By Charles Starmer-Smith, The Telegraph’s Head of Travel
The house: It is rare that you walk into a stranger’s house and immediately feel at home. Even rarer when that home is an 18th-century Grade II-listed Georgian pile set in 750 acres of beautiful Welsh parkland.
Iscoyd Park has undergone a remarkable transformation in recent years, changing from a crumbling stately home that looked only to past glories into a stylish party pad that successfully blends the classic with the contemporary. It is not often I find myself agreeing with a floral-shirted dandy like Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, who made a programme on the house shortly after the Godsal family had completed the restoration, but he was right when he said it has a “lightness, brightness and a modernity that makes it feel very now.” Yes there are the requisite family portraits, grand staircase, dining room and library, four-poster beds and freestanding baths, but these are coupled with bold interiors, contemporary fabrics, mod cons, and even a touch of neon lighting.
The huge but “lived in” open-plan kitchen acts as the heartbeat of the property with its comforting Aga, immense oak table, sofas and roaring log fire, while the more formal dining rooms offer grandeur and fabulous views out over the grounds. Upstairs are nine beautifully appointed double bedrooms (more bedrooms await in outbuildings surrounding the main house) offering a style and sense of individuality that would put most five-star hotels to shame.
There is a great flow to the property, even when you enter the new wing. There multicoloured uplights offer a sensory experience as you head down a whitewashed corridor into the party zone of the house., where a fully stocked bar (a mixologist is available on request), surround-sound music system, disco lights and sizeable dance floor await.
Outside the vast grounds offer up a manicured croquet lawn and cricket pitch, walled gardens and intimate courtyards, with a boating lake straight out of a Jane Austen novel as their centrepiece. Beyond, sheep-strewn meadows and undulating forests stretch as far as the eye can see.
How it went: The owners, Phil and Susie Godsal, went out of their way to gather any requests in advance, offering up a huge choice of activities, treatments and fine-dining options. We almost felt guilty for settling on a less than hectic schedule of fine-dining, dancing and foraging. But with a venue like this at your disposal, there is no need for forced fun.
The Godsals were there to welcome us in person and we could not fail but warm to them as they explained why they took on such a daunting project. “We were both doing well in our careers in London but we knew it was now or never with Iscoyd – while we were young enough and had enough energy to take on the project,” said Phil.
It has certainly been a labour of love and they are looking to recoup the £1m-plus they have borrowed by using the house as a stellar wedding venue and weekend party pad for people of all ages.
The grounds are a nirvana for little nippers, with endless fields and walled gardens to explore, swings, trampolines and outdoor games to play, trees to climb and eggs to fetch from chicken coups. Babysitters are available and there is even a daytime creche on the estate. For parents it was a godsend allowing us some precious “me” time and the prospect of a guilt-free hangover.
By the early evening, with exhausted children long packed off to bed, we drifted out on to the terrace as our barman served up pre-dinner cocktails , while Rupert Fraser-Worden and his team from The Fine Dining Company took over the kitchen to prepare a five-course meal that raised catering to a new level. The highlights were the king scallops and tender local Welsh lamb; for wine, you can bring your own or choose from Phil’s extensive cellar. After dinner we decamped to the party wing, for some memorable cocktails and very forgettable dancing.
The next morning our hangovers were made tolerable by the arrival of staff who cooked up a full Welsh breakfast. Then it was off for an expedition with hirsute foraging and bushcraft expert, Richard Prideaux, who set about teaching this group of DFLs (Down From Londoners) some survival basics. Rival dens were built, fires lit, bugs found and wild plants eaten (the Dads were even more excited than the children) before returning to the house where a light buffet lunch had been laid on.
Standout feature: The highlight has to be the party wing – a neon-lit dance floor and proper bar stocking an array of spirits and mixers to rival any West End club, a great sound system that is far out of earshot of bedrooms and an honesty bar system that means there is no curfew.
Not so keen: The boating lake seemed to be a magnet for our gaggle of disobedient children, which raised the blood pressure at times, but that aside, what is not to like.
Who it’s good for: Friends, couples, corporate groups, families with children of any age. It is the perfect party house and wedding venue.
Sleeps: Up to 36 people, split across the main house and a handful of little cottages in the grounds. The eclectic second-floor rooms in the main house are the pick of the bunch. Re-imagined by interior designer Suzy Hoodless, they offer art work by Peter Doig and Alan Davie alongside floral wallpaper, animations and bold geometric designs, Neom Organics scents set on roll-top baths, contemporary fabrics laid across antique furniture and four-poster beds – but it really works. Wolvesacre Cottage on the edge of the estate offers four more double bedrooms, the Laundry Cottage has three and the Stable Yard offer two more.
The area: Slap bang on the Welsh/Shropshire/Cheshire border, the house is just a few miles from Whitchurch. There is an abundance of great pubs in the nearby villages; an outdoor activity centre, the Crocky Trail, is a short drive away but there really is no need to leave the grounds.
Getting there: The house is around 3.5 hours’ drive from London. By train, head for Whitchurch station (change in Crewe) which is just two miles from the house.
Cost and how to book: A two night mid-week stay at Iscoyd Park (020 3741 8040) with semi-serviced accommodation including breakfast on both mornings, part-time housekeeping and activity organisation for up to 18 guests in the main house costs from £5,850 (up to 5 extra single beds can be added upon request). From £6,750 for 28 guests with nine bedrooms in main house plus two en-suite rooms in Stable Yard and a three-bed cottage. A three-course dinner starts from £29.50 per person.
This article first appeared in The Telegraph on Friday 19 August 2016