One thing I’ve learned since becoming a dad is that going on holiday with young children is only ever relaxing if you get some time off from being parents.
So I was delighted that Mrs B discovered Woolley Grange in Wiltshire: a luxury bolthole for families where all the paraphernalia of parenting is provided and there’s free childcare on tap!
Why We Chose To Stay At Woolley Grange
We hadn’t had a holiday since I started being a stay at home dad, so decided we needed a treat to celebrate our 20th anniversary of meeting on a drunken night out in Brighton.
We’ve been away without the wild boys before (thank you grandparents) but this time there was no option but to bring them along, and we wanted to try to have the best of both worlds.
Woolley Grange is not a budget option but we were visiting out of high season and it was a special occasion, we also love Wiltshire as it was where we got married. The rooms range from a small family double (with space for a cot) to The Hayloft, a suite with two bedrooms, a generous sitting room and a bathroom that sleeps seven.
We chose somewhere in-between, The John Baskerville Suite which had a double room with a bathroom and a separate sitting room downstairs. If you have older children I think the interconnecting family rooms would be the best option.
The hotel is located just outside Bradford on Avon, an elegant town of Cotswold stone buildings in a river valley a few miles from Bath. The entrance is hidden down a quiet lane and there is ample parking in the grounds (we never had any problems finding a space) which is essential when you’re unloading children and luggage.
All the staff we met were very friendly and helpful and after a long drive, it was great to have someone show us around and make clear that this was meant to be a home from home.
The decor is traditional country house as opposed to contemporary but the atmosphere was definitely relaxed and not at all stuffy or pretentious. We could hear and see lots of other families with young children so there was an immediate sense of letting your guard down; no one was going to point and stare if one of the boys shouted “Poo face” at the top of his voice or had a meltdown over a missing toy.
The main building is great fun for children to explore, with a lounge, small playroom, dining room and conservatory (where breakfast and family meals were served) all running off a central entrance hall.
Sleeping At Woolley Grange
Our suite was at the top of the main staircase and was like having a small London flat all to ourselves! The only conundrum was where to put the boys.
On the first night, we tried Frankie in a cot on the landing outside our room and Billy on a z-bed in the sitting room. Unfortunately, with the reception and stairs so close by it was quite noisy downstairs so bear that in mind if your children are light sleepers. Having one child in the sitting room also meant we had to creep past him to leave or enter the room.
So on the second night, we shifted things around. Billy’s bed went up into our room, Frankie’s cot went into the bathroom where it was quieter, and we put the sofabed out in the sitting room as a fallback option for us. This worked out much better and both boys dropped off more easily.
With this in mind, I’d recommend talking to the hotel about which rooms are the quietest if you have a baby or children who wake easily. I noticed a pretty stone annexe at the back of the main hotel building that would probably give you more privacy and peace.
Eating And Drinking At Woolley Grange
When we arrived at the hotel the kitchen was having problems as the gas had failed but they managed to create a barbeque on the first night and I was impressed by how they handled the disruption and produced a small selection of gastropub style burgers and skinny fries (some other people were complaining but we didn’t feel the need).
Breakfast for families is served in the orangery, a lovely light, relaxed space with a buffet (plenty of child-friendly options) and the option to order a variety of cooked options from the kitchen. I’d urge you to do this as the eggs are supplied by the local farmer at Southview Farm, and the locally reared sausages and bacon come from Bartlett’s family butchers in Bath. Oh, and it was delicious!
Eating out as a family can sometimes be stressful but there are several options for your evening meal, which means you can be flexible around bedtimes. On the first evening, we chose to eat a family dinner with the boys, which is served at 6pm in the conservatory.
The orangery is set aside for families so there is no feeling of disturbing early evening child-free diners in the main restaurant. You can also ask for toys or paper and pens at the table and no one seemed to mind the usual mess that young children inevitably leave in their wake. Billy got down and ran off a couple of times but a friendly member of staff was on hand to retrieve him or at least tell us which room he’d run off to!
The children’s menu was good, not fussy but enough variety to please most children. Over the course of our stay the boys ate spag bol, pasta and pesto, and the fish goujons with chips and peas were very popular. They were also served crudites with a homemade hummus and we were delighted to see Billy tucking into the carrot sticks (we didn’t tell him it was veg)!
On the second night we decided to give Billy and Frankie their tea at 5pm, and eat on our own later. We used the free baby listening service – you simply leave your phone off the hook and dial through to reception. It’s easy to pop back up to your room and check on them if you want to. So although it took until 8pm to exit the room we did eventually have a meal together.
The food is a la carte modern European but the portions were generous. The seasonal vegetables are from the kitchen garden and all the food was beautifully presented. I had ham hock terrine followed by pan-fried sea bream and somehow managed to find room for a lemon posset. Mrs B is vegetarian and chose veggie mezze followed by risotto.
Finally, on the last night we were too tired to eat out and ordered room service – I chose scallops followed by pork four ways and Mrs B had gnocchi- while watching Doctor Foster on TV. Ironically the boys both went off to sleep much more easily tonight so it was the perfect end to the mini-break!
We were out for lunch both days but this is served around mid-day and out on the terrace weather permitting. There is also the option to have afternoon tea at 4pm.
Time Away From The Kids
If the weather is good (it wasn’t for us) the grounds of Woolley Grange are big enough to relax by the heated outdoor pool, in the lounge, or at the spa and indoor pool, and not drive anywhere.
There is a complimentary creche for two hours every day – either 10am to 12pm or 3pm to 5pm – in the Woolley Bear’s Den. This is a big playroom packed with good quality toys for babies to pre-schoolers, including a Brio train table, pedal cars, playhouse and lots of cars, dolls, and games. It’s separate from the main hotel – a one minute walk – and you are also free to use it as a family outside of the staffed creche hours.
For older children, The Hen House has a pool table, table football and wide screen television, with air hockey, Xbox and Wii consoles available from reception. There are board games and DVDs for rainy days and a cinema room where films are shown for children in the early evening.
We didn’t get to use this but if you’re staying on a Sunday you can book a lie in and someone will come and scoop the children up at 8am. A LIE IN! Remember that?!
Things To Do As A Family
Again, weather permitting, you can happily spend time playing with your little ones in the grounds and there are footballs and nets, basketball hoop, croquet, and child-sized tennis set on the lawn. Billy went for a swim with his mummy in the outdoor pool despite the light rain!
There’s a beautiful walled garden where much of the kitchen produce is grown and children can go to see the chickens and ducks wandering around; when we were there one of the ducks had just hatched her ducklings!
There are two big wooden buildings, set up as a shop and a house for younger to children and a tractor to play on. Billy and Frankie had the place to themselves on our last morning and of course, Billy needed no encouragement to leap on board!
Frankie was more interested in exploring a hobbit house…
and some pumpkins as big as him!
Beyond the hotel, you’re within a half hour drive of Bath and the villages of Castle Combe and Lacock, where you can visit a museum about a pioneer of photography William Henry Fox Talbot and a ruined abbey. Lacock is owned by the National Trust and it looks like stepping back in time; I want to go back as we weren’t able to fit it all in.
We chose to go to Longleat with the boys, which is expensive but we managed to get a 2 for 1 deal on the adult tickets through Tesco so do look out for similar offers. This world-famous safari park has something for all ages and you can easily spend a day (or two) there.
We were there out of season so it was relatively quiet and we spent the morning in the main square next to Longleat House where you have easy access to an amazing adventure playground, train ride, and plenty of food and drink options.
The safari park is a ten minute drive from here and depending on how busy the route is and how interested your children are I’d suggest allowing one to two hours for this. We went round in the afternoon so that Frankie would sleep in the car but it also meant lots of the animals were asleep too, so perhaps doing it first would be better!
Summing Up Our Stay At Woolley Grange
Overall I’d heartily recommend Woolley Grange as a great place to stay with children. It would suit any age from 0 to early teens but I’d say it’s mainly for tired parents with babies and toddlers who want to get some precious time to themselves. It’s not cheap so this is definitely a treat for a special occasion but well worth it and you can try to get a special offer.
Location: Woolley Grange, Woolley Green, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, BA15 1TX