The gates opened after I was greeted by a welcoming voice on the intercom. On a pleasant Tuesday morning, I drove past several golfers busy plotting their next shots, while others looked frustrated to be stuck in a bunker.
An avenue of trees lined the route as I continued and, after a good drive, I spotted a shimmering body of water with lilies floating on the surface.
It was an idyllic setting as I made my way along the narrow road to Hawkstone Hall and Gardens.
But, although the sights were beautiful around me, the real ‘wow’ moment came as the flawless façade of the 18th century mansion came into sight.
As if you belong in a Jane Austen novel, you can instantly understand why loved-up couples choose such a stunning backdrop for their dream wedding. Treasured memories to last a lifetime are made here.
And yet, with all its grandiose, the team at Hawkstone Hall is on a mission.
One aim is to let people know that the venue is more than just an incredible wedding location. The other is to welcome the Shropshire community in so they can enjoy the breathtaking surroundings as well.
As General Manager Angela Billings shows me around the hall’s serene gardens, she says: “The hall and grounds are open to the public and we are dog friendly. For those staying, we even have dog-friendly bedrooms, so if you don’t want to leave your pet at home, you can bring them here.
“We were, in fact, in a national publication for being one of the best hotels for being dog friendly. And we were in the top ten venues for afternoon tea outside London, according to The Times.
“But, as much as it’s lovely to have the national coverage and such recognition, I want people in Shropshire to appreciate what we have as well.
“Hawkstone Hall is on their doorstep. They don’t have to go far. We have this beautiful spot, in the middle of nowhere, which is ready to welcome them. It’s so secluded and you just have to buzz to be let in and enjoy a walk around the gardens. If there’s no exclusive event on, everyone is welcome.”
Before you even contemplate the internal beauty of Hawkstone Hall, the surroundings are a real picture.
They are also at the heart of plans for a more sustainable future.
During a walk, you come across the kitchen garden where gardener Steve Stott is busy pottering away, making sure plants, fruit and vegetables are all cared for. Delicious strawberries, rhubarb and a host of green salad leaves are visible and, Angela says, there are big plans.
“The kitchen garden is something we started in the last lockdown,” she says, enthusiastically. “We hope to be as self-sufficient as possible by 2025. We have taken delivery of 80,000 bees so we will be producing our own honey, which we will sell and also use in our kitchen and on our breakfast tables. So, we are planting seeds from which the bees will be able to collect pollen and ensure we get a good batch of honey.
“Our chef Jerome Turpin comes up and forages every morning. Everything we can possibly use in the kitchen we do.
“This can be anything from mixed leaves and spring onions in our salads to rhubarb which is pulled for our crumble or compote and even mint which we pick for our cocktails.”
The outdoor surroundings are also the venue for Hawkstone Hall’s Summer Garden Party, which returns on Bank Holiday Monday, August 28. Visitors will be able to enjoy quintessentially English garden traditions with music, entertainment, treasure hunts and more.
For food and drink, you can expect delicious barbecues, street food, an ice-cream van, Pimm’s and fizz stations, and even takeaway afternoon teas. There will be stalls run by florists as well as traders selling candles and perfume, food, jewellery and fresh produce.
“At our garden party last year, we had 1,200-plus people in attendance,” Angela explains. “We had live entertainment all day and a host of stall holders. We held raffles for charity and there were garden games for children. It was a wonderful day and we are looking forward to this year’s event.”
As we take a leisurely stroll back to the hall, passing an impressive new orangery gym – comprising Peloton bikes and Nord equipment – on the way, which was built during lockdown, members of a wedding party are getting ready to depart, full of smiles.
The hall itself is truly stunning – from the grandeur of The Chapel and beauty of the Winter Garden to the new Cave, a place for the groom to relax with family and friends before his big day.
It is like stepping into history, which of course you are. The house was built in around 1701 by Richard Hill of Hawkstone and remained in the Hill family until Rowland Clegg-Hill, the 3rd Viscount Hill’s death in 1895, forced the sale of the hall’s contents and the split up of the estate by 1906.
The house was sold to the Liberal politician George Whitely and was later acquired by the Roman Catholic Redemptorist Order and, until 1973, was a seminary.
While weddings are very much a major draw, there is so much more on offer, Angela explains.
And the experiences mean you will always feel like you are enjoying a special occasion.
“There is so much on offer here, aside from weddings,” Angela adds. “We have floristry workshops, for example, and a local historian – John Ruscoe – comes and does a talk while people enjoy an afternoon tea.
“What he doesn’t know about the history of Hawkstone and surrounding areas, you can write on the back of a postage stamp. He is fantastic.
“Our afternoon teas are popular and we have started doing murder mystery events in the ballroom. They are brilliant. It’s so dramatic and the actors put their heart and soul into those nights.
“There are a lot of things going on and we think up different things all the time such as baby showers, and we have plans for more corporate events.
“And Christmas is always a wonderful time. We do a festive afternoon tea with carols – a Welsh male voice choir comes in and sings in the chapel, which is beautiful.
“There’s also wreath making and we have a festive staycation, where people check in on Christmas Eve.
“There’s a wonderful Christmas Day breakfast, lunch and entertainment, such as falconry and a quiz in the snug.
“We have cocktail masterclasses and tasting sessions and we have had chocolatier classes in the past as well.
“We try to encompass as much of the building as we can and use our staff and their expertise.”
It’s such a wide variety of events which, Angela says, ensures she and her fellow staff love their jobs.
“We have a small team here but everyone is so dedicated and we all love what we do,” Angela adds. “Every wedding is different and every non-wedding day is different. It’s a lovely place to work and it’s all about delivering the perfect day, whatever the occasion.
“We just hope to see more of the wonderful community around us come and visit and experience more of the beauty they have near them.”