Just over an hour away from London lies the beautiful town of Cirencester, that makes up part of Cotswold. Old cobble stone streets, narrow alley walkways and historic buildings in their full glory and entirety. Greenery, fields of lush grass and livestock grazing so peacefully. A part of the England that I had never explored before, but nonetheless excited to see what was in store for me.
Cirencester is a town that is known for its polo. The local polo club, Cirencester Park Polo Club holding the title of the most the historic club in the UK after being founded over 120 years ago. History speaks for itself, with many wins under their belt as a team, especially at Hurlingham back in 1904. The royal family have also played on the grounds of Cirencester and prince William and Harry are expected to play in charity games this season too. The club now has over ten polo pitches with its very own bar and restaurant within the clubhouse.
Cirencester polo club is not just for the elite who are known within the polo society, but with their onsite polo academy it enables everyone to have a go at playing polo. That’s exactly what we did. You can imagine my inner equestrian was screaming with utter exhilaration as polo is something I had always wanted to try. Dreams were becoming a reality!
Our polo experience started by practising swings from our polo expert instructor Martin. The polo mallet is heavier then you think, so it took us quite a while to get to grips with swinging it in the correct way. Apparently I don’t know the how to swing straight and would have took the head off my imaginary horse many times… Oops!
After we grasped the swinging technique, we were told to climb up onto wooden horses and did further practise using longer mallets. This allowed us to get a better space of awareness, getting used to having the reins in one hand whilst swinging with the other hand and aiming for the goals. By the end of it, I stopped swinging the mallet into the horse’s face and actually scored some goals which passed me onto the next stage.
We got ready to mount onto our horses, traditional old school style. No leg up, no mounting blocks, from ground to saddle. Apparently it is because mid-chukka the players need to change horses so they need to quickly get on from the ground, but i’ll talk more about that a bit later.
Polo horses ride differently to the traditional English style I have been taught most of my life. Polo saddles don’t have a knee roll on their saddles, so you have to sit with your leg forward and off the horse’s side, a bit like western riding. As you can see from the pictures, my traditional position eventually came back into play by the end. The horses are ridden in Pelham bits, therefore there are double reins to ride with and they need to be held with ONE hand. Ermmmm… what?! Yes… both reins fit between your fingers and that is all the contact you have. Very different to English schooled horses, but they are also a lot more sensitive to the bit. I found this out the hard way, when we went out hacking before our polo game. The polo ponies can also turn on a sixpence with just a turn of the rein against their neck and a nudge with outer leg, crazy huh?
Playing polo on the beautiful Anita was such a thrilling experience, a feeling you can’t really understand until you have tried it for yourself. I got a real sense of accomplishment and I got off with a massive smile on my face – all in a mornings work.
Once we had our chance at playing polo, we got to sit back and enjoy watching the professionals play. We were lucky enough to be seated in the Kings Head Hotel VIP marquee with a perfect view of the Bledisloe Warwickshire Cup Final between Black Bears and Britannia El Remanso.
It wasn’t until this point that I learn more about the game as a whole. I was filled in by some lovely polo experts about the things that need to be known to understand polo. A game of polo lasts six chukkas, where each chukka lasts seven minutes but the game is played on until the ball goes out of play (goal is scored or hits the boards of the pitch). The team changes ends each time a goal is scored or at half time, this is a rule that was developed from back in India as the grounds were not always even or one team would be playing against the sun, giving one team an advantage compared to the other. Changing around made sure that both teams got a fair advantage.
As I mentioned before, the ponies get changed regularly throughout the game to prevent extreme fatigue and one pony cannot play more than 2 chukkas in one game and cannot be consecutive either. One polo player can have between 10-12 horses for each game. Our instructor Martin had 50 horses! Often enough, young ex-weatherbys race horses are bought at the sales for relatively cheap and are re-trained for polo.
The Kings Head Hotel put on such a treat for us while we watched and mingled, a delicious luncheon followed by a champagne afternoon tea. It was a definite treat post-polo lesson, hence the messed up hat hair. Good food, good company and being in the presence of horses. What more can you want?
We were then lucky enough to watch the Ladies International between Argentina and England, with our own Tamara Fox playing for team England, bringing home the win.
The little thing I learnt about polo that day, was past the horses and the game, but more about the warm and social community that the sport brings. It’s so amazing. Everyone knows one another, offering a helping hand when needed and even going onto the pitch during half time to stomp the divots. Divots are the small pieces of grass that are turned up when the horses gallop up and down, which can be dangerous for both the horse and rider.
After what was a fun filled, yet tiring day, we were all ready to check into the The Kings Head Hotel for a taste of true Cirencester luxury.
This boutique hotel of 45 rooms gives you the true taste of luxury. Spacious rooms, with the the most decorative walls. Beds so large that even when you starfish across it, it is impossible to touch the sides. Pillows like massive marshmallows, as soon as you head hits it, it completely engulfs you, giving you a real sense of cosiness and comfort.
The bathroom so elegantly designed, with a large bath that was big enough to fit my 6 foot self into with ease, a large open shower with an old school fireplace, wooden flooring, the largest vanity mirror, I felt right at home. Grabbing a bottle of Floris London bath gel and filling up a piping hot bath to soothe my aching muscles. Before getting cosy in a bath robe and launching straight onto the big bed for a quick 15 minute rest before getting ready for dinner. The flatscreen TV with computer access made the perfect experience, allowing me to catch up on the latest on social media from the comfort of the bed using the wireless keyboard provided. Not to mention, doing it whilst sipping on the complimentary gin & tonics left on the table for me to enjoy, complete with a its very own ice-bucket too.
If you followed my trip on Snapchat, you would have see me saying and I quote, “I’m not leaving, you cannot make me leave. I’m staying here forever.”
The starter was new season Wye Valley asparagus, 62°c cooked duck egg and Wiltshire truffle. A delicious and light starter, the asparagus were cooked al-dente, dipped in the egg yolk, it was a perfectly flavoursome.
For the main, I ordered 32 day aged 10oz ribeye of Gloucester beef, minted heritage potatoes, cherry tomatoes, garlic roasted flat mushroom, dressed watercress and a béarnaise sauce. Mmmm deeeeelicious! I had my steak cooked well done (I know, everyone always tells me off for that!), but it was perfect for me. The potatoes were well seasoned and the tomatoes were grilled to perfection. Overall, a nice healthy alternative but very filling and tasty meal.
There is always room for dessert though. I have a separate dessert stomach, don’t you know? I couldn’t help but but order the chocolate and mango dessert. The mango sorbet was delicious, with a bed of sweetened mango pieces in a rich sauce and milk chocolate garnished with edible flowers.
Overall, the dinner menu was good but a little limited. However I was made aware that everything on the menu is sourced within 8 miles of the Kings Head, therefore availability of produce can be limited at times.
We were all ready for a good night sleep, with full bellies and exhausted bodies after our amazing polo experience day.
Before I knew it, the birds were chirping, the sun was rising and it was an utterly bliss, quiet morning in Cirencester. The sound of the rain pattering alway on the window, a rarity to wake up to such tranquility.
Jumped in the shower to wake myself up and got ready before heading down to a continental breakfast with Florence and the ladies.
Settling down with a strong latte and a bowl of fresh fruit salad, it was a great way to jump start my day. After, Florence and I both ordered poached eggs on granary toast with a side of grilled tomatoes. Yum!
As soon as breakfast was finished, it was time to visit the Kings Head resident spa. This place can’t get any better can it? A perfect little get away to regain some sanity and feel refreshed.
A full body massage was the ideal way to destress after all the exams and stress the past few weeks. Low level music being played in the background with hot oil dead tissue massage lasting an hour.
After the massage, I explored the rest of the facilities that were on offer at the Kings Head.
The Kings Head have a great array of facilities. After our massage we were sent into the relaxation room, with dim lights, settled under blankets and given magazines to read. Can I do this every Monday please?
Not to mention the beautiful jacuzzi and steam room, with a glass of bubbles in one hand. The dream. If a spa isn’t really your thing but fitness is, they also have a well equipped gym for guests to use.
After feeling utterly pampered and zen, I got ready and pulled up at stool at the beautiful bar for a glass of prosecco, whilst catching up social media.
Ready to explore the last of beautiful Cirencester with Florence, before making a stop for lunch at Made By Bob – which you must visit if you’re ever in Cirencester. I had a mouth-watering parmesan and black truffle linguine which was out of this world. So good.
Before we knew it, it was time to head back to London. I didn’t want to trade this pleasing, serene town for the hustle and bustle of commuters on arrival at Paddington station.
Fancy visiting the Kings Head Hotel and having a go at playing polo for yourself? The Kings Head does a package deal from £240, which includes a night stay at the luxury boutique hotel, breakfast and a polo experience.
What is included in the polo experience?
- Welcome briefing with tea, coffee and biscuits at Cirencester Polo Academy
- 3 hours of polo instruction with all horse and equipment hire
- VIP tickets to access the members clubhouse and grandstand to watch the professional polo games in the afternoon
To get this package deal, just quote ‘Polo Mint’ on booking. Valid for Sunday nights only.
Until next time…