Searching for family-friendly accommodation for our recent trip to The Cotswolds, we stumbled across an ultra-modern, self-catering option that couldn’t be more different to the honey-coloured, limestone cottages that this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) is famous for.
Intrigued and with three children under five to entertain, we jumped at the chance to stay in a sleek, lakeside property on an exclusive, eco-friendly country estate near the village of Somerford Keynes, just four miles from the market town of Cirencester.
The fact that the price included use of the indoor and outdoor swimming pools, spa and play area sealed the deal, but we were also impressed by its green credentials and the idea of staying on a vast nature reserve. Designer and TV presenter Kevin McCloud has lauded the development for the way it combines sustainable construction, ecology and design.
Our home for the week was the light and airy Osprey Lodge, which sleeps eight people in four bedrooms (two twins and two doubles) and also boasts a vast, open-plan living area; two en suite bathrooms; a family bathroom and a spacious outdoor sitting area surrounded by a glass balustrade. Acres of glass and two balconies ensure that you can soak up the fabulous views of Clearwater Lake, one of several on the 550-acre Lower Mill Estate, wherever you are in the house.
A network of streams runs through the estate, including the source of the River Thames, a shallow, crystal clear brook at this point. Woodland and wildflower meadows provide habitat for a wealth of birds, insects and mammals, including otters, badgers, kingfishers, barn owls and, surprisingly, beavers released onto the estate in 2006. If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of them at dusk.
Blessed with warm weather, we relished our daily dips in the heated outdoor pool and a couple of us braved the extremely cold but very beautiful eco-pool for a spot of wild swimming.
The estate was very quiet as many only visit on weekends and during the school holidays.
Our only gripes – and they are relatively small ones – were the fact that the on-site farm shop was closed for much of the week and that we were asked not to use the hot tub after 8pm in the evening, which was a crying shame for us adults, who would have loved to wallow in it as we watched the sunset.
With barbecue facilities provided, we opted to eat there most evenings, either outdoors at the table on the decking or at the large dining table inside, with the floor to ceiling glass doors wide open.
However, one particularly warm June evening we set off on the 15-minute stroll to The Baker’s Arms in Somerford Keynes, which has the picture postcard good looks of a typically English country pub. We ate simple, hearty, homemade pub grub under the fruit trees.
Venturing out we found a wealth of places to explore. The Cotswold Country Park and Beach is less than two miles away and has the largest inland beach in the UK. There’s a lakeside café, two adventure playgrounds and the chance to try a host of activities, including crazy golf and boating. In good weather, you can easily spend a full day there.
We also headed to Bourton-on-the-Water, which lays claims to the ‘prettiest village’ in the country title. The charmingly named River Windrush flows through it and a series of stone bridges provide access to independent shops, pubs and eateries. It is also home to an impressive model village that’s actually a 1/9th scale replica of the village itself. The only Grade II-listed attraction of its kind in the country and opened in 1937 to celebrate the coronation of King George VI. The detail and craftsmanship has to be seen to be believed.
Before heading back to Yorkshire, we spent a pleasant morning exploring Moreton-in-Marsh, one of the principal market towns in the Cotswolds, followed by an al fresco lunch – delicious cold meat and cheese platters for the adults, and homemade pizza breads for the children – behind Tilly’s Teahouse on the High Street.
We stocked up on locally-produced cheeses and accompaniments at The Cotswold Cheese Company’s store, and were thrilled to stumble across Sweets Etc., a lovely, old-fashioned sweet shop. Needless to say, we were won over by its charms and ended up leaving laden down with handmade sweet treats.