It was that time of year again; my wife’s birthday and nothing planned. She had taken me on a surprise night away for mine, six months earlier, and I thought why not do the same with her. The problem was where?
Unless you have a firm recommendation, finding a hotel that fits your taste, budget and locational criteria is difficult. Plenty of smartly designed web sites, with good photography – some might even say trick photography– entice web surfers to book a stay. More often than not, the reality doesn’t match the expectation. If I was going to the trouble and expense, then I really wanted my selection to live up to both my wife’s and mine.
My primary criteria was to choose somewhere within an hour and a half’s drive, or thereabouts, as we were only going for one night, so we could arrive early afternoon and have plenty of time to settle in and explore the locality, and then have a relaxing celebratory dinner somewhere that evening.
After endless googling, I zeroed in on a target area around Bath, remembering how nice Bradford-On-Avon was. Narrowing the search criteria on some hotel websites, Widbrook Grange appeared with a special offer. I clicked into their website and liked what I saw. My immediate reaction was: this is our kind of place. It looked classy, charming, and contemporary, with rooms set in and around an old Georgian farmhouse, not far outside Bradford-On-Avon.
I decided to ring them and book directly, if I could. I still, for some reason, have a reluctance to book through online offers on comparison web sites. I like talking to people who are integral and connected to what I’m looking at: it somehow either reassures me or immediately tells me to look elsewhere.
The manager I spoke to was polite, listened to what I had to say and registered it was my wife’s birthday. When I asked him about the size of the room in the offer I’d seen, he admitted it wasn’t one of their best, but said he would be happy to put us in one of their standard rooms for the offer price. I readily agreed and immediately felt an immense sense of relief; I had actually managed to book something in advance – well, a few days ahead anyway. A nice stay in a country hotel and dinner out would definitely be better than a last minute dash to TK Maxx in desperation (call me cheap). I decided to write my wife a birthday card, telling her to pack for one night, and not tell her where we were going. Pretty romantic, huh? So far, so good.
We arrived in good time, wound our way through Bradford-On-Avon, and after a mile or so, came across a small sign to the right indicating we’d reached our destination. We turned off and drove down a long driveway arriving a nice-looking, solid Georgian house. First impressions were good, although the planting along the entrance needed some attention. When we entered the house and went into the reception it was inviting and the decor appealing. The on duty manager welcomed us, and after checking in, showed us to our accommodation, in a tastefully constructed low-rise the other side of the driveway, adjacent to the gardens.
That moment the key is turned, as you follow hotel staff into the room that you’ve been allocated, is usually a pivotal one, but fortunately, this time, it was a good one. As we processed its size, appearance, decor, furnishings and bedding, everything stacked up to a high score. Phew. Things were looking good, I thought. My wife was definitely happy. I know all her expressions well and I knew she liked the hotel, the location and the room. I had pulled a rabbit out of the hat. It had a peaceful outlook onto two sides of the garden, and importantly, the bathroom was a good size; stylish, well designed, and above all clean.
Although we could have eaten at the hotel that night, I had booked a table at the Thai Barn restaurant in the town (trying to minimise any risk) that I remembered as being good from many years earlier. It was excellent. One of the best Thai meals we’ve had for a long time and highly recommended to anyone in the vicinity. Having said that, the restaurant/dining room at the hotel looked inviting, and we felt confident that if we’d stayed we would have enjoyed ourselves.
The hotel has 19 bedrooms in total, each uniquely decorated and furnished in a contemporary chic style, tastefully blending old and new. There is a small, snug bar area, which specialises in having an exceptional range of Gin, as well as a comfortable sitting room.
Outside are single-storey outbuildings wrapping around a courtyard, with more accommodation, all in local stone, and one large one, containing the indoor swimming pool and spa. The pool area was the one area that had yet to be renovated at the time we visited and looked in need of repair. After talking with the manager, complimenting him on the place, we learned that the owner had engaged a specialist boutique hotel operator, to assist with the improvements and running of the hotel, to maximise its operation, market niche and appeal. They were 80% of the way through the refurbishment and the pool was next up.
We had a good nights sleep, on a large King size bed, with Egyptian cotton sheets, goose down duvets and extremely comfortable pillows.
The following morning we had the full English in the dining room, which was light, airy and pleasant to be in. The food and service were good.
We packed the car and left, feeling happy that we’d had a nice break from our daily routine, in a nice place that was worth the money we’d spent. We would definitely recommend Widbrook Grange to friends and family and would stay again if we were to visit the area in the future.
We learned from the hotel operator, they have a small number of other hotels running on a similar concept, where they are in partnership with the owner, and one he told us about in Norfolk sounds like a distinct possibility sometime in the future.