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The Springs Hotel (Wallingford)

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The Springs Hotel and Golf Club, Wallingford Road, North Stoke, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, OX10 6BE.

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    1 Review
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      17.05.2007 13:04
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      A hotel with pretensions to be more than it is

      I love dooyoo but one of my constant disappointments is not being able to add photographs to our reviews - without photographic evidence I suspect that readers will suspect that I'm exagerating about this hotel.

      On paper The Springs Hotel has everything you would need for a spectacular hotel experience and possibly more. How many hotel websites give you instructions on how to get to the hotel by helicopter? How many have an 18-hole golf course on the doorstep (not my cup of tea but it tends to indicate something a bit special) or a ‘guitar-shaped’ swimming pool installed by a former rock-star-owner? It sounds intriguing doesn’t it? I was picturing drunken drug-fuelled orgies and TV sets going flying into the pool.

      However once you get off the paper and into the real world it’s a bit of a 'damp-squib' of a hotel that falls short in most respects.

      ~ Where is it? ~

      The hotel is located a few miles outside the Oxfordshire town of Wallingford – famous for having a river to row on and……..well frankly, not much more. It’s in the village of North Stoke – or maybe it’s not? Maybe it’s just outside the village as I didn’t see any signs of life other than loud-trousered gents of a certain age lugging their golf bags around the place.

      ~The history of the hotel ~

      The hotel describes its building as ‘Victorian Tudor-style’ – that’s mock Tudor to you and me! Lots of black and white. From the outside it reminded me of a ‘between the wars’ scout hut. The building has a mildly interesting history having been built back in the 1870s and added to in various stages after that – what this means is the current building is a right dog’s breakfast or hotchpotch of styles and designs. A former owner died in the bath after he electrocuted himself with a razor and the ghost of ‘famous’ contralto Dame Clara Butt is supposed to haunt the place. I can tell you are impressed.

      The more compelling story doesn’t kick in until the 1970s when Ian Gillan of Deep Purple bought the place for £100k and spent more than four times the purchase price on doing it up before running out of cash. Apparently his period was responsible for the oak panelled rooms and the big stone fireplaces which must be a lot newer that I’d have thought - like the Victorian mock-tudor, this is 1970's mock-Victorian. And of course the guitar shaped pool (only a small one – more like a banjo than a guitar) was his as well though I doubt that was the rage in the days of the Empire. The golf course – for anyone who’s interested – looked a bit bleak to me. Very open, not a lot of trees just lots and lots of grass. It was designed by a former Ryder Cup player called Brian Huggett who I've never heard of but then it's a bit like saying 'famous stamp collector' or 'world renowned lizard expert'. Not the sort of thing that's on my radar screen.

      ~ First impressions on arrival ?

      Ooh, how novel, hand painted road markings! But I’m willing to believe that was less of a feature and more an indication of a ‘road painters due soon’. There was ample space in the car park – I think the hotel was not overly inhabited on this May weekday evening. I parked up and went in to check-in. A rather dreary reception area was tucked away behind some oak panelling and a tired looking receptionist handed me my key. The rooms don’t have numbers which seemed cute before I spent five minutes down a long corridor on a wild goose chase looking for my room. Numbers would have made it much easier but that's the sort of 'affectation' that sums up the hotel.

      ~ My room ~

      When I finally found my room it was with mixed feelings. On the plus side I had an outdoor terrace with seating and a table and a view of the lake. Nice! On the down side I thought I might just have slipped into a coma and drifted into a parallel life in the 1980s. CHINTZ NIGHTMARE – that’s the room style. Mrs Bucket would have loved it. There wasn't a crocheted lady toilet-roll cover but there should have been.

      The bathroom was particularly dated – beige/brown tiling, a coffin-like coloured bath with a shower over and tiling so awful that it could well become fashionably ‘retro’ if they wait another 20 years. The floor tiles appeared to have been patched up with a different colour that didn’t even pretend to come close to matching and the toiletries wouldn’t have been out of place in an Eastern European budget hotel. The extractor fan was really loud and thankfully turned off the moment the light was put off.

      The furniture was light wood ‘bamboo-style’ for the most part. There was a double bed which most certainly didn’t have the new fancy mattresses that are advertised on the hotel’s website. Two mock-bamboo bedside tables, a similar desk and chair, two tub armchairs in neo-Bergere style and a coffee table. Personally I’d have put the lot in the skip or called the Salvation Army to collect. The only decent feature in the room was a very nice built in wardrobe.

      There was the obligatory tiny kettle on a tray with some biscuits and the smallest TV I’ve seen in ages. The room was quite freshly painted in primrose yellow and mid blue – not a combination I’d have gone for as the blue didn’t go with anything. The chairs were upholstered in pink which went with nothing even more than the blue didn’t. I chucked my bags on the bed and ran for it – off to pick up a colleague at the station.

      ~ Going out ~

      We had dinner plans in a village nearby for the evening. My colleague who had been off work for 3 weeks with all sorts of nasty bugs dropped the bombshell that she wasn’t on antibiotics any more, thus blowing my plan to make her drive. We tried for a taxi only to be told by the receptionist that ‘it’s not very easy to get one round here’. Clearly she couldn’t be bothered to try so I had to drive.

      After a very nice dinner I went back to my room where – thanks to the adjoining door to the next room - I didn’t need to watch the Man Utd. vs Chelsea game on my TV because I heard every word of the commentary from my neighbour’s TV. I was tired enough to not care too much and, after getting out of bed to turn off the light switch (no override switch by the bed) I drifted off to sleep.

      ~ Next Morning ~

      After my wake up call from a real human rather than a recording (which is nice) I headed to breakfast. It was pleasant enough and served in a sort of conservatory style room overlooking the lake. There was a fair choice plus a range of cooked to order options. I hadn’t spotted that there was a hot buffet so I ordered poached eggs on brown toast. The toast had been cut into twee little circles and the eggs tasted of far too much vinegar in the water.

      We spent the morning in the hotel where I had hired a meeting room. To get to the room we passed through the residents’ lounge, which was looking rather dated. The stone fireplaces were lovely and the panelling was quite nice but the furniture was the sort you’d see in an old people’s home. The meeting room overlooked the pool where I enjoyed watching the ducks playing in the water but it was too cold for anyone to be taking their chances in the pool.

      I had arranged for two people to meet us at the hotel for lunch but the reception staff just left them sitting in the lounge – nobody told them where we were or told us that they’d arrived. Lunch was a farce – we told the waiter (a grumpy Mediterranean chap) that we only had an hour and wanted to order food. He turned down half the things we asked for, acted as if everything was all too much trouble and finally brought the food about 50 minutes later. The quality wasn’t bad but the portion sizes were pitiful. Checking on the website afterwards I learned that the chef used to be head chef at the Swan in Lavenham (Suffolk) where I used to eat a lot for work meetings. The service there was always slow as well! Bolting down our food we packed up our briefcases and headed for the door.

      ~ Prices ~

      We got a ‘special’ rate of £85 for bed and breakfast. If there was more competition in the area I think they’d struggle to charge that much. They have special deals for longer stays, do murder mystery weekends (it was the colonel in the bath with an electric razor), golf packages and wedding and honeymoon deals. On a sunny summer evening I might have felt more positive about the hotel but on this occasion, like the weather, the hotel was just dreary and a bit disappointing. Luckily I doubt I’ll need to go back.

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