‘Good morning! This is your captain speaking. We are cruising at 115mph and at an altitude of… er, I think it says 1,000ft. Sorry, I’ve forgotten my reading glasses.’ I’m at the controls of a tiny Cessna 172, having my first flying lesson. The actual pilot, Rob Wildeboer, is sitting next to me, looking remarkably calm. There is room for two passengers in the back but, perhaps unsurprisingly, we’ve had no takers.
Earlier, Rob had talked me through the physics of flying, patiently explaining the difference between pitch, roll and yaw. We’d then climbed into the Cessna, which feels like a golf buggy with wings, bumped across a grassy field and, without any fuss or bother, lifted up into the sky – like some wonderful magic trick. It was all I could do not to shout: “Haha, look at me!”
The Cessna is one of about 100 small aircraft based at Goodwood. There are some real classics in the hangars. Rob points out a Canadian Yak, a Tiger Moth and a 1943 Harvard Warbird, which looks like a giant Airfix model. The flying school was established in 1968, but the airfield has existed for more than 70 years. Originally it was known as RAF Westhampnett and saw action as a Battle of Britain station. These days, of course, the skies above it are calm and peaceful – and Rob and I have the sun-split clouds all to ourselves.
We take a slow pass over Goodwood. It’s the perfect way to take in the astounding sweep of the country estate. Its 12,000 acres are centred on the elegant 300-year-old house and it has long been seen as England’s premier sporting estate. If you fancied it, you could check into the hotel and do a sort of stately home pentathlon – a “toffathlon” – and spend a week golfing, shooting, fishing, cricketing, horse racing, driving, flying, fine dining and gin swilling without leaving the grounds.
It is the racing, however, that provides the estate with its sporting kudos. Go to Glorious Goodwood (1-5 August) and you’ll be betting on horses galloping around a course first laid out in 1802. If motorsport is your thing, then the cars are screeching round a track that’s played host to many of Britain’s driving greats: Mike Hawthorn, Graham Hill, Jim Clark and many more all drove on it. It was at Goodwood that an accident ended Stirling Moss’s career in 1962. These days Goodwood is synonymous with this month’s engine-pumping Festival of Speed and the Revival (8-10 September) – a frenzy of tweed, headscarves, pearl necklaces and clinking martini glasses.
To get a flavour of the circuit, I had an “experience” in a high-performance BMW. From the list of ways to scare yourself to death on four wheels, I opted for the “Spin and Slide”, an introduction to getaway driving, featuring powerslides, J-turns and plenty of queasiness. Afterwards I was given tea and a biscuit – a perfectly English reaction to being out of control.
After my flying and driving lessons, it was time to get in touch with the sedate side of this timeless estate. My wife and I checked into the hotel – a maze of rooms built around the remains of an old walled garden. We decided to skip the gym and spa with its swimming pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and steam rooms and head instead to the Kennels. This grand old building is exactly that – a kennel built for the hounds of the first Duke of Richmond. He was so passionate about his dogs that he commissioned architect James Wyatt to create the building in 1787 – the world’s most luxurious doghouse.
We arrived in time for the gin tasting. We slumped on plump sofas while a trolley laden with rare and unusual spirits was wheeled over. The “gin-oisseur” talked us through each one and we took a nip of all we fancied. She then made up a huge gin and tonic with our favourites. I went for a Warner Edwards Victoria’s Rhubarb, while my wife chose a Sipsmith VJOP – on the grounds that it was the most potent.
Dogs are still welcome at the Kennels. In the entrance hall is a vast rack of enamel bowls each painted with a name: Trigger, Nelson, Django. These aren’t for the ghosts of faithful old hounds but for today’s doggy members. The club even offers them Bonio-flavoured ice cream.
Well refreshed by our huge gins we tottered back to the hotel for dinner. The restaurant is called Farmer, Butcher, Chef and has been fully refurbished and relaunched as a sustainable affair with zero waste. It’s located just yards from Goodwood’s Home Farm, which has been in Lord March’s family for more than 300 years. It is one of the only fully self-sustaining organic farms in Europe. Its dairy herd was the first to be 100% organically fed in Britain, and all the meat served in the restaurant has been “born, bred and butchered” within a mile of your table.
For the meat-shy diner this will be a challenging evening. Being told Home Farm “processes” three cows, 12 pigs and 25 lambs for the restaurant every week made even me feel I was sitting down in the middle of an abattoir. For keen carnivores, however, the menu is a playground of unusual cuts and gory banqueting. We devoured ox tongue, beef shin, pig’s head, tail and cured jowl. The dish of charred courgette was our only nod to the greens.
Dizzy with gluttony, we stumbled back to our room, very glad I’d got the flying and driving out the way first.
Introductory flights at the Goodwood Aerodrome start at £135 for an hour; driving experiences are from £59. A double room at the Goodwood Hotel costs from £125 for two, including breakfast, while dinner at Farmer, Butcher, Chef is about £40 a head. For more information, go to goodwood.com
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