Robert Gledhill takes a step back in time for a medieval glimpse of England with a modern twist, on a visit to the Cotswolds.
Take a well-earned mini-break if you seem destined to spend much of the seasonal holidays on child-caring duties.
You certainly do not need a long-haul flight to New Zealand, often described as like stepping into the Britain of the 1950s, if wanting to hark back to a more relaxed bygone age.
No, the Cotswolds is far more accessible with its honey-coloured limestone walled and thatched roof houses set in beautiful villages where you can switch off and spend a couple of days far from the madding crowd.
Set in 800 square miles, the Cotswolds are Britain’s ‘largest area of outstanding natural beauty’ spanning six counties – mainly Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire along with parts of Wiltshire, Somerset, Worcestershire and Warwickshire.
We found the ideal base in Chipping Campden and where more appropriate to stay than Cotswold House?
Sited on the top tier of the spliced High Street and overlooking its sister hotel, The Noel Arms, where the ‘fugitive king’ Charles II sought refuge after defeat by Oliver Cromwell at the ‘Battle of Worcester’, Cotswold House has a reputation as one of the UK’s foremost country house retreats and spa.
We were fortunate to stay in one of three buildings set in the ‘gin garden’ of this Regency stone property, boasting 28 guest rooms. Through the back of the hotel, our garden cottage was entered through a wooden gate and small courtyard with stone arch into a lounge with a spacious beamed ceiling bedroom off to the left and huge egg-shaped stone bath to the right.
Walk 100 yards up the gravel and paved path, with little hedged alcoves featuring garden seats dotted along the way, and you come to the separate quality spa featuring hydrotherapy pool and aromatic steam room plus a wide selection of treatments to choose from.
The hotel also boasts the Fig restaurant, which has been awarded Two AA rosettes status, and no wonder, as the food prepared by chef Pasquale Russo is fine dining of the highest order.
Under the relaxed but diligent eye of manager Craig Webb, the hotel has enjoyed a £1m facelift and that is what you would need in your back pocket just to buy one of the recently-built detached houses on the edge of the village – though that would come nowhere near to purchasing a home with thatch and land!
‘Sold’ stickers in the local estate agents, however, underline that this is a vibrant and affluent, rather than sleepy, market town.
You are certainly more likely to see a ‘Chelsea tractor’ as opposed to one by Massey-Ferguson driving past the 1627-built National Trust-owned Chipping Campden Market Hall. The past, though, is always present as you amble around towards the imposing St James’ Church above the town and the Catholic Church of St Catharine in its heart, passing signs indicating such as ‘Cider Press Lane’ and ‘Sheep Street.’
Campden – Chipping being an old English word for market – is also the start of the 102-mile Cotswold Way, which ends at Bath Abbey.
The first stop en route for walkers and cyclists is another delightful and a shade more bustling town, Broadway, but having ventured the six miles by car we returned via Broadway Tower, a 65-feet high folly commanding outstanding views at 1,024 feet above sea level over the Cotswold escarpment across as many as 16 counties.
Back at base, one thing stood out and that was the complete absence of national chain stores and charity shops, the town proudly boasting over 70 local businesses, independent boutique and gift shops, not to mention a fine selection of hostelries.
Cheltenham to the south-west or Stratford-upon-Avon to the north-east would have been within easy striking distance on day two but we took a drive to the delightful Bourton-on-the-Water.
Straddling the shallow River Windrush, crossed by several stone low bridges and featuring traditional stone houses, the Cotswold Motoring Museum and Birdland, this is a far more touristy-type village but is still worth a visit despite its hustle and bustle.
However, for peace and tranquility Chipping Campden is hard to beat and the Christmas packages on offer at Cotswold House are really tempting – if only they don’t overlap with festivities with the grandkids!
Robert Gledhill stayed at Cotswold House, The Square, Chipping Campden, Gloucs through Signpost (www.signpost.co.uk), who have been recommending the UK’s top privately-owned hotels since 1935.
His Cottage room for two cost £245 per night including breakfast.
Christmas packages range from £485pp to £665pp for a two-night stay with £85pp for the Christmas Day menu.
Rooms from £140 B&B winter, £180 B&B summer.
01386 840330, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.bespokehotels.com/cotswoldhouse.