Hotel Stories

A river runs through it

At just under a mile from Melton Mowbray, the famous Rural Food Capital of England, this is the idyllic England of Wind in the Willows.
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There is a wonderful moment in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows when mole tires of his spring cleaning and finds himself in a warm sunlit meadow for the first time.

Grahame describes it beautifully as mole, “rambled busily along the hedgerows, across the copses, finding everywhere birds building, flowers budding… everything happy.”

I am reminded of this passage as I stand three tiered-gardens and one freshly mown field below the proud 1910 terrace of the Best Western Sysonby Knoll hotel.

In front of me is the full fed River Eye, with hidden pike and promise of more. Behind me is an acre of the blue starflower borage sown for the hotel’s private collection of bees which work hard to provide honey for the Sysonby Knoll breakfast table as well as gifts for the guests. Just past the wafting borage are some recently planted thickets of young willow, a project of Jenny and Gavin Howling’s children, 11-year-old Zoë and 15-year-old James, to boost precious pocket money and help reduce the carbon footprint of their family-run hotel.

At just under a mile from Melton Mowbray, the famous Rural Food Capital of England – and shorter still by canoe from the hotel’s private river frontage – this is the idyllic England of Wind in the Willows. All we are missing is Toad.

The junior Howlings are the third generation to run the hotel after their grandparents bought the original six-bedroomed house in 1965. 

Decades of success, first as a bed and breakfast and then a guesthouse followed, and as Jenny’s naturally hospitable mother attracted more guests, Jenny’s father built more rooms for them to stay in. In 1996 daughter Jenny swapped a successful accountancy career to join her parents running Sysonby Knoll and a year later her scientist husband Gavin followed. Today it is James and Zoë who are starting to play supporting roles with Zoë easily befriending guests and James happily helping Dad inside and out.

The home that became a 30-bedroomed hotel has lost none of the charm and appeal that made it so successful. A warmth that flows through the staff and the building, from bar to restaurant to bedrooms. Nothing it seems is too much trouble. They have even installed the world’s first beecam so even when you check out, Sysonby keeps you checking in.

Ever evolving to the changing needs of old, new and four-legged guests (Sysonby is a genuine pet friendly hotel with 4.5 acres to explore) the extended family team of staff are constantly on hand to provide a personal service to all who visit or stay.

Yet as we stand at the water’s edge Gavin tells me that guests rarely find themselves in the same position. My suspicion is that the welcome is so warm that guests are not inclined to find their inner mole. And as much as I could stand for days enjoying the river scene, having met the Howlings and witnessed the welcome, I’m not sure I can blame guests either.

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