Sometimes, you have to bow down in admiration.
Grade I-listed Hawkstone Hall — near Shrewsbury in Shropshire and built in the early 18th century — was crumbling when Michael Petrouis’s Distinctly Hospitable Group bought it two years ago from an order of monks.
Petrouis, who made his money from ice rinks, got his skates on after acquiring the property (and its 88 acres of gardens) and spent heaven knows how much on it before opening a few months ago.
Grade I-listed Hawkstone Hall near Shrewsbury in Shropshire, which was built in the early 18th century
You approach the house via a mile-long drive, which meanders past a golf course and through woods before straightening for the grand finale. It’s quite a sight: two curved wings attached to a three-storey cental section, with a statue of Jesus on one side, a Pope on the other.
A man in a tailcoat is on the steps to greet us with champagne. We decline the bubbly but raise a toast to the splendour of the hall and dining room, with portraits of the Hill family (who first built Hawkstone), a gilded ceiling and huge windows that look out on to rhododendrons and azaleas.
As we wander around, we think we might have chanced upon not one but three weddings, as various rooms are all dressed for either a ceremony or wedding breakfast. It turns out that Hawkstone Hall is a wedding venue first and a hotel second — hence its strapline: ‘Marry, eat, sleep, retreat.’
Our room is on the top floor, reached by a carved wooden staircase. It has a wonderful view of the gardens and a huge bathroom with a tall sash window. But we’re not so sure about the teddy bear on the bed or the pine dressing table and wardrobe, which look out of keeping with the bones of the building.
The hall has 88 acres of gardens and is popular as a wedding venue
We enjoy a delightful walk in the grounds and admire the lily pond with its fountain and rambling roses covering a gazebo.
It turns out there are no weddings today and it seems only one other couple is staying — which must be worrying on a sunny Saturday in June. So the experience is bereft of atmosphere as we sit on the terrace for pre-dinner drinks.
But the staff — especially the young and enthusiastic manager, James — are so eager to please that it feels uncharitable to deplore the canned Muzak or describe the food as lacking flair.
We leave with mixed feelings. We hope that as a wedding venue, it will enjoy great success. As a hotel, however, it doesn’t quite fit the bill — because it doesn’t really want to be a hotel.
Hawkstone Hall, Marchamley, Shrewsbury, Shropshire SY4 5LG. To book call 01630 685242 or visit hawkstonehall.co.uk. Doubles are from £175 B&B.