Wonderful Woodhall Spa

Words by:
Melanie Burton
Featured in:
June 2017

“Unique” is the only way to describe this picturesque village which lies on the southern edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds and has a diverse range of independent shops, visitor attractions and heritage.
Classed as an inland resort because of how it came about, it is set amidst pinewoods and is renowned for its tranquil atmosphere and relaxing qualities. But don’t be fooled. It is not your typical sleepy rural village. It has plenty going on, not only for residents but for the holidaymakers who utilise the caravan and camping sites and the visitors who frequent the fine hotels and guest houses. Added to this is the fact that it is home to a number of award-winning businesses, which all help to put the name of Woodhall Spa firmly on the map.

Regarded as one of the county’s most attractive villages, Woodhall Spa makes an ideal location for a short break, a day visit or even a holiday with plenty of places to stay.

Take Jubilee Park for instance, located just five minutes’ walk from the centre of the village. Its caravan and camping facilities are set amongst some of the most beautiful woodland areas in Lincolnshire and include seventy-three serviced pitches with electrical hook-up points, showers and toilet blocks, a limited number of hard standing pitches, which also have electrical hook-up points, and more than four grass pitches, close to the showers and toilet block. The site also has a rally field with around thirty non-serviced pitches.

Jubilee Park opened more than eighty years ago and is thriving and looking forward to another busy summer. Its facilities include the renowned and highly popular heated open-air swimming and paddling pool, which is opening this year for its longest-ever season, its newly refurbished play park and areas for tennis, croquet, putting, table tennis and bowling.

Park manager Joe Stanhope said everything looks set for a bumper year: “We have still got spaces for most of the year but we have been very busy over the bank holidays. It was a record year for us last year. This year we are opening the pool six weeks longer than in previous years. It opened two weeks earlier than normal and those first two weeks went really well and we were very encouraged by that.”

There will also be longer opening hours during the high season. Visitors to the park will see many improvements including more planting in the pleasure gardens and new clubhouses for the croquet and bowls clubs.

“We also received a £26,000 grant from WREN towards refurbishing the play park,” said Joe. “The total cost of the project is £33,000 and donations from the public made up the other £7,000.”

The park is bracing itself for another successful season of entertainment through its outdoor screenings of popular films run in conjunction with the village’s Kinema in the Woods. Top Gun and Dirty Dancing were sell-outs and tickets for Labyrinth and Ghostbusters are selling well.

The park is also going to be supporting the So Festival by hosting a music event in the Bandstand on 1st July. It will feature children’s entertainment, three popular local bands and there will be a bar and refreshments on site too.

Jubilee Park was built and gifted to the people of Woodhall Spa by Lady Weigall in 1935. From 1974, it was run by East Lindsey District Council, until 2011 when, following overwhelming support from residents and the Friends of Jubilee Park, the parish council took over to prevent it from being closed. Now it is a charity and 2016 was the first year the park was totally self-financing, with no public funding at all.

“We are a charity standing on our two feet but we have a number of different projects going on,” said Joe.

“Last year the project was the play park and this year we are doing improvements to the garden area, so we are creating a sunken sensory garden.

“Because there doesn’t seem to be a lot to do on the park for people in wheelchairs, the idea is to utilise the underused areas of the park and create an area where they can get involved, help us maintain it and investigate all the sensory things that are there.”

The sensory garden will provide a quiet space for all visitors to enjoy a water feature and plants that are carefully selected to stimulate all the senses.

Lady Weigall lived in what is now the Petwood Hotel, which was originally built at the turn of the twentieth century. It is so-called because she had it constructed in her favourite wood, her ‘pet wood’. Lady Weigall turned the house into a hotel in 1933 and it has been welcoming guests ever since.

Although originally built for the Edwardian Baroness, the hotel building served as a military hospital for injured soldiers during the Great War but it was as the home of the legendary RAF 617 or ‘Dambusters’ squadron in World War Two that truly placed Petwood on the map.

Occupied from 1942, it was originally home to officers of the 97 and 619 squadrons, but with nearby Woodhall Airfield chosen as the operational base, 619 squadron moved away and the officers of 617 moved in. Comprising Canadian, New Zealand and Australian as well as British Air Force personnel, 617 Squadron were a top secret group entrusted with the task of crippling three key German dams. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, the Squadron Bar hosts a range of memorabilia and tributes to Guy Gibson VC, Leonard Cheshire VC and their officers.

The hotel’s collection of fascinating memorabilia is a testament to the intrepid RAF officers who found the house and grounds a “splendid place” to return to after their daring wartime raids. But there is much more to the Petwood than just the hotel and its tribute to the Dambusters.

Over the past few years, a major focus has been the restoration of the gardens back to their Edwardian splendour and the project is well on its way to completion. The gardens were designed by the aptly named landscape architect Harold Peto back in Lady Weigall’s day and were brimming with colour and rose-laden pergolas as well as a myriad of climbing plants, laburnum, wisteria, azaleas and rhododendrons.

Director Emma Brealey said: “The restoration is now looking well-established and most of it has been done. There is a lovely seating area which is a perfect place to enjoy a Pimm’s and a terrace ideal for taking afternoon tea in the sunshine, making it a ‘quintessentially English’ hotel.”

The gardens also lend themselves to outdoor entertainment and the Petwood is continuing with its outdoor events this year including the ‘Petwood Concours D’Elegance’ returning on Sunday 13th August with jazz entertainment on the Terrace; Chapterhouse Theatre Company presenting a garden theatre production of Great Expectations on 27th August and for the children, Dotty the Dragon performed by the acclaimed Blunderbus Theatre on 16th August.

One trend that has been more noticeable over recent years is the number of people choosing to holiday at home rather than go abroad.

“We have seen lots of people wanting to staycate for the last few years. That looks like it is continuing this year,” said Emma.

“We are also seeing more international bookings, particularly from the Netherlands but where we are seeing the real growth is in visitors from Canada and New Zealand.

“The exchange rate is in their favour and obviously because of the links with the Dambusters and their interest in the Bomber Command Centre, this helps explain why we are continuing to see that trend in international visitors and visitors from the continent.”

One thing about the Petwood that people don’t seem to realise is that it is not just a place to stay for a short break or a stopover, it is also a great place to spend a relaxing afternoon or some quality time with friends and relatives.

“We need to get people to rediscover what we have,” said Emma. “There is an awful lot that we can offer. The hotel and gardens are perfect for family get-togethers, It is something for the whole family to enjoy.”

This month the Petwood Hotel is celebrating British Flowers Week (19th-25th June) with an eye-catching floral installation by S&A Floral Design. The entrance to this quintessentially British hotel will greet visitors with a spectacular display of British grown flowers and even trees.

“We’ll be taking over the Petwood entrance porch and filling it with the most fabulous floral tribute showcasing the best of British flowers”, said Shirley Dee of S&A Floral Design. “Against the backdrop of the recently restored Peto gardens, the Petwood is a great venue for this celebration of the ‘Best of British’ and we hope lots of people will want to take this opportunity to visit.”

Afternoon tea will be served daily throughout the week. Emma Brealey said the hotel was excited to be working with S&A Floral Designs: “We are enormously excited to work with Shirley on this project, which will not only showcase the beauty and variety of British flowers but also the creativity and artistry of local talent.

“Knowing that many of the flowers Shirley will be working with will come from Lincolnshire, it is also a celebration of the importance of the horticultural industry to our local economy.”

Hosting one wedding a day, the Petwood Hotel is the picture-perfect backdrop for your dream wedding. Being licenced for civil ceremonies you can even marry outside in the beautiful gardens in the summer months.

This former country house oozes historic charm and boasts oodles of character, great for internal wedding shots. However, it is undoubtedly the spectacular grounds which make this the gem of Woodhall Spa. The recently restored gardens are a photographer’s dream offering a stunning backdrop for photographs all year round.

Delicious food, fabulous wines and excellent service from a friendly, professional and highly experienced team help make the Petwood a reliable and dependable venue choice. A range of elegant entertaining spaces caters for parties of all sizes, from intimate weddings for 20 to large scale celebrations for 200.

Call the Events team on 01526 352411 for more details or to book a show round.

Step back in time to the 1940’s at the annual Woodhall Spa 1940s festival on Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th July. The festival attracts over 40,000 visitors to the town, where they can be taken back to the Second World War. Relive the sights and sounds of post war Briton with a wide variety of events taking place at numerous venues across the village throughout the weekend.

With live re-enactments, military vehicles, and much more the Woodhall Spa’s 1940’s is a great day out for all the family.

For more information visit www.wood-spa-40s-festival.com

Well-established independent businesses and shops are in abundance in the village of Woodhall Spa and they are all very much part of the community. One such business is R J Hirst butcher’s shop in Station Road, which has been serving the village for fourteen years and has just earned itself an Oscar.

It was the only butcher’s shop from Lincolnshire to reach the finals of the Countryside Alliance East of England Best Butcher Awards, fondly known as the Rural Oscars, and it was highly-commended. It faced opposition from Norfolk, Essex and Suffolk.

Owned and run by Russell and Sadie Hirst, it specialises in reviving traditional Lincolnshire dishes.

“We are a very small business but fortunate to have won lots of awards,” said Sadie, who hails from Woodhall Spa itself.

“As well as the Rural Oscar, we scooped twelve awards at the Lincolnshire Poacher County Food Awards and, for the fourth year running, were highly commended finalists for Best Retailer and Best Producer of the Year in the Select Lincolnshire awards.”

The couple are very passionate about “being local” and it forms a big part of their business ethos.

“One of the things that is key to our business, and was from the outset, is that we want to give a selling platform to other local businesses and we want to work with other Lincolnshire businesses,” said Sadie.

“We have worked with some of Lincolnshire’s top suppliers from the outset, such as Ownsworth’s and Fairburn and they are important for the success of our business. It is as important to have a good relationship with your suppliers as it is with your customers.

“We are part of the community and if you have a business in the village it is very important to be part of that community. You have to practice what you preach. If you want people to shop locally with you it is a two way thing, so you should use other local businesses wherever possible. People want to know where their food comes from and they want local ownership.

“That is a big part of our business ethos and that is one of the things the Countryside Alliance recognised.”

Sadie is an avid collector of antiquarian cookbooks and loves the history of food.

“I am passionate about collecting and saving historical recipes and preserving our culinary heritage,” she said.

If you are looking for an outfit with a difference, then Hugo’s quality ladies’ fashion shop in Woodhall Spa may well have the answer.

It is a stockist for well-known brands such as Emreco, Claudio Lugli, Michaela Louisa, Micha, Brial, Via Appia, Viccio and Passioni as well as special occasion wear by Frank Lyman, Aria, Libra and Gina Bacconi.

Hugo’s latest addition is a new French design collection called Hippocampe, which is proving highly popular.

Owner Karen Rowlett said: “It is a new collection which I have been stocking for two months. I stock it because it is different and it is always nice to get something a little bit different to the norm. It is very new and it is selling very well.”

Hugo’s, in Station Road, has been established in the village for a number of years and attracts people from far and wide, some travelling to the shop from the coast and beyond. It prides itself on good service and looking after its customers. The showroom features clothing which ranges from inexpensive separates through to sophisticated occasion wear.

The feedback from Karen’s loyal client base is that they want garments to be versatile, outfits that they can wear to multiple events and have the option to dress up or down.

Woodhall Spa is home to Peter Scott Shoes, Britain’s smallest shoe shop. When Woodhall Spa had its own railway station, the shop was a booking office, and it was the last building on the platform before the railway line diagonally dissected The Broadway.

This explains its unusual shape, which is only three feet deep at one end and led to the property being known as the ‘Woodhall Wedge’. Customers have to view the displays in ‘single file’ at this end of the shop!

During its life it has seen service as a bicycle shop, an electrical retailer, a jeweller’s and even a bank.

Peter Scott Shoes opened in 1999 and over the years has gained a reputation for stocking shoes with style that fit as well as they look. Customers regularly travel from Lincoln, Louth and Boston for brands like Hotter, Rieker and Ruby Shoo.

The Tea House in the Woods is the oldest tea room in Woodhall Spa, having been built in 1906 but up until three years ago it was an Italian restaurant.

Then partners Natalie Leech and Stephen Sleight came along in June 2014 and turned it once again into a traditional tearoom.

“We lived in Woodhall Spa and knew the area. Steve was head chef at the Petwood Hotel and I was conference banqueting manager. The opportunity came up when I was on maternity leave, so we decided to start out together,” said Natalie.

From its outset, the Tea House was managed by the sisters of the then Superintendent of the Spa Baths, Dr Williams, until they bought it outright in 1913 and served dainty delicacies and tasteful fancy gifts including their own embroidery. They also provided a lending library service. The Tea House remained a traditional tea house until the turn of the century.

“We thought it was best back as a tea house,” said Natalie, “because it was always here before and as we are based in the woods next to the Kinema in the Woods, which is quaint and olde worlde, it fits together.”

The Tea House in the Woods is open Tuesday through to Sunday as a tea room serving traditional afternoon teas with homemade cakes. It is also open Tuesday to Saturday evenings as a restaurant.

“We do traditional afternoon teas but we are also very busy as a restaurant as well,” said Natalie.

“We are an English style traditional based food restaurant. Everything is homemade from locally grown and sourced produce. We have a team of chefs and we have a good front of house team. It is a busy restaurant, so booking is essential.

“Business is going well and the Kinema is doing well, so we work off the back of each other. Woodhall Spa is great and unique.”

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Calling all UK young artists!Doddington Young Sculptor Exhibition Doddington Hall and Gardens, Lincolnshire invites submissions from UK-based sculptors and 3D artists, aged under 30, for an exciting new open exhibition to be held this summer. Doddington is looking for pieces to be exhibited in the historic working Kitchen Garden, which complement the Garden and its surroundings. The Doddington Young Sculptor Exhibition will run alongside the main bi-annual Sculpture at Doddington exhibition and is an opportunity to exhibit alongside some of the finest contemporary sculptors selected from across the country and further afield. Prizes: 1st prize – £750, 2nd prize – £250Submission deadline: Sunday April 21st 2024Further details about eligibility, terms and conditions can be found at: www.doddingtonhall.com/event/young-sculptor-exhibition/To apply, please email your submission as a PDF document to angus@doddingtonhall.com ... See MoreSee Less