Blog: The Secret World of London Clubs Part 2

photo of the Royal Automobile Club Woodcote manor house; our room is in the center at the top.

RAC Woodcote Park

No-one from my club in D.C. had ever reviewed the Royal Automobile Club—Woodcote Park in southwest London—so we decided to check it out. An unusual reason to visit was that Woodcote was once owned by Charles Calvert, 3rd Baron Baltimore, who lived in Maryland and was its Governor and Lord Proprietor beginning in 1675!

We stayed at the Club for three days in September 2022, as “reciprocal members,” since we were in the same “reciprocal network” (see my story last month on some of the London clubs that can be visited in this way). Our surprising reward was a gorgeous park-like golf club, helpful staff, a wide range of athletic facilities, and even a small car museum.

Woodcote Park is set in 350 acres of rolling Downs in the county of Surrey, on a site abbreviated as “Wdcote” in 1086 C.E. in William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book. Having evolved a bit in 937 years, the site now has two 18-hole championship golf courses, a 30-meter indoor pool, two single and two double squash courts, six lighted tennis courts, a well-equipped gym, three restaurants, two bars, a golf pro shop, and three acres of children’s play areas. There are fine walking trails, and the paved Captain’s Drive makes for a pleasant 25-minute walk from the beautiful Woodcote manor house hotel to Epsom Downs next door. That is the location of The Derby, one of the most prestigious horse races in the world, run on the first Saturday in June each year.

The club’s manor house has 22 guest rooms; those with the best views of the rolling downs and golf courses are in the top floor facing the fountain. We were fortunate to get room number 19. It was about 19×21 feet (huge by London standards) with twin beds, a safe, small table and desk, and refurbished bathroom. The décor was attractive but slightly dated. The room did not have air conditioning, only two movable fans, so I do not recommend staying during hot months. AC installation and room redecorating are tentatively scheduled for 2024. Room costs at Woodcote were 240 pounds ($288 per xe.com) on weekdays and 292 on weekends, rather high.

The RAC-Woodcote car museum features about 20 terrific vehicles and a friendly staffer happy to give tours and describe his adventures trying to keep the oldest cars (over 120 years!) running in the famous London to Brighton Veteran Car Run, the oldest motoring event in the world. Museum vehicles include several cars I had never heard of: a 1900 Simms, 1901 Mors and the 1959 Maserati OSCA of Sir Sterling Moss—in which he won the Woodcote Trophy race at Spa at age 85. See https://www.royalautomobileclub.co.uk/motoring/the-motor-house/ for more on the vehicles and the museum, a barn which dates back 120 years before the invention of the motor car!

There are numerous events each year at Woodcote, including three members’ cars drive-in shows (averaging 150 cars each), events allied to the Derby and many other horse races, lectures, a book club, bridge league, yoga and fitness classes, etc. Visitors from reciprocal clubs are unlikely to be able to secure a room during Derby weekend, but could try to get one during a lesser horse race. The top nearby attraction other than Epsom Downs is Hampton Court Palace, about 9.5 miles away.

Membership in the RAC, which covers the Pall Mall RAC Headquarters and Woodcote Park, costs an entrance fee of 4,500 pounds for full members over 30, and an annual fee of 1,958 pounds. For persons living more than 150 miles from Pall Mall, there is no entrance fee, and the annual fee is 1,477 pounds. There are about 18,000 members and a one year waiting list.

The RAC HQ on Pall Mall, the center of “clubland,” is the most magnificent club in London, and perhaps in the world, with a French Renaissance building with 228 feet of street frontage, 109 bedrooms, glorious public rooms, and an astounding rotunda where classic cars are always on display.

There were a few down sides to our Woodcote stay. The food (other than the terrific, included full breakfasts) was acceptable but not great (this is not uncommon in London clubs). We rated most of our entrees as a B. The pavlova dessert was excellent, however. The taxi from King’s Cross train station to Woodcote Park was 110 pounds (yikes!) and the 23-mile trip took an hour and twenty minutes (!!). And the departing taxi from Woodcote to Heathrow Airport (22 miles) cost a flat 85 pounds and should have taken 45 minutes, but due to unannounced tunnel reconstruction at the entrance to Heathrow, took twice that (!!!). The joys of modern traffic and travel…

But the magnificent setting, manor house and cars at Woodcote made it all worthwhile. Cheerio!

Photos courtesy Lew Toulmin

  • photo of the Royal Automobile Club Woodcote manor house; our room is in the center at the top.

    The Royal Automobile Club Woodcote manor house; our room is in the center at the top.

  • A view of the RAC Woodcote complex from the paved Captain’s Drive that leads to Epsom Downs.

    A view of the RAC Woodcote complex from the paved Captain’s Drive that leads to Epsom Downs.

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