Wiltshire BA15 1TX
Saturday mornings with our two children usually begins with an early start and a muddy football pitch.
This becomes much more bearable when we plan to spend the rest of the day at the Woolley Grange Hotel, Bradford-on-Avon. The Wiltshire hotel is long-established as an upmarket family retreat and the spa has become a haven for local members.
The spa is housed in an attractive outbuilding comprising treatment rooms, pool, sauna and steam room. There is a tranquil atmosphere – my eldest liked the ‘nature music’ – and the calming scent of oils made us feel immediately at ease. Parents can relax and enjoy the space with their children without feeling uncomfortable about squeals and splashes in the pool.
Throughout our visit it was evident that it was the little things at Woolley Grange that really appeal to families (not just the spinny machine to dry our swimming costumes, which provided unexpected entertainment). Balance bikes in the entrance hall, trampoline in the grounds, a vintage tractor to scramble over, a teenage retreat with games consoles and a chocolate-coloured cocker spaniel called Peanut all serve to make this the perfect retreat.
After we’d spent time in the pool together, we walked over to Woolley Bears Den – the crèche available to guests and members from newborn upwards. The friendly staff made the boys feel immediately welcome – the five-year-old headed for the comfy sofas to watch 101 Dalmatians and the three-year-old was gently encouraged to find an activity that appealed to him.
Like many things at Woolley Grange, the Den was relaxed and comfortable without being overly prescriptive – a vibe achieved with dedicated and understated charm. As Claire Hammond, General Manager, explains, “It’s like having friends with a big house in the country – it’s a place to relax easily without things feeling too structured.”
And so my husband and I return to the spa to read the papers and enjoy a massage, enabling us to fully unwind. My back, neck and shoulder massage was perfect – starting with a gentle ‘tranquillity welcome’ and a heated blanket to relax the muscles, followed by a massage using the Sacred Nature Oil from the spa’s organic range of products.
The spa also serves as an informal space where guests and members can hang out. Ladies in robes enjoyed afternoon tea without having to transfer to the main building. The children’s afternoon tea menu looked delightful – including Rice Krispie cake, jelly and ice cream and babyccinos.
Returning to the Den an hour later we discovered the boys had played skittles and created some masterpieces which were displayed on the nursery wall next to those of other happy little customers.
We were shown to The Orangery for lunch. Two hungry children were fed quickly with fresh haddock and chips – one of a good number of lunch options – followed by sponge pudding with custard and banana split. The verdict was ‘yummy scrummy’. We ate from the table d’hôte lunch menu (two courses £14.50, three courses £19.50) and chose a tasty pea and mint risotto and decent salmon with potato and spinach and a tomato and basil dressing. Dessert was a perfectly sticky apple tarte tartin and a seriously good chocolate and hazelnut terrine with marmalade ice cream. A three-course Sunday lunch can be enjoyed by non-residents (£21.50) and is a great venue for a relaxed family meal in delightful surroundings.
Later we explored the beautiful grounds and discovered the outdoor pool, croquet mallets and pond with imaginary talking crocodile. Walking through the walled gardens – where staff grow cut flowers for the hotel and vegetables for the restaurant – we came upon a charming play area. The old tractor was a big hit with the boys. Two lovely wooden playhouses – the ‘Woolley Grange Farm Shop’ and a bunting-strewn cafe – were furnished with plenty of toys to encourage imaginary play while parents can sit on the verandahs and enjoy pretend pots of tea. The gardens are designed to be interactive so that children can touch and smell the herb garden and explore the trialling strawberry plants and hanging beans.
While residents played games by the log fire before dinner, we headed home feeling happy and relaxed. Woolley Grange really does achieve a tranquil sense of contentment for guests and members, parents and children alike.