Location: Rural Norfolk
Perfect for: Group getaways and outlandish oil-ranch kitsch
Calm and rural bliss abound in Norfolk; it has mile-upon-mile of unspoiled coastline, rich soils and verdant countryside, and, amongst other foodie celebrations, a month-long food festival. And where better to let it all hang loose than Cliff Barns – its luxury self catering in Norfolk in your very own oil baron ranch! Cliff Barns is the party house to reckon all others: its interiors ooze Texan cowboy kitsch, its got a hot tub, a cosy fire, eight bedrooms, and a dressing up box…
Standing ready to greet us at the double doors of Cliff Barns is George, whose birthday we’re here to celebrate, wearing a stetson. “Welcome to Cliff Barns y’all!” he beckons in his best Texan drawl. “C’mon in and join the par-dee!”
There are sixteen of us in this particular party. And, as we wave back at George, our hearts sink. “How on earth are we going to sleep 16 in there?” murmurs Monsieur 2 quietly as we take in the sight of what appears to be a fairly modest bungalow.
“I’d be surprised if this place can even fit six!” chips in Simon, sweeping his eyes over the rest of us as if deciding who’s sleeping al fresco tonight.
“Oh come on,” I say, in my best Scout-leader voice, “don’t judge, just love.” And with that, I grab Monsieur 2’s bags, and mine, and lead our merry band towards the house.
All sign of anxieties fade as we step through the entrance hall and into the dining room. A collective “Wow!” reassures us that everyone feels the same. Cliff Barns might look small from the outside, but inside, it’s a Texan Tardis of ranch-like splendour with high vaulted ceilings, a mighty stone fireplace and wall-mounted antlers and animal heads. And that’s not all…
“Hi boys!” cries Joe, George’s husband, carrying a tray of Margaritas, “welcome cocktails are in the courtyard!” Drinks in hand, we follow obediently as, throwing back dramatic velvet curtains. Joe takes us out into the Spanish-style courtyard. Now we can see how Cliff Barns is going to sleep all of us – what we’d seen on arrival was just one side of a square and the place is actually huge.
Refreshed by our Margaritas, George and Joe take on the role of Lloyd Grossman, and start showing us round Cliff Barns as if it were their own home – which it is, for this weekend at least. There are eight bedrooms, mostly doubles, some en suite and the rest sharing large bathrooms.
The six-man ‘bunk house’ boasts a massive sports locker-room style tub; ‘It’s big enough for a rugby team!’ Joe observes with a wishful-thinking twinkle in his eye.
Monsieur 2 and I pick what we dub ‘the Canada room’, a colonial-style double with Black Watch tartan carpet, red tartan bedding, a massive oak-framed bed and a moose’s head watching over us. All that’s missing is a Mountie.
Unpacked and washed, we reconvene in the courtyard for more cocktails – and a boisterous ping-pong competition.
“Sous chefs to the kitchen!” calls Tom, the best cook of the group, who just so happens to be in charge of the food. I am part of the designated cooking team and am impressed by the facilities; the kitchen’s a professional set-up ideally suited to catering for a large group, and before long we’ve rustled up some pretty impressive nibbles (even if I do say so myself).
Out in the courtyard the party’s in full swing. Half a dozen of us are in the huge hot-tub and the rest are in a variety of colourful costumes – “We found a whole room full of fancy dress stuff!” giggles Monsieur 2, worryingly wearing a wedding dress and Dolly Parton wig…
The light and temperature have dropped now, the barbecue – championed earlier by Tom (a hearty selection of char-grilled meat and veg), is fizzling out, and all but the hardiest of us adjourn inside to the massive living room, which runs almost the entire length of one wing.
A log fire’s crackling away in the enormous stone hearth, and there are more than enough sofas and squishy armchairs for all of us to recline on.
As our lovely pals start to hit the hay, Monsieur 2 and I decide to call it a night too; that gorgeous great big bedroom is calling us.
Slipping into bed, Monsieur 2 passes me a brochure he’s pocketed from the lounge; “Just FYI,” he says flashing his most winning smile, “they’re fully licensed for civil partnerships…” Thinking about about what a perfect party palace Cliff Barns has shown itself to be, for once I don’t think I’d take much persuading to give Monsieur 2 his way.
Remember to mention les Deux Messieurs if you book a stay here!Not what you’re looking for. Discover other amazing UK cultural destinations, civil wedding venues and country escapes here
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Cliff Barns is an exceptional house for luxury gay friendly self catering in Norfolk.
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