You will not forget your arrival at Pear Tree Farm in Wigmore in Herefordshire in a hurry. You drive on windy-windey lanes that take you away from Ludlow into breathtakingly beautiful countryside, past orchards, black and white timbered houses and the imposing Georgian architecture of Elton Hall, sitting proudly behind its rippling, topiary yew hedge, till you finally arrive at the wooden gate of a 17th Century farmstead, hidden behind a very lush, green garden.
Jill Fieldhouse and Steve Dawson made Pear Tree Farm their home thirteen years ago, and about a decade ago decided to start a B and B business out of what was once a working farm. From bedroom windows are views of pear, apple, crab apple and plum trees, as well as a very flourishing herb and vegetable garden that Chef Jill uses in her cooking. In the distance, sheep graze on pastures criss-crossed by neatly trimmed native hedgerows, from where she picks brambles to make a breakfast fruit salad, jellies and jams.
Pear Tree Farm is the antithesis of the modern-day bland, beige and begrudging hotel chains that now proliferate all over this land. You come here for a very personal, attentive and genuine service that is thoughtful and kind. On arrival you are welcomed into a cosy drawing room where hot tea and homemade cakes await, served in and on vintage porcelain cups and saucers presented on embroidered linens. The wood burning stove crackles brightly while you peruse Steve’s enormous collection of books and Mol the Collie nudges you for copious attention and love.
You go to unpack in rooms that have been decorated in keeping with the house’s character. Timber frames, old ironmongery, nooks and crannies, trompe l’oeil paintings and flagstones floors: do take time to enjoy Pear Tree Farm’s interesting history, all relayed in documents in a leather attaché case that Steve has compiled to bring together brochures of the main attractions as well as the goings on at Wigmore Castle nearby.
Juxtaposed against charming, old features are all the mod cons a traveller could wish for: gleaming showers with boiling hot water, L’Occitane toiletries, starched linens, fluffy towels and bathrobes, scented candles, a torch by the bed, carefully selected bedside table books, plump cushions on upholstered chairs and blush pink garden sweet peas on your windowsill.
There are no signs telling you what not to do, there is no visitor’s book, no rooms you cannot enter or parts of the garden that are closed off. Their home is not a hotel, it is your home for the duration: hang out on the hammock with a gin and tonic or sit on the garden patio bench reading magazines whilst wild birds tweet, sing and flutter all around you.
Pre-prandial fizzy pink cocktails of damson or sloe gin and sparkling wine are served at 7.30 pm in the drawing room, where you meet the other guests that are staying the night. There is room for six people in total, in three bedrooms, and Steve remembers everyone’s name and how many times they have come to stay here. We met so many interesting people: a couple who live in Warwickshire but spend holidays in Scotland and who love growing and cooking food; a couple from Lancashire who love eating out and a couple from Nottingham, where the Hong Kong Chinese wife taught us an extremely interesting way to cook chicken with a ginger and spring onion sauce.
Steve and Jill know their territory very well: from the picture postcard towns of Presteigne, Knighton, Kington and Leominster to the foodie highlights of Ludlow, top eateries in the neighbourhood and destination shops not to be missed, their own daily experiences are a priceless repository of tourist information.
Menus are printed on charming little pamphlets which open to reveal a vignette of historical information about the noble Mortimer family that once ruled this wild land: we are, after all, in the backdrop of border Marches country, the 14th Century home of thieving, marauding Welsh peasants set in violent battle against warring law lords and knights.
At around 8 pm we are all sat in a cornflower blue dining room, at an old oak table surrounded by cut crystal glass wine goblets, oil paintings of ancestors and silver candlesticks. Steve ensures that whatever wine you have chosen from the list is brought to the right temperature for you as he slices into his own homemade sourdough or seeded bread loaves. From the butter to the meat, fish, vegetables, eggs and cream every ingredient is locally sourced with care and research by Jill.
On our first night we feasted on a dainty dressed crab timbale with garden salad, juicy roast leg of Welsh lamb with Pear Tree Farm chilli perry jelly, rosemary potatoes and ratatouille with a jewel coloured Herefordshire summer pudding and crème fraiche for dessert. On the second night came a velvety smooth pea and mint soup, a very tender Berkshire Black pork tenderloin in a sweet and rich Armagnac jus followed by an accomplished pear frangipani tart.
The level of cooking is high: with no expense spared, excellent ingredients are either sourced locally or grown on the plot and they are treated with artisanal respect and skill.
As you sit in the drawing room with post-prandial teas, coffees, liqueurs, Turkish Delight and chocolates, the log fires burn on into the night as you plot away and list the activities of the following days. Even a whole week is not enough to do justice to all the attractions nearby.
Don’t miss out on the breakfasts: my husband, a man prone to little and infrequent gushing, declared it to be the very best he has ever eaten: perfect sausages, eggs, bacon, vine tomatoes and field mushrooms served with Steve’s toast. Or you might prefer the daily made fruit salads or local juices and homemade jams.
The property does sit on an A road, so if you are very particular about noise you may hear the rumble of lorries and cars at odd moments. But you most probably will not notice as you will be too engrossed looking at just how many pears are growing on the trees, how beautiful the roses and geraniums are, how old-fashioned and charming it is to see an honesty bar in the hallway or how quiet and peaceful the guest rooms are, cossetted like inner-chambers of comfort and calm.
The harshest part is leaving: your hosts put so much work and attention into ensuring your stay is relaxing, you are lulled into an immobile, soporific state. Memories of Pear Tree Farm will linger long after your car is set homeward bound. It is a very special place.
Pear Tree Farm
Hereforshire HR6 9UR
Telephone: 01568 770140
E-mail: [email protected]