hallway are spacious enough, with huge squashy sofas and large open fires to gather round.
One feature of special note, especially if you are holding a bigger party or wedding, is the elegant Edwardian ballroom, complete with gallery. It adds that extra dimension to entertaining and, as we found out, could work for smaller parties too. On fine days, or nights, there is an outdoor terrace which in turn leads onto a spectacular garden, the tennis court and games room.
The fact that Guyzance remains privately owned is perhaps one of the reasons why it maintains a wonderfully relaxed and welcoming feel. There are 12 bedrooms and the adjoining Garden Cottage sleeps a further five guests. Each room has its own unique features and all are named after a Northumbrian castle. Some are more special than others, with Alnwick and Dunstanburgh being the largest. They are connected by long corridors and sweeping staircases and each has an ensuite shower room or private bathroom. The size of the house and the rooms means that everyone has the opportunity to escape for some downtime if and when needed.
As the party assembled each of our guests were clearly impressed with the house and their allocated rooms. Without boring you with the details, our weekend included dinner and party games in the ballroom. The night was fantastic fun. The following day we walked on the nearby beaches and enjoyed a lazy pub lunch, though in many ways I wished we had returned to Guyzance. We enjoyed a more formal dinner in the dining room that night, preceded by cocktails. The hall proved the most terrific place for entertaining, and with everyone doing a bit to help, the scale of the catering was none too onerous.
We were blessed with the weather and had breakfast outside on the lawn (yes really) on Sunday before exploring the grounds a little more. The gazebo in the walled garden is special, as are numerous hidden parts of the garden and the trails through the grounds. One thing that especially made me smile was in the original back kitchen/larder/storage space of the hall where a huge fridge is marked ‘Drinks’. It’s a statement of intent I think, which sets the theme for so many of the house parties here I’m sure. In fact of all the many enjoyable aspects of the weekend, the one I recall most readily was the continual laughter. Many of our party had never met before, some knew each other vaguely, but it didn’t matter in a place such as Guyzance.
Whether for a wedding, a special occasion or simply somewhere to spend time with treasured friends and family, Guyzance is a remarkable place. You must get there promptly as the time will fly by no matter how organised you are. Stay as long as you can – a week perhaps, two days if time is short. Walk in the grounds, fish if you can (the Coquet is a gem for trout and salmon) and relax. Guyzance welcomes you in like a friend and it sends you on your way with some very special memories.
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