For many years English country houses were the preserve of wealthy elites and only accessible to their friends and relatives. Popular TV shows like Downton Abbey have re-enforced this image, where the family are shown enjoying the house and are well looked-after by servants that have the use of the basement (and a few small bedrooms in a wing). However large manor houses are now much, much, more accessible and are available for week and weekend hire without all the expense that comes with owning a large house. People choose to ‘borrow’ these houses for weddings, birthday parties and to entertain their friends and family in a delightful setting, and removing the stress of looking after guests in one’s own house. Children can go off exploring whilst the adults chat away, safe in the knowledge that the house is theirs for the weekend are there shouldn’t be any unwelcome guests.
A popular type of party is 50th and 60th birthday parties, and they are also exceptionally easy to organise. Venues can be found via country house websites like Landed Houses, and you are welcome to ask questions of the owners themselves, rather than go through an agent (which is often more expensive too). Owners will usually help find local activities to do, including countryside walks, museums and National Trust houses to visit. At the end of a long day you are free to sit around the fire and put the world to rights. Whilst most houses offer self-catering, for those with a little deeper pockets there are usually local staff that can keep you, and your guests, properly fed and watered. One option is to self-cater a few meals and have a large fully-served dinner to celebrate the birthday.
In terms of logistics, you need to book the house a long way in advance (a year or more, if possible) and make sure your guests are invited in good time. Once the booking is confirmed, you may arrange for the catering, wine to be delivered, deposit to be paid, activities booked, and so forth. Some guests might fly in from overseas and it is good idea to help them with their transport plans-many big holiday houses are located many miles away from transport hubs! The obvious options are lift-sharing, hiring cars, and taking trains to a local station. Beware though-many rural stations do not have taxi ranks and you would be wise to call a taxi firm first!
Other activities to think about are murder mysteries, outdoor laser quest, clay pigeon shooting and archery. Do try to keep guests busy as you won’t have the house for that long and you want them to remember the event for years to come!
For the departure, make sure you leave the house in good condition and own up about any breakages; it’s much better to be honest and the owners are reasonable people. You won’t be the first ones to break a glass, that’s for sure! If you are leaving on Sunday a good ‘getaway’ option is to have brunch in the mid-morning, rather than a formal lunch which can leave guests itching to get away. Inevitably some will travel miles to celebrate your birthday and will have to travel an equal number of miles to get home at the end of it!
After the party, do ask your guests to share photos with you and one kind person might put together a photo book for you to remember your wonderful party. The most important thing is to enjoy yourself, even as the host, and remember that people are usually very capable of looking after and entertaining themselves without you feeling ‘on duty’ all the time. It is much better to relax. Good luck and enjoy your party!