If you're looking for the perfect couples' UK country retreat, look no further. Wilderness Reserve's Garden Cottage is situated among 5000 acres of rolling Suffolk parkland, complete with a heated outdoor pool, tennis courts, rowing boats and an activities list as long as your arm. We opted for a mid-week stay from Wednesday to Friday and despite the British weather doing what it does best (thunderstorms in June - of course!), we enjoyed a restful retreat which blended doing something and doing nothing at the most relaxing frequency.
Here's where we stayed, what we got up to and whether we'd visit again.
Where to find Wilderness Reserve
Wilderness Reserve consists of two separate estates, the Chapel Barn Estate and the Sibton Park Estate. Both are spread across a whopping 8000 acres of land in the Suffolk countryside, close to Yoxford, Darsham and Saxmundham.
We stayed in Garden Cottage which is tucked into the farthest left-hand corner of the Sibton Estate.
- Car: there is parking on-site - the postcode you’ll need to pick up your key is IP17 2LZ.
- Train: travel to Darsham station or Saxmundham station and hop in a five minute taxi from there. Make sure you book ahead of time because there are unlikely to be rogue black cabs roaming the Suffolk countryside.
- Taxi: we used NKS Private Hire (07449 145467) for a transfer to the taxi station. Super friendly guy.
Which property we stayed in
Adjoining the 1-acre plot of The Walled Garden is Garden Cottage, a picturesque four bedroom Victorian cottage fringed by wild grass and towering trees. Leading off from the main living space are three double bedrooms, all with ensuites and two with roll-top baths, and finally a bunk house which sleeps 6 in tiered beds reaching up to the ceiling.
Decor wise, think stone washed walls and rustic wood textures against plush velvets and rattan details. Colour hums throughout from the sunshine-yellow bedroom to the pinks and corals that flood the soft furnishings, but the natural textures and bare floors save it from being too cutesy (and don’t worry, there’s underfloor heating to keep your tootsies warm).
Originally the stay was booked for my birthday in February with the intention of having a group dinner around the kitchen table, but lockdown restrictions meant we had to rearrange and since we have nothing else planned for the foreseeable, we decided to keep it just us. That meant we had a lot more space than we necessarily needed, but do you know what? Sometimes you gotta be fancy and have a room each for sleeping, luggage and spinning in circles.
These bits are included:
- Crockery, cutlery and pots and pans
- Salt and pepper (but you’ll need to take your own cooking oil)
- Shampoo and conditioner minis
- Hair dryers
- Nespresso pod machine with decaf coffee & milk frother
- Board games
- Bluetooth Marshall speaker
- Fluffy luxury robes aplenty
What we ate
The important stuff! Whenever my mind sinks into the possibility of going away, one of the first things I think about is food. What will I eat for breakfast? Second breakfast? First and second lunch? (Hats off to Kevin from The Office US for the meal schedule inspiration.)
There’s no onsite restaurant or bar at Wilderness Reserve so Garden Cottage comes equipped with all you need to satiate your gluttony. A big fridge freezer for all of your M&S picnic goodies and cocktail cans, an oven and hobs to keep the fry ups rolling plus a dishwasher if you aren’t getting your hands dirty on holiday. Although we don’t have a dishwasher at home, so I always find myself washing up by hand out of habit. I’m not even 100% sure I know how to use a dishwasher, come to think of it.
If you don’t fancy cooking up a storm in the kitchen, then guess what: me neither. I didn’t lift a finger across the two days bar brewing bucket loads of tea. I stocked up on picky bits and breakfast favourites - we’re talking your avocados, your mozzarella balls, your teeny tiny cheese & onion rolls which are somehow more expensive despite their size.
We rustled up breakfast ourselves but when it came to dinner, I wanted to make the most of Wilderness Reserve’s dining options. I’m the kind of person who will salivate over a menu PDF long before parking my rear in an actual seat, so if there’s the opportunity to eat somebody else’s food, from plank-roasted salmon to panini, I’m going to take it.
So that’s what we did: booked a woodland dining experience the first night and ate salmon and Cote de Boeuf cooked by an open fire. We were led through a sprawling field of sheep to a small path that open into to a wooded area (I was wearing flatform, open-toed sandals which I proceeded to stack over twice - totally not embarrassing at all), where we were greeted with roaring bonfires and flutes of champagne.
There was wine, salad, beer and potatoes. Marshmallows on sticks and cookie smores that oozed from their middles. Pistachio and strawberries and a little more wine for good luck.
We ordered in a sharing meal the second evening to be delivered to our door, ready to be finished up in the oven whenever we wanted to eat. If the weather was nicer we’d probably have eaten outside but in true British fashion it was overcast and drizzly, so we propped ourselves up at the table and kept things lowkey. Dinner was completed by ice cold glass bottles of Diet Coke, picked up in bicycle baskets from the reception sweet shop at the entrance of the estate.
Oh, and I forgot to mention: there was a Victoria Sponge waiting for us on arrival! Cake! Delicious cake!
What you can do at Wilderness Reserve
Complimentary Pashley bikes are available to all guests and were waiting for us on arrival at the cottage. I hadn’t ridden a bike for years and half-expected my legs wouldn’t be able to reach the floor (short person problems), but with a little seat lowering and some Dutch courage, I was gliding by the sheep in no time. There’s something very freeing about feet stretched out and wind through your hair - I’d forgotten that feeling.
I also enjoyed an aromatherapy massage to double down on the relaxation. The wonderful Bethany arrived at Garden Cottage with her kit and set up in one of the rooms, and for an hour of interrupted bliss, my body was kneaded like dough, the windows cast open to let the sounds of the afternoon float in. Heaven, I tell you. HEAVEN.
- Tennis - help yourself to bats and balls
- Heated outdoor pool and hot tub
- Rowing beats - a box with oars and life jackets can be found by the river
On my list for next time:
- Deep tissue massage
- Ranger nature trail
- Adult survival (at odds with the luxury of a deep tissue massage but I would love to know how to build a fire and build a shelter, you know, just in case of an apocalypse)
The big one: would we stay again?
If I had a flush bank account to fund it, then yes, I’d be here all the time! But it is pricey so we’ll be saving this for impulse bookings or special celebrations. Originally I thought I’d be splitting the cost with other people in our group but of course we decided to keep it just Keiran and I when the booking was pushed back, so it ended up being a verrrrry expensive few days. BUT! Would I have ever booked it if I knew it was going to be only us two? Probably not. So I’m grateful that we sort-of-accidentally had this very fancy, luxurious experience because it probably won’t happen again for a while. And sometimes it's nice to feel spoiled simply for the sake of it.
If you fancy feeling spoiled yourself, check out availability here and don't forget to send an invite my way. I'll sleep in the bath, in the bunks, outside - I promise, you'll barely even know I'm there apart from the progressively disappearing cake...