“ Address: Westhope Country Retreats, Middle Westhope Farm, Nr Craven Arms, Shropshire SY7 9JL / Tel: 01584 861617 „
Having enjoyed visiting Shropshire last New Year with a group of friends, we decided a return visit was on the cards. Unable to get into the same place as before, our friend found West Hope Country Retreats which was in the same sort of area. West Hope Middle Farm is a family owned working farm which now offers high spec self-catering accommodation. It is based a few miles from Craven Arms on the A49, which in turn is about 8 miles north of Ludlow. We were staying in the Olde Cowshed which sleeps four, and the others were in The Stables which slept six people. We paid £240 per couple for the Olde Cowshed for the week.
To get to West Hope you will have to drive through narrow country lanes with few passing points. We were fortunate that we didn't often meet other drivers, but the roads are narrow with high hedges. The Retreats are signposted from the B4368 which is the road you need to take from the A49 at Craven Arms if you are coming that way. One word of warning - if you try and cut across to Westhope from Church Stretton, the lane crosses a ford and can get flooded. The water marker is about 6-12 inches out. Parking can get busy at peak times if all cottages are full, but we managed OK with a bit of creative manoeuvring. The owners were friendly and welcoming and have some mad dogs. The whole area of the cottages has been newly done up (one property was closed as it wasn't yet finished) and they look well maintained. If the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, you may well get that authentic farm smell of cow poop, but this did not permeate the inside (but as it was winter, windows were never open).
We entered the cottage before the other couple we were staying with so got to choose the best room! I liked the touch that they had laid out trays and mats for your shoes as apart from wooden floors downstairs, the stairs and bedrooms were carpeted in cream. Downstairs was a twin room with good sized single beds, a shower room and toilet. The main bedroom is upstairs (which we claimed) and was much larger with a king-size bed. At the top of the stairs was an open plan room which had a large cupboard/wardrobe with removable wooden hangers (none of those ones where the hooks stay in place and you have to battle to get the wooden part attached) and an overstuffed armchair designed to be curled up in. There was a generously sized bathroom with a deep tub, massive shower (all four of us probably could have got in there if we had been so inclined) and plenty of shelving. The bedroom had bedside storage, plus a few other drawers and shelves and they supplied all bed linen and towels as well as a hairdryer. It is in the eaves with just a Velux window in the roof with a blind overlooking the hills to the back of the cottage. We also had a small flat screen TV in the bedroom.
Downstairs the hall leads to a dining room with four chairs. Our hosts had left a bottle of wine, a large bar of chocolate and a cake for us. As it was Christmas the communal areas were decorated festively and there was a tree in the dining room. This room led onto a small, simple patio area out the back the barbeque and tables and chairs. Being the time of year that it was we passed up on this! The small living room took two 2-seater sofas, a corner table and a TV with Sky. It only picked up the freeview channels but someone told me that it would bring your home Sky card (if you were a subscriber) and you could then pick up all your usual channels, but I hadn't brought my card so couldn't test it. On the coffee table were a selection of jigsaw puzzles and games, as well as some books and local magazines.
The kitchen was of a good spec - it was a galley kitchen so we couldn't fit too many people at a time in - with an oak finish. It included a washing machine and dishwasher (tablets for both were under the sink - I think that is a good touch as it is not the sort of thing you would think to pack, and if you don't have a dishwasher at home you are unlikely to want to buy a pack of dishwashing tablets). As well as this there was a large Fridge-Freezer, electric cooker and hob (the quick heating halogen type), microwave, four slice De Longhi toaster, kettle and bread bin. Ample crockery, saucepans, glassware and cutlery were included as well as tea towels and oven mitts. I think someone had gone to a lot of trouble to think about what you would want in a house you have rented for a week or more and I think they have it covered.
The whole house felt warm, clean and inviting. There was a thermostat in the wall in the entrance hall and all radiators worked. Hot water was plentiful and never seemed to run out or be inconsistent. Although our friends, who had the downstairs room, claimed that the taps in the upstairs bathroom were loud. But then they like to have something to moan about so they were quite happy really.
As the Stables property, two doors away, was the largest, we often used that one for communal get-togethers in the evening. That had a kitchen-diner (also well equipped) with a larger living room with two large sofas (officially two seaters - but the ones that can easily take three), and armchairs and a footstool as well as a good sized coffee table and TV. It comfortably took eight, sometimes ten of us, round the coffee table playing games sometimes. It had two en-suite bathrooms, plus a shared one upstairs and a downstairs lavatory.
Both properties seemed fully equipped with the basics, plus extra touches like puzzles and games as well as local magazines and tourist leaflets, plus a laminated guide to each property to help answer potential questions. Everything I saw was in good condition and not tatty or damaged. There was also a landline telephone (mobile reception is virtually non existent though I seemed to randomly get text messages come through on 02 on occasion) with an honesty box. I have listed below the prices for the Olde Cowshed for 2010 as guidance.
Low Season £275 per week
Mid Season £375 per week
High Season £420 per week
Peal Season £475 per week
Part weeks are at 75% of the listed price (except at peak times when the full rate is charged) but this is negotiable.
Overall I recommend this property. It is remote and you would need a car to see the area, if you want to be in the centre of nightlife then this is not the place to be! The nearest pub is probably about 3 miles across country. Should the weather be warmer there are lots of local walks that can be done and some of our party brought their bicycles along and enjoyed exploring the countryside that way. It is quiet and peaceful and you are unlikely to be disturbed by anything much louder than a softly mooing cow. There is always the field of sheep across the road if you want company, although I found them lacking in basic social skills.