The Lion at Lentwardine
PUBLISHED: 00:16 28 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:29 20 February 2013
Two years ago this sad and neglected country inn was rescued by first-time publicans William and Jane Watkins. Now it is a place where locals, diners and shooting parties find comfort, good food and shelter from the storm
This idyllic location alongside the River Teme, next to the old bridge that leads to the pretty and historic village of Leintwardine, has been both a blessing and a curse for The Lion.
It is a prominent and picturesque setting for the 18th century pub but with gardens that drop down to the river, it also means the property has been prone to flooding. The torrential rains of July 2007 brought this lion to its knees, and it was not long before another downpour in 2008 saw the last of the pubs tenants moving out.
However, The Lion at Leintwardine now stands proud again and for the past year or so its been doing a roaring trade. The inn is building a reputation for its homely atmosphere, quality food and comfortable accommodation, particularly popular with fishermen and shooting parties. Needless to say, its new owners have invested in well-concealed flood defences, designed to be effective against the worst of the weather.
The transformation has been achieved by William and Jane Watkins, who were driving past the sad and deserted inn on the Shropshire/Herefordshire border in the autumn of 2009 when they made their snap decision to buy it. It was a bit of a business departure for the owners of the Radnor Hills Mineral Water Company, based at Knighton in Powys but, explains Jane: We have known it all our lives and both of us thought what a lovely property. Its in a beautiful setting and has a prime position on the edge of a lovely village and we both agreed it needed something doing to it. We were at the stage in our lives to do something different.
It had been empty for a year, it was very run down and had never really had any money spent on it probably not for a hundred years! It needed a lot of love and attention we probably let ourselves in for more than we bargained for but thats often the case when you take on something like this.
Renovating the property was a major investment and for a full year a team of 15 to 20 builders were employed on the site. In the words of Penny Butler, company secretary for Radnor Hills, who was heavily involved in the project: The first six months were spent tearing the place apart, and the second six months, building it back up again.
The work included knocking down a lean-to at the back of the property and extending the building to create a preparation kitchen in addition to the main, refurbished kitchen area. The public bar, now renamed the Top Bar, was refurbished and redecorated and in the main bar, the rotten fire surround was removed to expose a brick wall and an open fireplace, which now forms an attractive feature. There is a welcoming open-plan entrance hall, furnished with comfortable sofas, and a formal dining room, with doors opening onto a summer terrace, which has views towards the distinctive five-arched stone bridge across the River Teme. Upstairs, theres a high ceiling function room, which Jane believes was originally a barn. Old photographs and documents show it was once used as a theatre. There used to be a race course in Leintwardine and Leintwardine History Society had an old picture of the upstairs room being used as a theatre on the night of the races, as well as the programme for the event. They are both on display in the room, says Jane.
The building, believed to date from the 1700s, has been altered significantly over the years. It is thought to have been a malt house and the first mention of it as The Lion occurs in 1803. In bringing the property up to date, it has been difficult to retain or reinstate original features, many of which have been lost over the years anyway, but Jane has made a particular effort to capture a sense of place and history by using lots of framed black and white prints on the walls, copies of originals which were in the possession of the Leintwardine History Society. Some of these depict The Lion, others show local events and reflect the development of the village and the lives of the local people over the years.
The Lion, a bar, restaurant and rooms, now has eight en suite bedrooms a carefully planned number. It was part of a master plan to attract shooting parties in the winter, said Jane. William twigged on the fact that shoots have eight guns hence eight bedrooms.
The pub is also ideally located for fishermen it has a long history as a place for local fishermen to celebrate their catches, so not only do Jane and William happily encourage that, they also offer advice and a dry place for storing fishing tackle and equipment for visiting anglers staying overnight.
We are a real country pub, as well as everything else, says Jane, somehow summing up the way The Lion has been developed to offer something for everyone. Theres still the public bar for the locals, the lounge bar, with its own menu, for informal dining (albeit, not your ordinary pub food), the restaurant or fine dining and the function room for private parties. There are the comfy sofas in the entrance hall, where customers are welcome to relax and read the papers over a coffee, the formal summer terrace and the more relaxed beer garden, with a wendy house to amuse the children, where customers can enjoy a midday pint or dine on a summer evening and enjoy the sights and sounds of the gently lapping river and open country views beyond.
Jane, helped by Penny Butler, spent a lot of time stamping her own individual style on the property, meaning it has the feel of a country house, with an informal mix of contemporary and traditional furnishings. Its not what I normally do, so I made it up as I went along, but I was clear that I wanted to make people feel welcome.
She has brought a traditional and individual feel to the bedrooms by using antique furniture, bought locally at antique shops in Leominster and Hereford, and at sales at Brightwells in Leominster and further afield. However, the look has been brought up to date with the addition of contemporary items, including lights and furniture, sourced on numerous trips to a wholesale furniture supplier. The public rooms are furnished and decorated in a similar style, with Farrow and Ball paints on
the walls, and co-ordinating fabrics
The Lion at Leintwardine finally opened again on October 31 2010 and the first challenge the weather threw at it was not floods but snow! However, it quickly shook off the problems posed by last years harsh winter, and is going from strength to strength, with a talented chef and a dedicated team
of staff in place.
Putting The Lion back on its feet was a tough job, and one which Jane admits was, as times, quite stressful so, despite the success of their first venture into the pub trade, there are no immediate plans for Radnor Hills to do the same again. For the time being at least, consider this, in many ways, a one-off.