Mere Brook House - the farm to fork rural retreat in the Wirral
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 October 2017
Mere Brook House at Thornton Hough on the Wirral is a high-end B&B with a difference, discovers Martin Pilkington
In 2004 Lorna Tyson was made an MBE for services to rural enterprises in the Northwest, in particular for her pioneering work helping farmers. Her expertise helped many farmers face the big task of diversifying, developing innovative products and finding smarter ways to connect with their markets - something of a necessity in challenging times.
When four years later she retired after over 30 years at Myerscough College, Lorna decided to use that experience to set up a business that would work in tandem with the farm her husband, Donald, runs near Thornton Hough. Perhaps unsurprisingly it has proved hugely successful.
The couple bought the substantial Mere Brook House, set in four acres of grounds, a mile from the farm they lease from Lord Leverhulme, and set about turning it into a high-end B&B, though it’s much more than that, Lorna tells me.
‘It’s run in close conjunction with the farm, and a lot of what we do here is influenced by us being farmers, though my husband’s not just a farmer, he’s also a beekeeper with 40 hives spread over the two properties,’ says Lorna. ‘We grow a lot of vegetables, there are orchards here and at the farm, so we have the apples pressed at Dunham Massey to make juice bottled with our own labels, and last year we got some made into cider. We make all our chutneys and jams and honey, stew and freeze plums to use over the winter, buy our milk and cream from Bates the company that processes all our milk...’
Mere Brook House
Mere Brook Homemade
Head chef James Hutcheson
Tomek Lipinski inspecting the hives in the paddock
Friesian Holstein heifer calf grazing in the paddock
Apples in the orchard
Picking raspberries from the vegetable garden
Sous chef, Justyna Sijka picking raspberries for a apple and raspberry crumble
Pumpkins growing in the sunshine
Cucumbers growing in the vegetable garden
Beetroot from the vegetable garden
Patrycja Drazyk cutting courgettes in the vegetable garden
In short Mere Brook House is about using the best of what’s available locally, and much of that is home-grown or –made. ‘We also buy from great local producers and suppliers,’ continues Lorna, ‘so we serve Appleby’s Red Cheshire, and Cheshire Brie; and our bar features Trapper’s Hat beer brewed in Brimstage, the next village, and Tapper’s Gin from West Kirby, and Wirral Pink Dog Gin.’
The B&B side of the business began with four spacious and beautifully decorated rooms in Mere Brook House itself in 2009, to which four more were added in the now adjoining cottage in 2012. ‘What we try to do is be different, so there are no set check-in times, no fixed hours for breakfast, no massive sign at the gate, that’s all part of the ethos of making it truly homely, and treating every guest as individual.
‘When people book we try to find out why they’re coming to the area. Quite a few are here to attend weddings locally, so they often appreciate early check-in to shower and change beforehand. Some others are coming for treatment at Clatterbridge Hospital, and they can need late breakfast and restful quiet during the day. Business guests might need a very early breakfast and check-out.’
Home-made cakes and biscuits (delicious) are available free for guests to help themselves, and the kitchens are fully equipped for them to make their own evening meal, or microwave one of those cooked on the premises and frozen if they prefer. ‘I know what it’s like staying away from home for work from my own previous career,’ says Lorna, ‘eating by yourself in restaurants or pubs can feel lonely, whereas something simple in the kitchen is like home.’
True to her business development background Lorna makes the assets sweat, though it is all so elegant that a gentle glow is perhaps the more appropriate description. With a team of chefs, and operations and event managers they cater for business meetings, small conferences, weddings and other special occasions: ‘My favourite recently was a 100th birthday celebration, it was beautiful,’ says Lorna. ‘We try to keep things feeling special, so we’ve set a limit of 15 weddings a year. We could do several times that number but I don’t want staff stressed and bored, which would inevitably come through in how the day felt.’
A tour round the property reveals more ways in which farm and house work together. Some calves are grazing in one of the meadows; the acre of gardens is tended by workers from Donald’s team; we pass a massive barbecue built by the same talent source. ‘Recently someone cracked one of the sinks in a room needed that night, water was going through the crack, and one of Donald’s hands came straight over and fixed it,’ she says.
The business is clearly thriving, and the fact that these days nearly half their guests are repeat visitors speaks volumes. So too does Mere Brook House’s awards success: ‘We won both Guest Accommodation of the Year and Independent Business of the Year in the Liverpool City Region Tourism Awards in 2016, and repeated the feat this year,’ says Lorna. ‘Once is great, twice is amazing. I don’t think we’ll ever be able to repeat that.’