This is a couples only piece – we left our son at home with his grandmother for the night (which was terrifying in itself). We felt that for our anniversary we should take the opportunity to enjoy some time alone together and celebrate the bond we still have as two adults. Although baby William is now the biggest part of our lives, we still want to remind ourselves that we need to take the time to focus on each other too. Our marriage has lasted 9 years and we’ve been together 11 but we still have a lot of adventures to come! I’ve got something really big and exciting in the works for our 10th, but more about that another day!
For our 9th wedding anniversary we booked an overnight stay at The Crab and Boar in Berkshire. It’s in a fairly rural location about 10 minutes off the M4 near Newbury, and about 20 minutes from Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey) which we visited first.
It describes itself as a “Country Pub with 14 Rooms”, which I’d say is fairly accurate although I found it through a Boutique Hotel listing and I think it would qualify as boutique too. The reason we picked the hotel was because it has the unique feature of having ground floor rooms that have a private patio garden with a 4 person hot tub per room! This seemed something fun and romantic for us to do and certainly quite unique. Prices for hot tub rooms seem to vary from £150 to £250. We paid £160 for a double room with hot tub mid-week by shopping around on third party sites. This came with free cancellation up to 48 hours in advance, and breakfast included. There are also some standard and superior double rooms, but I really would recommend the hot tub suite!
We arrived at 2PM, exactly check in time. The layout of this hotel is very weird. The front of the Crab & Boar is the restaurant, and there is a driveway but no parking. The car park is to the rear (loads of spaces) and this is actually the main entrance despite being the back of the building. When you enter (through a pretty courtyard with fountain, benches and flowers), you’re immediately in the bar…. which doubles as the hotel reception and restaurant reception too. Since it is a converted thatched house (restaurant and bar) with a block added (hotel), the layout inside is a bit odd. Narrow and twisting – certainly unique. We were a bit confused, but a helpful and friendly staff member appeared and immediately showed us to our room.
The Accommodation – Hot Tub Suite
I’ll confess, I read some negative reviews on TripAdvisor before coming out. I always do. There’s always someone who’s not happy. I’m going to be brutally honest about this room. I’ll preface it by saying that these things did not particularly bother me so I still rated my stay 4 out of 5 stars. I enjoyed myself and felt we had decent value for money – however, since I can see they might annoy other people, I’ll list the issues and you can make up your own mind and future visitors can be confident of their expectations.
The room was rather shabby. There was quite a bit of paint peeling near the door (possibly damp issues because of the hot tubs). There was some mold on the ceiling in the bathroom, and some rust issues on the fittings in there. The toilet roll was directly behind the toilet which makes no sense, and there were some other design flaws such as the tea kettle tray being on top of a chest that opens upwards (so it was unusable). The furniture is mismatched – modern bed, chair and curtains and then an antique chest of drawers and wardrobe, and there are a lot of furniture imprints and a few stains on the carpet. There was no trash can in the bedroom, only a small hygiene bin in the bathroom and no writing desk or any surface at desk height despite there being an antique desk chair just sitting awkwardly by itself, never to be used. These are all minor things, but it just felt a bit lazy to me – a little bit of effort could go a long way into sorting out this room. The potential is there! It really wouldn’t take a lot of investment to bring this up a truly boutique level.
Onto the good stuff… the bedroom itself is large and spacious and the bed was comfortable. The bathroom came with some lovely toiletries, including a full size shower gel, mini shampoo and conditioner. The garden is an awesome little outside space – simple, but just so nice to feel like you have somewhere private to sit and get some fresh air. I don’t have a garden at home, so I really appreciate even a small one! The hot tub was absolutely divine and is the selling point for these rooms. Without the hot tub I would definitely not have felt I had value for money, but for this unique selling point, we felt it was easily worth the room cost. As soon as we arrived we jumped in. They are hot tubs for four and very spacious, with two jet settings and lights for the night time. The hot tub area is fully covered, so you can use it all year round, rain or shine and it means that the windows above can’t overlook you. The walls are high and private – no way anyone else is seeing in. We went back in after dinner too, so relaxing after walking all day.
The Restaurant – Evening Meal
We booked a table for 7pm and the restaurant was pretty empty. When we left at 8:30pm it was pretty busy so I guess we were eating early. The dress code I would say is smart / casual – there were people in full dinner suits and people in jeans and a T-shirt, so pretty varied. Our waiter was friendly and efficient.
We ordered the Summer Vegetable Salad and Pea Soup for starters, Beer Battered Haddock and Orange Duck for mains, and Chocolate Roulade and Death By Chocolate for dessert. A glass of wine for me and a pint of cider for Ben yielded a bill of £96 (which included a 10% service charge built in). It was all fresh ingredients, good quality and excellent presentation. A good mix of tastes and textures; although I found the beer battered haddock fairly bland (but it’s not exactly an adventurous dish) and my husband found the duck leg & potato confit that accompanied his duck breast very stodgy and unappetizing.
I had hoped a more adventurous “country” menu would be available, but the menu was fairly standard and not the one advertised on the website. It did not have any of the game I’d have liked to tried, such as pigeon, boar and venison but just fairly standard offerings, which was a little disappointing, but it was still a delicious meal and we were thoroughly satisfied by the end of it.
The Restaurant – Breakfast
Breakfast was included in the room stay which is nice – recently there is a trend I’ve found in hotels of only quoting prices without breakfast and then expecting people to pay an extra £15+ per person on top. Not here, thankfully! It was served between 7:30am and 9:30am with checkout being 11am – very generous time scales.
I opted for a full English breakfast which was pretty standard but cooked perfectly and well presented – two fried eggs, a sausage, mushroom, tomato, black pudding and a little pot of baked beans. I got a kick out of seeing baked beans served in their own tiny ceramic pot. You can try to posh-up baked beans all you like but it’s not going to work!
Ben had the “American” pancakes which came with maple syrup, blueberries and strawberries.
On the continental section (which is a very small table that you help yourself to) there was yoghurt, cereals, fresh fruit, a couple of pastries, bread and a toaster which you used yourself as well as jams, honeys, sauces and fresh juice. It was served quickly, piping and we were thoroughly happy with all aspects of breakfast.
I loved my stay here, we had lots of fun in a beautiful setting with good food. What more can you ask for? Okay… I listed quite a lot of things I could ask for in the Hot Tub Suite section but these minor inconveniences were just that – very minor. There were lots of them, but ultimately it did not affect our stay. It did feel a bit lazy and low effort in places and I think some relatively simple quality of life improvements here by a savvy hotel manager could bump this up a star rating and remove all of the negative impressions it could give.
As for me, I had a four out of five star stay and I think this would make a lovely wedding / reception venue, as well as a romantic break away for anyone in the area.
I was happy to get back to the baby though. I think one night without him is enough for now!