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PUBLISHED: 12:51 10 March 2008 | UPDATED: 15:03 20 February 2013
Oliver Draycott sheds a raincoat for comfy slippers and a toasty fire at Woolley Grange a former Jacobean Manor House just outside Bradford on Avon, where Jacobean doesn't mean heavy panelling and oppressive atmosphere.
First impressions are always important and, on a cold, blustery and rainy early February morning, stepping straight out of the weather into the welcoming warmth and smell of a log fire was almost like having someone strip off your rain soaked coat, slip a pair of comfy slippers on your feet and sit you down with a mug of Ovaltine, It's that sort of homely atmosphere that staying at Woolley Grange Hotel in Bradford on Avon conjures up. And quite deliberately so, because Woolley Grange is very much a family orientated hotel catering, not exclusively for professionals with young children, but certainly providing all the facilities that such families will look for on holiday. The fact that Woolley Grange is part of the von Essen group of hotels speaks volumes for the quality of accommodation and service that the clientele expect and the fact that the clientele also includes guests whose families have long flown the coop says much for the all encompassing nature of this former Jacobean Manor house.
The manor house dates from 1665 and remained as a family home for over 400 years until it was turned into a family hotel 19 years ago. The reputation it had acquired during that time made it a natural to be included in von Essen's 'family' catalogue when the group bought it two years ago. The whole thrust of the von Essen philosophy is to offer quality hotel accommodation with great character, superb service and first class food, and Woolley Grange scores on all points here. Quirky would not be too extravagant a word to describe the whole hotel, with its winding passages, its different levels and its gigantic attic rooms looking out across the Wiltshire countryside. We had the opportunity to stay in one of the largest of the attic rooms which probably occupied the footprint of the average one bedroomed flat, complete with gas fire and comfortable armchairs and the largest double bed I've ever had the pleasure of sleeping in.
Each of the hotel's bedrooms are differently furnished with the sort of eclectic collection of pieces that you might expect to find in an old country house. Much of it, as it happens, is sourced from France, but the overall feel is of a comfortable, well heeled English family home, completely devoid of any pretension. Although The Woolley is orientated towards families with young children, there is little outward evidence of that, apart from the quirky little corners and colourful and decorative carved animals that you come across in the corridors (and actually use as landmarks to find your way around!). Guests without families will feel equally at home. The families who tend to stay here are young professionals from the home counties who have left off having children until later in life and it was evident that the children did not feel overawed by their surroundings at all. There is a registered nursery and creche onsite supervised until 4.45pm so, whilst the children are having fun either there, or in the games room, playground, in the (unsupervised) open air swimming pool or on the kick about pitches on the lawns, their parents can relax in one of the hotel's sitting areas content in the knowledge that the children are safe and all they have to do is unwind. That is the philosophy in which the Woolley is firmly anchored: looking after families with children so that they can enjoy a stylish break without compromising on the quality of accommodation or food.
Apart from the period bedrooms in the main building, there are further rooms at some remove: in an outbuilding used by the former owner as his own family accommodation, furnished in a contemporary style, and a series of chalet style rooms overlooking a private lawn ideal for private parties and large family groups. When it comes to eating, there are separate service times for the children (and separate dining areas), so that their parents can have time to themselves later in the main dining room. It's probably superfluous to say that produce is superbly cooked and locally supplied, and you can't get much more local than the organic onsite walled garden which supplies the kitchen with much of its vegetables and herbs.
A weekend is not enough to settle into the well worn armchair that Woolley Grange represents. That is probably why the hotel gets so much repeat business. But it isn't just families they cater for. The corporate market is welcome, with a small conference room tucked away at one end of the maze of rooms and, as an Approved Premises for civil weddings, there couldn't be a better place to start out married life (the hotel tends to find itself accommodating the entire wedding party for the duration).
Spa treatments are available as a room service, although there are plans in the offing for a specially built spa, steam room and indoor swimming pool complex in the grounds, which will make staying at Woolley Grange even more of an inviting prospect. I've been groping for a single word to encompass what it feels like to stay at Woolley Grange: I think it could be 'civilized'.