“ Address: Trowbridge Road / Bradford on Avon / Wiltshire BA15 1UH / Tel: 01225 864750 „
THOSE WERE THE DAYS
With two young children, it's not often that my wife and I get to holiday as a couple. Our toddler is too attached to his mum to be left comfortably overnight with either of his willing sets of grandparents, and with our third child imminent, the prospects of a weekend away now look even more remote. As such, we have bowed to the inevitable and replaced our annual wedding anniversary trips with a more family orientated weekend away. Our destination of choice in October was Longleat, so we wanted a comfortable hotel to overnight in, preferably one which included tickets for the safari park. After a bit of on-line research, Widbrook Grange Hotel was available and seemed to fit the bill nicely.
THE ROAD NOT TAKEN
The property is located on the outskirts of Bradford on Avon, about a twenty five minute drive from Longleat. The drive from south-west London took an easy hour and fifty minutes. For those more familiar with Bath, Widbrook Grange is about twenty minutes away. We placed our faith in our trusty TomTom to get us there, but unfortunately, the postcode provided on the hotel literature was a little imprecise. Slavish adherence to its directions would have deposited us in the middle of a ploughed field. Fortunately, we exercised a bit of common sense and continued about 100 yards further down the A363 Trowbridge Road, and were relieved to discover the clearly signposted, hedge-lined narrow drive to the hotel. There is normally sufficient parking on-site, but we arrived at the same time as a wedding party, so space was a little tight.
GEORGIAN COUNTRY HOUSE
The main house at Widbrook Grange (named after a small brook that runs through the property) was originally built in the early 1700's and much of the original Georgian structures and outbuildings remain, albeit now converted into hotel facilities. The three AA star 11-acre property is run by live-in owners Jane and Peter Wragg, and boasts a AA Rosette awarded in-house restaurant called the Medlar Tree. It is a full service hotel, with the added benefit of an indoor, heated swimming pool, small gym and a visiting beauty and therapy service which is booked by appointment.
The grounds are very well looked after, and exploration is encouraged. Its twenty en-suite rooms offer a modest variety of accommodation, from family rooms with adjoining interior doors, to more romantic four poster affairs. Each is named after an English poet or literary figure. There are some rooms in the main house, but the majority are built - cottage row style - around the main courtyard. As you enter the discretely sign-posted main building, the Reception is counter intuitively located at the back of the house, at the end of the corridor, past a couple of nicely decorated and well-appointed lounges.
A CHAOTIC WELCOME
Apart from the reception desk, the area also accommodates a tiny bar that appears to be built into the wall, and a wooden bookcase stuffed full of leaflets on the hotel and local attractions. When we pitched up, with our two tired and restless kids in tow, the desk was deserted. After several and gradually more insistent dings of the bell, an apologetic manager finally turned up. It was clear the arriving wedding party was running them ragged, so we made some allowances for the delay. In any event, we were warmly welcomed and directed to our room, which was located in one of the outbuildings, at ground level and fairly close to the pool.
ROOM ENOUGH FOR FOUR
The door to our accommodation opened directly onto the courtyard. The wooden plaque next to it sported the name of 19th century romantic poet John Keats. The large golf umbrella in the clay pot just outside the door was a nice touch, as was a book of Keats' letters just inside the door. The room was generously furnished, but the décor will not be to all tastes (it was a bit chintzy and worn for me) but is entirely in keeping with the period country house theme. The walls are decorated with mounted china plates, and although the patterned carpet had seen better days, and was a little matted in places, it was clean and acceptable.
There was a small but adequate wall-mounted flat screen TV discretely tucked into the corner behind the door which featured around 40 Freeview channels, two double beds, the cot we had requested when we booked, and ample wardrobe space (fronted by a full length mirror) for our clothes. Free WiFi (with a code obtained from reception) is available throughout the property, and coverage and speed were excellent throughout our stay. A small kettle, with a generous selection of tea, coffee and hot chocolate, a tea pot for brewing, phone and alarm clock are also provided. A work desk, bedside tables and a dressing table with mirror complete the picture.
The bathroom features a bath with shower (with decent pressure) but we found the glass screen was a bit wobbly and had a habit of drifting out of position. The sink was under the window, with the mirror positioned over the toilet, making shaving a little bit messy. It was also a little difficult to get the temperature right with the shower. Gilbert & Soames toiletries are provided, and are a nice touch, and although we brought our own stuff, its clear that they had not accounted for four people when laying them out.
THE POOL & FACILITIES
The pool was a key selling point for us, as, having arrived just after lunch, we had some time to kill before dinner before the planned visit to Longleat the next day. Towels are provided at reception, with the pool located as an extension of the outbuilding where we had our room. Access is via the opposite side of the courtyard, and given the chilly weather, we were happy to find on-site changing facilities. The indoor, tiled pool enjoys a lot of natural light, is heated, and though comfortable enough, I doubt it was anywhere near the 29 degrees advertised. We had it to ourselves most of the time, and the kids thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Some of the pool-side floats and armbands added to the fun.
The changing rooms and area around the pool appeared well maintained, but there was an unseemly build up of grime on the edges at the far end of the pool where the water met the tile. Unfortunately, while the pool was warm, the changing rooms were unheated, which given the chilly weather, was far from ideal. In retrospect, it would have been more comfortable to towel off in the pool area before walking round to our room to change. The pool is overlooked by a small gym, but we didn't use the facilities so can't really comment.
I treated my wife to a pre-natal pamper package, which was booked for late afternoon. The gregarious and chatty therapist arrived well before time and set up a massage table and her kit in our room. I absented myself, taking my son for a walk around the grounds, and while our daughter watched, apparently enthralled, my wife enjoyed an hour and a half of massage, facial, manicure and pedicure for a not unreasonable £78.
PLEASE SIR, I WANT SOME MORE
A real highlight of our stay was dinner in the Medlar Tree Restaurant, which is also open to non-residents and is served between 18:30 and 21:00. It can get quite busy at weekends, so booking is encouraged. Our package included dinner, breakfast, an overnight stay and tickets to Longleat the next day for around £300 all in, and it proved to be excellent value. The restaurant was truly outstanding, and well deserving of its AA Rosette. I can easily say, without exaggeration, that the food - for quality, creativity, and presentation - easily rivalled what's available in the City of London. The Head Chef, Phil Carrol, uses fresh, locally sourced ingredients (some plucked from the gardens on the grounds) to create classic British dishes.
Starters are priced at £6, mains at £16 (with side dishes at £2.50 each) and puddings are around the £6 mark. I had a duck liver parfait, with orange and fennel butter, melba toast and plum chutney to start, followed by a braised shoulder of lamb, red onion rosti and redcurrant gravy, and would have gladly eaten it twice over. We topped it off by sharing a cherry and chocolate baked Alaska, and a sticky raisin and walnut pudding with toffee sauce and clotted cream which was deliciously sinful. The restaurant itself deserves a separate review. Suffice it to say, the service was warm and attentive without being overly intrusive. The atmosphere is cosy and informal, and when our kids started getting antsy, we retired to one of the lounges and had the dessert and coffees served to us there.
TO SLEEP, PERCHANCE TO DREAM
After the long journey and exertions in the pool, our kids were more than ready to turn in, so we made our way back to our room and settled in for the night. Unfortunately our upstairs neighbours, part of the wedding party, were only just getting going, so whilst our kids managed to get off to sleep quickly enough, the noise kept us awake for some time. Coupled with the fact that the beds were not really to our liking, and we both endured a fitful night's sleep. It should also be noted that the room shared an adjoining wall with the pool, which is open until 10pm. Given our room was a family room, you would have thought that the hotel would have borne this in mind, especially when booking the room upstairs, but I suppose it was hardly their fault. In every other respect, the hotel is completely family friendly - from the way staff interact with kids, through to the well thought out kid's menu at dinner, the clean cots and high chairs, and available baby-sitting services.
BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS
Breakfast was served in the conservatory, with views over a small garden, and although it was a frosty October morning, it was well heated. The cereals, locally produced yoghurt, juices and fruit salad were a help-yourself affair from a small table. We both ordered a full English, with smaller bits and bobs for the kids, and were served a generous rack of toast while we waited for the main meal to arrive. After a short wait we were treated to perfectly poached eggs, well cooked flavourful bacon and sausages, lovely mushrooms and well -seasoned tomato. Coffee arrived piping hot in a cafetiere, and along with the food, set us up perfectly for the bust day ahead.
WOULD WE GO BACK?
Perhaps the best measure of a hotel experience is whether you would go back again. If you were to take the Medlar Tree experience out of the occasion, it would be a qualified "probably". I am still remain to be convinced by the slightly dated bedroom, and felt that the whole experience was a little let down by the quality of our night's sleep. That said, given the service we received throughout our stay, the pool facilities (despite is shortcomings), and the cleanliness of the house and grounds, and its rural setting, Widbrook Grange thoroughly deserves its three AA Stars - however, I don't think it would take too much effort or investment to earn the fourth, and give the restaurant the hotel it so thoroughly deserves.
Wiltshire BA15 1UH
Tel: 01225 864 750
Fax: 01225 862 890
Internet: www.widbrookgrange.com (with on-line booking facility)
All major credit cards accepted
© Hishyeness 2011