Written by Marie Kreft
Aston Lodge Soulton Rd, Wem SY4 5BG; 01939 232577; www.aston-lodge.co.uk. This elegant Georgian house is close to the train station and all the amenities offered in the quiet but charming market town of Wem. Owners Wendy and Gary offer six guest bedrooms, five of which have en-suite bathrooms. Adults preferred, although accompanying children aged over ten are welcome too. Classed as a four-star B&B, as rated by AA.
The Citadel Weston Under Redcastle SY4 5JY; 01630 685204; www.thecitadelweston.co.uk. Overlooking Hawkstone Park, this private country residence and luxury B&B cuts a distinctive shape across the Shropshire plain, with its red sandstone walls and three interlinking towers. Built in the 1820s by Lord Rowland Hill – he who was second in command to the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, and who is commemorated by Lord Hill’s Column in Shrewsbury – the Citadel has been in the hands of the Griffiths family since the 1950s, who also own 200 acres of surrounding farmland. Here you can enjoy not only your beautifully furnished and spacious guest room but also use of the West Lounge with its wood-burning stove and grand piano, and the Billiard Room, complete with full-size table. Outside are three acres of mature gardens, including a Victorian walled kitchen garden. In the morning breakfast is a locally sourced affair, taken seated around a large Regency table. Dinner may be available by prior arrangement (there’s no alcohol licence so you’re free to bring your own wine).
The Moat Shed’s 1960s vintage house truck Northwood Hall, Newtown SY4 5NU; 01939 236252; www.themoatshed.co.uk. Early medieval Shropshire had a high number of moated farmhouses – that’s what comes of being a border county, threatened by Welsh invaders. Many of the houses have survived but lost their moats. Northwood Hall, about three miles from Wem, is sort of the opposite: while there is no building now, the site has retained not just a moat but a double moat. This extraordinary scheduled ancient monument, protected by English Heritage, is home to The Moat Shed, a tucked-away café serving hearty breakfasts and lunches (including a roast of the day), sourced from an impressive list of local suppliers. More like a restaurant in ambience, the café manages to feel equally welcoming to walkers, cyclists, riders (there are hitching posts for horses), and special occasion diners. The interior is warmed by underfloor heating and a wood burner (which nestles on cornerstones reclaimed from Northwood Hall); in sunnier weather you can dine outside on the 70-foot covered deck overlooking the moats. Booking is essential: The Moat Shed may feel like a secret but locals sure do know about it.
Outside is parked a 1960s Bedford House truck, complete with king-size bed and en-suite bathroom. It’s a place to stay for celebrations: for £150 you can stay over, enjoying a complimentary bottle of Shropshire wine in the evening and Bellini cocktail breakfast the next morning. A sofa bed will accommodate up to two children (for £25 extra each, including breakfast).
Soulton Hall Soulton near Wem SY4 5RS; 01939 232786; www.soultonhall.co.uk. Soulton Hall is an Elizabethan manor house set in a country estate – which includes a farm and 50-acre oak wood – near Wem. You can stay in one of four rooms in the house itself: it’s full of character dating back more than 500 years, with mullioned windows, oak beams, panelling, sloping floors, even a secret door. Further ground-floor, accessible accommodation awaits guests in the converted Carriage House and Cedar Lodge.
The owners are working hard to achieve sustainability for Soulton Hall, having installed ground-source heating, and solar panels to generate electricity. All logs for the cosy fires come from the farm, which is managed with an emphasis on conservation agriculture to nurture the health of the soil and protect biodiversity. Eighty-three species of birds are known to thrive here – including at least 11 identified in 2013 as being ‘red status’ (the RSPB’s highest conservation priority). As a guest you have access to Soulton Wood, which is not open to the public; it’s carpeted with bluebells in the spring.
Four-course candlelit dinners are a speciality at Soulton Hall, either in its elegant main dining room or medieval buttery. The menu really does change every day, and much of the produce (including vegetables, fruit, honey, herbs and occasional game) comes from the walled garden and farm.
Ternhill Farm House Tern Hill, Market Drayton TF9 3PX; 01630 638984; www.ternhillfarm.co.uk. This former farmhouse close to Market Drayton is one of my favourite B&Bs in Shropshire – all oak beams, polished wood and luxurious Egyptian cotton bedding. Since moving here in 2002 owners Jo and Mike Abraham have made Ternhill Farm House supremely comfortable and welcoming, earning AA five-star B&B status. Mike’s a great chef, and as well as presenting you with a full Shropshire breakfast in the morning, he also takes orders for dinner – either in the dining room or the in-house Cottage Restaurant. The latter can also be booked for private dining for between ten and 22 people (non-residents welcome). Abrahams’ website doesn’t tell you this, but they have a lovely kitchen garden outside. The B&B doesn’t accommodate children aged under 14 years.
Windmill Cottage Guesthouse Weston Under Redcastle SY4 5UX; 01939 200 219; www.windmillcottage.co.uk. Windmill Cottage is in Weston Under Redcastle, so it’s a perfect base for exploring the mysterious walks and grottoes of Hawkstone Park Follies; the market town of Wem is only a few miles away too. From the 1900s to the 1940s this 17th-century black-and-white cottage served as the village post office. It took the name Windmill from a nearby, now redundant, linseed oil mill. There are four comfortable bedroom (one on ground-floor level) and in the morning owners Lorraine and Gino will serve you a full Shropshire breakfast. In 2013 Windmill Cottage won an episode of Channel 4’s Four in a Bed, where B&B owners take turns to stay with one another and pay what they feel their accommodation and experience is worth.
Abdo Hill Farm Rosehill TF9 2JF; 07928 910091; www.abdohillfarm.co.uk. A small and friendly campsite in an oval-shaped field not far from Market Drayton, Abdo Hill Farm has 12 touring pitches (with electrical hookup and nightlight) and ten camping pitches. Water and showers are included in the very reasonable fees. It’s a great spot for young families, as there’s a children’s play area plus chickens and a pony to befriend (and parents may well appreciate the washing machine). Free-range eggs and homecured bacon are always available to buy.
Colemere Caravan Park Colemere SY12 0QL; 01939 272999; www.colemerecaravanpark.co.uk. Colemere is two miles as the canal flows from Ellesmere, or three miles heading southeast down the A528 by car. It’s an old village of idyllic thatched cottages, graced with St John the Evangelist Church, a gothic beauty shared with neighbouring Lyneal. Cole Mere, from which the village takes its name, is surrounded by mature woodland and meadows. It’s the only place in England where the least water lily grows, a tiny yellow relic of the post-glacial age. Cole Mere is also the only mere in Shropshire to offer a perfect circular walking route (about a mile long), with level footpaths. You can camp near the mere at Colemere Caravan Park – there’s space for three caravans and ten tents, or for the glamping-inclined, the site has two deluxe hand-built pine pods. Staying in ‘Otter’ (sleeping five people) or ‘Badger’ (up to seven) definitely won’t count as slumming it: the two ‘Nordic feel’ pods are fully insulated and double glazed with mains electricity, TV and sofa beds.
Fordhall Organic Farm yurts Tern Hill Rd, Market Drayton TF9 3PS; 01630 638696; www.fordhallfarm.com. Clearly signposted off the A53 outside of Market Drayton, next to the massive Müller Dairy factory, is England’s first community-owned farm. Here in 2004, Charlotte and Ben Hollins faced losing their family’s beloved organic farm to aggressive development from their neighbours. Just two days before the Hollins family was due to be evicted, Charlotte and Ben, aged only 21 and 19, secured the short-team lease of the farm. But the future of Fordhall remained fragile. In the shadow of the loss of their father Arthur Hollins, a passionate pioneer in organic farming, the brother and sister team had until 1 July 2006 to raise £800,000 and purchase the land. At the time Ben was studying agriculture at Harper Adams University and Charlotte was working in a nursing home. ‘I think we were living so much in the moment trying to get everything done, we didn’t realise how hard it actually was,’ Charlotte said, when I asked how on earth they’d coped. What happened next was extraordinary. Taking advice from a cooperative consultancy in Gloucestershire, Charlotte and Ben established an industrial and provident society called the Fordhall Community Land Initiative and began selling not-for-profit £50 lifelong shares in the farm. The shares could not be traded but instead represented an investment in the future of Fordhall. The idea was that the trust would hold the land, protecting it from development for the benefit of the community. Without wishing to ruin a great story (which unfolds beautifully in Charlotte and Ben’s book, The Fight for Fordhall Farm), their plight attracted the attention of journalists, conservationists, educationists and thousands more caring people across the world. The pop star Sting gave a £2,000 donation, while Prince Charles donated a tour of Highgrove as an auction prize. Now the thriving organic farm you can visit today has an inspirational strapline: ‘1 Farmer, 8000 Landlords’.
As well as dining in Arthur’s Restaurant, exploring the 150-acre farm, or engaging in the workshops, festivals or ceilidhs that take place throughout the year, you can now stay in Fordhall’s Shropshire-built Mongolian-style yurts. The two interconnecting yurts sleep up to six and are equipped with kitchen, wood burner, compost toilet and kitchen sink – and everything else you need for a cosy glamping break in the Tern valley. Do note that there’s no electricity or running water in the yurts, but you’re welcome to use the electric shower in the main building when the restaurant is closed. Take a telescope to view the stars, or hire one of the farm’s bat detectors to see who’s out and about at night …
Dearnford Lake glamping pod & campsite Tilstock Rd, Whitchurch SY13 3JQ; 01948 665914; www.dearnford.net (B&B also available). A mile south of Whitchurch is one of those special Shropshire places that manages to be lots of things to lots of people. Essentially Dearnford is a serene spot with a lake, and a relatively modern lake at that. Created by extraction work that began in 1991 to build the Whitchurch bypass, the spring-fed lake was deemed best for trout – and so a fly-fishing location was established by the Bebbington family, who own the land. Thoughtful landscaping with gentle slopes complemented by woodland and wildflowers has made Dearnford Lake a lovely place to walk: you can circumnavigate the water to work up an appetite for a locally sourced breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea in Dearnford Café. From spring to autumn the lake is open daily for wild swimming, group fishing (accessible via a specially designed vessel from The Wheelyboat Trust for people with disabilities) and model boats. Canoeing and raft building are available by arrangement and the lakeside is also a launch spot for hot-air balloons. Cyclists receive a 10% discount in the café.
Campers can pitch up in the wildflower meadow and use the toilets and showers (plus free Wi-Fi) in the café during opening hours. For those who appreciate a little more luxury there’s a lakeside glamping pod kitted out for two, with exclusive use of a rowing boat from a private jetty, and a fire for cooking. The pod has electricity, running water, heating and a camping toilet: you can also use the toilets and showers in the café. Dearnford Lake is also home to The Glas, a B&B with two en-suite bedrooms.
Nink’s Wagon English Frankton SY12 0JX; email@example.com; via www.quirkyaccom.com/nink-s-wagon. Gaudy yet gorgeous with handpainted ceilings, mirrors, panelled walls and a sprinkling of trinkets, Nink’s Wagon is a delightfully preserved 1920s showman’s wagon, once home to a circus ringmaster. As well as the bedroom (sleeping two in a double bed), the wagon has a simple kitchen and sitting room with log burner. Stationed in English Frankton on a 60-acre farm, it’s near to a stable building with hot running water and flushing toilet. The very definition of glamping.
Goldstone Hall Goldstone Rd, Market Drayton TF9 2NA; 01630 661202; www.goldstonehall.com. Located about halfway between Market Drayton and Newport in the hamlet of Goldstone is this country house hotel and restaurant – and perhaps one of the finest places to stay in Shropshire. The building’s architecture is interesting. The hall dates to medieval times, but was bricked over in Georgian times to give a more formal appearance. An Arts and Crafts makeover in the late 1920s resulted in great open fires and oak flooring. Because the hotel has been converted from an old house, the bedrooms are spacious and well-proportioned. The owners are particularly proud of their bathrooms, which feature big powerful showers and separate big baths. Outside are five acres of gardens open to residential guests as well as those just visiting for lunch or afternoon tea. They’re also open for the National Gardens Scheme each year (see the Goldstone Hall website for dates). One-and-a-half acres of the grounds are given over to a kitchen garden – one of the largest
of any UK restaurant and hotel which, as owner John Cushing told me, makes Goldstone’s kitchen almost ‘self-sufficient’ from June to November when it comes to vegetables. There’s a focus on rare-to-find specimens, so in late autumn you might see oca (a type of yam) and yacón (a type of perennial daisy grown for its sweet, tuberous roots) on the menu in place of potatoes. The Herb Walk has over 100 species of herbs. Such variety and abundance are not wasted on head chef Chris Weatherstone, whose talents earned Goldstone Hall a Good Food Guide listing within four months of his appointment (he was deemed to have ‘a knack for coaxing out flavour’). In the restaurant you’ll find crisp table linen, fine china and ‘sensible glasses’ for serving a delightful array of drinks: 15 wines available by the glass (plus an amazing wine collection in an extensive vaulted cellar), Hobsons Town Crier on draught and homemade sloe gin from berries handpicked by Goldstone Hall’s head gardener.
Old Colehurst Manor Colehurst, Market Drayton TF9 2JB; www.colehurst.co.uk. Unfortunately, Old Colehurst Manor has recently closed. More information will be posted here when known.
The Old Rectory Lowe Hill Rd, Wem SY4 5UA; 01939 233233; www.oldrectorywem.co.uk. This sunshine-filled Georgian house a few minutes’ walk from Wem town centre was requisitioned during World War II, with its main part used as a hospital for American soldiers (and the elegant banister, according to the tales, used for sliding down by nurses). It has seen disrepair and closure since those days but now stands as a comfortably elegant hotel with 14 individually styled rooms – six of which have minibars containing local goodies.
The Inn at Grinshill High St, Grinshill SY4 3BL; 01939 220410; www.theinnatgrinshill.co.uk. Kevin and Victoria Brazier have created a destination pub at the Inn at Grinshill, equally suited to a special birthday lunch or a lost afternoon spent by the fire with ale and newspapers. Don’t be intimidated by the formal Georgian frontage: walkers in wellies and dogs are welcome and the ambience inside is elegant yet unpretentious. The menu is British fine dining, always seasonal and as local as possible (part of the Inn’s rose-filled garden has been turned over to growing produce). For those days when fine dining isn’t quite right, smaller plates and sandwiches are available in the bar. If you find yourself getting comfy, you can stay over in one of six king-size en-suite rooms – each individually styled, yet all understated (the TVs are artfully hidden away, for example). When you book with the Inn directly, a delicious full English breakfast is included in your room price, featuring artisan bacon and sausages from Maynards Farm.
Amblewood Cottage & Woodpeckers The Vineyard, Grinshill SY4 3BW; 01939 220214; www.amblewoodcottages.co.uk. Amblewood Cottage is one of my family’s favourite places to stay in Shropshire; so beloved by us that I’m reluctant to recommend it in case it’s fully booked next year! Owned by the Wycherley family, the two cottages are tucked away in a wooded idyll in Grinshill just north of Shrewsbury, perfect for walking and quiet relaxation, and lost fireside afternoons at the nearby Inn at Grinshill. The Shropshire Way runs directly behind the site. The two-bedroom (one double and one twin) Amblewood Cottage is all on one level with open-plan kitchen, dining and living room, making it perfect for families with small children or people with accessibility needs. Woodpeckers has all those facilities too, over two levels. Both have small private gardens with seating.
The Barn at Maynards Farm Weston-under-Redcastle SY4 5LR; 01948 840252; www.maynardsfarm.co.uk. At Maynards Farm – one of Rick Stein’s Food Heroes – you can buy bacon and sausages, freshly baked bread, cheese, pâté, eggs, milk and other treats. It’s more than a farm shop: you can take courses in butchery, curing and cookery, and the owners host the occasional supper club. Opposite the owners’ home is a first-floor light and lovely barn conversion, sleeping two in a king-size bed.
Mereside Farm Ellesmere SY12 0PA; 01691 622404; www.meresidefarm.co.uk (also available on B&B basis). Originally part of the Duke of Westminster’s estate, Mereside Farm now has six cottage-style apartments for holiday rental, each with a mini kitchen, one or two en-suite bedrooms and cosy underfloor heating. It’s also home to Stokes Pork Pies so definitely consider ordering a few gourmet samples before you arrive. While the apartments are self-catering, you can book a continental breakfast in the farmhouse for a small extra charge. Another excellent option for meals is the Boathouse in Ellesmere – just a five-minute walk away. As well as serving as a visitor information centre, it’s a great place to eat, making use of local specialities (for example, Stonehouse beer, Hereford beef and Perl Wen brie).
Oakpond Cottages Ightfield, Whitchurch SY13 4BL; 01948 890245; www.oakpondcottage.com. Down their own country lane near Whitchurch on the Shropshire/Cheshire border, which is shared only with the owners and other holidaymakers (and the occasional rabbit or squirrel), are two farm cottages, Oakpond (three bedrooms) and Oaktree (one bedroom): spacious, comfortable and ideal for families. The cottages overlook a pond and the site is diverse with wildlife: moorhens, dragonflies, ducks, woodpeckers, barn owls and bats. Oakpond is a working farm, with livestock that includes Bazadaise cattle. Children are welcome and there’s a barn full of indoor toys to keep them amused. In the village is a third cottage, Oakwood, which can accommodate up to two dogs (as well as having two bedrooms for people!). While staying in one of the cottages you may be able to use the Frogs Retreat spa room which includes a hydrotherapy hot tub. Owners Bev and Mark are long-standard recipients of a Gold Award from Shropshire Tourism for their excellent customer service and high-quality accommodation.
The Shooting Folly Lipley, near Cheswardine, Market Drayton TF9. Standing on its own in a field with long views over fields and woods is this wonderfully quirky hideaway for two (with the option of a cot if needed). It has a mock church tower at one end, a stepped gable at the other and, in between, is a simple brick-and-timber thatched cottage – all this architectural fancy and still the building remains tiny in scale. The former shooting folly has been restored to perfection by its current owners and, despite its small size, has everything you might covet for a romantic walking weekend or honeymoon, including a BBQ, wood burner, underfloor heating downstairs and, outside, a cedar hot tub. Just to add to the idyllic feel of your weekend, you can collect fresh eggs for breakfast: the owners will even provide a portable coop to keep those hens close by.