By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor

Pictured above is Mary Marrow’s B&B, named Fir Cottage. A historic stone home built in the 17th century, it offers three guest rooms. Although it has undergone renovations and additions, many of its original features remain – including thick walls that in some places are two to three feet thick! Nestled on the edge of the Conwy Valley and the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales, it is surrounded by both woodland and pastures and appears to be a quaint and peaceful place to visit.

Bed & Breakfast facilities are doing very well worldwide, but owning a B&B may not be everyone’s cup of tea!  Many people would not enjoy opening up their home and sharing it with folks other than family and close friends.  But for Kathleen Panek, it was something she really wanted to do.

When she and her late husband John moved to Shinnston more than two decades ago, it was Kathleen’s focus to establish a B&B in the community.  In fact, it was the old house on Walnut Street, formerly owned by the Gillum family, that attracted them to Shinnston.  Kathleen has now been an innkeeper for 22 years … and loves every minute of it.  Shinnston has become “home” to her, a community in which she has become very involved.  And during the process, she has also become very active in promoting the tourism industry in the Mountain State.

Several years ago Kathleen became familiar with BedPosts, an organization strictly for innkeepers in the United Kingdom.  She asked if she could join and they welcomed her.  She and one other innkeeper from France are the only members outside the UK.  Even among the members who live in the UK, there is a great distance between many of them so their meetings are held via Skype.  Kathleen is now the secretary of this business club and says that in addition to learning from one another, she has tried to influence them about their need to market their businesses.

Through this networking, Kathleen has become friends with many of the members.  Last year, Kathleen traveled abroad to visit her son in Finland for two weeks, and following that she stopped off in England where she spent another couple of weeks trying to meet ‘in person’ those that she communicates with via Skype.  She stayed with several of the innkeepers and they showed her some of the sites – such as St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, the place of worship for the Queen and Royal Family and the site of the recent wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  She also visited Stratford-upon-Avon and many other renowned points of interest.

A couple of innkeepers from England have also visited Kathleen here in the U.S.  And most recently, the Gillum House B&B hosted another BedPosts member, Mary Marrow of Llanrwst, North Wales.  Mary and her late husband have owned and operated Firs Cottage, a B&B in Llanrwst, for 33 years.

Certainly, they exchanged many innkeeping ideas, and Mary was exposed for the first time to West Virginia’s beauty and its culture.  Kathleen says that during Mary’s stay, they travelled 1,500 miles in the nearby area … sometimes taking day trips locally but also visiting points of interest in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia where they stayed at B&Bs whenever possible.

“Mary thoroughly enjoyed our park and our Independence Day Concert celebration!  She attended a City Council meeting too, gifting the mayor and members of Council with photos of one of her town’s historic landmarks – the Pont Fawr Bridge that dates back to 1636 and is one of the most popular photo spots for tourists in her area,” Kathleen stated.

A former teacher, Mary worked at the Bodnant Gardens in the beautiful Conwy Valley following her retirement.  Bodnant Gardens encompasses 80 acres of spectacular gardens and is open year round with a plant nursery, arts and crafts, café and gift shop.  Trying to cater to Mary’s interests, Kathleen took her to Phipps Conservatory and the Pittsburgh Botanical Garden in Pittsburgh and she also got to ride the Duquesne Incline.  Other visits included the Seiberling Estate in Akron, OH.  Another trip took them to Virginia where Mary saw historic Williamsburg and the homes of three U.S. Presidents – Jefferson, Madison and Monroe – in Charlottesville.

More local points of interest for Mary were seeing the Philippi Covered Bridge, Blackwater Falls, the WV Wildlife Center, Helvetia, Lambert’s Winery, and Blennerhassett Island.

Mrs. Marrow has traveled all over the world and has visited the U.S. before, having taken a trip to Canada which also included a bus jaunt to Niagara Falls, Boston, and New York City.  But Kathleen says this was her first stateside trip that she could simply explore leisurely on her own.

She was enamored with West Virginia, saying its green hills reminded her of North Wales.  She was also accustomed to curvy roads, adding that the roads in North Wales were, believe it or not, even curvier than those she traveled here!

Kathleen learned a lot about the UK from Mary Marrow.  While her B&B is also located in a small town, she explained that in the UK, there are hamlets, villages, towns … and only locales designated by the Queen are termed “cities”.  Unlike the City of Shinnston, a “city” in the UK must be home to literally many THOUSANDS of people and also must have a large cathedral in its midst.

Although it’s not a full-day flight to Wales, Mary left on July 11th and arrived back home on July 12th – due to the time change.  She had guests due to check in within a couple of hours of her arrival – five adults and an infant from Ireland.  But being a seasoned hostess for more than three decades, Mary had prepared their rooms in advance of her trip, so after picking up her baggage and stopping for food supplies, she had thirty minutes to spare!  So much for the life of an innkeeper!!!!

In November, Kathleen will pay Mary a reciprocal visit in Wales, carrying with her gifts for the leaders of Llanrwst from West Virginia.  No doubt she will be treated to visiting many scenic spots where Mary lives.

There is definitely a distinct camaraderie that has developed among the BedPost Business Club members.  As is customary for innkeepers, they welcome everyone with open arms, and what great learning experiences they share by visiting one another!