December 29

Champneys Forest Mere. A fairy tale. Grim.

Part 1: The accommodation .

It sounded like a good idea. I’d tried to persuade my companion to choose Grayshott, my spa of choice, but she was adamant. It’s too old, Grayshott, too staid. This is younger, more dynamic, she said Better, even. She’s very forceful, my companion and I give in.

First impressions were good: a beautiful lake (the mere) set in a quiet, wooded area. An old house and fairly natural-looking gardens are what you see first. As I drive up the path, I see two very elderly women, clinging to each other in the wind.

The entrance lobby is decorated in sepia tones, with Italianate, over-bright lighting. A fake Xmas tree takes centre stage. The whole feel is Travelodge circa 1995.

The “automatic” entrance doors (automatic- keep clear!) seem to only open from the inside, which I discovered after standing outside, laden with luggage for a number of minutes. No one comes. They might want to change that sign. Or fix the doors.

Check in. Let me take your details and then I’ll run through the treatments, says the young chap. Details given, I express surprise that they take a £25 deposit for my robe, when they already have my card details, in case I steal accidentally pack it and I am somewhat taken aback to discover I have to actually bring it down with me when I check out. As if I might make off with it otherwise. They don’t run through my treatments.

I am given a perfectly acceptable room. Not the view of the lake that I would like, but instead a view of the sad, disused out-of-season swimming pool. But there are loose wires hanging from a light fitting. We call reception. Can someone put a cover on it? They say they will call maintenance. They don’t. My companion goes to the check in desk. We now have to leave that room for health and safety reasons. If only I’d know what was to come, I would have kept my mouth shut.

The next room was at the end of what resembled a school dormitory block, opposite the laundry room. Large sacks and trolleys of dirty towels and sheets opposite. Dank, dark room, even closer to sad, closed pool. I don’t like it. I want to go back to the first room. I beg. I plead. I am not allowed. Health and safety. We don’t know how far the problem goes into the ceiling, she says. I am not planning to jump 5 feet in the air and stick my fingers into the light fitting. I would have to get a ladder. I am lost for words.

A third room, ground floor, overlooking a courtyard. It will be private, my companion assures me. As we walk in, a woman walks past, looking in. I do not want to have to keep my curtains closed all day for privacy or look at a wall. Are there really no other rooms, I ask. No. Really not. I don’t believe this, as the resort is nowhere near at capacity (a dining room is shut as a consequence) but I am too tired to argue.

I accept that have eaten a lot over Xmas, but I am still just within acceptable bounds of normal weight. It was odd then that the bed in room 3 should collapse as soon as I sat on it. Which was excellent for my back, having just received seven injections for disc-related problems. So far, the promised “if this isn’t the start of a fairy tale, it’s as close as you’ll get” on their website seemed rather ambitious. Perhaps the fairytale they were thinking of was the Princess and the Pea.

Even the lovely girl at reception uttered a sympathetic Jesus Christ.

Astonishingly, after bed-gate, a new room materialises. Room 4 is The George Best suite. The irony of naming a room in a health spa after an alcoholic is clearly lost on the owners. I also suspect that it is a shrine, as it looks like it was last decorated when he last played professional football. The room is big but depressing. The bathroom is freezing and the bath is too small. A nasty pine bathroom cabinet and dated fittings offend my taste. This room is not cheap and I am not happy and the too-bouncy bed hurts my back and the small duvet slips off. I want to be back in my own bed. At home. Or back in the health and safety hazard.

The next morning I amble down to breakfast, past an open door to an adjacent room. It looks better. That is because it is the best room. Obviously. Like a moth to a flame, I am drawn. Refurbished, not as drab and naturally I want to move, again. After a minor haggle, we settle on an upgrade payment.

The new room is not cheap. Really not. And the many faults even in the best room made it feel even less like value for money. The detail is where it fails. Because this resort is all about lack of attention to detail. They don’t know how to run an hotel properly. And whilst this is a spa, it is also an hotel.

In the bathroom, the shower attachment for the bath mixer is missing, so when you press the mixer tap, wondering what it’s actually for, it sprays all over the bath.

The shower head in the separate shower sprays from its base and needs replacing. Limescale in the head itself means that it gives the rest of the bathroom a shower at the same time as me, as the water sprays out like a Catherine wheel and the lino floor becomes an ice rink. I fix the shower head in 2 minutes.

The toilet is constantly doing that not finished flushing properly thing, so it drips all the time. The tap to the sink, when turned on streams from the head down the middle shank, as it too is faulty. The room is full of similar failings. A safe that is locked shut, mismatched light bulbs (one daylight, one warm) so that the bedside lights look odd. And the lights are actually too dark for reading, with their black shades. As I pull the curtains closed, the closing stick comes apart in my hand.

There are times when to complain is appropriate. This is not one. These are failings which betray an amateurism and lack of care which is clearly endemic. The refurbished rooms are adequate, to the extent they work and don’t fall apart. Had we not had the health and safety nonsense, I would have been happy with the first room and not obtained half of my exercise requirements, moving my stuff between the various bedrooms and felt the need to spend a chunk of money to upgrade to something more comfortable.

Meanwhile the staff are unfailingly polite and charming but they won’t let me have salt, even though I am allowed wine. Now we are 6.

Part 2: The food and the spa.


Pool sadness