WHEN renting a holiday cottage, what do you need apart from a
roof and a view? Central heating? Broadband for a furtive squint at
email when there's no mobile signal, let alone a landline?
When my wife and I settled on a stay at Buckshead Eco-cottage,
on a working organic farm close to Offa's Dyke path, in the Clun
Valley, Shropshire, such criteria were abandoned. The villages in
the area were described by A. E. Housman as the "quietest places
under the sun". Today, the cottage is still remote, and also rather
daunting: no mains power, no broadband, and the nearest supermarket
is a 25-minute drive (east towards Ludlow, or west into Wales).
Trevor and Sue Wheeler, who managed Buckshead at the time of
visiting, encourage visitors not just to enjoy the lush
countryside, livestock, and wildlife, including the once
near-extinct red kite looming overhead, but to consider their use
of natural resources. They installed a wind turbine for
electricity, and solar panels to heat water from a spring. A tap in
the kitchen provides the same water, filtered for safe
Part of the experience of staying here is to monitor the
cottage's power reserves. I did so obsessively, checking the
digital display on a panel under the stairs, and weighing up
whether or not it was time to cheat. By cheating, I mean firing up
a diesel-fuelled generator, which I did for two brief periods a
day. My excuse: the turbine did not turn once during a sun-kissed
week, which meant that, while we always had hot water, we did not
generate any power.
The cottage does not need much to tick over. Downstairs, there
are few lights (but enough to read by at night), and a wood-burning
stove delivers great warmth; so we were never cold. There is a gas
cooker and a fridge, but it soon strikes you how you can get by
without always turning everything on, and not feel deprived of the
comforts that you take for granted. That's the point, Mr Wheeler
tells us: this is "a thinking house".
The Clun Valley is ideal territory for walkers, and Buckshead is
well equipped with Ordnance Survey maps and booklets about walking
routes. We preferred to sit out and enjoy the sun, butterflies,
bird-life, fresh air, and our books, but the occasional walk was
rewarding, especially through fields of his beef Shorthorn cattle
after encouraging words from Trevor, who insisted I would make it
We also enjoyed chops from sheep not quite approaching mutton
age (all his livestock enjoy longer lives than is typical), which
were the lambiest-tasting ever; and a memorable, beef joint from
one of his Highland cattle, which graze on the Rhos Fiddle nature
reserve, a ten-minute walk to the top of the valley (where, for the
truly desperate, there is at least a patchy mobile-phone
So, could it still be said to be the quietest place under the
sun? Yes. Except when I fired up the diesel generator, or a buzzard
cried out, its high-pitched call breaking the hush.
Buckshead eco-cottage, which sleeps four, is at Brynmawr Farm,
Newcastle, Craven Arms, Shropshire SY7 8QU. The cost is from
£260-£395 per week, depending on the time of year. Shorter breaks
are available. New managers are Trevor's sister, Julie Button, and
her husband, Nick. Tel: 01905 339544 or 07551
WALK into TheWesley - just a short trundle with a suitcase from
Euston Station - and you'll find most of the things that you would
expect from a four-star hotel and conference centre: the bedrooms
are comfortable, the meeting facilities are excellent, there is a
decent bar, and the food is very good indeed. But there's something
else, too. . .
I was invited to a reception here by a very "right-on"
organisation, and, in going, discovered "London's first ethical
hotel", as it calls itself. Thankfully, ethics can also taste good:
that evening, I ate some of the most delectable canapés I've ever
had. So I keenly booked myself in to see what it felt like to spend
an ethical night here, too.
TheWesley hides, almost anonymously, on a back street that runs
parallel with the Euston Road, in a 1930s building that was once a
metalwork factory. It still stylishly reflects its industrial
origins. It is a no-fuss sort of place. You would not go there for
a romantic weekend, but if you're in town for business, for the
shows, or the sights, it is hard to beat.
It is just off the city centre, which makes the price more
reasonable, but it is still only a couple of Tube stops away from
more museums, theatres, and A-list tourist sites than you could
shake a stick at. Or, for the refined, it is just a stroll to
Bloomsbury, or a hop to Hampstead.
My wife and I spent a very comfy night in an elegant, spacious
bedroom; but first we had some choosy guests to entertain. In the
restaurant, we discovered that TheWesley's ethical approach
includes sourcing regional, seasonal, and (wherever possible)
organic ingredients. So far, so good.
But it's what is done with the raw materials that matters. It
matters especially to the head chef, Gentian Ndreu. The menu is
straightforward, but our dishes were beautifully cooked. Between
us, we sampled sea-fresh razor clams with salty chorizo; tender,
seared scallops; aged long-horn steaks, crusty from the grill but
pink and tender within; and - the big hit - a huge-flavoured lamb
shank with truffle mash that melted like ice cream in the mouth.
The Rioja was smooth as velvet; the Sauvignon Blanc as
gooseberry-ish as it should be. We smiled as we pushed our plates
TheWesley's happy confluence of ethics and sensuality comes -
wait for it - from its Methodist roots; hence its name. Its origins
go back to 1950, when a Methodist missionary in the Far East, Hilda
Porter, returned to London to find boarding houses with signs that
warned: "No Irish, no blacks, no dogs." With hospitality in mind,
she launched a Methodist hostel for penniless overseas students,
which was to find its final home in Euston.
Some 60 years and 10,000 students later, James Barr (as manager)
and the Revd John Nyota (as chaplain) arrived to discover that the
centre was losing money, and that many of the resident students
were not the needy cases for which the hostel had been set up. They
decided that the best way to support students was to generate
funds. "We were working on the principles of Methodism's founder,
John Wesley," Mr Nyota says. "He said: 'Gain all you can, save all
you can, give all you can.'"
Out went the students; in came the builders. In 2009, with the
support of a commercial loan of £2.5 million, and the backing of
the Methodist Church, the process of transformation began.
TheWesley now has 100 bedrooms, 13 meeting and reception rooms,
and generates profits of about £500,000 a year, which go back to
the Methodist Church, earmarked for its work with students. But
TheWesley is more than a profit centre. Mr Barr, now Business
Development Director, says: "Corporate social responsibility is not
an afterthought: it's our motivating force."
Now, all TheWesley needs to elevate it fully beyond Free Church
temperance is a proper, comfortable lounge, and a little styling.
Some art on the walls, perhaps? Nevertheless, it works very well as
it is. Especially the breakfast. The poached eggs and thyme-roasted
tomatoes set me up for the rest of the day.
A stay at TheWesley, 81-103 Euston Street, London NW1 2EZ, in a
standard double room, starts from £119, including a full English
breakfast. Special packages include complimentary stays for
children (maximum two under-sixes), and a romance package including
Prosecco and strawberries and cream on arrival, Continental
breakfast, early check-in and late check-out. Phone: 020 7380