Located between the north Shropshire towns of Wem and Market Drayton, just a short hop from the Welsh border, is a corner of the English countryside that has been drawing visitors since the 18th Century.
Today, the name Hawkstone survives in three local attractions and landmarks - Hawkstone Hall, Hawkstone Park Follies, and the adjoining Hawkstone Park Golf Club. But back in the reign of Henry VIII, all of this was simply the manor of Hawkstone - a vast rural estate that included a ridge of rugged, wild sandstone bluffs
In 1556, wealthy merchant and one-time Lord Mayor of London Sir Rowland Hill bought the estate, establishing an aristocratic lineage that was to last 300 years. It was under Rowland’s descendants Richard and John Hill in the early 1700s that the story of Hawkstone as a major tourist attraction really starts.
Richard Hill, second baronet Hill, was a highly cultured and well-travelled man, with a keen interest in the art, culture and architecture of Europe. He initiated a series of projects that were to make Hawkstone famous. First, he built Hawkstone Hall - a grand country mansion that demonstrates the Georgian neo-classical passion for symmetry and proportion, together with a U-shaped design influenced by French Palais.
Second, he started a series of improvements to the grounds, not just around the Hall but out in the rocky wilds of the estate, that would continue for the next 100 years. Today, they are known as the Hawkstone Park Follies and are widely revered as a masterpiece of the naturalistic school of landscaping - the conscious attempt to weave in man-made elements seamlessly with the natural environment.
By the middle of the 1800s, the terraces, grottoes, tree-lined walks and exotic species of plant added to complement the naturally attractive craggy landscape were drawing in visitors from all over the country. But the Hill family’s ambition for their much-hyped country retreat overstretched their finances. By the end of the century, Rowland Clegg-Hill, third viscount Hill, was declared bankrupt.
The estate was broken up, the Hall destined to become a Roman Catholic seminary, the Follies left to become overgrown and forgotten.
A 21st Century Revival100 years on, and new ownership of both the park and the Hall have once again opened up this former playground of the rich and famous as a beautiful and novel tourist attraction.
Hawkstone Hall was acquired by Distinctly Hospitable Group Ltd in 2017, which set about converting the building into a luxury hotel and wedding venue. Today, it is hard to imagine a finer example of a quintessential English country retreat, steeped in tradition and history but with all the mod cons you expect from a premium hotel experience.
The Grade I-listed building has been lovingly restored with touches that will make any guest feel like royalty - gilded gold ceilings, magnificent staircases, four-poster beds and roll-top bath tubs. This is a place to stay when you’re in need of a little indulgence.
The hotel boasts a high-quality on-site restaurant and, most recently, it opened the Garden Spa and Gym, which offers day spa facilities as well as a full range of amenities for guests - indoor and open air hot tubs, sauna and steam room, sensory showers, floatation pods, foot baths, ice fountains and more.
The Hall itself is set in 88-acres of magnificently restored grounds, a series of beautifully appointed formal gardens and terraces perfect for a relaxing ramble or to sit out and enjoy the views. But to truly experience the full Hawkstone experience, don’t miss out on a visit to Hawkstone Park Follies.
Now privately owned, there is an entrance fee on admission and the park is still not fully open due to COVID restrictions - check out the website to check when it is opened and book tickets.
The park itself follows the line of rocky sandstone crags to the west of the Hall, overlooking the golf course and the long, slender expanse of water that is Hawk Lake to the north. This really is one of the most spectacular walks you could imagine, with something for all the family.
Kids love the various grottoes, gorges and clefts in the rock, many of which were purposefully expanded in the 18th century and put to various uses. Man-made caves and secret passageways thread through the sandstone, with one section used as a menagerie to house tropical birds.
Some of the more obvious human additions include the White Tower, a turreted folly originally intended as a shelter for walkers in bad weather, and the 100ft tall monument to Sir Rowland Hill, which has a viewing platform accessible from a 150-step spiral staircase and gives magnificent views of the surrounding countryside.
And to think that, until a few years ago, this gorgeous corner of the English countryside and all its history was largely forgotten about. You’ll be glad it has been restored to former glories if you make the trip.
A travel, beauty and lifestyle blog with the occasional afternoon tea by Angelina Belle
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