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The Queen's Near-Neighbours
Beaumont House (Old Windsor)
Member Name: koshkha
Beaumont House (Old Windsor)
Advantages: The old building is lovely
Disadvantages: The credit card supplement is unjustified
~Between the Castle and the Airport~
I have a good friend whose wife is a Blue Badge Guide at Windsor Castle. The most common stupid question that she gets asked almost always comes from Americans. They tell her "Gee, it's a swell castle, but why did they build it so close to the airport?" At times you do wonder whether the planners who approved the building and subsequent waves of expansion at Heathrow would have kept their heads if planes had been invented a few centuries earlier.
Beaumont House in Old Windsor is one of the properties that belongs to the Principal Hayley group, a small hotel chain that specialises in places that are used for conferences and other events. I knew the company through staying at their Ettington Chase property near Stratford upon Avon a couple of years ago so I had a fair idea what to expect. I'd checked out Beaumont House on their website before I went and I was expecting something quite impressive. I wasn't however expecting to get stuck on the motorway, be over an hour late in arriving and to find that the postcode on their website left me by a cul de sac of small modern houses with no sign of a stately home in the vicinity.
Fortunately Old Windsor is tiny and you can't get too lost so I just worked my way up and down side roads until I found it. I wasn't in the best of moods when I finally arrived and discovering that the entire place was in the middle of a fire alarm evacuation didn't make me any happier. I was told to park up in the nearest car park to the entrance (so one of the furthest from the building) and the lady with the clipboard would come and tell me when I could go into the building. She never reappeared; I gave up and went in search of the conference suite. As you can tell by this review I lived to tell the tale.
I think Beaumont is intended to be one of Principal Hayley's more 'special' properties, located as it is in a large country park on the edge of Old Windsor. If the area is good enough for the Queen, then which conference delegate can really grumble? Well I can of course - and no doubt I will. The hotel and conference centre is set in many acres of rolling grassland and is surprisingly calm and peaceful considering it's under the flight path for Heathrow.
It appears that the estate has been a school at some time in its history since the old buildings are known as the 'Old School' and these have the nicer and slightly more characterful rooms. They also have an exceptional dining room known as 'The Chapel' which has a real touch of an Oxford or Cambridge college dining room blended with a little bit of Hogwarts. However the old parts of the hotel are very much overwhelmed by the newer buildings so prepare for the possibility of disappointment.
Arriving late I went straight to the Balmoral conference suite. I was quite pleasantly surprised by the facilities downstairs where the registration desk was placed and where delegates could got hot or cold drinks and small snacks during the day. Since it was a networking event the room was laid out with plenty of places to sit (or stand) and chat. The conference room by contrast was awful. It was a very long room with the speakers so far away that half the room could barely see them and had to rely on TV screens along the side of the room to read the slides and listen to the disembodied voice of the presenter. For a place that's supposed to be a specialist conference centre I thought the lay out was very poor indeed.
When the day's presentations had ended I went to check in and get my room key. I'd already learned over lunch that a couple of people had fabulous rooms in the Old School and the conference organiser told me that we all had rooms in the old building. So when the receptionist told me I had a room way over the other side of the estate in a modern block I get a bit tetchy. I know it's not very British to do it but sometimes I like to kick up a bit of a fuss. I told her how disappointed I was, that the conference organiser had told me I'd have a room in the Old School and I asked her if it was at all possible to find me one. I'd check out nice and early the next day, she could have her room back in plenty of time but could I please - pretty please - have a nice room. She capitulated graciously and found me one, which considering only moments before I'd been making a fuss about Principal Hayley charging guests £2.50 to pay by credit card, was pretty good of her. Staying in another of their properties a few weeks later I again came up against this credit card surcharge and I think it's utterly unreasonable. My supermarket doesn't charge to use a credit card, the petrol station doesn't charge, most 'proper airlines' don't charge and to my knowledge no other hotel chain is pulling a stunt like this. It's rather immaterial since my room at both places had been prepaid but I do think people should speak out against these things. HOW are you supposed to pay? Cheque books are now almost obsolete and I don't know many people who carry large amounts of cash. I'm not sure if you get charged for a debit card but I think Principal Hayley need to review this policy and revise it pronto.
~Home Sweet High-Ceilinged Home~
My room was room 71 and was accessed via a very small lift. I stepped out of the lift and into a corridor where a funny old sofa was placed in the corridor. It was missing its back legs and leaning oddly. It looked like it could have been left out for the bin men on an inner city sink estate. I found my room and it was very strange too. The ceiling was astonishingly high - certainly on the width-depth- height dimensions of the room, the height was the longest and it gave the room an odd sense of imbalance. The rooms in all the Principal Hayley places I've visited are decorated in rather 'manly' colour schemes with lots of dark wood and brown and beige décor. The furniture was very modern with a large wardrobe which concealed an ironing board and a room safe, a desk with a strange transparent glass panel in the middle (handy if you need to be reassured that your legs are still attached to your body I suppose) and with a mirror over the desk so you can watch yourself pretending to work hard. The table lamps were modern and attractive and there was a large flat screen TV. The room had a very large window which would have been a lot nicer if I'd been a giraffe and able to see out of it. I only know what the view was because I held my camera above my head and snapped it. This ultra-high window gave the impression that the room was a little like a cell.
The bed was very comfy and fitted out with good quality ultra-smooth linens. There were bed side tables and reading lights on each side with a clock radio on one side. The poor clock radio didn't have a chance of getting used after I'd done a thorough search of the room and discovered that the only sensibly accessible electrical socket was the one it was using. The desk had no accessible sockets at all unless you have the strength of Charles Atlas and can lift it out of the way. There were two free sockets in the corridor which were probably very handy for the housekeeping staff and their vacuum cleaners but mant any thing plugged in was going to be a tripping hazard. Considering that a lot of thought had clearly gone into the design and furnishing of the room, it's a shame nobody thought about the practical aspects of where to put the sockets.
The bathroom was very stylish with grey mock slate wall and floor tiles, a very attractive but not entirely practical sink unit and a shower placed over the bath. They might have not thought about safety with their sockets in the main room but there was a nice clean rubber bath mat rolled up at the end of the bath to stop people slipping in the shower. The toiletries provided were very pleasant and the verbena soap in particular smelled delicious. The towels had been rolled up and placed in the vanity unit beneath the sink which required some forethought to get them out and put them someone handy when using the shower.
~Food and Finding Your Way Around~
The lunch and breakfast buffest at the hotel were OK - nothing spectacular and a bit lacking in meat-free options but the desserts were exceptional. Our conference dinner was held in the Chapel and I can barely remember the food because the surroundings were just so spectacular. I don't know how many people staying at the hotel who aren't part of a large ground would ever get to eat there but even if you can't get a meal in the chapel, be sure to ask to see it.
The hotel is a complete maze and the maps provided when you check in look like an IQ test rather than a simple guide. I got so lost at times that I contemplated leaving a trail of white pebbles like Hansel and Gretel so I could find my way back to the room. For those staying in the modern accommodation blocks the route back to their rooms - especially late at night after a few too many drinks - were quite problematic. I was told by those in the modern rooms who'd also stayed the year before that they were given much nicer rooms this time. Piecing together what I heard from different people, it seems that the ash crisis last year meant that the hotel was absolutely stuffed to the gills with passengers who couldn't get out of Heathrow. Consequently by the time the delegates arrived they got the oldest and roughest rooms which were due a refurb because all the better ones had already been grabbed by stranded passengers.
For those who don't know the area, Old Windsor is about 15 minutes drive (depending on traffic and terminal) from Heathrow but is much more pleasant and rural than the hotels closer to the airport. It's only a short drive from Windsor Castle and is very close to the Thames. The hotel advertises itself as very convenient for Legoland (and though they don't say it, much nicer than staying in Slough). I was surprised how little I noticed the airport noise during my stay. If you are interested to use Beaumont House as an overnight stop when using Heathrow airport, I'd suggest to do some investigation into whether the hotel has any arrangements for taxis as even a short drive in that area can get very expensive and not all taxis are willing to go outside the M25.
All in all, I'd say that if you can get a good price, Beaumont House offers a pleasant rural setting that's very close to some major attractions. If like one of the conference attendees they accidentally (?) try to charge you £350 for your room on a Sunday night (with the £2.50 surcharge on top no doubt) then take your business elsewhere. Tourists may prefer to be in Windsor itself where there are many lovely hotels to choose from. As a conference venue the rooms are really only suitable for small groups due to their layout. I'd certainly never want to sit in a room that's more like a tunnel watching someone's slides on a TV screen ever again.
Summary: If you can get a good price, it's a nice place.
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