Adrian Mourby

Back to Inspirations

Christmas definitely comes around more often these days. It hardly seems a year since I was last writing about the best places in Britain to head off to for a restorative break before The Season to be Merry. And now I’m back with some more.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas but being at home in the run up to the big day is all about cards and presents and menus and who is going to sleep where and what do we do with those who are allergic to cats or how we keep the children off their handhelds?

We all want the perfect Christmas Day - which is why it never is and why the run up to this event is always stressful. And that is why I like to get away for the weekend, somewhere calm to be looked after. Maybe it’s a countryside retreat where there’s nothing but logs fires and long walks. Or a charming town or city where one can shop for impulse presents without pressure to get home and cook. What can be better than returning to your pub/hotel for a cup of tea/glass of whisky and an afternoon snooze?

Either way here are ten places I’d be happy to hide away in this November and December.

Rebecca and Henry Hunter run the Castle Inn at Bishops’ Castle and Henry will tell you that the apostrophe definitely comes after the “S”. Their pub with rooms is built within the outer bailey of a huge castle constructed by the bishops (plural) of Hereford after the Norman Conquest. This wild border land, known as the Welsh Marches was full of celtic tribes who had lost territory to William the Conqueror and his heirs and they were not happy about it. Hence the need for castles constructed along the border.


By all accounts this was a pretty impressive fortress perched on top of a steep hill (now known as High Street). But by the beginning of the eighteenth century it had served its purpose. The Welsh were no longer rebelling against their overlords and so the castle itself was demolished and a crown (domed) bowling green created in what was once its keep. Later the stones of the castle were brought downhill to build an imposing inn where the outer courtyard (bailey) of the old castle used to stand. It was James Brydges, a local landowner who constructed this inn in 1719, the same year that he was created Duke of Chandos by George I. Bishops’ Castle was a wild place in the eighteenth century. It returned two MPs to parliament despite having only a few hundred constituents making it one of the most rotten of “rotten boroughs”. The second Duke of Chandos famously bought a servant’s wife at the hotel. While dining at The Castle Inn he heard a wife being auctioned off by her husband (a legal occurrence in the eighteenth century) and he placed the winning bid. Another eccentric regular was “Mad” Jack Mytton (1796-1834), a wealthy Shropshire MP who bought his seat by giving each voter £10. As a young man Jack took 2,000 bottles or port with him when he went up to Cambridge to aid his studies. He also once road his horse through a hotel and set fire to his nightshirt to try and cure himself of the hiccups. Somewhere along the way the Crown Inn was also owned by Clive of India who was related to the nearby Earls of Powis.


For over three centuries The Castle Inn has towered over Bishop’s Castle. It also featured in Mary Webb’s novel “How They Went To The Keep” (1920) based on Mrs Webb’s own visit to the Castle Inn. “They sat down in a panelled parlour with so many corners that hardly a panel was of the same size. This had been a great coaching inn, and in Mrs Velindre’s youth, several times a week, it blossomed with high-born ladies in delicate dresses”.


That parlour is now the hotel’s Oak Panelled Dining Room where breakfast and dinner are served.

You can also eat in the Parlour Bar which is less formal. Guests also have their own terrace or patio at first floor level with lovely views over Bishop’s Castle.  There are thirteen rooms and suites all of them very dog-friendly. The hotel is very popular with walkers lying, as it does on a number of national trails. Every morning at breakfast there will be a bulletin about the weather and things to do with your time in Bishop’s Castle propped up on your table. This will include a “Walk of The Day”. The Castle Inn makes everyone feel very welcome. The local bowling club always stops off for a drink on their way up to that circular bowling green.


One curious feature of the Castle Inn – as well of Bishops’ Castle itself – is the preponderance of elephant imagery. The coat of arms of Robert Clive – to be found in Market Square - included an Indian elephant but the hotel’s Elephant Gatehouse, a self-catering suite, has a friendly elephant painted on its exterior because this was one of the many stables in which evacuated circus elephants were housed during World War II. Yes, really. The rest of the hotel’s stables have now been demolished to create a car park but this gatehouse is a memorial to those unexpected pachyderm visitors from the 1940s and indeed if you walk around the town there many more elephant murals, an artwork trail known collectively as The March of the Elephants.

Not many British hotels can be compared to the Taj Mahal but in one important respect Llangoed Hall justifies that comparison. Many years ago, the businessman Sir Bernard Ashley bought and restored this country mansion as a tribute to his beloved wife Laura.

Laura and Bernard Ashley had worked together to build the clothing and furniture company that went by her name. They had a factory in mid-Wales and often when driving back from Laura’s family home in the 1970s they passed Llangoed Hall which was by then semi-derelict. Laura was very fond of the old hall which had been magnificently rebuilt between 1913 and 1919 by the distinguished architect Clough Williams-Ellis. Ellis had been called in by Mrs Archibald Christy, the owner of what was then known as Llangoed Castle, a simple Jacobean manor house that had been constructed in 1632.

Sir Clough’s vision was immense. He turned the castle round and created an elegant Edwardian country house with large fireplaces, an elegant dining room, a morning room, drawing room and billiard room. A long hallway – resembling a Tudor Long Gallery - linked all the ground floor rooms and led to a dark, broad, oak staircase lined with statuary that took guests to their bedrooms.

By the time the Ashley’s were driving past that hall was falling apart. The then owners wanted to demolish it because it was too expensive to repair but its listed building status meant they could not - so it was simply abandoned. After the tragic death of Laura Ashley in 1985 Sir Bernard bought the hall in order to turn it into a tribute to his wife and showcase for her work. No expense was spared because although Bernard Ashley thought the restored building might become a hotel in due course he wasn’t interested in it making money for himself.

 Llangoed Hall – like the Taj Mahal – was a testament to love.

These days the hotel is open four nights a week on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis (It is closed Monday – Wednesday). Over the years most of the fabrics have been replaced although teapot handle covers and tray liners are still made from original Laura Ashley fabric printed in Wales. And one room -No7- is still decorated in original Laura Ashley wallpaper. These days it is known as “Ashley”.

The hotel is full of art from Sir Bernard’s collection – Augustus John, Sickert, Whistler and Dame Laura Knight – all of which was sold with the hotel by his children in 2010. It’s also full of family photos and memorabilia that gives one a sense of this still being a home rather than a business. The first apron that Laura Ashley ever made is framed on the wall of the garden room.

Dining at Llangoed Hall begins with drinks in the drawing room with its rich red sofas and massive stone fireplace. Dinner is taken in the garden room and the garden restaurant, both part of a very sympathetic extension of the hall that Bernard Ashley created in 1987. Food is very important at Llangoed Hall. In November 2013/14 the hotel was recognised as Conde Nast Johansens Restaurant of the Year.  And in 2015 it entered the UK’s Good Food Guide, within the Top 50, where it remains today.

After dinner do take a walk around the gardens, the old croquet lawn and its ornate orchards. There is also a duck pond (with real ducks) and a vegetable garden that helps supply the kitchen.

There are also 17 acres of grounds running down to the River Wye as it heads towards Haye on Wye and Monmouth.

This is a lovely tranquil English country house in Wales that is a beautiful tribute to Laura Ashley.

In the hills above Plymouth sits Boringdon Hall which is really two hotels in one. The old part was once a castle dating from Tudor times while the new has been added on this century - and is still being added on to today.

Guests arriving at Boringdon are greeted by a tall, fortified stone dwelling which contains the celebrated Acleaf restaurant and a gloriously lofty bar in what was once Boringdon's great hall. The new part of the hotel lies the other side of reception and is cleverly disguised as a series of long agricultural buildings in local stone. Here there are 33 bedrooms compared to a mere seven in the old hall.

Newer still is the hotel's Gaia Spa which rises up Boringdon Hill in steps with a gym, treatment rooms and indoor/outside swimming pool. The spa is beautiful - and as light and airy as the old house is dark and winding.

The new bedrooms are grouped into two blocks, known as Stables and Courtyard and there is a genuine courtyard here with a wedding gazebo guarded by two stone lions. The old bedrooms often have four poster beds and are highly individual, fashioned out of parts of the historic house.

One of the joys of staying at Boringdon is the food. Acleaf restaurant, under head Chef Scott Paton is run as a very slick operation by Restaurant Manager, Vlad Pisarenco. Service is prompt and charming and the menu is unusual and very accessible. There are four possible choices for each of four courses, making sixteen dishes and you just mark up the menu with what you'd like. There is also a little quiz provided where diners choose a colour, a leaf and shape they like best and that then tells the chef which chocolate to serve you at the end of the meal.

Down below Acleaf, in the lofty main bar is a massive Stuart coat of arms over the fireplace with the initials CR (Charles Rex) plus two tall female figures in seventeenth century costume representing Peace on the left and Prosperity on the right. 

Leading off from the Great Hall bar is the Grenville Bar, named after the explorer Sir Richard Grenville, father-in-law of Sir Francis Drake who is said to have stayed at Boringdon in Tudor times. This Christmas season it will be transformed into Santa’s Grotto.

Above the gorgeous Shropshire town of Ludlow sits Downton Castle which has nothing to do with television’s Downton Abbey. It was built between 1773 and 1778 above Downton Gorge to a design by its owner Richard Payne Knight, MP. Knight stipulated crenelated towers and a stable court and a three-storey gazebo. The castle was very much a romantic pseudo-aristocratic retreat for this grandson of a wealthy Shropshire ironmaster. It remained in the Payne family until 1986 when it was sold along with its 5,000 acres to the Primat family who keep it as a family home that is not open to the public.

However nearby Downton Lodge is very much open to guests. This imposing farmhouse was constructed originally as the centre of the estate, providing for the Payne family and their guests. Today it is the home of restauranteurs Wilhelm and Pippa Volk who have turned the old farmyard buildings below their home into a fine dining experience – with rooms.

Arriving at Downton Lodge there is a good chance you’ll be escorted by panicking pheasants who roam the narrow lanes nearby and scatter in all directions. The restaurant does feel wonderfully miles from anywhere. Guests park in the old farm yard and then walk through a beautiful garden of box hedges that has been fashioned out of what was once a working agricultural yard. The low hedges have been cleverly constructed to create a series of alfresco rooms with “Ludlow Gin” umbrellas providing shade in the summer.

Reception is in the bar which is a pleasant low old building with a fireplace, coffee table books and tartan carpets. Here you will be given not just your room key but an individually constructed supper menu with your name printed on it. It’s not necessary but after a long drive into Shropshire it’s nice to feel expected.

There are nine bedrooms leading off the old farmyard, all with exceptional levels of craftsmanship when it comes to the carpentry, contrasting with the rough-hewn stone walls. There is also one guest bedroom in the Volk’s farmhouse.

Dinner is served in the oldest building in farm complex, a two-storey barn with small triangular ventilation windows (now glassed in) and reproduction Renaissance tapestries. Delicacies include Wenlock Bacon, Hereford Sirloin, local sausage and the wine list is from Tanners of Shrewsbury which includes an English, Gusbourne English Champagne. This is very much a destination restaurant with a six course-tasting menu for £85 pp but a two-course for as little as £50. The head chef is Nick Bennett who has been at Downton since 2019. This is a retreat where you can hide yourself very happily for the weekend.

And if Christmas shopping calls, then the lovely town of Ludlow is only eight miles away. As you motor down the lanes, you’ll pass the Ludlow Farm Shop which is next to Clive Arms pub. It’s part of Lord Plymouth’s estate and offers the Clive Collection of wines. Do call in here for some quality (if not exactly bargain) food and wine.

The Pen & Parchment is very much an actors’ pub in Stratford Upon Avon. Audiences attending the Royal Shakespeare Company tend to head over to The Dirty Duck after a show in the hope of catching a star at the bar. But the heyday of The Duck (also known as the Black Swan) was several decades ago. Today the walls are lined with signed photos of young rising stars like Peter O’Toole, Judi Dench and Ian Holm before Hollywood ever heard of them. But the latest young generation of Shakespearean actors tend to head across Bancroft Gardens and Bridge Street to The Pen and Parchment, an old quayside pub. 

When it was constructed in the late eighteenth century this sturdy red brick public house stood between the river Avon with its trading links to the Bristol Channel and the Worcestershire Canal that ran from Stratford all the way to Birmingham’s Gas Street Basin and the industrial heartlands of the Black Country beyond. 

In those days Shakespeare was no big deal for the people of Stratford and the Pen and Parchment was known as the Unicorn Inn. Its survival to this day is testament to the fact that long before it was renamed in Shakespeare’s honour this public house was a place for merchants, sailors and bargees who traded through Stratford. There are still some well- proportioned bedrooms on the first floor of the pub – accessed by a historically narrow staircase – and five more in what used to be the stable block and then became the garages for touring cars in the twentieth century. 

On the ground floor of The Pen & Parchment the various bars and parlours have been knocked together to create a free-flowing drinking space (very much a 1980s phenomenon) but the ceiling above is held up by a number of historic, old wooden pillars including one that was taken from an early nineteenth century battleship. One wall is lettered with all the names of innkeepers who ran this pub for over two hundred years including several ladies whom you imagine must had had to stamp their authority on this rowdy merchant’s pub two hundred years ago. 

The Pen & Parchment belongs to Greene King pubs and if you are a regular at their cosy hotels you’ll recognise the tartan throws and bright walls in the bedrooms - but the Shakespearean prints are something unique to the Pen & Parchment. 

This is a great English pub is you just want to hunker down and eat well in the bar or go to a show and catch the cast when they sneak in for a last drink before closing time (the pub locks in at 11pm) or if you want to do some Christmas shopping in lovely Stratford.

On a hilltop overlooking the Severn Valley stands ivy-clad Hatton Court. This eighteenth-century Cotswold manor house has the look of a gentleman farmer’s residence or an old parsonage. 

In the 1900s it was extended into a much more substantial building with a tall staircase and broad landings. This in turn became a hotel known as The Tara in the mid to late 60s.When the Hiscox family bought it in 1983 from the Crown family, they changed the name back to Hatton Court.  There are now six Hatton hotels or pubs with rooms across southern England. 

These days Hatton Court is very popular for weddings with a great white marquee standing permanently on a lawn below the hotel. Its restaurant, still known as Tara, is popular with locals and has large picture windows that overlook the Severn Valley. Specialities include assiette (hors d'oeuvres) of Severn & Wye Valley smoked salmon, Wye Valley asparagus, Moving Mountain vegan burgers and an excellent beer-battered fish and chips. 

Running off at 90 degrees from from the old house – but stylistically well-integrated - there is also a new bedroom block. Given the number of times Hatton Court has been extended, it’s remarkably harmonious, although some of the 43 guest bedrooms can be hard to find when you first arrive. 

Black and white photography of Gloucestershire and the Cotswolds line the corridors, reminding the guest that this an ideal base from which to explore one of the prettiest parts of England. 

There are working fireplaces both in the eighteenth-century drawing room and the twentieth-century bar and plenty of comfortable chairs to curl up in at the end of your day. Make sure you arrive back in time for the lovely Severn Valley sunsets as the sun heads west over Wales.

The Rose Revived at Newbridge in Oxfordshire may - or may not - have got its unusual name from an incident during the English Civil War. According to local legend, while dining here in 1644 Oliver Cromwell ordered an extra tankard to refresh a drooping rose. Once in ale, the flower did indeed revive. That story sounds like a bit of Victorian whimsy but what we do know is that in 1644 a battle was fought at Newbridge between the Parliamentary forces of General Sir William Waller and the forces of King Charles I. The Parliamentarians needed to cross the bridge next to the Rose Revived to capture the King and his army in Oxford but they were beaten back. Whether Cromwell was actually present at the Battle of Newbridge is unclear. He was a cavalry officer at the time, subordinate to Sir William and not yet well known. 

The actual bridge at Newbridge was built in the thirteenth century and it is likely that pubs by a variety of names have stood either side of it since that time.  The inn on the north bank of the Thames has gone by many names over the centuries, including The Fair House, The Rose and The Rose and Crown. In 1919 the distinguished translator of Ibsen, Sir Edmund Gosse wrote to the Northam Manor Estate who owned the pub. He recalled that as a young man in Oxford in the 1870s he would walk to Newbridge with friends and that in those days it was known as The Rose Revived. Gosse proposed that the name also be revived - and so it was.  

Today The Rose Revived provides a welcome break for those walking the Thames Path. It has seven bedrooms, four facing the river and all recently refurbished with William Morris throws, curtains and wallpaper. The pub calls itself dog-friendly and not only provides water bowls and snacks but doggy blankets. Its recently revamped, open-plan bar is still full of cosy corners but can accommodate 300 customers at busy times. The decor is that unique British style "pub eclectic" - butterfly cases, collections of old bottles, framed fishing flies, ornithological prints, model barges and a disconcerting range of wallpapers. There is also a covered terrace for al fresco dining.  The pub is covered with ivy and sits behind a beautiful screen of enormous weeping willows. 

The Rose Revived has recently rejuvenated its menu so that brunch is served at the weekend along with traditional Sunday roasts. Monday to Thursday there is a Supper Club from 4pm which offers a three-course meal for £17.99.  House specialities include an imaginative roast courgette and pepper stack for vegetarians and slow-cooked steak and ale pie for the omnivores. General Manager Craig Rose (no relation) describes the menu as “proper pub food with a gastro twist”.  

Whether Oliver Cromwell ever drank ale here will never be proved either way but we do know that the great Raymond Blanc, genius behind Britain's many Brasseries Blanc and the incomparable   Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons, started his career in English hospitality at The Rose Revived as a waiter in the 1970s, before teaching himself to cook and marrying the owner's daughter, Jenny in 1976.

“Walk in Wales – Relax in England” is one of the mottoes of Pen-Y-Dyffryn. This lovely old Shropshire rectory stands right on the Welsh border, just one mile from the Offa’s Dyke walking trail.  It has 14 bedrooms and a restaurant with great views across the Cynnlaith River into Wales.  

Seasons is the longest-established AA Two Rosette restaurant in the whole of Shropshire. In an ever-changing menu, Head Chef Lewis Barton offers locally-sourced contemporary food.  Every night is different with the menu proposing a choice of four dishes for every course.  The wine list is long and majors on New World producers.  

Pen-Y-Dyffryn (literally Head of the Valley) is very much a family hotel. It was bought 35 years ago by Audrey and Miles Hunter and two of their children, Charlotte and Tommy run it today. This is a very cosy hotel in wintertime with log fires roaring away in the front and back lounges. Some of the bedrooms have their own terraces with lovely views across the Shropshire hills and into Wales.

It's also a perfect hotel in which to hide away. You can visit the medieval market town of Shrewsbury or stately Powis Castle - both nearby - but you may just want to stay and rest. 

Located in the Cotswold Hills above the River Severn, Tewkesbury Park is a family-owned country house hotel with its own spa and golf course. On a good day there are stunning views in all directions, taking in the Malvern Hills, the Cotswold Escarpment and the sweep of the Severn Valley.  

There has been a manor house on this site since the 16th century Dissolution of the Monasteries when it became a deer park with a “lodge” at its centre. This large house remained in private hands until 1964 when it was sold to become a hotel. 

In the run-up to Christmas this year Head Chef Anuj Thakur has designed a six-course “Taste of Christmas Menu” which will feature Scottish scallops, Aberdeen Angus beef fillet and a winter vegetable Wellington. This menu can be taken in the Mint Restaurant or in one of the private dining rooms (at an extra cost) that are named after the Duke of Gloucester and the Earl of Warwick, both of whom have close links with Tewkesbury. 

Tewkesbury Abbey is only a mile away from the hotel and en route you will pass the site of the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471, a crucial conflict during the Wars of the Roses that gets re-enacted every July during the town's Medieval Festival. Evening prayer takes place at 4pm every day except Sundays at the abbey, and on Saturday 17 December there will be a performance of Handel’s Messiah at 7pm.

For a bracing autumnal walk you can’t do much better than the Malvern Hills, ten miles south of Worcester. This volcanic range is seven miles long and at its highest point 1,400 ft above sea level. The hills consist of some of the oldest rocks in Britain. They were formed by eruptions 630 million years ago when molten rock forced its way up through a fissure in the landscape. If that were not impressive enough, the fissure was created because what we know knew as Herefordshire and what we now know as Worcestershire were two different bits of our planet that wandered forever during the days of continental drift and then bumped into each at a geographical point that much later became England. 

The hills are famous for their views and their spring water and their excellent places to eat and drink. There aren’t many of the latter because development on the hillside stopped in the twentieth century. But my favourite place to stay and eat at the end of a long day walking is The Cottage in The Wood. 

This old dower house surrounded by seven acres of woodland was built by the Blackmoor Park Estate in the nineteenth century. The estate stretched as far as the eye could see across the Severn Valley down below, all 3,226 acres of it. Sadly, the house burned down in 1921 and the estate was sold off. Before that catastrophe however, this Georgian villa had opened as an hotel and public tearoom known in 1919 as The Cottage in the Woods. 

Today guests stay in the house itself, which has seven bedrooms, or in the modern Coach House where there are 19 rooms with individual patios and balconies. There’s also Beech Cottage, which was built as a home for the estate’s woodman in the eighteenth century and was later a scrumpy house for making cider. Beech Cottage has just four rooms and is the actual cottage in the actual Malvern woods from which the hotel first took its name. 

The hotel’s dining room is called 1919, for obvious reasons. It has two AA Rosettes and describes its menu as offering the best from “Forest and Coast” so you will find local Hereford rib-eye steak and braised pig head as well as roast Cornish cod in a shellfish sauce, and Zarzuela spiced Spanish fish stew. Vegetarians are also well catered for: ask for the roast cauliflower with confit egg purée, the apple, sorrel and celeriac crumb or the goat's curd mousse with salt baked heritage beetroot, pink grapefruit and chicory.


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