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Special feature: Stone Lodge, Combermere Abbey, Shropshire, UK

The October half-term is often a time when we look to go away in search of warmer climes but every now and then, we choose to stay in the UK and we are invariably always delighted when we do. There’s no hassle with parking, no waiting in airports, no need for passports, no lengthy security checks and no jet lag. Now we have a dog, we also didn’t have to make arrangements for him – instead, he could come with us. I’d go so far as to say that the UK is all too often overlooked by the Brits outside of the Summer months, but really it has much to offer throughout the seasons. Stone Lodge at the entrance to the Combermere estate For this last half-term we stayed at Stone Lodge, the gatehouse to the beautiful, privately-owned Combermere Abbey estate. What’s more, whilst we obviously weren’t sporting shorts and T-shirts in late October, we nevertheless enjoyed good – if not exceptional – weather for the time of year. Had it been cold, we were still going to be well catered for – our accommodation was cosy, came with a real fire in the lounge and a plentiful log supply outside. Stone Lodge from the garden The entrance to the property is through the back door which brought us to a well-equipped kitchen, complete with a basket of locally-sourced breakfast goodies – bread, Westry Roberts & Co. Farm butter, eggs, field mushrooms, tomoatoes, Pimhill Farm muesli, and Combermere’s own windfall apple marmalade and freshly-pressed apple juice. In the fridge were Oxtail & Trotter chipolatas and bacon. Kitchen at Stone Lodge Combermere breakfast basket This was very welcome for our first morning at the property, saving us the need to bring provisions with us or go shopping the moment we’d arrived. Even our dog had been thought of – a blanket, bowl and treats were all provided. Dog treats at Combermere Next on the ground floor is the living area, with two sofas, a real fire, TV and DVD player. A wide selection of over a hundred DVD titles are available to borrow at no cost should you wish. Lounge at Stone Lodge This room leads on to the former hallway and main entrance to the property – now a dining area. Stone Lodge dining room Finally on the ground floor is the en suite master bedroom with a large double bed and ample storage. Free WiFi is available throughout the property but the signal is strongest in this room (where the router is situated). Master bedroom at Stone Lodge The bathroom has a shower with wet room area, basin and lavatory and, tucked away behind the door, a washing machine. Upstairs is a twin-bedded room – which was perfect for our children – and bathroom with a bath, basin and lavatory. Twin bedroom at Stone Lodge Upstairs bathroom at Stone Lodge Outside is an extensive garden with fruit trees (apples, plums and damsons), barbecue area and outdoor furtniture. Owners of dogs (and young children!) will appreciate the fact that, once you have driven into the property boundary and closed the gates, the garden is completely enclosed. Stone Lodge garden in Autumn As already mentioned, Stone Lodge is situated at the entrance to Combermere Abbey and guests have access to the estate grounds, including woodlands, the Pleasure Gardens (where you can let your dog off the lead) and the largest privately-owned lake in the country, covering 140 acres. Pleasure Gardens Our dog chasing leaves There are eight further self-catering properties within the grounds, each sleeping anything from 4 to 10 people. Cottages at Combermere Although we had a kitchen to prepare our own meals, most of the time we opted for the pub just down the road – the Combermere Arms – serving traditional pub fayre. Combermere Arms This is only a short walk from Stone Lodge, though I’d recommend high visibility clothing if you’re walking at night as it’s a reasonably fast road without pavements. For those not wanting to go out or cook, you can purchase homemade freezer meals from Combermere Abbey. Combermere is well positioned for exploring numerous counties, close to the border between Shropshire and Cheshire, but also not far from Staffordshire and the border with Wales. We enjoyed many days out, just going for walks with the dog and enjoying the good weather, taking in places such as the nearby Dearnford Lake where there is also a café. Dearnford Lake The woodlands and lakes at Keele University (where we spent our student days, but this area is open to the public also) make for a pleasant walk, as does Bickerton Hill on the Sandstone Trail, at the southern end of the Mid Cheshire Ridge. Bickerton Hill We also visited a number of towns and villages in the area – there isn’t so much to see at Whitchurch, but Audlem has quite a quaint, quirky feel to it, and Nantwich is a lovely town that is only a 10-15 minute drive from Combermere. Chester, Wrexham, Ellesmere, Market Drayton and Shrewsbury are also all relatively accessible, and a number of National Trust properties (Erddig, Chirk Castle, Little Moreton Hall, Attingham Park and Sunnycroft, to name a few) are within driving distance, as is Chester Zoo. We enjoyed a day at Delamere Forest which was great for the dog, but also a pleasure for us to see the wonderful Autumn colours. Delamere Forest On our way home, we called at Jodrell Bank – an attraction I hadn’t visited for some 30 years but still a great family day out where you can discover how the giant Lovell Telescope helps to reveal some of the wonders of the universe. This internatinally renowned landmark in the world of astronomy has certainly stood the test of time since, despite being a familiar feature on the Cheshire landscape for over 50 years, it remains one of the biggest and most powerful telescopes in the world. Jodrell Bank Although we packed quite a lot into our week at Stone Lodge, there are many other places we didn’t get to, such is the abundance of things to see and do in the area. Readers interested in visiting Combermere for themselves can currently enjoy ‘nano breaks’, with cottages sleeping four attractively priced from just £280 during the mid-week and £320 at weekends. This post is sponsored by Combermere Abbey.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Telegraph.

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