Roger St Pierre finds perfect English countryside a short drive from

The Old Swan and Minster Mill Hotel in Witney offers the ideal base for Cotswolds exploration
A delightful
region just
off the A40
Roger St Pierre finds perfect English countryside a
short drive from the hustle and bustle of London
loft apartment in Docklands, a
weekend country cottage retreat in the
Cotswolds – that’s a familiar aspiration
for upwardly mobile Wharfers. But, if
the bonuses haven’t yet kicked in you can still
get a taster of the good life without breaking
the bank.
The Cotswolds offer an abundance of idyllic
and affordable holiday lets plus, if you want
to be truly cosseted, some of the country’s best
country house hotels and dozens of welcoming
inns. Honeyed stone, beamed ceilings, roaring
log fires, shady beer gardens for the warmer
days of summer – it’s all exquisitely picture
Straddling Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire,
this delightful region is quintessential rural
England. What’s more, once you’ve cleared
London, the M40 motorway brings it within
easy reach for a short break.
Set off the A40, just west of Oxford, the busy
market town of Witney, once world-renowned
for its blankets, makes a good kicking-off
History abounds here. A little further along
the peaceful banks of the burbling River
Windrush, the ancient honeysuckle-bedecked
Old Swan and Minster Mill Hotel (01993 774 441, complex was
lovingly restored last year by the De Savary
It has 16 guest rooms while, just across the
street and on the banks of the delightful River
Windrush, the more contemporary Minster
Mill has 44 comfortable rooms.
It would have been all too tempting to relax
in the comfy armchairs in the lounge but
the open road was calling. Our first stop was
Burford, with its broad tree-lined main street
– dropping steeply down to the river and lined
with proper local businesses.
Call at the Tolsey Museum and learn about
■ Thanks to the M40, it’s an easy hour
and a half drive from London. Alternatively, leave the car at home and take
the train (there are several services from
Paddington running through the area).
■ Working with upland Escapes, the
Old Swan and Minster Mill (01992 724
441, has a
selection of delightful Windrush Valley
self-guided walks on offer.
■ Go mid-week to avoid the summer
crowds. Get off the main roads into
the maze of byways for delightful little
villages like Upper and Lower Slaughter.
Why should I head out
to the Cotswolds?
“Honeyed stone villages and
busy market towns, woodland,
meadows, pastures and broad
vistas make the Cotswolds an
idyllic country retreat.”
the town’s once flourishing bell-founding,
brewing, rope-making and woollen industries.
Two miles away, Cotswold Wildlife Park
(01993 823 006,
is set around a lovely listed Victorian manor
house standing in 160 acres of gardens and
parkland. Here you’ll find a fascinating
collection of mammals, birds, reptiles and
Prime places to stay in Burford include The
Bay Tree Hotel (01993 822 791, and The Angel (01993 822
High on a ridge, Stow-on-the-Wold is another
interesting old town, set on the old Fosse Way
Roman road at its crossing point with six other
A local institution worth checking out is
The Pudding Club, at the Three Ways House
country house hotel in Mickleton (01386 438
with its utter dedication to delectable desserts.
Established in 1985, the club is open to all and
meets weekly.
Choose your direction and drop down off
the ridge to busy Moreton-in-Marsh, tranquil
Bourton-on-the-Water with its stream running
parallel to the main streets, or, just over the
border in Worcestershire, elegant Broadway
– famed for its antique outlets and The Lygon
Arms (01386 852 255,
There’s also an old coaching inn called The
Lygon Arms (01386 840 318,
in Chipping Campden – another handsome
market town.
We ended our own three-day sojourn in
Woodstock, with a stroll round this pretty
little town and a visit to its prime attraction
– the majestically Baroque Blenheim Palace
(01993 810 570,, designed
by Sir John Vanbrugh.
It is a vast edifice that was gifted to the
First Duke of Marlborough and was later the
birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Besides the
great house, built between 1705 and 1724 there
are 2,100 acres of Capability Brown-designed
parkland to explore.