In the UK we're lucky to have so many dog friendly places on our doorstep, but this can make choosing where you decide to holiday a bit of a challenge - city or rural, adventurous or relaxing - when you narrow down what you want to do (or not), the task then is to find the right place for you.
Recently K9 Magazine was offered the chance to spend a few days at Premier Cottages' Eaton Manor in Shropshire in one of its luxury self-catering cottages and we knew just who to call upon to give us their thoughts - fellow dog owner and new mum, actress Sarah Jayne Dunn.
As we drove down the dark country roads of Shropshire into a small valley, we saw twinkling lights in the distance and I knew our decision to get away the last weekend before Christmas was the right one.
When we first booked our long weekend away to Eaton Manor I’d been slightly dubious about going away so close to Christmas with questions like 'would all the shopping be done?', 'would all the food, most importantly Turkey be ordered?', 'would presents be wrapped and the tree be up in time?' racing around my mind. But I needn’t have worried. This break came at the perfect time and was a wonderful excuse to unwind and leave the stresses of preparing for Christmas at home.
Eaton Manor is a beautiful country estate located in the Shropshire Hills. It is award winning and it doesn’t take you long to discover why. Just the drive up to our cottage is enough to feel our shoulders lower ever so slightly in anticipation of the relaxation to come.
We were booked to stay at the Garden Cottage, one of many properties of varying sizes available on the estate. On arrival at the cottage, we were greeted with a whole homemade Victoria sponge cake and a bottle of red wine, what a welcome! After sampling the cake immediately and pouring a large glass of red, we explored our home for the weekend.
The property has been renovated to an exceptional standard, from the underfloor heating throughout (Ming Ming was a particular fan of this, flopping her belly onto the toasty floor at every opportunity) to the stone wall features and oak beams. The attention to detail is superb.
The kitchen is fully equipped with everything you could ever need for a weekend away including all essential utensils, pots and pans, tea, coffee and a selection of herbs and spices. We were also advised in our pre-visit email, that we could place a shopping order from a selection of online retailers where our shopping could arrive before us and would be unpacked by the team. We chose to do this and found all of our shopping packed away and placed in the fridge ready and waiting when we arrived.
This really did make it a truly home from home experience and took away the stress of having to stop for food on the way to our destination or having to immediately find the nearest store.
As Eaton Manor knew we were travelling with both a dog and a small child, a selection of optional extras had been added for our stay. For Ming Ming - a dog bowl, towel, blankets, treats and poo bags and for our 5 month old baby, Stanley - a travel cot, changing mat, bottle steriliser, night light, baby bath and bath toys!
Knowing these essential items were already waiting for us made such a difference to packing for our weekend away. It lightened the load in the car and gave us several fewer things to think about, which in turn gave us peace of mind. Anyone with kids, or dogs, will know that the less you need to take out of the house when you leave, the better!
Our cottage had two bedrooms, one small en-suite room with a single bed and one huge double room with a stunning old wooden four-poster bed and a large separate bathroom (handwash was provided in both bathrooms).
There is a TV in each bedroom, a hairdryer and hidden away in our wardrobe were two large fluffy dressing gowns - it seemed nothing had been overlooked!
The walkway down to the bedrooms had windows all down one side overlooking the courtyard section of our huge private garden giving ample light to the cottage, even in the dark December months.
The living space, dining area and kitchen are all open plan giving a really nice flow to the property and a roomy feel.
On either side of the living room were large french doors out onto the private courtyard on one side and the huge garden on the other.
We also discovered a large selection of books to read as well as a visitors book to both peruse where we could read about previous guests stays and complete ourselves for the next guests to read. This was a really lovely little touch to help you get a real feel for the cottage, location and to read recommendations of local places to visit from those who have come before.
Ming Ming enjoyed the garden tremendously. She wasted no time in exploring to her heart’s content taking in all the new smells and we could rest easy knowing that the private, enclosed garden was secure and safe for her to claim as her own for the weekend.
Once we were settled and had eaten half of the cake and enjoyed some of the wine, we strolled down to the on-site office to meet Laura, a member of the team. She showed us around the rest of the estate and to the huge on-site games room.
This is fantastic space where you could easily spend hours enjoying the pool and snooker tables, dart boards, board games and much more, including a younger children’s play area. The room is open 24 hours too! We didn’t have the need to make use of this space during our stay but can see that it would be a godsend if you travelled with older children or could be lots of fun if you were staying with a group of friends.
We wandered the short walk back to our cottage in the dark admiring the clear night and uninterrupted view of the night sky, before finishing the wine and tucking ourselves up in our four-poster bed for a disrupted night’s sleep, thanks Stanley!
Luckily we’d both pre-booked massages the next morning with the masseuse at the on-site beauty spa. The spa is a five-minute walk back uphill and the treatment was very relaxing.
Jon went for his massage first whilst I took the short 10 minute drive into the nearby town of Church Stretton, to pop to the local shops for a couple of forgotten food items (chocolate, crisps and crumpets). This is a historic market town with all the amenities you could ever need including a supermarket, pharmacy, butcher, cafes and more.
On my return, I strolled up the hill with Stanley in his swanky new ‘Hybrid’ Pram which was getting it’s first road test for the weekend and waited outside the spa taking in the beautiful scenery. I was instantly calmed and relaxed by the wonderful views on offer from this spot with the valley sprawled out below me and the hills to the front.
After my massage and suitably zenned out, I headed back to our peaceful cottage to further unwind with a cup of tea whilst discovering what else our location had to offer.
In the cottage there were two information folders packed with everything you could ever need or want to know about your holiday home and it’s surroundings, including a selection of local takeaways if you don’t want to make use of the kitchen.
With your welcome letter you are provided with a ‘What’s on’ guide giving you details of local events and activities for the dates of your stay. There are maps for local walks, both long and short, with many to chose from with walking time, classification and terrain information for all.
As we had the baby and pram we chose to do one of the shorter walks down to a local farm, which was perfect. We walked back up the hill and along the quiet road to a farm full of animals at our final destination. This pleased Ming Ming who was able to nose the ponies through the fence and huff at the chickens. Stanley was less impressed choosing to sleep for the whole duration.
The walk took us approximately 45 minutes, meaning we wandered back to the warmth and comfort of our cottage just as dark was closing in.
Article continues below >>
Little did Ming Ming know that now was time for her quarterly wash. With a handy dog wash station on the estate, we chose this time to scrub her down and wash away all the mud from our stroll. This is an excellent facility to have if you travel with dogs.
Ming Ming is quite easy to keep clean and dry off after a wet or muddy walk, as she doesn’t like puddles or rain, however, I imagine if you are travelling with a larger dog or one that loves a roll in the dirt, then this would be a lifesaver. It also proved very useful for us to rinse off the wheels of Stanley’s pram before taking it back into the cottage.
Outside the cottage is a small specially designated poo bag bin - another excellent idea to save you searching for a bin while out and about.
The cottage is equipped with a DVD player and wifi which meant that once Stanley was tucked up in bed we could watch ‘Finding Nemo’ and browse online to plan our trips out for the following day.
On Sunday we decided to go with the advice of our Eaton Manor masseuse and visit the nearby National Trust location of ‘Carding Mill Valley and the Long Mynd’.
It did not disappoint. Just a short 15 minute drive away we were both gobsmacked by the breathtaking views across the heathland and stunning Shropshire hills. We started our walk by grabbing coffee and hot chocolate at the cafe. Then when we were all wrapped up warm, we strolled through the park.
Dogs are allowed on a lead and Ming Ming was suitably happy to meet some new doggy friends taking in even more new smells. We took Stanley in his pram, however, this cut our walk short as the tracks only lead so far before getting very bumpy, muddy and uneven, if we were to revisit we would take the baby in his baby carrier.
Before heading back to our new home we decided to try out one of the local, recommended 'dog friendly’ pubs for a quick drink to warm us up. We chose 'The Ragleth Inn’.
I’m sorry to say that this was the one and only disappointing part of our weekend. The second we walked through the door (which branded a sticker claiming ‘dog friendly’) we were told dogs were not allowed and that they had no tables. When we said we only wanted a quick drink and that they’d been recommended because they were dog friendly, we were met with a cold and unfriendly response that dogs were not allowed.
Needless to say we left immediately. We were so upset and put out by the ‘welcome’ that we chose to head straight back to the cottage where we knew for certain that Ming Ming was allowed. The welcome (and floor) was warm and of course, there was a cake that needed to be finished off.
There are plenty of other recommended pubs nearby, we unfortunately made a bad choice but please don’t let this put you off.
Once back in our abode, we cooked dinner and made the most of relaxing for our final evening before heading home the next morning.
There are so many things we didn’t get round to doing on our visit to Eaton Manor, including many walks, using the games room, swimming in the pool (which is open between April and October) relaxing in our huge garden, which on a mooch around with Ming Ming I discovered extends beyond what you can see from the cottage and had a gate which leads to another huge garden area and down to a brook. I can imagine it would be just beautiful in warm weather.
Eaton Manor is perfect for couples, families, large groups, celebrations, hen do's and they even offer a catering service for occasions such as these. There are many activities that can be added to your stay including archery, dance workshops and even magic shows!
We loved it so much, that after gushing about our visit to my mum, she booked a weekend there as a surprise for my dad for Christmas. I genuinely can’t find anything negative to say about our experience at Eaton Manor and we would certainly visit again in a heartbeat, it has everything - location, facilities, character, charm, peace and cake - what more could you wish for.
Thanks to Eaton Manor and Premier Cottages for their hospitality for this review!