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Perfect for deaf guests with low standards and no luggage
Dunchurch Park Hotel (Rugby)
Member Name: koshkha
Dunchurch Park Hotel (Rugby)
Advantages: Lovely grounds
Disadvantages: Awful rooms
When you arrive at Dunchurch Park, in the village of Dunchurch just a couple of miles south of Rugby, you can't help but think you might just be in for a treat. There's a spectacularly long drive to sweep up, passing a small golf-course, some woods and nice gardens. The main house looks very grand and imposing and is set in beautiful manicured lawns and pretty terraces. I was feeling quite optimistic and looking forward to two days at the hotel. Dunchurch Park stands in a massive 72 acres of gardens and its rooms are in the main house, the old stable block and what they describe as a 'custom built wing'. More about what it must have been custom built for later.
I was late arriving to meet some old friends so I parked my car, checked in and went straight to the bar to meet them only to discover I'd been invited to join some other people and had to abandon them immediately. The bar looked large, bright and lively with a restaurant section at one end and lots of seating at the other. Large TVs were showing a Championship League game, quietly in the background. I'd been invited to have dinner in the Great Hall so I headed through there to find a smaller bar and then the hall itself - a large and rather grand room with big windows, a high ceiling and wooden floors. My dinner was off a set menu and was unexceptional but nothing awful either - a bowl of mussels followed by sea bass and then fruit salad. My friends said I'd made the right decision to stand them up as their food in the bar had been horrible.
I had been allocated a room in that 'custom built wing' where you can also find the gym. To get into the wing you need to punch in a security code and then find your way through a maze of fire doors. The security code was a bit of a joke as the fire doors were left open by the cleaners for most of the day. The annex looked like a student hall of residence and smelled slightly of cabbage. I had a sense of impending disappointment that was confirmed as soon as I opened the door. The room was tiny - perhaps 8 foot square - drab and depressing and looked like it was designed by a blind interior decorator. The carpet was a deep purple-red, the walls were nicotine yellow, the bedspread was blue and yellow checks and the curtains were brown with swirls.
The biggest problem was the lack of storage. Now I don't need a walk in wardrobe for a short stay and but at this hotel there's no wardrobe - just four of those fixed coat hangers on two small rails. There's not even a hook on the back of the door you could hang something off. That wouldn't be a problem if there was enough space for the clothes to hang, but nothing longer than a short jacket will fit into the space without getting tangled in the kettle. My dress and jacket had to hang down the front of the drawers.
There was nowhere to put a suitcase except on the floor. The only flat surfaces at a suitable height - the 'desk' (I use the term loosely as it was little bigger than a kids desk and half covered with a lamp and a telephone) - and the bedside surface were both too small to hold a small suitcase so I had to scrabble around on the floor. On the plus side, there was a trouser press/iron combo - but on the minus, the trouser press didn't work.
There were no security features such as peep holes or door chains, so you can't really relax in the morning for fear that the very noisy cleaners will burst in on you. You also have to be aware that the doors don't close automatically behind you when you leave the room - you will have to relock the door. And talking of noisy, the walls are paper thin and you will be aware of every sound from the room next door. The soundproofing problem was so bad that when one of the speakers at the conference stood up to start speaking, I immediately knew she was my neighbour because I recognised her accent from hearing her through the walls. My colleague was kept awake by the snoring of the guest in the room next door. If you are in the market for a venue for a dirty weekend, then don't pick Dunchurch Park unless you have a very quiet very dirty weekend in mind!
There was a kettle and coffee/tea but no biscuits. Mind you, to have used the kettle I'd have had to move all my clothes so I left it alone. There were reading lights above the bed - but they didn't work either. And there's supposed to be free wifi as well but I'm guessing it's free because it doesn't work.
The bathroom was a good size and adequately clean but again there was nowhere to put anything despite the space.
**How is it as a Conference Centre?**
Other than sleeping, it wasn't as if I intended to spend much time in my room so the conference facilities were more important. The conference suite called the Garden Rooms was large with a meeting area in the lobby with water and juice available and an intriguing little lift device for any disabled delegates. Coffee and tea breaks as well as lunch were served in a large, rather grand marquee behind the conference room. Oddly for a room that must host a lot of conferences, they didn't seem to have learned that visibility is better if you offset the chairs - instead they were all lined up one behind the other so the view of the screen was a bit iffy but the audio facilities were fine. Between the conference room and the marquee was a really pretty terrace that would have been a lovely place to sit if it had ever stopped raining.
Internet access is an issue if you are there for work. The wi-fi doesn't perform in the rooms and the only place you can get a good signal is in the small 'internet café' next to the reception where, in addition to a half-decent signal, you can find several computers that are free to use.
**Food and Drink**
I had breakfast on the first morning served in the Great Hall. I must have been the last customer as the food was being cleared away whilst I was still eating. The range on offer was fine - not particularly extensive but a good range of hot and cold dishes. On the second morning I'd learned that there were Danish pastries and coffee available in the marquee so I skipped the formality of the dining room.
Lunches in the marquee were OK - a few hot dishes including a fish dish each day and something vaguely vegetarian as well as a selection of salads and some gooey puds and fruit salad to follow.
The conference dinner was very well delivered. These things are not easy to cater for because the association runs a fiercely competitive quiz that interferes with the food being served. The organisers had taken the time to explain this to the kitchen in advance and so avoided the staff getting stressed and the food getting cold. As a fish-itarian, I skipped the main menu and got the vegetarian instead - a rather unimaginative melon dish to start (LISTEN EVERYBODY, melon is NOT a starter, it's fruit, it's a dessert), followed by a really nice mushroom risotto served with some slightly over-cooked asparagus and some very shrivelled green beans (or 'has beans' as I named them). Pudding was a stunner - the most fabulous chocolate torte which was so rich you could almost feel your fillings dissolving.
**The House and Grounds**
After the conference had ended and everyone had gone, I went for a wander around to see what they place was really like. The main buildings were beautiful - a grand old house with lots of high ceilings and slightly gothic touches. There's a small golf course - more of a sort of playing field with golf holes - and bizarrely, a single rugby goal which is probably ideal for practicing your Johnnie Wilkinson kicks. There's also a putting green, a tennis court and even somewhere to play croquet. Apparently there's also a football pitch and a cricket pitch hidden there as well - I just wonder how often they can round up 22 guests for a proper game.
Round the far side of the house there are beautiful terraces and stepped gardens leading down to a large lake. It really is a very impressive place. Walking further round I found gorgeous flower beds and lawns and when I ran into one of the gardeners he told me they have four full time staff just to keep the gardens going.
**Getting the Priorities Wrong?**
So the house is grand, the conference facilities are good, the gardens are fab, all of which prove they can deliver the goods. So WHY oh why are the rooms so awful? At check out the receptionist asked my colleague and I what we thought and I'm afraid we didn't hold back. We told her just how great the place was but just how disappointing the rooms were. It was clearly not the first time she'd heard it and her colleague explained there were plans to upgrade the rooms - apparently 7 had already been done. At this rate they might get the whole place done before the end of the century.
I paid £75 per night for double room/single occupancy to stay in the pokiest nasty little room and I'd not choose to stay in such a bad room again. I also doubt that two people could fit in a room that size without tripping over each other. But if someone could promise me a better room with room to swing a hamster (a cat was way beyond what might have been possible) then I'd probably consider going back. Although it's only half an hour's drive from home so it's really hardly worth it.
Before anyone calls the RSPCA, I should point out that 'swinging a hamster' of course refers to dancing with the little fella and not holding him by his tail and swinging him around the room. That would be both imoral and v. difficult because hamsters only have tiny stumpy bump tails. If it's animal torture you prefer (rather than dancing) gerbils are much preferred due to their nice strong tails (oops).
Summary: A bit like Belgium - nice to visit but you wouldn't want to stay too long
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