Kirkham Manor, Sutton Forrest review: To the manor born, it's said

Read our writer's views on this property below

Beyond the stately gates of a Southern Highlands estate, Louise Hall finds a retreat to suit family and friends alike.

A MANOR house set in 1.2 hectares of gardens in the southern highlands enclave of Sutton Forest doesn't sound like the ideal holiday house for active children.

But beyond the stately gates of Kirkham Manor is a wonderland of open space, berries ripe for picking, curious horses and freshly laid eggs, which gives city-dwelling children a taste of the country.

At less than 90 minutes' drive from Sydney on the Hume Highway, Sutton Forest has long been a rural retreat for the wealthy wishing to escape the city.

Film royalty Nicole Kidman and musician Keith Urban are at present its most famous landowners but for many years the owner was Lord Andrew Battenberg, who may or may not be royalty of the Buckingham Palace lineage.

Lord Battenberg, formerly the Blue Mountains accountant Andrew Lee and more recently known as Lord Leitrim, bought the house and land in the 1990s and renamed it Ethersey House. When his lordship, who may or may not be the illegitimate son of Prince Philip, moved to Scotland in the mid-2000s, the property was taken over by Susan and Ray Hill and restored to its original use as a guest house under the name Kirkham Manor.

Visitors have the choice of a self-contained house with three bedrooms and a fully stocked kitchen, or a guest room with queen bed and en suite, both of which are adjacent to the Hills' residence. The guest house has two queen-size beds and two single beds; portable single beds are also available for the latter bedroom, allowing for up to 10 guests to stay at any time and making it a superb weekend retreat for a group of friends or an extended family.

The cottage's interior is lovingly decorated in a homely, country style, with a lounge and dining area and a kitchen of sleek stainless-steel appliances and high-gloss finish giving the manor a modern edge.

When we arrive, the fridge is stacked with fresh mushrooms, tomatoes, bacon, cheese, butter, milk, yoghurt and bread, while the pantry has a variety of cereals, tea and coffee.

Miss Five and Master Ten delight in adding to our hearty breakfast supply by picking strawberries and blueberries off the bushes in the garden and gathering still-warm eggs in the henhouse. Which is probably just as well, since most of the bread gets taken from our plates and fed to three inquiring horses that stick their heads over the neighbouring fence. The kids quickly name the horses Jake (because they like the name), Chomper (because he's the greedy one) and Windsor, though I doubt the British monarchy and its alleged connection to the property was their inspiration.

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Letting the chooks out, checking for more eggs, chasing the chooks around the gardens and trying to coax them back into the henhouse becomes a twice-daily game broken up by swims in the indoor heated pool and a soak in the hot tub.

The pool house has extensive walls of glass allowing light in and inviting you to gaze on the property's extensive gardens. Before we know it, however, we've run out of time to play a game on the Edwardian-style tennis court, let alone fully appreciate both the discrete and collective elements of Kirkham's gardens.

We take a 20-minute drive to Fitzroy Falls to see its spectacular waterfall, which drops more than 80 metres down a sandstone escarpment into the Kangaroo River, then have a gelato at nearby Bowral. There are many more cafes, galleries, antique dealers and bookshops that go unexplored.

Susan Hill specialises in hosting girls' weekends and can arrange for massage therapists, beauticians and chefs to come to Kirkham Hall. It sounds so good, next time I think we'll leave the children in the city.

The writer was a guest of Kirkham Manor and Tourism NSW.

Trip notes

Where Kirkham Manor, the Illawarra Highway, Sutton Forest. (02) 4869 2088; 0405 502 900, stayz.com.au.

Getting there From Sydney, take the M5 Motorway, which becomes the Hume Highway. Take the Illawarra Highway/Moss Vale exit, drive five kilometres to the Highlands Equestrian Centre. Kirkham Manor is diagonally across the road from it.

How much Friday and Saturday nights, $360 for two people for two nights; Monday to Thursday, $80 a person a night. Seven nights' stay, $1160.

Style statement Classic country manor given a modern edge.

Perfect for A girls' weekend of pampering, wine tasting and savouring fine food.

Don't forget To bring your swimmers for the indoor pool and spa.

Shame about The spotlight outside one bedroom flicking on and off all night, shining straight into our eyes.

Kudos A full set of bath towels and pool towels.

Take the kids? Yes - they'll love finding freshly laid eggs and hand-picking berries.

- Sun-Herald