Room at the inn as hotel hits the market

If you've ever entertained a fantasy about owning your own gastropub, a rare opportunity on the Thames provides plenty of food for thought. Cheryl Markosky reports
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The Independent Online

Townies who have enjoyed nearly two decades escaping to the Egon-Ronay-fêted Beetle & Wedge hotel, in Moulsford, Oxfordshire, are about to lose their favourite Thames-side inn. But their loss could be someone else's gain, with the hotel and the house next door both up for sale.

It is pretty rare for houses to come onto the market along this long stretch of the Thames, and now, a bit like buses, several opportunities seem to have come along at once.

You can buy the six-bedroom, six-bathroom inn for £1.5m and turn it into a family home, or you could carry on running it as a hotel. Another option is to use the planning permission that owners Richard and Kate Smith have obtained, to convert the hotel into three separate residential units. Their own home, Georgian-style Ferrymans House, next to the inn, is also for sale at £1.75m.

Having bought the whole "complex", including the hotel, Ferrymans House, the old boathouse now turned into a waterside restaurant, and 12th-century Ferry Cottage, next to the boathouse, the Smiths are selling on the hotel and Ferrymans House, while retaining the old cottage and restaurant. The good news is that the popular Boathouse will remain open, most likely run by the Smiths from their new base in Yorkshire.

Writers GK Chesterton, HG Wells and JK Jerome are all purported to have stayed at the Beetle & Wedge. Kate, proprietor of the hotel with her chef husband Richard, says this spot with its Constable views was not quite so idyllic 18 years ago when they moved in. "Having once suffered a dreadful breakfast in a terrible hotel on our way to a christening in Wales, we always wanted to create something we'd like to find," says Kate. "The Beetle & Wedge was pretty ghastly, mind you. You might just have risked a G&T in the scruffy garden, but that was about it."

Worse was in store when the Smiths got to grips with the hotel, where they concentrated their renovation efforts first. Tree roots had forced their way through the drains, sinks were not plumbed in, and the bathrooms were brown-plastic horrors. "Strangely, the curtains and carpets were rented," recalls Kate.

The couple chose the middle of the recession to take on their sizeable project and, with a £40,000 VAT bill to pay, they decided to borrow more money from the bank to refurbish the tired buildings. Their proposal was met with silence from the bank, but an astute shareholder took on the whole mortgage and lent them enough to do the work.

Kate shudders when asked how much they have spent on the hotel and the five-bedroom Seventies house, which feels far older than it is ,with reclaimed old doors and flooring. "I dread to think. Money seems to have just disappeared." After sorting out the hotel in 1992, renovating the bedrooms and adding a spacious waterside conservatory/sitting room, the Smiths tackled their house three years later. It now has a state-of-the-art chef's kitchen, oak flooring and landscaped gardens. Ferrymans has terrific views over the water; a guest suite with a library area, a private balcony and separate access; and a secluded herb garden.

The only downside to becoming the next owner of the Beetle & Wedge may be the lamentations from the locals, who have enjoyed everything from christenings to weddings at the inn. But Kate emphasises that running a hotel and restaurant isn't always as romantic as it appears.

"Once, the cleaners didn't turn up and Erica [the Smiths' accountant] and myself were all sweaty carrying dirty laundry from the rooms," she says. "That was when Michael Caine decided to turn up and he said: 'Darling, how lovely to see the gaffer doing some work. You look like a couple of scrubbers, but fancy joining me in some some champagne?' So we did."

Ferrymans House and the Beetle & Wedge are for sale through Sara Batting 0118 950 2341

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