The idea of staying in a luxury family hotel with a two-year-old was a novel one. I mean, there aren’t many hotels where you can arrive with an excitable toddler only to be greeted by bats and balls, a trampoline and Peanut, the cocker spaniel. Or maybe there are, it’s just that pre-kids you wouldn’t have a clue where to find them or even entertain the idea of going anywhere near one. And so it came to pass that we arrived at Woolley Grange, an elegant 17th-century Jacobean manor house in Bradford-on-Avon, complete with 14 acres of grounds and oodles of Cotswold charm.
Pitching itself as a relaxing haven for adults and a dream destination for kids, walking into the reception area at Woolley was like walking into an old friend’s living room. We found staff to be attentive and eager to engage with our little boy Toby, even though he’d emptied the toy box onto the floor before moving on to take a shot at the drawing room. Had we been anywhere else he would have been quickly scooped up and frogmarched to our room, but here we got the impression that the whole place was open for exploration. The low-beamed ceilings and oak panelling added to the grandeur of this child-friendly hotel, and as we were shown to our room, Toby full of excitement, us a little jaded from the three-hour drive from Brighton, a sense of calm descended over this family.
Chapmans Suite, our home in this small luxury hotel for the next couple of days, was furnished simply with an interesting mix of contemporary and antique furnishings. Discreet touches, such as cut flowers and fresh fruit, added to the homely feel. The beams in the bedroom hinted to the fact that we were staying in a hotel that was in fact once a grand old barn, and the bed was big enough for all of us. Sleeping on it was a dream, which could explain why I kept sneaking off for afternoon naps at every available opportunity. With the slick, plasma screen TV and old-school Roberts radio next to the bed, there’s actually no need to leave your room.
After a cup of tea and some delicious, homemade biscuits it was time to sample the outdoor heated pool. Bathrobes were provided for our comfort, two large and one Toby-sized, which is a lovely idea. At first, I found myself coming up with every possible excuse not to whip it off, brave the icy cold winds, strip down to my bathing costume and take the plunge. But once I spied the elegant swimming pool with steam rising invitingly off the water I was sold. It was each man for himself as we ran for the shallow end and quickly sunk into the gloriously warm water before we noticed how cold it was outside. The teak sun beds arranged round the pool harked back to warmer times, when you’d spend lazy summer days relaxing with an ice-cold glass of rosé and the latest copy of Country Living.
A selection of healthy children’s meals are served at 5pm in the Den, the Ofsted-registered nursery, which means with supper taken care of, all parents have to do is put the children to bed, request the baby-listening service (babysitting can also be arranged) and settle down to a relaxing meal. The hotel restaurant has two separate areas; one kept mainly for the kids, the other for the grown ups, who are treated to crisp white linen, gleaming silverware, and original watercolours on the walls. (Home from home comfort but on a decidedly grander scale – surely the exact point of spending time away in a hotel.) Head chef, Mark Bradbury, uses quality ingredients from local suppliers, while the fruit and vegetables come from the hotel’s very own Victorian walled garden. The menu has been well thought out, resulting in excellently prepared, beautifully presented food. Leisurely after-dinner drinks in the drawing room were replaced with a nightcap in our room, as by this time we were full, happy and ready to retreat to that divine bed.
No stay at Woolley Grange would be complete without several visits to the Den, which is packed full of high-quality toys that sent our junior into sensory overload. If you could wish for the perfect child’s bedroom, it would be this hotel playroom. What other hotel gives you the option of leaving your children for a couple of hours while you nip into Bath for a spot of shopping, safe in the knowledge that they are being looked after by experienced, attentive staff? For older kids, there’s the Hen House, which has table football, a cosy corner full of books and videos and other delights to keep them entertained.
In fact, there’s nothing that the people at this family-friendly luxury hotel haven’t thought of. The pile of newspapers, pot of tea and warm milk for Toby delivered to your door first thing in the morning is the perfect way to start the day. Breakfast in the conservatory is a fun affair as the kids run riot and staff don’t even flinch as cereal and scrambled eggs come at them from all directions. Alongside the oversized white china lie plastic bowls and multicoloured cutlery for the kids. Like I said, they’ve thought of everything.
You can even take Peanut for a walk around the grounds and pretend that this is actually your house, he is actually your cute, mild-mannered dog and this is actually real life – for a few days at least.