Graham Young visits JD Wetherspoon's The Foley Arms in Great Malvern – and finds a comfortable bed for the night.
Which of your millions of memories do you treasure the most? Are they from something which you always wanted to do and did? Or are they indelibly connected to the carefree adventures that you had while stumbling across something by accident?
Personally, I find unexpected experiences are often the most enriching of all.
Since spontaneity is infinitely preferable to predictability, my car will always be a sat nav free zone.
We would never have ended up in Great Malvern, for example, had we not got lost in Redditch earlier in the year.
Unsuccessfully searching for somewhere to grab a quick bite, we took a detour to the former Cannon cinema on Unicorn Hill – a place where I remember seeing Arnold Schwarzenegger making a name for himself as The Terminator.
These days it’s not just a pub, but a JD Wetherspoon salvage special.
In an age when many boozers are closing down, JDW has become one of Britain’s most consistently successful companies by respecting old buildings and often finding a new use for them when others have passed.
Here, The Royal Enfield as it is now known, features interior displays which pay homage to the building’s cinematic roots and to the town’s motorcycle manufacturing heritage.
It was here that I picked up a copy of the company’s in-house magazine and spotted that Wetherspoon had spent £2.2 million restoring The Foley Arms in Great Malvern.
Not just that, but it was also a hotel, too. That Wetherspoon has become a significant hotel chain is less by desire and more by chance.
If opening up hotel rooms above a pub has been the only way of saving a building, then JDW has done it.
The Foley Arms, for example, has a wonderful history as the company website illustrates: “This Georgian style coaching inn was designed in 1810 by Samuel Deykes for John Downes.
“It opened as the Down’s Hotel, but was soon renamed the Foley Arms after the Lord of the manor, Edward Foley.
‘Above the main entrance is the crest of the family of Princess Mary of Teck (later Queen Mary, royal consort of George V). ‘The princess presented the crest after her six week stay in 1891.”
That’s right. Exactly 120 years ago, this hotel’s enviable hillside position made it such a fabulous place to stay that our current Queen’s grandmother extended her stay to a month and a half.
Yet in January 2010, at the start of the hotel’s 200th anniversary year, administrators shut The Foley down so abruptly that its staff made national headlines by locking themselves in to demand their wages.
But now Wetherspoon has reopened the hotel with new staff and, a few months later, guests were trooping in with overnight cases.
From the stunning rear terrace we watched storm clouds gathering ominously over the Severn valley.
It was the last thing we’d expected to see, but it was a memorable sight all the same.
Here, in the sky, were big black things bearing down upon us... just the sort of dramatic meteorological gifts which surely would have inspired the late Worcestershire-born composer Edward Elgar.
As the sky darkened, we pottered around Great Malvern itself, enjoying the ambience as if we were in a place as good as the Lake District without the hassle of having had a nightmare journey up the M6.
We went back to the hotel, enjoyed a thoroughly reasonable evening meal and retired to our comfortable family room ready to make the most of the next day.
Alas, it wasn’t to be.
The heavens opened and stayed open. Our plans to travel a few miles south to Eastnor Castle were abandoned,
But because we felt the Foley was like a destination in its own right, the deluge outside didn’t matter one jot.
We simply enjoyed the Sunday papers over our spacious breakfast table more than on any other weekend this year.
And I marvelled at the sheer number of diverse people either coming down from their rooms or simply arriving at the pub from elsewhere so early on the Sabbath.
Why so? Well, JDW long ago realised that to make pubs successful it’s vital to put your customers first.
If they want affordable unfussy food, value for money coffees, free wi-fi, friendly service, stylish and clean public loos, and to be open from 7am till midnight seven days a week, then give it to them and they will come to their pubs. In droves.
At the Foley, and a few other Wetherspoon places nationwide like it, you can even find a very comfy hotel bed, too.
But there are, of course, exceptions to every rule even in the heart of Great Malvern.
Yes, my two pints of real ale were bang on the money. How predictable. How JDW.
* Graham Young and family stayed at the Foley Arms, Great Malvern, Worcestershire WR14 4QS.
* Two combined spacious rooms with stunning views were £84 each. The cost of drinks on arrival, a twocourse Saturday dinner and Sunday morning breakfast for two adults and three children was an additional £100.47.
* Tel 01684 580350. Website: http://www.jdwetherspoon.co.uk/home/pubs/the-foley-arms-hotel