“ Address: Parkgate Road / Ledsham / Chester CH66 9PB / Tel:0844 879 9038 „
~Took a long time to get to stay there~
The Macdonald Craxton Wood is a hotel I've known about my entire working life. The first company for which I worked used to hold big meetings there and in other hotels nearby but it was a good 15 years later that I got round to visiting the place myself. In the meantime it had built up in my mind a certain aura of something special which meant when I eventually got to see the place a couple of years ago I was filled with a terrible sense of disappointment. The company for which I now worked sent about 20 of us there for a training course in the middle of the winter. We spent our days in an enormous badly heated room and ran around the gardens doing silly management games in the freezing cold. I wasn't impressed.
A couple of months ago my boss decided we had to go off site for a meeting - mostly because the company was in the middle of a pretty comprehensive reorganization programme and meeting at work would have blown the cover on a bunch of new roles which hadn't been announced. I received an invitation to the meeting at the Doubletree in Chester, turned up half an hour early, checked in and settled down to wait for my colleagues. I asked the receptionist to check which room we would be in. She searched her Lever Arch file and came up blank. There was no booking for a room. I then got a call from the boss asking "Where are you?" I told her I was sitting in reception but there was no meeting room. "But we're in reception" she said. True enough she was but in a totally different hotel. She'd changed the venue, written a mail to announce it and then not gone on-line to send it. I had to leave the glorious plush surroundings of the Doubletree (no refund permitted even though I hadn't set foot in the room) and drive 30 to 40 minutes across to the other side of Chester to find the horrible dowdy Craxton Wood.
~Location - not quite what you're led to believe~
If you find the Macdonald Craxton Wood on a hotel booking site, they'll probably list it as being in Chester. It isn't at all. It's stuck in the middle of nowhere in particular in the area not quite on the Wirral and not quite in North Wales about 7 miles out of Chester. A taxi into Chester will set you back a reasonable £12-£15 which I found surprisingly good value after far too many overpriced taxis in other continental European cities but adding £25 to £30 onto the cost of a night out is something you need to consider when weighing up the pros and cons of Craxton Wood or one of the central hotels.
The first impression - although in my case it was a second impression since I'd been there before - is one of being in the countryside. You drive through wooded grounds to reach the entrance and it's pretty if a little stark. There's plenty of parking space with overflow car parks closer to the conference suites for those there on day rates. I parked up, left my bags in the car and hurried in to find my colleagues tucked away in a room on the top floor which was so hard to find that I thought I might need to leave a trail of pebbles in order to get back to reception. The meeting room was OK - nothing memorable, nothing special although I rather liked the posh squash and fizzy water (I'm a sucker for Bottlegreen cordials). Very strangely it was impossible to find a toilet without going down a couple of floors and through a load of fire doors - surely only a fool would put the meeting rooms so far from the facilities.
My late arrival meant we went straight to lunch - a rather stuffy affair served in the conservatory on the back of the hotel. My previous visits had already taught me to expect hit and miss service and true to expectations nothing was ready when we went down. In about fifteen to twenty minutes they'd laid out the dishes for our lunch is a small serving room. The food was good, not very exciting but well prepared.
Breakfast the next morning was excellent but you need to allow quite a long time for service as the hot food is cooked to order. Personally I find that a bit too much fuss first thing in the morning but it's enjoyable once in a while.
Free Exercise Included - whether you want it or not
~Room with a view - exercise included free of charge~
My room was as far as it could possibly be from the reception at the end of the building where my neighbours were more likely to be squirrels than guests. I counted the distance from reception to my ground floor room as more than 500 paces in each direction. With a room like this you take care not to leave anything behind when you close the door.
My room was large but ever so conventional and couldn't have been in any other country than England. The risk of chintz poisoning was severe. If you closed your eyes and didn't know where you were, the visual cues all said 'England 1980s'. What might seem charming or cosy to American tourists just looks plain dated to the locals. The curtains were chintzy with a flounced pelmet and there were net curtains. Two green arm chairs were placed either side of a large coffee table. The bed was large and comfy with a bedspread which rather predictably matched the curtains. There were bedside tables and lamps on either side and I was unable to find any way to turn one of the lamps off. I was there in July so there was no need for heating but it appeared that the main source of warmth was a slim wall mounted radiator.
The time warp television was a big lumpy affair standing on a large desk. A mirror hung about the desk but there was no special lighting to make it useful for hair drying or make up. A folding bag stand was retrieved from the cupboard and I noted the wall-mounted trouser press - sure sign of a hotel that is or once was a four star. The large wardrobe with mirrored doors concealed spare pillows and towels, a tea tray and lots of hanging space. The bathroom was dull and very standard with a shower above the bath, a loo, vanity unit and limited toiletries.
My boss lived in the Craxton Wood when she moved to the UK from Germany. Her husband and young daughter thought of it as their introduction to English culture. They loved the lawns and the woods and the country feel but the charm was lost on me. She also said they quickly learned to take care to be organised and not leave any of their paraphernalia in the room due to the distance to the reception. The gardens are pleasant although I wasn't impressed by the over use of gaudy begonias in the flower beds which looked like someone had bought cheap plastic flowers from a pound shop and stuffed them in the ground.
~Should you bother?~
There are many much better hotels in and around Chester and I really would only go to the Craxton Wood if it was impossible to find something more central. Even then, given the better options nearby I would suggest the Mollington Banastre or the beautiful Crabwell Manner ahead of the Craxton Wood. This place may have had its charms and been impressive 30 years ago but it's long overdue for being dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Timewarp tourism might appeal to those in search of what they like to think of as tradition but for me this place has been stuck in a rut and can't seem to be able to climb out of it.
Macdonald Craxton Wood
Ledsham, nr Chester,