I have a tremendous gift for being in the right place at the wrong time. And thus I found myself at Cowdray, the home of British polo, in November, with nary a polo pony to be seen. Fortunately, Cowdray offers a range of attractions that guarantees a great visit at any time of year.
The 16,500-acre Cowdray estate, located in Midhurst, Sussex, lies within the South Downs National Park and is the quintessence of the fairytale English countryside. Today owned by Michael Pearson, the fourth Viscount Cowdray, the estate features the ruins of Cowdray House, one of England’s great Tudor manors. Built in the 1520s, the house was destroyed by re in 1793. Today the Grade-I-listed ruins provide a stunning backdrop to the green velvet of the polo fields.
It was Weetman Pearson, the third Viscount Cowdray, who made the estate the home of British polo. Lord Cowdray was an enthusiastic player from his youth, but after World War II he became the driving force in reviving the sport in the U.K. He played with gusto, despite having lost his left arm at Dunkirk, and managed the reins with the hook that replaced his hand. His passion for the sport, coupled with his hospitality, established Cowdray as a mecca for polo.
In 1956, Lord Cowdray established the Cowdray Gold Cup. Today, the Jaeger- LeCoultre Gold Cup, along with the Cartier Queen’s Cup played at Guards in Windsor, are the highlights of the U.K. summer season. The gold cup is considered the most significant tournament outside of Argentina, and from late June into early July, Cowdray is the center of the polo universe. Eight-goal pro and captain of the U.S. polo team Nic Roldan says, “Throughout the year, there are three main tournaments every polo player dreams of: the U.S. open in Palm Beach, the British open at Cowdray, and the Argentine open at Palermo. Playing at Cowdray last year was an unbelievable experience and a dream come true.” He adds, “2016 is a season I will cherish forever.”
Aside from the gold cup, Cowdray hosts more than 450 matches every season and offers instruction for new players as well. Registered polo coach Guy Verdon, who heads the polo academy, aims to have neo- phytes ready for instructional chukkas after only 10 private lessons.
When I stepped off the plane in London, the damp chill sank into my bones. A mist hung over the dismal Gatwick landscape, and gray clouds threatened rain. But as I drove toward Cowdray and the Sussex countryside came into view, my spirits soared. Brilliant green fields and red-gold autumn leaves blazed against the leaden sky.
In the middle of this countryside, amid more than 100 acres of gardens and parkland, sits Cowdray House (the original manor is known as Cowdray Ruin). An intriguing mixture of Tudor, Arts and Crafts, Georgian, and Elizabethan archi- tecture, the house is available for exclusive-use rental for corporate events, weddings, and other festivities. Cowdray’s marketing manager, Sally Blackburn, was kind enough to give me a tour of the house. As I entered the hall, it was suddenly 1930 and I was Lady of the Manor, welcoming guests from London for a weekend of riding and shooting.
Sally shook me from this reverie by explaining that the current Lord and Lady Cowdray live in a smaller house on the estate. Their portraits hang in the imposing, vaulted Buck Hall, its wood-paneled walls populated by a cavalcade of ancestors. From the main oor reception areas and sitting rooms to the
luxurious bedrooms on the second oor, the house manages to combine grandeur with a coziness that makes you want to curl up in front of the re with a pot of tea and a copy of Right Ho, Jeeves.
Cowdray House, though, is just the beginning of the Cowdray experience. We set off down the road to what might be characterized as a sort of Cowdray village, home to the Cowdray Farm Shop, the Farm Shop Café, a juice bar, the Exceptional English Wine Company, and Hudson & Colt, an embroiderer that provides bespoke kit for polo teams.
Despite it being a rainy Friday in November, the Farm Shop Café was packed with locavores enjoying a variety of freshly prepared sandwiches and entrees. If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s an English bacon sandwich, and I was gratified to learn that the pork was free range and locally produced. Lord and Lady Cowdray are committed to local sourcing, and most of the beef served, as well as the lamb and venison, is estate raised.
Read more about this amazing escape here: Cowdray Estate