This is a place where the history of those who have walked these corridors and wiled away the hours in the stunning Edwardian gardens, lives on.
That connection to the past and the storytelling which brings it to life today, gives The Petwood a sense of timelessness, almost as if it’s somehow immune to the march of time which affects the world beyond the gates of this property.
It’s a warm summer’s evening and we are sitting, cold drink in hand, on the gorgeous terrace which looks out across the manicured lawns, glorious rhododendrons and peonies, which make up the landscaped gardens at The Petwood. It’s hard to think of a better place to reflect on an afternoon playing the beautiful Bracken Course at Woodhall Spa Golf Club, which backs on to the hotel.
Looking out across the grounds, that history is hidden in plain sight at almost every turn. How many hotels do you know, for instance, which have a prototype of the bouncing bomb tucked away in the garden? Why, you might ask? Well, there’s good reason. You see, the Petwood may have played host to the great and the good since it was built for Baroness Grace von Eckardstein – royals and movie stars have stayed here down the years. But the most famous residents transcend class and never needed titles. That’s because The Petwood Hotel was once home to the top-secret 617 Squadron – better known to all of us as ‘The Dambusters’.
That name has become synonymous with the kind of quiet, unassuming heroism which typified the war effort. The mission saw 19 Lancaster bombers take off from nearby RAF Scampton to drop the bouncing bombs developed by Barnes Wallis. It was a mission which destroyed two key dams in the Ruhr but more importantly, gave the British people hope at a time when it was most needed. The surviving air men (of the 133 crew who set off, 53 died) were lauded as heroes and it was The Petwood which became their home and headquarters on their return. The officers described the hotel as ‘a splendid place, remote from battle. Idyllic and peaceful.’ It’s hard to imagine what that contrast must have felt like but the sense of peace endures.
The story of those airmen is all around us as we walk through to the dining room. Next door is the historic squadron bar, a wonderful treasure trove of memories and memorabilia, a fitting salute to the heroes of that time. The stories of the men and women of Bomber Command are brought to life beautifully here and perhaps the most memorable item on display is the tree branch which sits above the bar and spans its full width. The branch was carried back from another key raid undertaken by 617 Squadron, having become wedged on one of the bombers on the mission to destroy the German battleship Tirpitz in 1944. Only the promise of dinner draws us away.
The menu and warmth of the service is very much in step with the feel of The Petwood, celebrating the best in traditional British cuisine. The AA Rosette restaurant turns out classics such as seabass fillet, beer-battered haddock and chips, fillet steak and, although we didn’t have time to sample it, the afternoon tea on the terrace is, I’m assured, not to be missed. Lesson learned. Next time.
There are golfers around the tables, enjoying dinner sharing stories from the round just gone. There are families and couples too. And there are those who stop to study the history and tributes on their way through this hotel. The atmosphere is warm and friendly, like everything about The Petwood. But there’s also a pride about its place in history.
Emma Brealey, the charming Director at The Petwood, tells us the hotel attracts a wide variety of visitor, from those interested in the history of the hotel and the wider region to those who are here for the golf and on the lookout for one of the best hotels near Woodhall Spa Golf Club. It would be easy to see how this historic place to stay would appeal to visitors from the United States and Canada perhaps with family links to the forces. Emma had originally only come to The Petwood for six months back in 2010 but the magic and mystique of this place got hold of her and hasn’t let go since. She has overseen its regeneration and now steered it through a pandemic with a team she describes as being like family. That ethos is certainly tangible here.
What of the accommodation? My top-floor room was spotlessly clean, surprisingly large and very comfortable, with a double bed and my own little corridor that led me to my bathroom which was as big as my bedroom. It had plenty of room for all the things a golf trip requires and then some. I looked out on the front of the building and the large car park. The next morning would bring the promise of a round on the iconic Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa Golf Club.
After a restful night, the hotel breakfast set us up perfectly for what lay ahead. The short drive from The Petwood to the golf club took less than three minutes. What more can any golfer want?
Why did we enjoy The Petwood so much? There are lots of reasons. But perhaps it was the change of pace that was most welcome. Life, after all, is full of hustle and bustle. Time is short and more precious than ever. And it is somehow reassuring to know there is a place where a slower pace of life is preserved. The Petwood celebrates all that is wonderful about the past and remembers those who made the ultimate sacrifice so we could drive around the corner for a game of golf without a second thought. This is not a hotel that is worried about the latest trends or keeping up with what is in fashion. It doesn’t need to, and it is all the more wonderful because of that.
So yes, The Petwood is one of the best hotels near Woodhall Spa Golf Club, but, as we said, it’s so much more. Now you know why.
Ben Smith was a guest of The Petwood. To book visit www.petwood.co.uk