The MacDonald Bear (as it is now known) dominates the south side of Park Street and sits virtually opposite the neo-classical town hall, which was built in 1766 to designs by Sir William Chambers. The public entrance to Blenheim lies further down Park Street and Chaucer's House is also nearby. Yes, it is believed that one of greatest poets in the English language, Geoffrey Chaucer, lived in Woodstock.
There are 54 bedrooms but the hotel's organic growth over the centuries has resulted in no two rooms being the same size or shape. All are named after people or places associated with Blenheim or the Churchills. Clementine is named for Winston Churchill's wife and Godolphin for one of John Churchill's political allies. There is even a sequence of rooms named after the battles in which the first Duke of Marlborough defeated the French. The top suites are the Marlborough, William Chambers and Sir Winston Churchill. Style varies hugely in the older rooms. If you like dark oak panelling go for the Chambers, named after the architect of Woodstock's town hall. The Marlborough commemorates Elizabeth Taylor with an ornately carved four-poster bed.
The more humble accommodation divides into Classic, Deluxe, Family and Feature categories but may still have original 13th-century beams, stone walls, wooden floors and stone fireplaces.
The cosy bar next to the front door has a log fire and old oak settles. The Churchill Lounge, above it, occupies a magnificent position but is decorated in a dull and dated way. The dining room is divided into the Gun Room (which can be curtained off for private dining) the Front Room (for Afternoon Teas) and the main dining area which is looking a little tired these days. It's a heritage hodgepodge of horse brasses, hunting prints, tapestries, real beams and "character" beams, internal bay windows and exposed stonework and very much in need of a major rethink. In a hotel dripping with history why fake it? The private dining rooms in the Old Glove Factory are new and much more attractive.
Eating and drinking
Breakfast is taken in the dining room. Lunch and dinner can be eaten in the dining room or the bar. The hotel prides itself on its Scottish beef which is hung for 21 days before being carved. Other main course staples include Norfolk pork, Highland lamb and smoked fish by John Ross. Two courses cost £25pp and three courses £32pp.
A dining room tradition is Winston, a stout teddy bear who sits at his own table but will happily be brought over to join children or adults who are dining on their own. Winston and his female companion Winnie were often kidnapped by over-enthusiastic guests but always returned. However, six months ago Winnie was stolen and has not been returned yet. The sadness on Winston's face is palpable.
There is no gym but do ask the concierge about boating, ballooning or go-karting nearby. Beauty treatments can be arranged with the Mimimi Boutique (15 Oxford St 01993 815967).
The senior staff dress in tailcoats, waiters in formal waistcoats and receptionists in suits. Everyone is cheerful, even eager. My last visit was when the hotel was enjoying its first quiet weekend in months. The service was excellent but we were the only people in the dining room.
Who stays there
Cultural tourists, especially from America. The hotel is very popular with Europeans and Japanese too. This is what the films tell you an English country hotel should look like.
As Woodstock has a lot of weddings quite a few wedding parties stay at the Bear. Sometimes the groom's family will stay at [node:170941] and the bride's at The Bear, or vice versa.
As no two rooms are the same, prices vary a lot. Basic categories are Classic, Deluxe, Family and Feature. Breakfast is extra. £10 for Continental and £13.50 for Full English.
- Business travellers
- Culture vultures
- Mature travellers
- Nature / wildlife
Pros & Cons
- History around every corner
- Old world charm - great if you like sloping floorboards and oddly angled doorways
- Four-poster beds
- Cosy bar with real log fire
- Public rooms need attention
- En suite bathrooms small
- Good reliable food but not creative