“ Rodborough Common / Stroud / Gloucestershire / GL5 5DE / United Kingdom / Tel: 01453 878 522 / Fax: 01453 872 523 „
On 6th March this year I found myself a guest at the Bear of Rodborough (henceforth "The Bear"), a hotel somewhat different to the chains of faceless budget establishments I usually find myself in when staying away from home. By "different" I really mean "far nicer and vastly more expensive", but as it was for my wedding, I felt it was justifiable to stay in a luxury country house hotel less than an hour's drive from my home. The road that led us to the Bear was a long one, as we had first chosen a venue in Northumberland, moved home, and then attempted to find somewhere comparable in an area we were both completely unfamiliar with. Hours of furious googling had revealed that Gloucestershire has a great number of licensed venues, many of which eliminated themselves by having unrealistically high minimum guest numbers, no suitable facilities for the small wedding we wanted, or by charging very large fees to hire the venue. Our searches did reveal one small chain of hotels that looked promising, however: Cotswold Inns and Hotels, a group of seven individual country house hotels distributed around the Cotswolds that attempted to capture the charm of the area whilst being warm, relaxed, friendly and inviting. Each of the hotels has its own style and quirkiness, and from the photos we looked at online, more than one offered the romantic settings and small venues we had thus far struggled to find together - and better still, each had a clear and well presented wedding brochure available online so we could see exactly what was on offer at each venue. This allowed to pick the two hotels in the chain that appeared to be best suited to our needs, and take it from me, both were wonderful establishments that stood out from all of those we eventually visited in our search - it was only the difference in quotes that allowed us to choose the Bear of Rodborough over the Bay Tree Hotel! If you want to have a look at the full range of hotels, then go to: http://www.cotswold-inns-hotels.co.uk/ home/our_hotels.htm
**A Bit About The Bear**
Situated amongst 300 acres of stunning National Trust land on Rodborough Common above Stroud, on the eastern edge of the Cotswolds, The Bear is in a simply stunning location. Just a short walk away from the hotel will give you magnificent views down over the town, and on a clear day you get far reaching views across Gloucestershire and towards Wales. The common is grazed by rare breed cattle (which are not fenced in, so you do need to be a bit careful when driving across it) and has flower rich grassland that attracts an abundance of wildlife. It really is a beautiful setting. However, the downside of being located in such a stunning hill location is actually getting there - there are three approaches up to Rodborough Common, the most direct of which is Bear Hill (a single lane road up a very steep hill and therefore not recommended to those of a nervous disposition), Butterrow Hill (a slightly less direct road from Stroud, but wider and less nerve-shredding to drive up) and finally the Cirencester Road (approaching from Cirencester unsurprisingly, but coming up the back slope of the hill and so longer but not at all scary). Driving up the hill was the one disadvantage we felt the hotel to have and always sighed slightly in relief when that part of the journey was over!
The Bear was originally built in the 17th century as a coaching inn on the route between London and Gloucester, and a lot of the original stonework can be seen in the hotel; additions and changes were made over the years, most notably an extension around 1920 to provide most of the modern accommodation areas, which give the hotel a cheerfully uncoordinated effect on the inside. The appearance of The Bear as you approach it is nonetheless very impressive: a large stone building with a round tower on one corner is all you can really see from the road, but once you arrive at the hotel you have to pass through a garden and paved courtyard on the way in from the car park, where you know you could only be in the Cotswolds (I loathe the word "quaint" so instead I am going to use "charming" and "cosy" here instead and hope I don't sound too nauseating). Entering the building, you pass first through the Grizzly Bar (groan) a snug room of comfortable furniture, worn stone floors and open log fires, before heading down the rambling corridors that lead to the reception. The interior of the hotel has been sensitively restored to reflect as much of its history as possible whilst still offering modern comforts, and the decor draws heavily on William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement (and yet more log fires) to create a luxurious but relaxed atmosphere.
By the time we got married in the Bear we had visited it three times already as part of our preparations and came to know the place fairly well. The ground floor, as well as offering the reception and bar (with an excellent choice of local beers as Other Half informs me - I was strangely enough the designated driver on the return journey when we visited) provides two rooms for residents (a cosy lounge, and a light and airy garden room) and the box tree restaurant. Although we never actually ate in the restaurant, if the food we were served at our wedding breakfast is anything to go by (and judging by local reputation, other website reviews and awards** won, it is) it should be as good as the views out over Rodborough Common. The whole time until the day itself we had been look after (very well, I might add) by the hotel's dedicated weddings and events coordinator and we had only experienced the service from her (and the barman of course). We were very impressed, and hoped the rest of the staff would provide as professional a level of customer care for us. Check-in certainly proved to be very quick and easy, and within a matter of a couple of minutes we were on our way up the impressive oak staircase towards room number 1. I appreciate that the experience of the service and accommodation as wedding hosts may well be different to that experienced by regular hotel guests, but I hope this information will prove useful anyway.
As the bride and groom, we had the privilege of staying in room 1, one of the hotel's four-poster suites, which cost us £150 including breakfast brought to our room in the morning. Given the nature of the hotel as a historic building that has been built piecemeal over time, there are a variety of different rooms available amongst its 47 guest bedrooms, and rates vary accordingly between the rooms and over the course of the year. We were given preferable rates for our wedding guests (who also benefited from our wedding being on a Friday by being able to avoid the higher Saturday rates), which were around the £65 mark for single rooms and around £100 for standard double rooms. The standard rates quoted on the website are currently £73 for single rooms, £117 for standard double or twin rooms, £142 for a superior double or twin room, £181 for a four-poster room and £215 for a four-poster suite, all including breakfast. Rates do vary a lot throughout the year and I have noticed many special offers being advertised when I have visited their website, but this still remains a hotel for special occasions - or rich travellers!
Our four-poster suite was easily the most impressive hotel room I have ever stayed it - my jaw literally dropped when I walked through the door and saw it. The door let into a sitting room that was easily the size of the one in our flat at home, filled with beautiful dark wooden furniture, a selection of books and magazines (not that we did a lot of reading during our stay, LOL), a sofa and comfy chairs, flat screen TV and a dining table and chairs, with everything impeccably clean and very well presented. The windows had an attractive view out over the Cotswold stone buildings at the back of the hotel and the countryside beyond it. The room was equipped with the expected tea and coffee making facilities, but with the wonderful touch of giving us a complimentary bottle of local mineral water (I always appreciate such gestures, not being much of a hot beverage drinker) and an offer of complimentary fresh milk that could be collected from reception if you preferred not to have UHT in your drink. Leading off from our sitting room in one direction was the bathroom, and to the other, our bedroom. The bathroom was again large and very well presented, with both a bath and shower, plenty of fluffy white towels and toiletries available (and they were posh toiletries too, shower gel, shampoo, soap and a delightfully old fashioned "vanity kit" each). Moving through into the bedroom (and I don't think I have ever slept in such an enormous bedroom before), we set eyes on the magnificent four-poster bed...I won't go into too much detail about our experiences with that, but suffice to say we ended up sleeping very well indeed! The bedroom had more of the dark wooden furniture in it, and large amounts of storage space - with another flat screen TV in case we felt like watching TV from our four-poster (we didn't). The rooms turned out to be snugly warm and comfortable to stay in, and unlike many modern hotels you also had the luxury of being able to open windows in any of the three rooms. I loved it; to say I was pleased with my choice of venue at the point was something of an understatement!
But what of those of you contemplating a stay in one of the more modest rooms at the Bear? Well, a pre-wedding visit to my parent's room just down the corridor (a standard double room) revealed that the quality of the room was every bit as good as ours, just smaller. Minus the sitting room and four-poster and with a more modestly sized bedroom, but still well furnished with high quality furniture, flat screen TV, complimentary water bottle and toiletries and very, very comfortable. All our guests seemed very pleased with the standard of their accommodation, and while some of our friends may have been being polite, I would know if my mother wasn't - and knowing her, I know that means the hotels rooms were excellent.
Our wedding wasn't until 3.30pm that afternoon, and as we had checked in just after 1pm (paranoia dictated leaving early, but you really don't get that much traffic on a Friday lunch time in a rural area outside of high season, funnily enough) that gave us a lot of waiting to do. After unpacking and greeting the guests that had already arrived, Other Half was dispatched with his suit to check up on things and get ready with his best man, while I returned to our room to nervously triple check I had everything I needed (not that I honestly could have done anything if I hadn't) and try not to do anything that would dislodge my newly-styled hair. Aware that the photographer was arriving around 2.15pm to do some preliminary shots and get ready for the ceremony, I phoned my Best Mate and witness (bridesmaid in all but naff dress, really) to come up to my room and help me get ready. I'm not really one for girly things, but had really made an effort for this day - it wasn't as elaborate as most brides have, admittedly (but a meringue and six inches of make-up would probably have looked silly in a small 20 person ceremony) but it was an effort by my standards at least. A friend of ours had made a lovely dress for me (although she would later tsk at me for losing weight so the waist no longer fitted perfectly) and all Best Mate had to do really was zip me up and fasten my necklace. Suddenly I was ready, my photos were done and there was the best part of an hour until the ceremony. Best Mate was tasked with keeping me calm (not an easy job) although admittedly I would have had a job running away in the shoes I was wearing!
Eventually 3.20pm came around and my heart was hammering in my chest; I felt faint and dizzy and couldn't believe that two years of nerves were about to be realised. Other Half arrived to collect me from the room (it was a fairly informal affair, we didn't bother with a lot of wedding tradition) and deliver me to the registrar, who was lovely. She put us both at our ease, took us through what would happen and then left for the ceremony room, with our guests following shortly afterwards. We entered the room together to avoid the big entrance that would have terrified me, so it felt more like an informal gathering of friends than a formal white wedding, which suited me perfectly. Remember the round tower on the corner of the building I mentioned previously? It was in that we got married, a gorgeous stone room with fireplace and views out over Rodborough Common, licensed for up to 24 people and just perfect for our needs - it wouldn't have been us if we didn't get hitched in a historic building, after all. The ceremony was short and sweet (and strangely not as terrifying as I had feared) and cumulated in us leaving to (what else?) the "Raider's March" from Indiana Jones, to the laughter of our guests.
We headed then into the garden terrace for champagne cocktails (the barman can apparently do more than just pull good pints of local beer) and more photographs, and the chance to catch up with our later arriving guests - in particular our new five week old niece. This was really our decompression time after all the stress and nerves of the build up; the chance to breathe a sigh of relief that the difficult part was over and the fun part was ahead, a chance to get a bit tipsy as the champagne hit our empty stomachs, and the time to head out into the beautiful but decidedly chilly grounds to get some more pictures done, before heading into the much warmer bar for more beverages. At 6.00pm, we were called back into the tower room for dinner and had chance to admire its transformation. A large single table now filled the room, with the vases of flowers we used on the registrar's table now decorating the crisp linen and a stand by the door displaying our gorgeous chocolate cake (it look so good I was quite upstaged by it!). As we took our seats, we found a white gift box waiting for us on the table, quite an unexpected thing, as we had requested no presents from our guests. It turned out to contain a card and guestbook embossed with a picture of the The Bear from all the staff, a nice little touch and the book was passed amongst our guests over the course of the evening for us to collect some extra memories of the day.
We enjoyed two meals whilst staying at the Bear - our wedding breakfast (henceforth "dinner") and our actual breakfast the morning after. A three course dinner at the hotel's box tree restaurant would set you back £28.95 each (or £20 if you took up one of their book with accommodation offers), with our dinner costing £24 per guest for food and £19.50 for drinks in the garden terrace and with the meal (taking into account the 25% discount for booking on a day other than Saturday). For that we had a starter of poached salmon with shallots and red pepper syrup, a main course of roast loin of Gloucester pork with mustard cream and stewed apple or mushroom lasagne for the vegetarians, and a dessert of red berry cheesecake, with two generous glasses of red or white wine and another glass of champagne for the toasts. The food was beautifully presented, excellently cooked and very tasty, and the restaurant has a reputation for sourcing as many local ingredients as possible as an added bonus. My favourite part had to be the pork, with was wonderfully tender and flavoursome and just melted in the mouth, with the mustard sauce proving to be a delicate and delicious accompaniment - and it is not often that a main course can impress me more than the pudding, I can tell you. Our guests seemed similarly happy, with plates cleared all round and the best man even sitting happily and eating the left over stewed apple straight from the pot. The service throughout the meal was attentive and considerate, and the staff seemed very well trained.
We decided to indulge ourselves the next morning and take breakfast in our room rather than go down to the restaurant; we had ordered this the day before and chosen our selections, and it turned up bang on time. While the food quality was excellent and the staff waived the extra charge for this service for us (I can't recall the exact amount, but it was around the £2-£3 mark) I found this to be the only slight blip in our otherwise wonderful time at this hotel. I had selected the continental option of cereal, toast and croissants, while Other Half had gone for a full English with toast, both to be served with orange juice. Our juices were awfully small, though, there was clearly not enough butter for the amount of toast served and most surprisingly of all there were no jams or marmalades offered to go with it. Other Half enjoyed his full English, but I felt ever so slightly disappointed - especially after seeing the choice and abundance offered in the restaurant when we went down to see people later on that morning (just have a look here and you will see what I mean: http://www.cotswold-inns-hotels.co.uk/property/ the_bear_of_rodborough/cotswold_breakfast.htm); this will be the first and last time I have a hotel breakfast brought to my room, I think.
My stay at the Bear was really excellent; the hotel has high standards of food and accommodation (and beer), and we received polite and professional service from all the staff that we encountered throughout our time there. Although we spent a lot of money at The Bear, we felt it had been worth every penny and we got good value for money, especially with the dinner. Everyone at the Bear helped our wedding go smoothly, and I wouldn't hesitate to stay there again on another special occasion if I got the chance. It may not have been a big and glamorous affair - really the only thing big and fat about this in the end was me after eating a three course dinner with cake and champagne! - but it delivered just what we wanted in a beautiful setting.
** The following awards have been won by the Bear: The Cotswold Life Food & Drink Awards 2005 winner for the Most Distinctive Local Menu, and the Box Tree Restaurant has also won two rosettes for its food. The Bear is also listed on Classic British Hotels, where establishments are independently checked annually, and it is rated as "first class".
Trip Advisor rates it as the most popular hotel in Stroud based on their reviews, with The Bear being rated 3.5 out of 5 over 48 reviews (http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ Hotel_Review-g186291-d191637-Reviews-Bear_of_Rodborough_Hotel-Stroud_Cotswolds_ Gloucestershire_England.html).
The room hire for the Tower Room cost £187.50 after the 25% "not Saturday" discount had been taken, and this gave us the room until midnight - although apparently the more night-owl inclined of our guests stayed there far later than this without a problem.
The Bear's webpage is at: http://www.cotswold-inns-hotels.co.uk/ property/the_bear_of_rodborough and they can be contacted on 01453 878 522.
The Bear of Rodborough Hotel
Gloucestershire, GL5 5DE
In the historic south-west corner of the Cotswolds, high above Stroud on the wilds of Rodborough Common, stands the handsome Bear of Rodborough Hotel. Originally built in the 17th century, this former coaching inn provided a much appreciated resting-place on the main coaching route from Gloucester to London. To this day it offers a warm welcome to all. Set in 300 acres of National Trust land, the Bear provides a luxurious retreat where you can enjoy fine food and drink while relaxing in a homely and friendly atmosphere.