Last September, my friend Sally and I found ourselves sitting under cream umbrellas on the patio of an hotel in the New Forest enjoying a light lunch of some perfectly cooked crispy squid. The location we’d chosen was perfect for cycling, which was the reason we were spending a few days away from our usual routines.
It proved to be an eventful stay.
The New Forest is a cyclist’s paradise – whatever your age or fitness level. Endless flat cycle paths form a huge network of National Park trails. There are over 100 miles of car-free routes and lots of quiet country lanes. Being on a bike means you can really absorb the scenery, whether it’s ancient woodland, heaths, chocolate box villages or the nearby coastline.
After accidentally straying onto a very busy A road (not the most relaxing mile or two that we’ve ever cycled) and getting lost as we cycled across a gorse strewn, deserted heath, I fell asleep in a muscle-relaxing bath once we got back to the hotel. Weary but happy. After a carbohydrate packed dinner of pasta with crispy courgette straws, Sally and I decided on an early night.
Once in my hotel bedroom, I clambered into the temptingly comfortable bed with its four massive, yet soft, pillows and watched TV. As I wearily laughed at Graham Norton’s witty ripostes, I thought I heard a persistent knocking. But lordy I was tired and so I it wasn’t long before I switched the five time Bafta award winner off and fell into a deep sleep…
Two hours later, I was woken by red pulsating lights and a massively loud alarm blaring into my sleepy ear drums. Half asleep, I initially thought it was my mobile’s alarm and that it was morning. But glancing at my watch I saw was just before 1am.
Myopically and sluggishly, I got out of bed opened my hotel bedroom door to see a deserted corridor and more flashing red lights. Slowly it dawned on me that this was a fire alarm. Rather less sluggishly, I wrestled myself into my unflattering hotel dressing gown (why do they so often feel as if they are made of cardboard?) and popped on my pebble-thick glasses. Not my most attractive moment.
As I staggered towards Reception I knocked (as any true friend would) at Sally’s room – but no answer. The alarm was deafening. And insistent. And designed to be so. It was a balmy evening and I discovered the other hotel guests patiently sitting outside the hotel entrance. Sally was sitting on a bench with a man sporting a baseball cap who was engrossed on his iPad. I asked him to budge up and squished myself between them. Stressed members of staff were running around frantically trying to take control of the situation. The only angry people were a honeymoon couple (never mind, this will make a great story when you retell it!). The alarm continued to blast our eardrums for an interminable 40 minutes before someone managed to switch it off.
The fire crew finally arrived (the nearest fire station was miles away) and discovered it was the computer that had erroneously set off the alarm. After comforting cups of tea and reassurances that we were safe, everyone returned to their rooms. I finally dropped off about 4am.
At breakfast the next morning, Sally and I were bleary eyed but surprisingly energetic and looking forward to another scenic day on our bikes. While chatting about the night’s events, she told me that the chap she had been sitting next too outside the hotel was an actor. Apparently he had been trying to learn his lines before the fire alarm went off, but couldn’t concentrate because whoever was in the hotel bedroom next to him was watching TV with the volume up. Turns out it was Tobias Menzies that was banging on my bedroom wall. Or, I suppose you could say, The Duke of Edinburgh!
The Crown, season 3 starts on Netflix on 17 November.
To read the BBC review, click here