High Street, Market Harborough, Leicestershire LE16 7NJ. Tel: +44(0)1858 466644 Switchboard. Email email@example.com.
Market Harborough is a lovely little market town in southern Leicestershire which deserves to have a better choice of hotels than it currently does. Probably the best established of its larger hotels is the Three Swans and I'd like to be completely upfront about how I feel about this place - quite simply I just don't like it. I feel it represents many of the worst aspects of small town hotels of the type that gives the UK hotel trade a bad name whilst at the same time selling an outdated and cliched vision of Olde England to tourists in search of a dream.
The hotel has a great location, right in the middle of Market Harborough, just up the road from St Dionysius's Church and the Old Grammar School and only a short walk from anything you could possibly want to see in the town. From the outside it appears to have quite a lot going for it - and I'm sure that if you get the right room and pay a bit more, you could be quite charmed by the place, especially if you are in search of that Olde Worlde charm that it purports to offer. It's probably ideal for American tourists with deep pockets who want to experience what they imagine to be 'the real England'. From the front view, it's an historic old building, painted in bright white paint with the windows picked out in black. You instinctively know this is classic 'hanging basket' territory and it's going to be a bit cheesy in every possible way.
I stayed there 4 years ago for a company 'event' that necessitated about 12 of us to stay over for the night despite many of us not living terribly far away. I guess they thought it was some kind of team-building event - personally I'd much rather have had a taxi home and skipped the overnight stay altogether.
The first challenge when visiting the Three Swans by car is to get to the car park. Since the hotel stands on the main road that passes through Market Harborough you'd imagine it can't be all that hard to find, but due to the one way system, you really do have to go out of your way and tackle a complex one-way system in order to get in. In my case, despite knowing Market Harborough quite well, I had to go round twice before I judged correctly and found my way in.
I was used to seeing the Three Swans from the front and so expected it would be quite a charming little place. It's a 16th Century ex-coaching inn that's been offering hospitality to travellers for nearly five centuries. They claim that King Charles I spent the night there on the eve of the Battle of Naseby in 1645 though since he lost horribly badly, I doubt if he were not long dead he'd probably prefer to not be reminded.
In contrast to the front of the hotel which drips with the weight of centuries of history, the car park approach brings you straight to a really dowdy modern block which sadly housed the rooms where we had been booked to stay. I can find very little information about the rooms on the hotel's website so I don't actually know if we were just unlucky in being put out in the new block or if they don't even have rooms in the historic part - mind you, when a hotel website doesn't tell you anything about their bedrooms other than how many there are, I think you have a right to be concerned about what you are letting yourself in for.
I was allocated a soulless and instantly forgettable room overlooking the car park. It's a few years since I was there and absolutely nothing sticks in my memory about the room other than a general sense of dreariness and a great need for redecorating. In fact the most prominent memory I retain of the hotel is the utterly awful carpet that's throughout the place - a strange design of three interlinked swans that beggars belief that someone must have specially commissioned a design so lacking in taste or colour balance.
The Three Swans promotes its conference facilities with day and overnight delegate rates. As we were on such a package, eating in the place was pretty much compulsory. On the first evening we ate in the restaurant upstairs - a place that dares to insist on 'jackets for gentlemen' which I thought ridiculously dated in the 21st Century. Food was stodgy and traditional - nothing wrong with the quality but nothing memorable or exciting. Plenty of time was spent in the bar afterwards but again, that was not anything special.
Our meeting room was of a 'boardroom' size and layout and was perfectly adequate but again, instantly forgettable and a buffet lunch was served in the room which again wasn't anything special.
I can't help but feel that the Three Swans is in dire need of more nearby competition in order to give it the kick up the backside that it needs to bring its offer into the 21st Century. I have no reason to return and I don't regret that in the slightest. I honestly couldn't recommend it to anyone unless they were fixated on the Battle of Naseby and wanted to soak up the Charles I story. I do however strongly recommend a visit to Market Harborough and if you're travelling with your own transport, would suggest to try out many of the B&Bs that lie in the villages between Northampton and Market Harborough. My personal favourite is the outstanding and amazingly hospitable 'Lake House' in Brixworth. Don't book anything in Market Harborough for too long though as there's not a lot in the town to make you linger for more than a day.
If you're looking for things to do in the area, my personal recommendations would be to visit Foxton Locks, just north of the town and a lovely place to learn about the canal system, Naseby Battlefield which is more of a monument to the country's apathy about the second most important battle ever fought on British soil and check out the villages for lots of lovely country walking.
An aside - My parents have stayed at the Three Swans when taking a coach tour many years ago and thought it was really quite charming. So please don't take my word for it that this place is dire - for many people it may be just what they are looking for.
Looking to stay in Market Harborough? You have a choice of two hotels both of them excellent and both apparently haunted! The Three Swans Hotel is an ancient coaching Inn, first mentioned in writing in 1517. It is a lovely hotel with either modern rooms in new blocks at the rear or lovely old rooms with 4 poster beds. (I know I spent my wedding night there!) The food is exceptional and very well known locally for it's quality, though it is not cheap, and you cannot expect much change from £80 for a meal for 2 in the exclusive restaurant. Bar snacks are also available at a much more affordable rate. The Hotel is said to be haunted by John Fothergill who was licencee during and just after WW2. He used to walk around the town dressed in cloak, top hat and buckled shoes and it is said that Basil Fawlty was based on him. His picture hangs above the mantelpiece in Fothergills bar and it is a fact that every time it has been taken down some disaster has befallen the Hotel from fires to accidental deaths. They no longer take it down, even under recent refurbishments the picture remained up among all the dust! The other main Hotel in Market Harborough is The Angel. This too is an old Coaching Inn and is very modern and pleasant. Some rooms have jaccuzzi and all are well equipped. The bar at the rear - now closed is part of the old stables and is a very chilling place. The story is that a young woman was murdered there hundreds of years ago and she still haunts the spot! If you are interested in the many ghost stories visit the hauntedharborough web site, if you just want somewhere nice to stay give the tourist information a ring on 01858 821270.