Local connection

Standout heat experiences reinvented to reflect the local landscape make Staffordshire’s new Mill Wheel Spa a striking addition to a rural hotel


While a theme can help tie a spa concept neatly together, today’s clients want authenticity. So when the Kirk family opened The Mill Wheel Spa at their rural hotel The Three Horseshoes Inn in Staffordshire in the UK, they were careful to choose materials, a centrepiece and even a name that reflected the its location and heritage.

Set near Leek in the Peak District, the hotel has a rich history, with the inn originally a stop-off point for weary travellers getting their horses re-shoed. The hotel, which has grown in stages, has always been designed in keeping with the original inn, using local stone and wood, and the spa, which opened in March, is no exception.

“We knew we wanted something really unusual and different but we also wanted to reflect the local area through the materials and key features,” says general manager Wendy Kirk, who runs the hotel with her husband Mark, his brother Stephen and Stephen’s wife Katie, the spa manager. The hotel has been in the Kirk family since 1981, when Mark and Stephen’s parents bought the property, before later passing it on to their sons.

Mill Wheel 1Range and variety 
The centrepiece of the spa is a large mill wheel converted into a bucket shower, which echoes the local history of working watermills and lends its name to the spa. The feature was designed by Austrian wellness equipment specialist Haslauer and its UK partner Spa Vision, whose managing director Neil Owen advised the Kirks on the project.

“I suggested the mill wheel be the centrepiece to help bring the branding together for a cohesive message,” he says, “because there are mills in the area, so it reflects local traditions without being twee.”

The mill wheel shower also features in Haslauer’s flagship spa Reiter Alm in Austria, which the Kirk family visited for inspiration before deciding on their own facilities.

Other standout features adapted from Reiter Alm for Mill Wheel Spa include the Stone Bath steam room, which generates steam by heating a basket of stones in an oven then plunging it into cold water. At Mill Wheel, this has been designed by converting a traditional local barn, keeping its original stone and wood interior. 

The sauna at the spa is Mill Wheel’s version of Haslauer’s Brechlbath, which pushes heat through pine branches to scent the room and aid respiration. “We’re branding that one as the farmers’ sauna,” says Kirk. “We are surrounded by farms and cattle, so the story carries through into that room, and the people in our local area can relate to that.” Generating the heat in such a way makes for a much gentler temperature increase. 

There is also the Beach Hut, a version of Haslauer’s Sabbia Med relaxation room with sand on the floor and gentle, warming UV light to energise, plus a two-person rasul, an indoor plunge pool and an outdoor hydrotherapy pool surrounded by cosy day beds.

Mill Wheel 6

In fact the spa packs in a surprising amount of equipment for its size. It measures 222sqm and houses just three treatment rooms. As such, it was important to the Kirks to include equipment that could generate additional revenue, as well as pieces that are included in the price of a package. The Beach Hut, for example, is chargeable at £12 per person for 25 minutes, while the rasul is £40 per couple or £30 for single use. 

Competitive edge
While the spa now brings plenty of additional income to the property, the Kirks’ primary reason for building it was to add value to the hotel and make it a more attractive choice in an increasingly competitive local market. “There’s a Premier Inn that’s just opened nearby in Leek and we knew we could lose some business to people who are driven by price,” says Wendy Kirk. “So we wanted to widen the gap and give people another reason to choose us.”

The hotel previously had a small salon but, did not offer a fully-fledged spa with a wet and thermal area. The Kirk’s got the idea for a spa when on holiday with friends, in a spa hotel. “We were in the hot tub and I joked to our friend, who runs a building company, ‘do you think you could build us one of these?’” says Kirk. 

The idea took off and the friends began planning the project with the help of an architect and advice from Owen. “We essentially started off with a space from the architect and gave them some proposals about what we could put into that space, trying to get as many experiences in as possible without it feeling too cramped, as that was key for them,” says Owen.

“They sourced a lot of the local materials themselves as they know several local tradespeople who they had worked with on different parts of the hotel, so that helped keep costs down and we worked closely with those suppliers as to how the finishes would work with our designs.”

Mill Wheel 2

The treatment menu has also been designed to reflect the environment of the spa and the hotel itself, and Kirk hopes it will have the added benefit of attracting a large male client base. “We have a beer foot soak, which is a warm beer bath with essential oils; after that you get an invigorating scrub and it’s finished with a relaxing deep foot massage,” she says. 

The spa uses Kurland, Haslauer’s skincare brand, for many of its body treatments, offering steamed herbal poultices, and spa manager Katie Kirk is proud that this is a USP for the spa in the area. She has also taken on organic skincare brand Heaven by Deborah Mitchell and offers five facials including its LIA Therapy – a prescriptive facial with elements of Reiki, which Katie is the only therapist on the team to have trained in. 

Other brands include Skinbase for microdermabrasion, Australian Bodycare for waxing, Essie for nails, tanning with Fake Bake and make-up by Lily Lolo, to offer a full portfolio of treatments. 

Mill Wheel 4

With such a strong offering of treatments and facilities, Kirk is well placed to achieve her goal for the spa, despite its modest number of treatment rooms. “We are hoping to be a major spa destination within the Staffordshire Peaks,” says Wendy. “We really want to promote tourism in the area. We think this going to be the best place to start.”