Seated high above Church Stretton, white facade and huge red lettering visible for miles around, the imposing Longmynd Country House is unquestionably an impressive base for walking the stunning Shropshire Hills. But what could it do for my dancing feet? I had come to find out on a three night August break promising two intensive days of dance tuition in the improbable Samba and Tango.
“Improbable”? Well, you should see my dancing.
I say “I” but in fact it was “we”. It takes two to tango. So after unpacking, my wife and I ventured down for the evening meal. The lounge had a fabulous view over the hills, the bar served local ale and we were made welcome by the group of fifteen or so walkers whose leader, Linda, cordially invited us to join in their discussion about the following day’s walk. A choice of walks – from 6 to up to 11 miles – was promised on that day’s walking in the Shropshire Hills and I was delighted to explain that we were in fact on the dance course. “You’ve got it easy,” I told them.
Gradually those enrolled on the dance course arrived for dinner. I have written previously about HF Holidays in my article about walking and photography at Nythfa House in the Brecon Beacons. So seated around the large circular tables we quickly became acquainted with our fellow dancers, twelve in all, five couples and two unaccompanied ladies. We also met our dance teachers, Gill and David Price from Martley in Worcestershire.
Nothing is more important for a dance holiday than the quality of tuition. Gill and David are experts. They danced competitively for fifteen years, achieving their place in the covetted top six dancers in their age bracket, before teaching professionally for ten years. Having retired from their full time role they now teach on cruise ships and for events like our short holiday. Patiently and incrementally our skills were built up. In my experience repetition is what cements a dance routine in one’s head. The art is to constantly recycle what is being taught, building up confidence and muscle memory. Gill took the lead, David adding to the mix with humour and teaching points. Nothing was too much trouble, no anxieties were allowed to fester and we all received the sort of personal attention one might pay a fortune for elsewhere.
After a fortifying breakfast we arrived at the large room that was to be the centre of operations. The floor had enough bounce in it to save the feet, space sufficient for our group size and the air conditioning worked very efficiently. The morning session was to be Samba, the Brazilian dance of carnival, a dance of bounce and vitality. We commenced with the basic steps before moving to a more demanding little routine with enough pizzazz to satisfy the showman in me. (Would that I had the talent for it!) HF Holidays suggest tuition for some six hours a day in their literature, an improbable figure given my inability to digest anything but dinner for longer than 45 minutes at a time. In this I was not alone. We were all, teachers and pupils, glad of the coffee and biscuit breaks, as we were for a lengthy lunch break where we ate our superb packed lunch in the grounds of the hotel.
Tango is not so energetic a dance but getting that slick turn of the head, synchronised timing and slightly flexed knee stance is difficult to achieve. The afternoon session was ambitious but we were promised no new moves for the final day, which was to be one of consolidation. For the present we built up our routine, Gill all the time stressing hold and posture. I tried to cultivate an easy insouciance but the chin went down continually, the feet became more ragged and my right arm dropped disastrously. Still, by the end of the day our confidence had grown and Gill seemed pleased with all our progress.
There was plenty of time to wander through Church Stretton, a delightful place in which to reside I should imagine, cradled as it is in the picturesque heart of the Shropshire Hills. Time, too, to follow the sculpture trail of animals in the ample grounds of the hotel. Time even to swim in the pool to cool off in the August heat.
Evening dinner was a fine affair, that special HF Holidays atmosphere and camaraderie working its charm. Genuine friendships are fostered during these breaks and it is easy to see why folk return time after time to these Country Houses across the UK.
With over fifty rooms and several lodges the Longmynd offers spacious accommodation in the airy, well decorated public areas. It was obtained by HF two years ago on a short term lease and they are currently raising the funds to purchase it outright. I hope they do so as it is in such a favoured position in this ravishing part of the country and will enable them to continue to refurbish the rooms, some of which have spectacular views over the hills with balconies to boot. Our own room was vast at the rear of the hotel though still enjoying woodland views. Independent and Guided Walking holidays are offered, and there is a range of other specialist holidays available, for example our own dancing break, as well as some young men who were on a cycling holiday.
There were individual guests seated on smaller, conventional tables in addition to groups on communal tables. The staff were marvellous and I must give a mention to Richard whose enthusiasm was infectious.
Back to the dance floor. Friday was exactly as promised. We practised the dances, consolidated, worked on technique, before in the afternoon session adding a suitable conclusion to the Tango. It had been a thoroughly energising as well as energy sapping two day’s tuition. Some of us attended throughout, some took breaks. There was no compulsion. During the breaks Gill and David recounted tales from the ballroom, seeing the young Matthew Cutler and Ian Waite, being judged by Len Goodman, black hair dye and fake tan. Enthralling. And such good teachers.
At four o’clock we decided to head off for the hills, taking the car up the narrow road signposted “Longmynd” – the hilltop that dominates the area. The walk was a wonderful experience, with views quite flabbergastingly brilliant for those uninitiated in the delights of Shropshire. We saw red kites, wild ponies and gliders.
Glorious walking countryside.
In the evening we were joined by the walkers in the “ballroom” for an hour of dancing together with the odd turn from one or other of the guests, the most memorable being Paul, a pilot for Virgin Atlantic, who played the electric piano. Then it was the turn of our group as we performed our Samba routine for our fellow guests – it was certainly not mandatory and some opted out. I would like to say Jan and I were both brilliant but somehow I got the Tango and Samba mixed up at the end. The lady obviously follows the man and this man got hopelessly confused. But, by gum, we were brilliant for the first few steps.
We ended with the Djatchka Kola which is not a drink but a circle dance.
So two fun days, dances learned, friends made. The Longmynd is a jewel in the Shropshire crown – and not just for dancing.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends HF Holidays