Our neighbouring county of Shropshire has so much to offer it should be next on your list of places to visit.

I confess, when planning a couple of nights away – the relax and recharge sort – I look north. The Lakes or the Ribble Valley has been my lazy go-to for many years, but I am now officially cross with myself for not looking at the next county down, Shropshire, after having enjoyed a marvellous bit of R&R in what is a truly beautiful location.

Even the journey to our accommodation was more beautiful than the journey along the M6 we usually have to ensure before arriving somewhere green and lush. Country lanes, rising hills, swathes of green dotted with sheep and cows, it was all wonderful to gaze up on a my husband concentrated on the road. We were heading to a cottage on the Marrington Estate, close to Montgomery, which is straight down from Oswestry, which in turn is straight down from Wrexham (which is, of course, straight down from Chester). Our cottage was just inside the English border, Montgomery the other. We were staying in Little Roundton, one of the small collection of beautiful holiday rentals offered by Marrington Escapes, which ranges from the stunning black and white ancient Marrington Hall, which sleeps 14 in considerable grandeur, to the bijoux, sleeps two, Annexe.

Great British Life: Let the lush green countryside of Shroipshire soothe your soulLet the lush green countryside of Shroipshire soothe your soul (Image: c. Marrington Escapes)

Little Roundton is a two-bedroom, two-bathroom, two-sitting room cottage (part of the larger Roundton Farmhouse, with an extra four bedrooms upstairs), with a vast kitchen, a spacious dining room and a hot tub – all with glorious views. Hubby loves a hot tub, so had big plans for long walks and long soaks. I love the enforced idleness of having nothing I need to do, nowhere I need to be and nobody I need to please (taxi, feed, finance...) so had my own big plans for tea, chocolate and binge-viewing. Bliss.

We did do a little investigating of the locale, of course and had it not been the coldest days of January would most certainly have planned a vineyard tour. Who knew?! There are in fact three vineyards right on Marrington’s doorstep, one of which, Kerry Vale is just ten minutes from the cottage and offers winery tours and wine tastings, running from May through the summer months.

Great British Life: Enjoy a silent night in the depths of ShropshireEnjoy a silent night in the depths of Shropshire (Image: c. Marrington Escapes)

Instead, Mike did his walk, looping around the estate, following the handily provided maps, and I did nothing at all, reclining in luxury on a vast sofa, with the log burner keeping me toasty and Netflix keeping me chill. Oh, there’s nothing like a true crime binge-watch on a Friday afternoon...

Whitchurch lies pretty much halfway between Marrington and our home town, so it was the obvious choice for a potter and lunch as we headed back to reality. It is also the home of Docket No. 33, a really quite fabulous restaurant.

Great British Life: Stuart Collins, chef at Docket No.33. Photo: c. Docket No.33Stuart Collins, chef at Docket No.33. Photo: c. Docket No.33

After a happy hour or so visiting some of the many lovely little independent retailers in Whitchurch, we received a warm welcome from Fran Collins, the front-of-house half of the couple behind Docket No. 33. Chef patron Stuart Collins, who you might remember from his successful journey to the regional finals in Great British Menu 2021, has an impressive CV, having trained with Gary Rhodes at Rhodes in the City, Michael Caines MBE at Gidleigh Park and Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road and Gordon Ramsay at The London NYC, before taking his first Executive Chef role back with Michael Caines at the opening of the Abode Hotel in Chester. At Docket No. 33 he has developed a tasting menu offering that has diners travelling from far and wide. It’s the only time I have enjoyed a tasting menu – a full ten courses, though you can opt for just five – on a lunchtime, but Stuart explained that having trialled it in a tentative fashion following lockdown, it soon caught on, bringing a new audience to the restaurant who like to while away an afternoon with great food (and optional wine flight) and then head home to put their feet up.

The menu varies weekly, influenced by the seasons and availability of ingredients, which Stuart sources from Shropshire, Cheshire and the Welsh Borders. When we went, in January, it was freezing cold and blowing a gale (I think it was Storm Isha, but let’s face it, January was wall-to-wall storms. The moment we stepped through the doors however, the warmth of the greeting from Fran and her team blew all that away, and then we saw the menu... Oh my.

Great British Life: Tiny baskets of deliciousness opened lunch at Docket No. 33Tiny baskets of deliciousness opened lunch at Docket No. 33 (Image: Kate Houghton)

Leading with a tiny, single mouthful gem of a dish, the whole experience was a delight. The menu descriptions don’t do the experience justice, leaving you intrigued but unenlightened. Then the dish arrives, with a full explanation of every element, and its inspiration, and then you get to eat it. Again, oh my.

After every course, we challenged each other to choose a favourite, so hard to do. Opening with potato wrapped in a beer batter croustade, with (somewhere, somehow) cucumber and dill, we decided anything would struggle to beat that. Then came the chickpea, chicken, saffron and chive, which teh server described as the Docket No. 33 ‘chip and dip’. The chip consisted of an unbelievably soft and smooth chickpea mash, wrapped in a fine as fine crust and rolled in Stuart’s own version of chicken salt (which he discovered travelling Australia and refined to a salty, umami, more-and-moreish deliciousness) shaped into a chip and ready to dip into a soft saffron-infused cream cheese. I’d drive to Whitchurch again just for a plate of those. Actually, I wouldn’t have to, Mike would drive us both.

Great British Life: The Docket No.33 'cuppa soup' - white onion with smoked bacon and spring onion, served with duck muffinsThe Docket No.33 'cuppa soup' - white onion with smoked bacon and spring onion, served with duck muffins (Image: Kate Houghton)

As we moved through white onion soup, a celebration of celeriac, pork with black pudding, tenderstem broccoli with an incredible turnip butter (I know, but trust me – amazing), venison, and two incredible desserts (who doesn’t need a pre-dessert in their life?) our ‘shall we try Shropshire?’ conversation proved to have been one of the best decisions we have ever made.

Beautiful surroundings, fabulous accommodation and oh my, that food. We love you, neighbour.

marringtonescapes.com, docketrestaurant.com