There’s a distinct stillness that only comes with being a certain distance from the city, and turning into Sibton Park drive the Smoke could not feel further away. Trains, planes and automobiles are kept to a minimum this deep in the Suffolk countryside, though arrangements can of course be made for the odd private light aircraft or helicopter used by the famous screenwriters who visit the Wilderness Reserve for their weekend breaks (one rhymes with Speven Stielberg).
Helicopters aside, the view of Sibton Park Manor shrouded in mist and surrounded by sheep in the middle of the reserve is one worthy of a Thomas Hardy novel. The manor house itself is also easily imagined within in a spooky Victorian tale. Built in 1827 by Robert Sayer, once the Sheriff of Suffolk, it sits in the middle of a 5,500-acre private estate. These days it’s mostly rented out for weddings, anniversaries and big, posh weekend get-aways following a restoration of the house and surrounding land that began 20 years ago. But its smaller surrounding rooms also make for a luxurious yet affordable stay.
The 12-bedroom period property has a private cinema, tennis courts, a natural outdoor pool, Pashley bikes and even Hunter wellies so that every visiting city dweller can launch straight into their country house fantasy straight off the 6.27pm from Liverpool Street. But with beautiful log-filled fireplaces, fine Georgian details including listed Chinese wallpaper and a reading corner to suit every hour of the day, it’s just as likely you’ll want to spend your time here doing very little at all.
Aside from the manor house, Wilderness Reserve has 10 farmhouses and cottages available for private hire, varying between one to eight bedrooms. We stayed in the Garden Cottage, a beautifully restored four-bedroom Victorian cottage built into the wall surrounding the estate’s original flower and vegetable garden.
Modern touches, including a widescreen TV, large kitchen and powerful showers, meld well with artfully preserved features and respectful decor, the best bits being the working open fireplace and original well, which you can peer into from the safety of the skylight-lit kitchen.
Huge copper bath tubs feature in the two largest bedrooms, which are almost outshone by the incredible hand-built, triple-decker, adult-sized bunk beds in the fourth bedroom. Wilderness is able to provide a locally sourced hamper for breakfast, including Suffolk Dingley Dell sausages, free-range eggs and cereals. Discreet wi-fi works well throughout, making planning local walks easy.
Darsham train station is a five-minute drive from the estate but the journey can be tricky — especially at weekends when there can be several connections. The best bet is to drive, or hire a car from Ipswich station and take the chance to explore nearby Thetford Forest as well as Suffolk’s Heritage Coast.
Seek out fresh crabs in the pretty seaside town of Southwold, or visit Aldeburgh’s famous fish-and-chip shop, which has queues going around the town. Both towns are an easy 25-minute drive away.
Award-winning gastropub The Unruly Pig (theunrulypig.co.uk) is Sibton’s most prized venture, however. Head chef Dave Wall has an impressive track record, having previously worked for Gordon Ramsay and Claridge’s, and his locally sourced menu brings in visitors from afar. We enjoyed the trio of Dingley Dell pork with Parmesan polenta, and butter-roasted cod fillet paired with seasonal wines, all while happily ensconced by a roaring fire.
Wilderness Reserve, Yoxford Road, Sibton, Saxmundham, Suffolk (020 7484 5700, wildernessreserve.com). Garden Cottage can be hired from £645 per night, based on a three-night stay in low season, room only.
Rooms **** / Service **** /Value ****