Last week I spent more time in Wales, as part of one of the projects I am working on. As it is a seven hour track from my home to the point in Wales where this project runs I have to stay over. I take a train from Norfolk to London King’s Cross, take the tube to Paddington Station and then catch another train to Cardiff. Once in Cardiff I leave the station at the back entrance where the car park is and walk across to a car hire place where I’ve booked a car and then drive for another two hours before I arrive in Pembrokeshire. So yes, this place of work is quite the other site of the country from where I live, in Norfolk. I do most of the work from my desk in my room, but have to attend meetings and workshops and carry out interviews in Wales.
Twice before when I went over for meetings I had stayed in a long-established, rather old and rambling hotel in the centre of town. The food was good, but the ambience of the hotel felt slightly out of focus, however pleasant the staff; the last time I stayed I barely slept. The beds are old and cranky, the blankets, no duvet, from a bygone era and the TV channels non-existent as the TV never seems to work properly. Reading my book is made difficult due to very bad and yellow lighting, never in that part of the room that you need it, and there was no internet access, so I could not while away time by surfing blogs either or even do some more internet research.
When I had to go again last week, I decided to make a change and after searching the internet booked myself into what was called a Country Park Hotel, the description on the website sounded very promising. Modern, comfortable, quiet, what else does one want? Slebech Park is on the banks of the Pembrokeshire River Cleddau. The area is a tidal estuary formed by the western and eastern Cleddau with the Cresswell and Carew rivers. It was time to do something different.
Wonderful information about the hotel and its surroundings were available in my room in a carefully typed out document that gave information on the Park, the islands, coastal paths and the something called the blue lagoon, birds and bats and seals. Slebech, the document informed me, is the home of seven different species of bats, resident at various times of the year and although I did not hear any when I stayed, the brochure marvelled that you can see them flying in the courtyard in early evening, when it’s warm. Well, it was not that warm when I stayed, still March and this winter has not exactly been mild. So I missed the bats.
Nevertheless, this was a true find of a hotel: a brand new brick complex, built with European funding it seemed, that is a sprawling complex of apartments and luxury rooms with internet access in all rooms; the internet access was a nice surprise as the place is completely outside any lived-in areas and surrounded by mud, water and wooded land. When I arrived, having left the main road and driven some miles along a fairly narrow country lane that was completely deserted and that wound its way through the still bare landscape and leafless trees, I thought I had come to a deserted farm-house or park entrance but there was a smallish parking area and a sign that directed me to the reception cum estates office. Farm equipment stood deserted in a muddy courtyard and I went up some steps and entered a similarly deserted office. A note invited visitors to dial zero on the telephone for attention, if no one was in the office, and having done this the manager hurried inside after a few more silent minutes and apologised.
The man asked about my journey, rumbled through some files and found my name and registration, then picked up my overnight case and asked me to follow, across a cobbled courtyard with a restaurant entrance on the left. All buildings looked new, solid and comfortable, red brick. The restaurant would open at seven, he said, and asked if I would like to eat there? I wondered out loud whether I was the only guest that night, but no, he said, definitely not and I should not worry as there were others and the restaurant would be open. He would inform staff that I would eat there.
He unlocked one of the doors off the courtyard and we entered a modern and very pleasant apartment, up some stairs with two rooms off a communal sitting area with a sofa and coffee table and a large flat screen TV; a kitchenette with all mod cons such as microwave, large fridge freezer and kettle was part of this open plan space. Then he opened one of the doors and showed me a pretty impressive executive style bedroom. ‘Full internet access’, he said proudly. ‘Just turn on your computer and you’re in.’
‘No one else staying in this block tonight’, he said. ‘It’s all yours. Other guests are in the other apartments and rooms.’
He vaguely waved a hand to indicate the rest of the buildings around the courtyard. He discreetly disappeared again, giving me the key to the apartment.
Dinner was served by two young people, pleased to have someone to look after. They put nuts, water and wine in front of me and left me to read my book, only interrupt me to ask what I’d like to eat, and presented me with a smallish plate of ‘compliments of the chef’ and then the food. There were two more guests in the restaurant, business men with a continental accent, Belgians I gathered from the number places on the car in the car park the next morning. I wondered how this establishment could keep going such a first class service for such a small clientele. Brochures invited guests for wedding celebrations, conference facilities and other events. I wished I could stay for a quiet retreat of a week or so, just reading and writing.
After dinner I retreated to my room and having made sure I knew my presentation for the next day, I read about what this country park hotel was about. I read about Caste Island (a tumulus on the other side of the harbour, possibly a defence for the inlet), Dog Island (a tumuli in the harbour with 19th century dog graves), which only become real islands when there are the right tides.
I had really found a treasure of a place, luxurious, quiet and inviting, a place to stay not just for one night but for a week or even longer. Sometimes work provides you with these surprises: when you stay somewhere that is different. But you have to look for these places and I happened to find one last week. It’s just a shame it is such a long distance away, but for anyone wanting to explore the outer shores of Wales, this is really a place to visit: Slebech. And if you do go, then take a book and especially your note-book. It is a very inspiring place.