Timberstone Bed & Breakfast SHROPSHIRE
Alex and Tracey met in the wine trade and then fell for a pair of derelict cottages. He had been a carpenter and watersports enthusiast; she had worked with a Michelin chef, Shaun Hill of the Merchant House in Ludlow. She was also a passionate traveller and had taught and worked with charities in Ghana and Belize. At Timberstone they have woven their enthusiasms together, during gaps between travels, into a whole that embraces everyone, somehow providing space for other people to be themselves. “When we bought the house at auction, we felt as though we had signed up to living in the middle of nowhere. Ludlow wasn’t famous then,” says Tracey, “and it certainly hadn’t achieved gastronomic or Slow status. Now we find ourselves just five miles away from the mecca for fresh food and passionate retailers. Best of all, there are no McDonalds or shopping malls.” Ludlow is now recognised as the Slow Food capital of the UK, it has also achieved Slow City and Fairtrade status. The town with over 500 listed buildings hosts a famous annual food extravaganza, supports scores of artisan producers, superb butchers, enlightened retailers and a monthly farmers’ market. Tracey and Alex grow their own fruit and have chickens and
and whatever else they need they get from local suppliers. Jams and bread are homemade, and food integrity can be measured in egg-metres rather than food miles. The wine list is interesting – as you’d expect – the gin with your tonic is organic and Tracey’s food is likely to be delicious; they will start serving dinner once the new dining room is ready. Chicken-liver parfait to start with, local lamb roasted with buttery asparagus, and blackberry and apple crumble to finish. Or perhaps Stinking Bishop cheese and homemade ice cream. They are brilliant hosts, for whom nothing is too much trouble. The interest in doing things well reaches into other corners of their lives. There is heat and hot water from a sustainable source, wood-burners too, a compost heap, energyefficient light bulbs and other ecological devices. “You have to put your money where your mouth is,” says Tracey. Stacked outside are logs for the fire: hawthorn and other wood taken from the hedgerows. Alex enjoys his foraging and chopping the way other men enjoy their computers – probably more. The inside of the house is as lovely as the outside, with touches of carefully considered luxury in curtains and quilts. There is a 231
large family room upstairs in the top of one of the old cottages, a handsome bathroom with a huge tub and a walk-in shower lined with Welsh slate. Children revel in the cosiness of the separate bedroom in the eaves. At the other end of the house is a fine double room. And there are numerous touches that might bring a smile to a face: charming old country pieces, books tucked into unexpected places, handles and catches devised by craftsmen, an Indian kilim on aged oak boards, a straw hat on a whitewashed wall. Tracey’s Chicken Liver Pâté Serve with toasted bread, a few mixed leaves and some tomato chilli jam or red onion marmalade. 500g (1lb) fresh chicken livers 1 large spanish onion, roughly chopped 250g (8oz) butter 1 clove of garlic, chopped 1–2 rashers rindless bacon, chopped 1 bay leaf and some mixed herbs Glug of red wine, slug of port, dash of brandy • Cut out any tough bits in the chicken livers, wash and pat dry • Gently fry onion in a little of the butter then add garlic and bacon and stir • Add livers and bay leaf and fry until livers are pink. • Add herbs, red wine, port and brandy and cook, stirring, for a further 3-4 minutes • Remove from heat, add half the butter and allow it to melt, then cool slightly and blitz in a food processor • Pour into one shallow dish or ramekins. Place in fridge to set. Once cool, melt remaining butter and pour a little over each of the dishes to make airtight Wending your way down the wooden walkway to the bottom of the garden you come across the retreat – part Balinese, part English seaside hut and built around the four hop poles that Alex secured into the ground in an act of random but symbolic determination. The retreat has no TV, just a big bed, a tiny kitchen and a bathroom. It is the family’s favourite place, for there you can catch the morning
sun on one side and the evening sun on another. Pour your wine, light the little barbecue and watch the sun go down. For them it is their ‘going away’ place. Tracey’s suggestions for the slow life are simple... Choose to see the glass half-full, plant something you can harvest, take a country walk, do a good deed every day, think of five things that make you smile, take a few deep breaths and exhale slowly, take the time to cook a proper meal, sit down at the table to eat as a family, switch off the TV, drink good wine, put on some music and dance! At the far end of the garden is a little pavilion, where Tracey – now a trained Bowen Technique therapist and reflexologist – can minister unto her visitors. (The Bowen technique involves light moving of hands over muscles, devised to aid men in Australia returning home with war injuries.) There is also an infra-red sauna, whose health benefits include detoxification and weight loss. Jack and Alfie, the two little boys, bring the place to extra life. They have a play area with sandpit and evolving treehouse, and boundless enthusiasm. What is even more special is that they readily sweep visiting children into their circle of friendship. Hotels and B&Bs are not always free and easy with their wellies, bikes and binoculars. Tracey and Alex are, and, though you may relax in the garden with a good book, there is more to do in this area than an army of visitors could absorb – castles, gardens, hill walks, the races and Ironbridge Gorge. In the shadow of Clee Hill, you can take off straight from the door in almost any direction on foot, up hedge-rowed lanes fringed with cow parsley. “This is the life style we have chosen. We wouldn’t be welcoming people into our home if we didn’t love it.” That is Tracey talking, but they both feel it.
Tracey Baylis Timberstone B&B, Clee Stanton, Ludlow, SY8 3EL • 3 rooms. £60-£80. Singles £30-£40. • Dinner, 3 courses, £22; 4 courses, £26. Licensed. • 01584 823519 • firstname.lastname@example.org • www.timberstoneludlow.co.uk 233