Heather Large visits the 200-acre Oteley Estate in Ellesmere.
Every month the idyllic stable yard at the Oteley Estate in Ellemere is transformed into a bustling marketplace. Local businesses and producers sell a wide range of food, drink and gifts, including honey, cheese, jam and coffee.
Also on sale is Oteley’s home-reared beef, pork, lamb and fresh produce.
The popular markets launched for the first time last spring and have proved a huge success, drawing in visitors from across the county as well as further afield.
The 2,000-acre estate has remained in the same family since the 1500s and has seen many changes over the years from being a lavish country house to an army hospital camp.
Today it is run by Ian and Clare Mainwaring who, supported by a dedicated team, look after two herds of native breeds of British cattle; Beef Shorthorn and Highland.
They are keen to help people understand not only where their meat comes from, but also its journey and the importance of choosing quality products produced close to home.
Entry to the markets is free and for a small fee visitors can also explore the secret gardens that surround the mere.
“We brought the two things together,” says Clare. “The family has been opening the garden at Oteley for the National Garden Scheme since 1927. When we opened the garden for the first time after Covid we were inundated with interest from people wanting to come along.
“At the same time, we’ve been selling our beef, pork and lamb from the farm locally and at events and shows but what was difficult was getting people to come to us. When we spoke to other local businesses, they were also finding it difficult after Covid.
“We’re just so passionate about local food and sustainable food and people buying the food that’s going on their plate from the local area. In Shropshire, we have so many amazing producers and suppliers,”
Some of the producers who have attended the market days this year have included The Ellesmere Honey Company, The Shropshire Distillery, Flower & White, Shropshire Salumi, Lucy Bakes, Clare Jams (Loppington Jams), Julie Barmer Glass and Moydens Handmade Cheese.
At the market days, Oteley has its own pop-up shop, with includes its range of homemade ready meals such as cottage pie, beef casserole and lasagne.
“The ready meals are made from cuts of our meat, like mince or diced beef, and they have been very popular,” says Clare.
“People can talk to us about the food we are producing and it seems to be something that people are genuinely interested in.”
Oteley has also recently launched a weekly pop-up café and farm shop every Thursday from 10am until 4pm. Customers can enjoy quality coffee and refreshments, with home-grown meat and produce also on sale.
Seasonal vegetables grown in the walled garden are used to create some of the items on the menu.
“We would like to get to the point where we serve lunch, and everything on the plate was grown on the farm so all our visitors get to experience true local food, with minimal food miles. We’re not quite there yet but that’s the long-term aim,” explains Clare.
Visitors to the event are able to also visit the 10 acres of private gardens, known as the secret gardens, as they can’t be seen from the opposite side of the mere.
“The natural landscape lends itself to being quite enclosed – you can’t tell what is there until you enter,” says Clare.
The gardens are home to an array of trees, shrubs and extensive lawn as well as many features from the original house including a boathouse, tower and Swiss cottage.
Ian’s ancestor, Charles Kynaston Mainwaring, is said to have designed the stunning gardens after he was inspired by Italian gardens on a continental tour during his honeymoon.
Visitors are also treated to spectacular views across the mere and the chance to wander around the kitchen garden which is filled with an array of fruit and vegetables.
The end of September will mark the start of the autumn colours making an appearance in the garden including the beautiful acers.
“There is something for everyone,” says Clare. “Some people are interested in the history of the estate, some people are interested in the farm and some people come for the trees and the garden. The best part of the garden is the space. You can hear the birds and it’s very calm and peaceful. A lot of people enjoy seeing Highland cattle as they come up the drive.
They can also take the opportunity to see a new addition to the garden – a giant eel carved by Joffrey Watson, known as ‘The Chainsaw Bloke’, from Much Wenlock, from a fallen stone pine tree on the estate.
It took Joffrey about five days to carve using his chainsaw and he also created an illustration and back story about the eel to explain its appearance.
It features a boy called Jimmy Jones who disappears and travels to Wolverhampton to seek his fortune, leaving villagers believing he has been taken by the eel. However, after the eel is caught, the boy returns back home safe and well.
The next market and secret garden events will take place on Saturday, September 10, Saturday, October 8, and Saturday, November 13. They are open from 10am until 5pm with last entry at 3pm. There will also be a special evening Christmas market on Thursday, December 1. For more information, visit www.oteley.com