All-inclusives in erm... Telford
TOAST THE GHOSTS ON A SPIRITED GETAWAY
The all-inclusive hotel is finally here - and it's haunted. Perfect, finds Christian Koch, for a very cheap weekend away in, er, Telford this Halloween.
Metro, 14 October 2010
The all-inclusive resort. They’re supposed to be in destinations like Barbados, Bali and the Bahamas; places where you guzzle bottomless piña coladas while steel bands and cicadas hum in the background. You don’t expect them to spring up in Telford – the sterile Shropshire town famed for its roundabouts and spawning two members of T’Pau.
It’s all part of a recession-defying deal currently being offered by the Focus hotel chain. For just £79, you can spend two nights in a three-star-or-above hotel (in alluring settings as Wigan, Wolverhampton and Hull), get breakfast and a two-course dinner each day, plus unlimited house wine, draught beer and lager (Carlsberg and Tetley’s) and soft drinks between 7-11pm.
Built in the 1960s, Telford might be a “new town”, but Madeley Court (home to the all-inclusive deal) is old. Sixteenth-century old. Pulling up outside the Elizabethan manor house, nestled in Telfordonian countryside, you notice the walled gardens, mullioned windows and distinct paucity of tipsy guests urinating in plant pots. Inside, a lady gives you a slip of paper (no blue wristbands here) and the hotel’s décor begins to trigger fantasies about getting sozzled like some gluttonous old earl. The rooms have four-poster beds and wooden beams (the suite is preposterously spacious, with the bathroom filling an entire turret), while elsewhere, the hotel is all groaning oak doors, timber spiral staircases and paintings that casually observe your movements.
And yes, it is supposed to be haunted. One website lists Madeley Court as one of the “15 most haunted buildings on earth”, while spectral residents are said to include a forlorn-looking monk who glides across the grounds, some of his monastic colleagues sitting upon the cross beams plus the odd Victorian maid.
Still, drinking is what we’re for. We breeze into the conservatory bar dead-on-seven half-expecting to find stag parties hell-bent on liver rupture. Instead, there’s a few middle-aged couples glued to Sky Sports on the telly, with the odd pair of early-thirtysomethings hammering away on laptops, with the detritus of weekend papers spread around them. There’s also a lakeside patio, where you can drink al fresco listening to the folkloric singing of local anglers (okay, they were caterwauling American Pie, but still). Plus, like every good manor house, there’s a library – where you can take your drink, pick a dusty tome from the shelf and pretend you’re in Brideshead Revisited or something.
But the all-inclusive deal isn’t just about promiscuous boozing – there’s promiscuous eating to be done too. The all-inclusive weekender includes two trough-downs at Madeley Court’s candle-festooned Priory restaurant. Given the bargain-centric price, the food has mammoth portions and is actually, really nice. Venison sausages, slow-braised belly of pork and confit of duck all feature on the menu, although there is a supplement for some dishes (New Zealand mussels: £1.95).
All-inclusive plonk is usually of a middling, gut-corroding quality. But Madeley Court’s house wines include WillyBay chardonnay, a Merlot and Zinfandel rosé – all eminently quaffable.
Back at the bar, time edges towards 11pm, prompting a last-minute bar surge for the final gratis drink. Guests pile in from a local wedding, and despite the fact everybody is paying for drinks, the bar remains full until 1.30am.
Shortly afterwards, I accompany a friend back to their hotel room. We inch down a creaky corridor, turn on her room light, then… BANG! The lights blow. All except for a bedside lamp, which flickers on-and-off. “That must be the ghost again,” casually remarks the toolbox-wielding night-watchman, who pops up minutes later.
Whether he’s serious or not, such spooky shenanigans force the room’s occupant into needing (yet another) stiff drink, so bar-wards it is. Until 4am.
Providing you’re willing to eat and drink in the same place for two nights running, Madeley Court’s all-inclusive deal offers unequivocal value-for-money. It’s nowhere near the horrendous experience the words “Telford” and “all-inclusive” might suggest. Just like the ‘tourism apartheid’ of their more sun-kissed cousins (whereby guests rarely venture past the security gate), there is usually enough at Focus hotels to keep guests occupied – swimming pools, golf courses, a nearby monkey forest – despite their prosaic locations. But unlike Caribbean resorts, you won’t spend your stay hiding from fat Canadians by the buffet counter. It’s just the light-tampering ghosts you need to be aware of…