Stay The Night: Combermere Cottages, Shropshire

The decorators have been in at Combermere Abbey and given the old stables a fresh contemporary look

When Sarah Callander Beckett and her family transformed the derelict 19th-century stables at Combermere Abbey into a complex of cottages in 1994, they laid the foundations for a self-catering business that has become one of the best in Britain.

It was never going to be difficult to attract short-breakers to these elegant properties on the border of Cheshire and Shropshire. The red-brick dwellings, with their turrets and mullioned windows, set around a cobbled courtyard, sit in the shadow of a splendid Gothic abbey (a former Cistercian monastery, part of which dates from the 12th century), and are enveloped by 1,000 acres of parkland with a lake and ancient woods.

But the Combermere team appreciates that it takes more than good looks to keep the guests coming. So, there are lots of little extras that might be more typical of a hotel – from the tea tray on arrival to bubbles for the bath, special services including babysitters and massage therapists, and friendly extras such as bicycles and a children's playground.

And while there's much evidence of attention being lavished on guests, staff never intrude upon the tranquil atmosphere here. The result is a five-star rating from Enjoy England.

Most recently, Combermere has turned its attention to refreshing the properties. So far, three cottages have been redecorated, with one modelled out of two former properties to make a unit capable of sleeping 10. The introduction of a new "Nano-Break" package for two-night stays, as opposed to three, has made a winter weekend here a more affordable proposition in tough economic times.

The rooms

The refurbishment will slowly roll out across all the properties in an attempt to bring contemporary harmony to their styling. The name of each cottage reveals a famous connection – for example Wellington after the Iron Duke, Empress after Elizabeth of Austria, both of whom visited the abbey – and each cottage's decor was previously themed to suit. I stayed in Callander, named after the owner's family, which was a case in point. Before it was refreshed, the sitting room was painted in a brash palette of bold colours, majoring on turquoise, and made heavier by the over-exuberant use of Scottish motifs to express the family's heritage. Now, creams and oatmeals have calmed the atmosphere and let light into the rooms, with bolder splashes of colour picked out more subtly in cushions, curtains and throws. And while the thistles remain – carved on the stair panels, embellishing the mirrors – they are more playful and light in touch.

Generally, expect high levels of comfort with top-quality furnishings and fabrics. The beds are lavishly dressed in soft white linen, the smart bathrooms are supplied with cosy towels and complimentary toiletries. Kitchens are equipped generously and to a high standard, so you can comfortably rustle up a dinner party if you fancy (dishwashers are standard, too). All the cottages have open-style fires, flat-screen Freeview TVs, videos, DVDs and CD radios, and there are board games and books for quieter moments.

The food and drink

A tea tray, featuring delicious homemade biscuits, awaits your arrival. There's a Tesco down the road in Whitchurch, but if you wish to immerse yourself in country life, there are plenty of farm shops around, too, including Cheerbrook Farm Shop in nearby Nantwich, where they prepare the superior frozen meals, such as beef bourguignon and red Thai curry, that you can purchase on site for around a fiver in the honesty shop. Each cottage is supplied with a basket filled with wines to buy, and you can order a hearty hamper, which will be filled with well-sourced essentials, such bread, butter, cereals, eggs, bacon, tea and fresh coffee as well as a few indulgent treats, too. The Combermere Arms ( .uk/combermere), along the road opposite the estate's front gate, is a highly recommendable gastropub.

The extras

Ask about upcoming tours of the abbey. Fishing and swimming are permitted at the lake. There's a newly renovated playground for small children, and bicycles, tennis racquets and croquet sets are free to use.

Explore the grounds, which include walled gardens filled with roses and a unique fruit tree maze, and, further afield, a signed two-mile walk through the woods and across the park – the honesty shop doubles as a laundry for muddy days. The lake attracts a wide variety of birdlife, including herons, swans, geese and ducks, while badgers, foxes and other wildlife call the park home.

You can book an in-cottage massage and groups can throw spa parties at the property, too. A special cleaning service on departure is available, so you don't need to run around tidying up when you need to leave.

The serenity of the location effectively masks this thriving bucolic business park. As well as the cottages, there's an organic farm in the grounds, and the elegant glasshouse in the walled garden has now been complemented by a new pavilion to expand the possibilities for hosting weddings, civil ceremonies and partnerships, as well as corporate events.

The access

Children are welcome – high chairs and cots can be supplied. Babysitters can be arranged. Well-behaved, house-trained dogs over six months are admitted – one large dog or two small ones per cottage – at a charge of £5 per day. There are areas in the grounds where they can run off the lead. "Pooch Packs" (sofa cover, bowl and treat) are provided. Stapleton Cottage can accommodate guests with limited mobility.

The bill

Two-night weekend Nano-Breaks at Combermere Cottages start from £300 for a cottage sleeping four between January and March 2012. Kate Simon travelled from London to Crewe with Virgin Trains (08719 774 222;, which offers return fares from £23.

The address

Combermere Cottages, Combermere Abbey, Whitchurch, Shropshire SY13 4AJ (01948 662876; combermere

Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Recruitment Genius: Centre Manager

    £14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Guru Careers: Accountant

    £28 - 45k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Accountant is needed to take control of the ...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Assistant Manager

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This hotel in Chadderton is a p...

    Day In a Page

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk