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Having fun in Ware

PUBLISHED: 12:11 30 October 2013 | UPDATED: 12:11 30 October 2013

Brandon Oxer takes his scooter flying at the skate park in Ware Priory

Brandon Oxer takes his scooter flying at the skate park in Ware Priory

Archant

From sprinting to spas and golfing to gardens, Ware has a wide range of pursuits on offer to suit all abilities and levels. John Hutchinson looks at three very different venues helping people make the most of their leisure time

Wodson Park is often referred to as East Herts’ hidden gem. The purpose-built sport and recreation centre offers one of the largest and most versatile public spaces in the county, which next year will be at the centre of its silver jubilee celebrations.

The park came about thanks to the generosity of a Ware farmer. In 1982 Norman Wodson gave 25 acres of land to East Herts District Council. Norman, always been a keen sports fan, bequeathed the land to be used by the community for recreation.

Norman’s widow Zena opened the park in September 1989 and since then it has gone from strength to strength. It now boasts two large multi-purpose sports halls, an aerobics studio and fitness centre. The Wadesmill Suite comprises four units - a dance floor and three additional multi-sue areas.

Outside, there is an eight lane athletics track, two football pitches, a floodlit all-weather pitch for hockey and football, plus tennis and netball courts. Sports clubs, including Ware Gymnastics, Hertford and Ware Athletics, Herts Phoenix Athletics, Ware Joggers and Wodson Park Football Club are all based here.

David Rice, who has been coaching athletics for 30 years, 18 of these at Wodson Park, said the centre plays a key role in developing talented Hertfordshire athletes.

‘At the age of 68, I still love to coach, and hope to see more young champions at what ever level they are. Wodson Park facilities have been and will continue to be part of that success, and it is important that there are fully utilised.

‘I have been coaching here since the track opened, so it has become part of me, and I am looking to develop athletics in any way that I can, but especially through and with the local schools by using the facilities here.’

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For full details of activities and membership go to wodsonpark.com

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Now a five-star hotel and country club set in 200 acres of parkland to the north of the town, Hanbury Manor sits on a site first occupied in the 1730s when a house called Poles was built here. It was later sold to Sampson Hanbury, of the London brewing company Truman, Hanbury and Buxton, who demolished it in 1890 and replaced it with a Jacobean-style mansion. It became the family home from 1913 to 1923 of businessman Henry King who added a stable block and nine-hole golf course to a design by Harry Vardon.

From 1923 to 1986, the house became a convent school run by the Faithful Companions of Jesus. When the school closed it was acquired by developers who created the luxury resort, hotel and country club which opened in 1990 as Hanbury Manor.

Today, it is a haven for relaxation. Golfers can take advantage of its course, which was the setting for the English Open from 1997 to 1999, and is widely recognised as one of the best in England.

Among other highlights are themed afternoon teas to mark special occasions such as Mother’s Day, Easter and Father’s Day and its two restaurants, the elegant Zodiac dining room and the contemporary Oakes Grill. Zodiac holds two AA rosettes and offers an English menu with French influences served in a room decorated with chandeliers, classic paintings and a traditional fireplace.

The spa at Hanbury Manor offers pampering in luxurious surroundings with a wide range of treatments designed to revive spirits and promote rejuvenation.

The hotel is a member of the Hertfordshire Hoteliers Association and chairman Eric-Enno Snel said it is central to efforts to promote the county’s hospitality industry. ‘It is a classic example of our member properties playing a central part in their communities and acting as catalysts to bring visitors to the county - to the benefit of everybody involved in the hospitality industry. As one of Hertfordshire’s most historic buildings, Hanbury also has a key role in our current campaign to highlight the stories behind some of our leading hotels.’

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For further details and to arrange a tour of the health club and or golf club, contact membership office manager Andrew Soskin on 01920 885015 or andrew.soskin@marriotthotels.com

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Once a medieval friary where weary travellers, including royalty, rested en route to London, to its use today as the seat of the town council, a lido and public gardens, Ware Priory has played a central role in the long life of the town.

The original friary was founded in 1338. After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in the 1530s the building underwent many changes. Held in private ownership, it became a hospital during the First World War, then, in 1920 the owner Anne Elizabeth Croft gave the Priory to the town.

Much remains of the original friary buildings, which were the subject of a major conservation and refurbishment project in 1994 thanks to the fundraising efforts of a dedicated group of volunteers, the Friends of Ware Priory.

The building in the heart of the town is now home to Ware Town Council and town clerk Jill Rowlinson says it makes for a wonderful office. She adds, ‘Looking after the Priory building is one of the most important and challenging of the council’s responsibilities but I feel really privileged to work in such beautiful surroundings.’

The site also serves as a conference and wedding venue, while its seven acres of riverside gardens are open to the public and include a playground, bike and skate park, basketball court and bowling and putting greens. One of the much-loved features of the Priory grounds is the 1934 Ware Lido. The open air heated pool is open during the summer months and is well used by children and families as well as serious swimmers.

Alan Thomas, chairman of Ware Rotary Club, which is based at the Priory, says the beautiful Priory building and grounds are the focal point of the town. He adds, ‘It has been a favourite place of mine since my sons were small when we fed the ducks and swans, up to the present day and is a very pleasant riverside place to relax. It provides a wonderful facility for the town.’

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