The Cotswolds has undergone something of a reinvention over the last decade. Gone are the bucolic scenes of country lanes ‘still innocent of motor cars’ evoked by Laurie Lee in Cider With Rosie. Ever since Kate Moss and co. upped sticks from London and settled here, it’s become the go-to destination for city slickers looking for a quick country fix.
The arrival of Soho Farmhouse in the idyllic but previously unknown Oxfordshire village of Great Tew confirmed the area’s status as the epitome of rural chic. Back when pandemics only ever happened in disaster movies, festivals such as Wilderness, Cornbury and Alex James’ Big Feastival filled the villages with revellers each summer (oh for that pre-Covid era!). Soon, the Beckhams moved in and built their own tailor-made pad in Great Tew. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex joined them (for a time) and Oxfordshire’s reputation as a playground for the rich and famous was all but set in cotswold stone.
It’s easy to be cynical about such celebrity glitz. I used to tell visitors about the quirky village names (Nether Worton, Hook Norton and Adlestrop where Edward Thomas wrote his poem); now I simply point out the famous driveways.
But the area draws a glamorous crowd for a reason. Out of all the rural counties within easy reach of London, the Oxfordshire/ Gloucestershire border is arguably the first region you reach heading west from the capital where you feel you have truly shrugged off suburbia and arrived in the countryside.
Chocolate box cottages, winding country lanes, pubs with roaring fires – it’s a place that easily fulfils its own clichés. And, from the weekender’s perspective, the influx of gastronomically minded Londoners has only added to the appeal; spending a weekend in the country no longer means forgoing good restaurants or camping out in a damp cottage or dated B&B.
Where to stay
The Cotswolds of old is still there for those who want to seek it out. And arguably, you have to roam beyond Oxfordshire and into Gloucestershire to find it. There’s no better place to start than Adam Henson’s Cotswolds Farm Park which instantly puts you in touch with the region’s rich farming heritage. The park itself is perfect for families with ride-on tractors, sheep and eminently strokeable rabbits. I challenge you not to squeal over its very rare litter of Gloucester old spot piglets (the pink and black spotted variety you only ever see in storybooks).
Nestled in a beautifully serene neighbouring field is a brand new collection of luxury wood-clad lodges, each with a private deck overlooking the open countryside. A stay here effortlessly combines the appeal of the great outdoors with the luxury edge we’ve come to expect from The Cotswolds. And, with a fabulous farm-to-table cafe next door, you can even outsource the cooking.
It was no surprise to hear that, despite only being open for a few months, they were booked solidly over the summer. With the farm park remaining open well into the Autumn and the lodges bookable all year round, weekend boltholes don’t come more convenient or comfortable than this.
What to see
Once you’ve had your fill of the farm park (entry to which is included in the price of the Lodges), you’re just a stone’s throw away from many of the Cotswolds’ most charming villages and towns. Stow-on-the-wold’s independent shops and cafes are a delight in winter, while the walk between Upper and Lower Slaughter, with its meandering river and authentic village ford, will have you wanting to sell up and relocate in a heartbeat. Further afield is picturesque Bibury with its iconic street of cottages known as Arlington Row.
Nearby Bourton-on-the-water hit the headlines this summer because of the number of day trippers that descended on it. But in the winter, you can have the bridges, greens and cafes almost entirely to yourself.
And, if you’re especially averse to crowds, the equally easy-on-the-eye villages of Kingham and Churchill boast top-notch pubs (The Chequers and The Wild Rabbit are often frequented by The Camerons) with not a tourist in sight at this time of year.
As far as grand abodes go, you’re spoilt for choice. Sudeley Castle, which has hosted the weddings of everyone from Liz Hurley to Felicity Jones, has plenty to entertain children and grown ups alike.
No Cotswold weekend is complete without a hike up to Broadway Tower. This Victorian folly is living proof that Londoners swapping the city for the country is nothing new. Artist William Morris retreated here frequently from the capital to visit friends – plus ça change.
Batsford Arboretum is a nature lovers’ sweetshop in the Autumn – above the exotic array of trees is an expansive view over the Cotswolds from the top of the gardens. Chastleton House is another hidden gem between Kingham and Chipping Norton – again, rarely frequented by anyone other than locals in the know.
Where to eat
Recently voted the UK’s number one village pub by the Sunday Times, The Ebrington Arms near Chipping Camden is beloved by foodies for good reason. Dine by the open fire after a chilly walk and you’ll soon forget all about the pandemic.
The King’s Head Inn in Bledington is a local favourite – along with sumptuous gastropub fare, it serves arguably the best burgers in Oxfordshire. It’s situated on the village green with copious amounts of outdoor seating for when the sun shines.
If kale smoothies float your boat then Daylesford organic farm is the place for you. Exquisitely presented dishes are served in a pristine converted barn. Woodfired pizzas are also available in the outdoor kitchen and bar area for those who would prefer to eat al fresco. And you can even remortgage your house in exchange for a tomato from the farm shop on your way out…
A stay in a Cotswold Farm Park Lodge costs from £180 per night: https://cotswoldfarmpark.co.uk/properties/lodges/