‘The roads go down to Gloucester Town, and Severn seeks the sea’ say the lyrics of local songwriter and singer Johnny Coppin. The historic city of Gloucester has from Roman times been the busy hub of the region with its shops, markets, churches, cathedral, and link via the River Severn and the Sharpness Canal to the Bristol Channel. Lying in its own vale and threaded by the divided river, it is overlooked by the 180m tree-covered Robinswood Hill, on the lower slopes of which lies the Hallmark Hotel.
A ten minute drive from the centre of the city and only five minutes from the surrounding countryside, the hotel is just uphill from Matson, a major housing area, but separated from it by a leafy lane with attractive villas and a churchyard. Across the road, on the hill, is the Gloucester Dry Ski slope, and the Gloucester Golf Club is close by, offering a friendly welcome to visitors. The car park right in front of the hotel gives easy access, with the nearest spaces reserved for disabled drivers, while a ramp provides an alternative approach to the entrance steps.
Caroline in reception gave us a very friendly welcome and directions to our large and comfortable room, with king-sized bed, desk and small table. The large opening windows were useful in the unusually warm conditions, as the hotel air conditioning did not extend to the bedrooms. Tea and instant coffee were laid on and the well-proportioned ensuite had a powerful shower.
Dinner was a highlight of our stay, with great service from delightful Karina. The menu was varied without being vast. One of a range of pasta dishes could be ordered as a main, or as an extra course. However my Linguine with Smoked Salmon, Parmesan, Crème Fraiche and Rocket was delicious and quite adequate on its own, following an equally tasty Warm Duck Salad. Several wines were available by the glass – we enjoyed a Chilean Cabernet. Vanilla Panacotta with Mixed Berry Compote, and refreshing Lime and Lemon Sorbet provided delicious endings to excellent value meals.
Breakfast next morning was equally good, offering a large range of fruit juices to complement the usual cereals and cooked options, including deliciously lean back bacon; with unlimited tea and coffee brought to the table.
Before breakfast had been my chance to explore the complimentary leisure facilities, starting with the Spa. Although not offering much space for serious swimmers to plough up and down, this was perfect for a gentle swim, including a circuit of the Spa Pool. Reached by a small bridge, this large circular jacuzzi itself had very powerful massaging jets. Equally powerful were the jets in the large Steam Room, giving suitably hot dense clouds.
The gym was superbly equipped, having been refurbished a couple of years ago, and offering a wide range of aerobic exercises and weight training. A ‘beauty spa’ and squash court are also available. Gloucester Golf Club, just a few minutes away, offers day passes and also use of its driving range at a very reasonable price. Friendly members were happy to give sorely needed tips on our swings!
Looking further afield, the hotel is well placed as a centre for leisure activities in Gloucester itself and beyond. Five minutes’ walk away, a public footpath leads into Robinswood Hill Country Park, or you can take a 10 minute drive to the main entrance, with free parking and entry. Well marked trails allowed us to enjoy both well wooded and butterfly-rich open grassy areas, and the summit of the hill gave us superb views over the city and surrounding countryside.
The city centre is 10 minutes away by car or 20-30 minutes by bus, including a 10 minute walk to the stop. We had deliberately timed our stay to take in part of the Three Choirs Festival and our first afternoon was spent under the soaring vaulted roof of the Cathedral Choir which reverberated to the beautiful sounds of Christian Forshaw and the Sanctuary Ensemble. We then used the Cathedral as the magnificent starting point for the Via Sacra walking tour of the city, visiting some of the many historic churches, ancient priories and fine villas, which sit cheek by jowl with mundane shops and car parks. A typical example is the historic Gloucester Blackfriars priory, founded in 1239.
Our target for the following morning was Gloucester’s Friday market, centred round the Cross – the ancient crossroads (now pedestrianized) in the heart of the city. It offered a good choice of locally grown flowers, fruit and vegetables, as well as fresh olives, artisan breads, hand-made chocolates and local meat and cheeses.
Only lack of time prevented us from revisiting some of Gloucester’s other many attractions such as the historic docks with their well-preserved warehouse architecture, the River Severn to Sharpness Canal junction, and the Waterways Museum. And earmarked for a future visit is the nearby Llanthony Secunda priory, a scheduled ancient monument founded by Augustinians in the12th century.
‘Forest and vale and high blue hill…’ starts another of Johnny Coppin’s songs, expressing the wide range of Gloucestershire’s landscapes. And while the Hallmark Hotel gives easy access to the city and its many attractions, it could also provide a convenient base for exploration of the beautiful county of Gloucestershire. From the Cotswold Hills to the Forest of Dean; from medieval Tewkesbury, through Tudor Sudeley, to the delicate Regency architecture and modern festivals of Cheltenham; the county is full of interest for visitors of all ages and levels of fitness. Professional and amateur theatres, concerts galore and an active folk scene provide in addition a multitude of cultural events to enjoy.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Hallmark Hotels