“ Blackburn Road / Clayton Le Moors / Lancashire / BB5 5JP / Blackburn / United Kingdom / Tel : (+44)1254/303400 „
The Dunkenhalgh Hotel and Spa is a 4 star Mercure hotel in Clayton Le Moors near Blackburn. It's a 700 year old castle-like building which was once a country manor house and still retains many of it's original features. I spent a night here recently as a guest at a wedding and these are my impressions.
It is set in extensive grounds in the Lancashire countryside. There's a long driveway to the impressive turreted facade. If it were not for the fact that it was so busy on the day of our arrival one could almost imagine it being like driving up to a ball at a grand mansion in an Austen novel. The grounds are large and very well kept. As it was swarming with guests my daughter and I hopped out while my husband drove around in search of a parking space. Once inside, some parts of the hotel are very ornate, with a dramatic hallway and staircase to the upper floors.
We arrived with not much time to spare as our journey had taken us longer than we thought, (three hours from Durham). Unfortunately we arrived at the same time as a lot of other people so there was quite a queue at reception, but the three staff members handled it well.
We had been told that the rooms may not be ready until three o clock which was indeed the case. As the wedding was scheduled for 1 0' clock this was somewhat inconvenient. Being told we could use the changing facilities in the spa, off we went to get spruced up. It was a hot day and the changing area was well heated. Myself, husband and daughter got changed in a family/disabled changing area and, dripping with sweat, left our bags with the concierge and went to the bar for a swift drink.
The staff all seemed quite courteous and helpful. Most of them were quite young. The bride and groom and their families gave high praise to the help they had received from staff when organising the wedding.
One family member complained that he had asked for a sandwich to take back to his room and that the staff member had told him to go to his room and phone down for it. He said that he would sooner wait and take it with him, but the staff member suggested again that it would be easier if he went to his room and rang room service. Upon returning to the room he then realised that this would result in a £5 room service charge. The person who the food was for suffers from a medical condition which means they are unable to eat normal meals and need to eat small snacks several times a day, so this did seem very unfair, not to say costly. However, I don't know how clear it was made to the staff concerned that this was an issue.
Food and drinks
There are two bars and one restaurant in the Dunkenhalgh but for our evening meal we were in one of the function rooms.
We had chosen our menu weeks before, as it was sent out with the wedding invites. I couldn't say if any of the food I had would be on the restaurant menu, but as the hotel chefs worked on the wedding menu I can at least give an idea of the standard of food that might be available there.
I am a vegetarian but had been rather dismayed at the choice I was given which was simply - 'vegetarian option'. It's hard to imagine meat eaters being treated the same way - 'Meat option'. Anyway, as I am not a proper vegetarian but rather a pescitarian, (I eat fish), and preferring not to eat a mystery dish, I decided on the fish for my main. I was a bit surprised when this came with green beans wrapped in ham. Apart from this, the meal was fine and my starter of various fruits with sauce had been tasty too.
I was disappointed with the chocolate brioche I had ordered for dessert, it was soggy and bland. A couple of guests at my table weren't keen on the chocolate tartlets they had ordered, claiming they were too strong. I ended up eating half of someone else's chocolate tartlet and found it was certainly intense - too bitter for them perhaps, but not for me, it also tasted strongly of Brandy - delicious. I have no shame.
We ate breakfast in the restaurant next morning. This was part self service with a variety of typical hot breakfast food, a nice selection of fruits and a choice of yoghurts, cereals, pastries and fruit juice. There was also table service for hot drinks and toast.
We only used one of the bars. The drinks weren't cheap; as I recall, a pint and a bottle of lager came to around £7.00.
There are different tariffs for the rooms with the executive suites costing approximately £20.00 more than standard rooms. I was in one of the standard rooms based in the courtyard. It was a nice setting with a three tiered fountain in the middle of a cobbled area. I'm not sure it would be so pleasant to cross the courtyard to my room if the weather was bad though.
I stayed in a family room which had one double bed and one single. The decor was somewhat dated and on close inspection a bit shabby. Although not dirty, there was mould in the corners of the room and the wardrobe door was broken. The bathroom was decent and the bed was very comfortable. I did get a great nights sleep despite the fact that our room backed onto the bottle recycling area which meant regular crashes and we were also near enough to the entertainment to hear the speakers booming until the early hours. I woke up wishing I could take the bed home with me.
I did have a nose around another room, which was one of the executive ones. This was much more plush, but I still didn't think it was great; it was quite a long room with a lot of dark wood which made it seem a touch gloomy. Other than that, it did seem nice. There was more furniture than in ours; sofa, chair and table, big soft headboard, paintings on the wall. If there had been much wrong with it I can guarantee the occupants would have noticed, (my parents are very good at pointing out faults).
Other relatives were not so impressed - As I checked out I bumped into a cousin who was there to complain about her room, she said it was incredibly hot and as a result she hadn't been able to sleep, as well as this she wasn't impressed by the cleanliness levels. I left before hearing the outcome.
I was lucky enough to not have to pay a penny, but I have had a look at the website to check out the pricing and it begins at around £69 for most rooms and £99 for a 'privilige' (sic) room. In family rooms parents are allowed free accommodation for one child and breakfast is free too, this was good for us it meant our daughter went free. There is limited room for another child, but zip beds are available.
It was a busy night with two weddings and a military function. Given that the parking is for four hundred it must have been difficult for everone to find a space.
I didn't use the spa facilities here - (other than the changing rooms!), but have gleaned that there is a small, (12 meter), swimming pool with a whirlpool, and sauna and steam rooms. There is also a gymnasium and various spa treatments available. It's open from 7am til 11pm.
Other services include some fine rooms available for business meetings, wi-fi access (for a fee) and currency exchange.
The hotel is situated approximately 35 minutes drive from Manchester Airport, half an hour from Blackpool and the nearest main train station is at Blackburn, ten minutes away.
I had a look on a well known travel website for reviews and found they veered wildly between five star and one star ratings. It's not a particularly expensive hotel, so if you book when it's not busy the chances are you will have a lovely room in a historical building and not much room for complaint. I think where it falls down is that there are some rooms that need refurbishing and these are rented out when the hotel is busy which obviously leads to bad ratings. Paying the extra for an executive room could make all the difference.
I would say it's not a bad hotel, but it's a bit rough around the edges. I think it tries to give the impression of being more luxurious than it actually is. I think it would be possible to have two quite different experiences staying here, based mainly on the quality of the rooms. Although my room wasn't great I have no complaints about the rest of the hotel, or the staff. The public areas were very well kept. The food was good, although nothing special and the chefs could offer more choice for vegetarians. It is a beautiful old building, but first impressions can be misleading.