Woolley Grange: where eggs and kids are free range
- Credit: Archant
Bridget Galton and family visited the 17th century hotel that started the idea of luxury family stays and found a relaxing mix of quality downtime, good food and culture.
Muddy boots at the door, a fire in the hearth, and a dog in the hall.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a weekend away with friends in the country, but 17th Century Woolley Grange is in fact a hotel; albeit one whose child-friendly informality and cosiness makes you feel like a house guest.
Located near Bradford upon Avon, back in 1988 Nigel and Heather Chapman trailblazed the idea of offering a relaxing country retreat for families, without compromising on style, service or comfort.
The 25-bed hotel’s statement of intent is made clear upon arrival as fishing nets with personalised name tags are handed to each of the kids for pond dipping.
We had barely settled into our Hayloft apartment with huge sitting room, two bedrooms and bathroom, before the four year old was down the stairs and racing through the walled garden.
Here there are greenhouses, gardening activities and eggs to collect from chickens and ducks.
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But she was heading to the pair of wooden huts, one a farm shop the other a kitchen, to play house.
We had to drag her away for a swim in the pool with glazed windows overlooking the garden.
There we were joined by our two boys, who had discovered the swing, football pitch, trampoline and apple trees in the grounds.
For under 8s Woolley’s Den is an on site Ofsted registered crèche with two-hour sessions you can book to get a little respite.
For exhausted parents with young children this service, plus one where trained childcare staff take your children in the mornings and give them breakfast while you go back to sleep, is a godsend.
Ours were just as happy to enjoy the facilties; the Hen House with pool table, Wii and TV is for older kids but has no supervision. There are also sessions when parents can use Woolley’s Den with their kids, and traditional board bat and ball games can be borrowed from reception.
For tinies there’s high tea at 5pm with suitable portion sizes or from 6-7pm older children can eat with or without parents in the conservatory.
We enjoyed aperitifs while they tucked into macaroni cheese, burgers, pizza and ice cream.
After tea there’s a nightly movie and popcorn in the large living room with comfy cushions, that kept our older ones happy until 9.
We tucked the four-year-old up in bed though, turned on the listening service and descended to the dining room for a romantic meal; smoked salmon and roast rump of lamb with ratatouille and bottle of wine - just the two of us.
With some ingredients culled from the walled garden, it’s a modern British menu that hinges on choice; from informal burgers to fancier fine dining.
After a fabulous sleep on luxurious sheets and a soak in the claw-footed bathtub it was back to the conservatory for family breakfast – the kids loved ordering eggs, bacon and pancakes from the menu, while I was ready for a massage in the small onsite spa.
While they were entertained for two hours in Woolley’s Den, their dad was ensconced in the steam room and I was on the therapist’s couch. As her fingers worked their relaxing magic, I was struck by the joy of a break that was delivering something for everyone, where the hotel takes the strain of meals and cleaning, allowing families to enjoy their downtime together.
We’d planned some sightseeing that day. A visit to Roman Bath where the audio tour, with its child-friendly commentary held all three kids fascinated.
They’ve excavated more of the bath complex since I was last here and there are costumed interpreters prepared to answer a battery of questions in character.
Bath itself is great for shopping, restaurants and street theatre – we grabbed a pasty while watching a conjurer in the Abbey square.
On our way home from the West Country we took in another landmark, just 45 minutes from Woolley Grange.
At Stonehenge, English Heritage has recently built a huge new visitor’s centre, shop and restaurant to feed the hordes.
You park two miles away from the site, then take a shuttle bus to the stones.
Again there are audio tours (advisable) to help explain how what might otherwise look like a pile of old stones was likely a sacred place for our distant ancestors. (Lord knows what the Japanese with their selfie sticks made of it though)
Back at the visitor’s centre there are artefacts, reconstructed stone age huts, a room showing Stonehenge in popular culture (Spinal Tap fans, they have the miniature set from the film) and a marvellous 360 degree film which fast forwards you through the millennia to see how the site would have looked through the ages. We climbed back in the car and headed for London having enjoyed a great weekend of culture, leisure and good food. Surely what any good break is about.