The thought of swimming outdoors in England, particularly on a dreary January morning, was enough to send a shiver down my spine. But that was before I experienced the haven and luxury of the family-friendly Woolley Grange Hotel in Wiltshire – where outdoor swimming was just one of the pleasures we experienced during our weekend stay.
Having wanted to visit this luxury family hotel since my kids were born, I found myself bounding up the stairs of the entrance to the elegant Wiltshire manor house before my husband had even parked the car, with my five- and seven-year-old sons close behind. Our excitable arrival was met with smiles all round as attentive staff welcomed us into the warm and homely reception area.
"It didn't take long for my fears of them catching pneumonia to subside as we sank into the pool that is heated to bath temperature and had steam rising off it. Only the promise of hot chocolate and home-made cookies delivered to the room could get my boys (husband included) out."
After our two-and-a half-hour drive from London to Bradford-on-Avon, complete with boys rowing and the bleeps of computer games, we felt an immediate sense of calm descend us. Even the resident dog was chilled out.
The charming décor of the hotel's living rooms is apparent throughout, and the mix of antique and contemporary furnishings is carried through into the 26 different bedrooms. Our Chapmans suite, one of a few new rooms to be added just outside of the hotel's main house, was one of the loveliest I have ever seen. Leaving the boys to explore their sleeping quarters we marvelled at the size of our separate room, where the bed was so big and comfortable it could have fitted all four of us comfortably.
Spotting their own towelling robes on the bed (just one of many small home comforts we discovered), the boys were eager to search out the swimming pool – which seemed like a ludicrous idea at the time. However, it didn't take long for my fears of them catching pneumonia to subside as we braved the cold winds and sank into the pool that is heated to bath temperature and had steam rising off it. Only the promise of hot chocolate and home-made cookies delivered to the room could get my boys (husband included) out.
Keeping the kids entertained is not difficult, as the hotel caters for every age. There is a room full of games and bats and balls, a huge trampoline, football pitches and an outdoor play area. And that's before I even mention the kids' playroom – one of the reasons families come back time and time again. Unlike other child-friendly hotels I've visited, Woolley Grange has its own staffed nursery den – a gigantic room full of every toy imaginable. For parents of little ones, this is paradise, as it provides the perfect play area for kids aged 0–7 years. There is also the old hen house for older kids, complete with table football, air hockey and books.
Desperate for some 'me' time, we were not surprised our kids didn't protest too much at being left in the kids' club. With two members of staff at their beck and call, who could blame them? And with the kids and husband happy (a beautician had arrived to give the latter an in-room massage), I took it upon myself to explore my surroundings.
The hotel's walled garden offers a lovely place for a walk. but for something more strenuous stroll around the 14 acres of grounds. I took the lazy option and reclined in the lounge to soak up some of the hotel's atmosphere. It was here that I discovered exactly why Woolley Grange continues to be the benchmark by which other family-friendly hotels are measured. Babies crawl around screeching in delight, unpredictable demands of kids are met and no-one looks twice when a toddler tantrum is in full flow.
Even during our wonderful supper, staff seemed unflustered when kids were making a mess, drinks were overflowing and a game of Scrabble was being played on the floor. Fun and laughter is encouraged, and this is what makes Woolley so special. And for those after some peace and quiet, the hotel has a separate dining room for adults, where we were treated to some divine dishes.
So relaxation and pampering does come at a price, but for over-worked and stressed-out parents, it is worth every penny.
Find out more about Woolley Grange and book now.