Hotel Review: The Vicarage Freehouse & Rooms, Cranage in Cheshire
When I think of Cheshire, a relaxing weekend in the countryside with the dogs isn’t the first thing that springs to mind. In fact, the first image that pops into my head is one of expensive cars, sprawling mansions and whatever else a premier league footballer desires from their country playground. But, Cheshire was to be our playground for an autumnal weekend in September – and it didn’t disappoint. It’s a beautiful county of rolling hills, woodland walks and fields of roaming cattle and sheep stretching as far as the eyes can see. As well as ticking the ‘picturesque setting’ box, the location is also extremely convenient. Just half an hour’s drive from Manchester, Cheshire is accessible and well-located for city-goers looking for a quick and brief escape, to southerners hoping for a change of scenery.
We were the latter and we’d ventured north of the Watford Gap to see what was on offer in The North. Even the weather Gods were smiling down on us and, despite an unpredictable forecast, we were welcomed to Cheshire by cold, crisp but sunny blue skies. As our weekend plans were set around our dogs – Archie and Sammy – this came as a welcome surprise.
As more and more people choose to holiday at home and include their four-legged friends, a wider range of B&Bs, holiday cottages and hotels are joining the dog-friendly club. And that means that just because you’re holidaying with your pooch, you needn’t compromise on luxury!
The Vicarage is geared up to welcoming dogs while also making sure the two-legged guests feel at home. There are designated dog-friendly areas in the restaurant so you can dine and drink with your pet by your side – and some of the rooms and suites are happy to have your dog to stay too, even providing doggy bags on arrival – with a walking map, poo bags and treats inside. Archie and Sammy were very excited by their own goodie bag each (mainly the treats) and this was a lovely touch illustrating how the owners, Flat Cap Hotels, have had dogs at the forefront of their minds, instead of as an afterthought.
We started our relaxing weekend with a sweet treat. Sun streamed into the bright, airy conservatory where we enjoyed our afternoon tea – with bubbles, of course. The table was set with pretty, flowery crockery and a three-tier cake stand soon arrived laden with bite-size sandwiches, mini cakes and delicious, home-baked scones straight from the oven. The sarnies were light and fluffy, and the cakes gave us the sweet kick and sugar injection we needed for our afternoon walk ahead. But the pièce de résistance was the warm, crumbly scone – and we were soon embroiled in the age-old debate: clotted cream or jam first!?
The Vicarage, a timber-framed Grade II-listed hotel, sits on the edge of the River Dane just outside the village of Holmes Chapel. It’s a lovely rural setting with an abundance of walks to enjoy nearby. Despite it’s location, sadly the countryside views from cosy suite were interrupted by a fast and busy road which, while failing to disrupt our peaceful evening’s rest, did somewhat mar the setting. However, the pretty 17th century building makes up for road interference as soon as you step over the threshold and into the flag-stone entrance hall which oozes charm and character. The original, three-storey building is whitewashed with large sash windows while lush vegetation clings to the exterior and climbs over the entrance porch. While the freehouse was bathed in sunshine during our visit, I secretly yearned to fast-forward a few months into the depths of winter. I imagine it as the perfect wintry retreat to curl up in the snug beside a roaring fire with a good book and a cheeky gin and tonic!
No matter the time of year, our signature suite – one of 26 ensuite rooms in the hotel – was the ideal base for my husband and I – and the dogs. The newly-refurbished guesthouse has been finished with a contemporary design and fashionable flare while the rooms each boast traditional features and vintage furniture. The enormous bed was beautifully presented and made me seriously consider skipping dinner and jumping straight in for an evening in front of the telly! But the showpiece of the suite was the vast wooden-floored, exposed brick bathroom with grand roll-top bath. I couldn’t wait to fill the tub to the rim with bubbles and sink into the warm water for a long, soothing soak. Unfortunately, it took almost my entire one-night stay to fill the bath! While I had all the time in the world, I was rather peckish – as were the pooches – and we didn’t fancy making it a midnight feast so I had to make do with only a waist-height bath. (The water pressure may need some attention!)
(Eventually) we were ready to head downstairs for dinner and made ourselves comfortable at an intimate table for two in the window – with the dogs sleeping at our feet (I was in awe that they were actually behaving themselves despite being surrounded by tempting smells, friendly diners and other pooches!) The ambient lighting and flickering candles gave the restaurant a warm glow, while background music (a corker of a playlist!) created a laid-back atmosphere complimented by clinking glasses, chattering friends and a busy, bustling vibe. Despite being full to bursting we received adequate attention from staff all of whom were friendly and hospitable. We spent some time perusing the menu – which was jam-packed with enticing dishes – trying to make a decision before opting for Cornish crab and chicken liver parfait to start. The crab was fresh, light and zingy with the perfect balance of citrus and chilli but I could have done with about three times as much Melba toast! For our entrées we enjoyed cod loin and steak – although it turns out sweet potato dauphinois is not to my taste – and pushed the boat out with a desert too, with lemon posset for myself and raspberry and Oreo ice cream for my husband.
While we enjoyed our three-course meal, the dogs enjoyed constant fuss and attention from passersby who all stopped to say ‘hello’ – even those without the company of a canine chum were clearly all pleased to have the dogs included. This was a scene that was repeated at breakfast, back in the conservatory, the following morning. Following a rejuvenating night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, it was off to explore more of what Cheshire had to offer. The dogs could barely contain their excitement!
As a self-confessed ‘crazy dog lady’ I always feel more at home in an environment in which dogs are as welcome as people. So for me (and my boys!), The Vicarage was the ideal home away from home.
Address: The Vicarage Freehouse & Rooms, Knutsford Road, Holmes Chapel, Cranage, CW4 8EF.
Phone: 01477 533393