2012 London Olympics: Staying in the Wilds of Surrey

The Talbot Inn in Ripley, Surrey offers a friendly country alternative to big London hotels.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

When plans to cover the 2012 London Olympics came together here, it was decided it’d actually be a good idea to not stay in the city.

That might seem silly when you consider that the vast majority of all the Olympic events were taking place within the extensive boundaries of Great Britain’s capital city – with most of the thousands of reporters covering the games staying somewhere in London.

But, some competition did spill out into the surrounding countryside – with Sailing heading down to Weymouth in Dorset and Cycling rolling through Surrey, for example. So, the Summer Olympics weren’t just “Central London.”

Meanwhile the tourism promotion folks at organization like VisitEngland, VisitBritain, London Partners and even London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games (LOCOG) were eager to spread the message that indeed “London” wasn’t just “Central London.” There were constant encouragements and day trips to get reporters out of Westminster, Knightsbridge, Soho, etc., and into the outlying suburbs and near-London countryside.

That all added up to a weeklong stay for this reporter at The Talbot Inn, Ripley.

The Talbot describes itself as one of England’s finest coaching inns – once home to a stable for its country guests. It certainly ranks among the region’s oldest public houses, originating in 1453 and serving the nearby Newark Priory until King Henry VIII burned that monastery down in 1537. During the mid 1700s, The Talbot acted as a staging area and post office for the Royal Mail.

Local lore holds that the Talbot was the first meeting point for Lord Nelson of Trafalgar and his Lady Hamilton in 1798. It’s obviously been refurbished since eras gone by and now combines modern guest rooms and dining with the classic, vine-covered ambiance of the centuries old stable.

That stable space was renovated into one of Surrey’s busiest wedding destinations. During my weeklong stay at the Talbot, there was a wedding all but two nights – with two taking place on both Friday and Saturday. Fortunately, the wedding space is well-removed from the guest rooms so local carousers didn’t keep working stiffs like me up at night.

The hotel leans more toward the rustic than the luxurious. The bridal suite offers a four-post bed made of ancient timbers, and many of the older rooms feature the lower doors and ceilings originally built when the Queen’s subjects were shorter.

A separate wing of newer rooms toward the back of the property offer all of the essential comforts while offering more space than many smaller Central London hotels.

The staff works its collective backside off between keeping guests happy and setting up/taking down the seemingly endless weddings. But, day or night, the crew remained friendly and helpful in a very informal way. This isn’t some massive corporate hotel where everything is done by the book. The Talbot staff treats you like a friend and will go that extra little bit to make you comfortable.

While the Talbot’s in-house pub has that classic feel, the hotel’s restaurant is more modern – though it leads out onto a very casual outdoor picnic area.

The Talbot was recently purchased by UK celebrity chef Marco Pierre White, so there’s no telling what changes might come the property’s way in the months to come. He’s expected to invest heavily in the property, and that might dent some of its country charm.