Wolsely Lodges: British Bed & Breakfasts with a Family Welcome

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The Bed and Breakfast is one of Britain’s favourite types of accommodation: choose a Wolsey Lodge to be welcomed into the family

Charlie and Lily at Letham House
Charlie and Lily at Letham House

When King Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, toured the realm in the 16th century, he expected his hosts at country houses en route to provide sumptuous hospitality. The Ipswich-born butcher’s son also graciously tucked into the very best food they could offer. Today, you might not travel Britain’s roads with a Tudor cardinal’s pomp and ceremony, but you can certainly enjoy the warmest of welcomes from a consortium of upmarket B&Bs that perpetuates his name.

Wolsey Lodges is a collection of private homes full of character whose owners open their doors to paying guests and entertain them as family and friends. Set up in 1981 in the same Ipswich area where the epicurean Lord Chancellor had his roots, the network has grown to some 200 members reaching right across the UK from Cornwall to the Scottish Highlands, and seven locations in France.

“Every home is individual, ranging from historic country houses to restored cottages and rustic farmhouses, from Georgian mansions to Victorian rectories,” explains Angela Rouse, Wolsey Lodges Operations Manager. You will find comfortable, elegant, quality accommodation and special touches like fragrant bathroom bubblies and freshly-baked biscuits in bedrooms. Above all, Angela says, hosts provide a very personal experience. Generous breakfasts are a hallmark and many Wolsey Lodges also offer supper or dinner. “Often guests dine together around the same table en famille,” Angela adds. “It’s a really good way to relax, to chat and share local knowledge about the area.”

Your hosts, Poppy and Graham, at Uplands
Your hosts, Poppy and Graham, at Uplands

Guests at historic Uplands House (5-star gold) near Banbury, home of Poppy Cooksey and Graham Paul, “come as strangers and leave as great friends,” Poppy confirms. When people arrive, she gives them a lovely tea by the fire or, in summer, on the terrace in Uplands’ beautiful garden – maybe a prelude to touring gardens in the area like Kiftsgate, Hidcote and Sezincote.

Poppy and Graham opened their home to visitors in 2004, to see if they would enjoy being hosts. It turns out they did – and guests love their country house hospitality, which includes three bedrooms with views over parkland or the rose garden.

Join Poppy and Graham for dinner (usually featuring produce from their organic kitchen garden and local farm shops) and conversation flows. “We get such a mix of people around the table – we’ve had people from very different backgrounds and from around the world – and everyone gets on like a house on fire,” Poppy says.

Chat frequently turns to Poppy and Graham’s fencing exploits, too: both competed in the Olympics and are recent world champions, and they hope to become veteran world champions again this year. “

Evenings pass very merrily,” she says. “Every visit is bespoke to our guests. We give warmth, comfort, friendliness and kindness.”

The Hill on the Wall
 The Hill on the Wall

Elaine and Dick Packer, who live at The Hill on the Wall (5-star gold), Gilsland in Cumbria, “go the extra mile” quite literally to make sure their visitors feel welcome. Their 16th-century fortified farmhouse is splendidly located just 300 yards from Hadrian’s Wall Path at Birdoswald, and many of those who come to stay are exploring the 84-mile National Trail in the footsteps of Roman legionaries who once guarded the world famous boundary.

“There have been one or two rescue missions since we came to live here eight years ago, when walkers have underestimated distances and we have driven to pick them up,” Elaine smiles. Tea and cake soon revive spirits. “I’m a sociable person and I like looking after people,” Elaine says.

She makes sure boots and clothes are dry in time for the following day’s adventures and sets visitors up with a hearty breakfast, including smoked haddock fishcakes with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce, tomatoes, mushrooms and more – hopefully they can still bend down to put on their boots!

Cairness House
 Cairness House

North of the border in Scotland, Julio Soriano-Ruiz and Khalil Hafiz Khairallah invite guests to indulge in the luxury of 18th-century Cairness House (TBC) at Lonmay, Aberdeenshire. What a feeling of grandeur as you stroll up to their home – a supreme example of neoclassical architecture by James Playfair – and into rooms themed as temples: the Dining Room, aptly enough, as the Temple of Bacchus.

Magnificent 17th-century Letham House (5-star) at Haddington, a short drive from Edinburgh, tempts as another elegant break. Chris and Barbara Sharman even provide you with a guest kitchen in case you fancy midnight snacks, and you’ll soon make friends with their adorable Haflinger horses and donkeys when you explore the grounds.

Or maybe you fancy stepping into the age of Shakespeare, at Shakespeare House (5-star gold), Grendon Underwood, Buckinghamshire. The Bard reputedly stayed here several times when travelling between Stratford and London.

Shakespeare House
Shakespeare House

“It was known as the Ship Inn at the time and had 21 letting rooms,” explains host Nick Hunter. He brims with enthusiasm as he tells you further local tales about the Bard possibly gaining inspiration here for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Last summer they staged Romeo and Juliet in the garden and plan another production this year.

As regards hospitality, poor Shakespeare’s basic bed-and-board fell far short of the treat on offer since Nick and partner Roy Elsbury oversaw their home’s restoration. Property developers and interior designers by trade, they have married old and new in their signature classic contemporary style. The Jacobean staircase in treacle-dark oak, original beams and inglenook fireplaces nod across the ages at imaginative modern trappings – The Shakespeare Suite has a walk-in shower room with body jets. Nick and Roy thoroughly enjoy cooking up feasts for visitors and sharing their home. “The biggest buzz is meeting different people. In just 16 months we have welcomed guests from 25 different nations.”

Meanwhile, where better to stay for relaxation and scrumptious food than

Sarah Worrall at Launceston Farm
Sarah Worrall of Launceston Farm

a farm?

Launceston Farm (5-star) is peacefully set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty near Blandford in Dorset. “We are ideally placed for nano-breaks, two hours out of London,” Sarah Worrall says. “We give guests a piece of English countryside and, for couples, a romantic escape.” Sarah prides herself on serving cordon bleu dinners, with the family’s 800-acre organic farm providing delicious ingredients like Aberdeen Angus beef and kid meat from a flock of goats. Apples from the orchard feature in tasty crumbles and tarts.

“We opened six en suite bedrooms to guests as a way to help keep the house and farm flourishing,” Sarah says. “Lots of people are interested in the farm and my son Jimi enjoys giving them tours.” Like all Wolsey Lodges, it offers a truly individual experience.

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