Oswestry & northwest Shropshire
Big Bear Lodge Hendre Villa near Melverley SY108PH; 07711 312103; www.bigbearlodge.co.uk (self-catering apartment and camping pods also available). Big Bear Lodge is described by its owners as a ‘wood-clad B&B’ which cultivates the ‘feel of a luxury ski chalet’. Inside are three luxurious en-suite rooms available on a B&B basis. Here you can enjoy a real log fire in winter months or, in warmer weather, take your drinks outside to the balcony. The four acres of Melverley land in which the lodge nestles, on the border with Wales and in sight of the Breidden hills, also has a self-contained two-bedroom holiday lets, plus Canadian-style heated camping pods, each of which sleep up to four people. New for 2015 (and a notch up in the luxury stakes) was the Eagle’s Nest glamping pod, fitted out with double bed, TV/DVD and a few other home comforts. There’s a basic camping and caravanning site here too. While you’re in Melverley, be sure to pay a visit to the black and white St Peter’s Church, constructed from Melverley oak in the 15th century without use of a single nail.
Greystones Crickheath SY10 8BW; 07976 740141; www.stayatgreystones.co.uk. Cameron and Magy Beard’s home at Greystones near Oswestry is a beautiful and relaxing place to stay, awarded a rare AA five-star gold B&B rating. Four luxurious guest rooms (two doubles and two suites (all en suite) are complemented by two acres of landscaped gardens, much of them worked on by the late John Cushnie, famed for his appearances on BBC Radio 4’s Gardeners’ Question Time. Amid the pools and fountains and quiet places for contemplation, you may be lucky enough to see woodpeckers and buzzards and, by night, hear bats and owls. A two- or three-course dinner can be booked by prior arrangement.
Canal Central Maesbury Marsh SY10 8JG; 01691 652168; www.canalcentral.co.uk (first floor self-catering accommodation also available) . Canal Central’s in Maesbury Marsh (about three miles southeast of Oswestry), bringing village residents and canal boaters a tea room and wonderfully local shop. Campers and caravanners are in luck too, thanks to five caravan pitches with mains supply plus ten pitches on open grass for tents. During a short break you’ll find plenty to entertain the whole family: a 7¼-inch miniature gauge engine running around a 400-yard track has recently been installed, while the site is also home to Bywater Cruises, offering peaceful horse-drawn cruises in a Victorian-style packet boat down the Montgomery Canal. The nearby Navigation Inn is one of my favourite pubs in Shropshire. Enjoy the open views and vast night skies (Canal Central’s owners will even lend you a telescope for stargazing) or, if you’re after more home comforts, the eco-friendly tea room building has self-contained first-floor accommodation for up to a fortnight’s stay.
Cranberry Moss Kinnerley near Knockin Heath SY10 8DY; 01743 741118; www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk/campsites/uk/shropshire/oswestry/oswestry. A Camping and Caravanning Club site that is open to non-members, Cranberry Moss is run by Gail and Alan Fitzsimmons and their son Peter. It’s located in a peaceful spot next to one of the ‘mosses’ that are so special to northern Shropshire, and is therefore blessed with biodiversity. I camped here with my family for almost a week in late August one year and my son, then aged two, was enthralled by the rabbits we spotted every morning before everyone else had woken up. With a bus stop just outside, the site is ripe for a Slow adventure, and the Fitzsimmons family can give you leaflets outlining local walks accessible by bus – as well as lots more tourist information. Solar panels on the shower and toilet blocks add to Cranberry Moss’ green credentials. The Fitzsimmons family are champions of local produce: the small shop in reception stocks bacon and sausages from Jamie Ward’s Farm (located just north of Whitchurch) and super-local rapeseed oil from nearby Great Ness: perfect for a fry-up outside your tent. The site has a warm and well-equipped clubhouse, although no one was using it during the week I stayed (except for me, to charge my laptop and use the free Wi-Fi).
Underhill Farm Pant near Llanymynech SY10 9RB [email] firstname.lastname@example.org; www.underhillfarm.org. The setup at Underhill Farm in Pant (near the Llanymynech Limekiln Heritage Area) is delightfully informal. ‘What we really want to do is encourage people to engage with nature without really realising it,’ owner Steve Evison told me. He runs a sustainable development consultancy called Resources for Change. Steve and his wife Irene are also the founders of Nearly Wild Camping, a network of sites willing to host campers looking for a ‘wilder, secluded or quieter camping experience’. This isn’t glamping here at Underhill Farm – it’s wilder and more basic than that – although the Evisons will soon add a gipsy caravan to their list of accommodation options, which already includes camping, yurts and a barn for groups. While at Underhill Farm you can book survival and bushcraft sessions, go mountain biking, canoeing (over the border in Wales), learn smallwoods skills and help tend to the vegetable garden and Jacobs sheep. Almost everything on the site is recycled (even the shower cubicle is made from the inner section of a huge pipe). You’ll find great insect and plant diversity here: the pond is home to damselflies, dragonflies, newts and crested newts, while the lush habitat around it nurtures three types of orchid. Night time is special; there’s a secluded fire pit for cooking under the stars, as well as a pizza oven and smoker for group catering.
Pen-y-Dyffryn Country Hotel Rhydycroesau near Oswestry SY10 7JD; 01691 653700; www.peny.co.uk. A classic ‘retreat’ hotel near Oswestry and the Welsh borders, Pen-y-Dyffryn prides itself on combining excellent food with high-quality accommodation. In the south-facing dining room with its sunny sash windows you’ll find a daily changing menu, featuring much organic and local food – as well as a pleasing wine list favouring organic and new world wines. This hotel restaurant, which is open to non-residents, has held its two AA-rosette standard for 14 years.
Peace and comfort come as standard in the country house, which resides in a hillside setting away from passing traffic. Thick stone walls and comfortable beds almost guarantee you a good night’s sleep. Some rooms have spa baths and one has a double Jacuzzi, ready to relax or energise you according to your mood. The Coach House rooms have their own private stone-walled patios, while all guests can take advantage of the gardens, with their lily pond, terrace and summerhouse. To the west are the Welsh mountains – and some of the most impressive sunsets in this part of the world.
Sebastians 45 Willow St, Oswestry SY11 1AQ; 01691 655444; www.sebastians-hotel.com. Often cited by local people as their special place to go for a celebratory dinner, Sebastians is one of Shropshire’s longest established fine-dining restaurants, serving French cuisine. For best value, look for the mid-week market menu. The 16th-century building also has five characterful en-suite rooms – think oak beams and brass-framed beds – should you wish to extend your evening.
River Cottage Church Lane, Melverley SY10 8PJ; 01938 580286; www.rivercottagemelverley.co.uk. You’d be hard pushed to find a more tranquil spot in northwest Shropshire than the half-timbered River Cottage in Melverley, within sight of the black and white 15th-century St Peter’s Church, constructed from Melverley oak and pegged together in its entirety without use of a single nail. Located on the banks of the River Vrynwy (as a guest of the cottage you get fishing rights) with views of the magnificent Breidden hills of Wales, River Cottage has a cosy living area and two bedrooms, both with twin beds. No pets.
The Stables Maesbury Marsh SY10 8JB; www.holidaylettings.co.uk. This grade II-listed semi-detached barn conversion sits next to the Montgomery Canal – and is also behind one of my favourite pubs in Shropshire, the Navigation Inn. See Canal Central’s listing (under ‘Camping & glamping’ above) to learn why Maesbury Marsh, just a few miles from Oswestry, is a great holiday location. The barn, cosy with oak beams and stone walls paired with modern décor, sleeps up to six people in two bedrooms. It’s child-friendly, with stairgates, highchair and a travel cot supplied if needed. Outside is a spacious enclosed courtyard with BBQ, and lockable storage for bikes.
St Winifred’s Well Woolston near Maesbury SY10 8HY; 01628 825925; www.landmarktrust.org.uk. A special place with an intriguing story, St Winifred’s Well is a sensitively restored medieval well chapel over an ancient spring that still flows today. While pilgrims would have bathed in the spring – perhaps seeking healing or blessings from St Winifred (you can read her story at www.bradtguides.com/shrewsburyabbey) – modern-day guests get their own bathroom a few yards away from the cottage. Sleeping two, St Winifred’s Well is a hideaway accessed only by a public footpath (car parking is available about a hundred yards away) from the hamlet of Woolston.
Penycoed Horse Riding Centre’s log cabins Llynclys Hill, Pant SY10 8LG ([tel] 01691 830608; www.penycoedridingstables.co.uk. Holiday with your horse in northwest Shropshire. Penycoed Horse Riding Centre has four heated log cabins for hire (the largest has three bedrooms), tastefully furnished with their own hot tubs. The centre offers ‘bring your own horse’ holidays for experienced riders. If you’re a novice rider or don’t have a horse of your own, the owners have around twenty horses and ponies to suit all abilities (and are especially keen to help nervous riders and people with disabilities become confident in the saddle). With miles of bridleways near to a nature reserve at Llynclys and easy access to Llanymynech, they can take you out on an hour-long ride without encountering any roads.
Springhill Farm Riding Stables & Accommodation Springhill Farm, Selattyn SY10 7NZ; www.springhillfarm.co.uk. An 130-acre organic hill farm near the Welsh border, Springhill Farm is a British Horse Society-approved riding and trekking centre, offering pony sessions, riding lessons and longer trail rides. The centre manages to combine strong efforts towards sustainability (for example, biomass boilers running on woodchip from a local, certified renewable source) with a sense of humour (the ‘horses run on a renewable energy called grass!’). You’re welcome to bring your own horse on holiday. Springhill Farm’s accommodation options are two cottages – the one-bedroom TY Ci and two-bedroom Yr Cwtch (sleeping up to six people apiece) – and a comfortable bunkhouse sleeping up to 21 people in five bedrooms, which would make an excellent base for families and friends on an activity break.
The centre’s riding holidays devised especially for teenagers are highly regarded, offering a memorable week of hacking, trail rides, camp fires, BBQs and wild camping. They’re intended for riders who can already walk, trot and canter happily on horseback, and the Springhill team can focus on nurturing other skills (for example, jumping or dressage) according to participants’ wishes.