Letter from the Cotswolds
If you’ve had the pleasure of visiting England, I expect you’ve been to London and Oxford, and possibly Salisbury, York, and Bath. But how much of the countryside have you seen? It is, after all, this “green and pleasant land” which so inspired William Blake and became forever part of English culture when it was enshrined in the hymn Jerusalem.
I have made myself at home this fall weekend at the Cotswold House Hotel & Spa in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire. It’s only a couple of hours west of London, but here you find the traditional high street of creamy gold stone houses, independent shops, and pubs. Beyond the historic village — where of course there is an historic church and a village green — are verdant green hills where dog walkers wearing wellington boots smile and stop to pass the time of day with ramblers and picnickers.
As I write, I am sat in the most idyllic of English gardens. The hotel prides itself on the striped green lawns, immaculately manicured box hedges, and colourful herbaceous borders. There’s a fresh, slightly earthy smell to the air, and I can hear the twittering of the birds in the trees. This environment is a balm for the soul.
This weekend I’ve explored the Cotswolds at a gentle pace: one of the many attractions of this part of the country is that no one seems to be in any rush. I sauntered through the National Trust gardens at Hidcote, admiring the exotic plants and listening to Head Gardener Sarah Malleson explain how she curates this living artwork. At this time of the year, Sarah and her team are focusing on getting the topiary under control: all four and a half miles of it! It’s worth mentioning that the garden at Hidcote isn’t just for show; the produce from the glasshouses and kitchen garden is used in the cafes and also sold to visitors. I therefore had the perfect excuse to stop for a bowl of homemade soup and cake.
Close to Hidcote is Court Barn, a museum of art and design. Chipping Campden played a key role in the Arts and Crafts movement at the start of the 20th century, as it became home to the renowned School and Guild of Handicraft in 1902. In the local area flourished bookbinding workshops, furniture makers, and potteries, many of which are still going strong. The movement was a pull away from Victorian industrialisation and a rediscovery of simpler, more tangible and individual ways of making things. The museum tells the fascinating history of the movement and its pioneers, and its shop sells beautifully crafted items by the latest generation of Chipping Campden’s artisans.
The natural landscape in the Cotswolds has a beauty all of its own. Looking out at the ancient ridgeways, I can half imagine Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy or Far from the Madding Crowd’s Bathsheba Everdene racing along on horseback. I climbed one evening to the romantic Broadway Tower — the spectacular Gothic folly that was the favourite getaway of William Morris — and could see mile after mile in every direction, until the sun finally sunk below the horizon. The pink in the sky, the haze of mist, and the slight dampness of the grass under foot sent shivers up my spine with their timelessness. This is an old, old place, and it feels it.
Retreating each evening to the Cotswold House Hotel is heavenly. You enter through the elegant Georgian facade, and are greeted in the spacious hallway like a friend. The wrought iron banisters on the sweeping spiral staircase might as well have been made for Instagram photo shoots, but in fact they are original to the building. Here, the interior designers have created the perfect combination of historic architectural features and contemporary touches, from the egg shaped stone bath beneath a sparkly chandelier, to the grey and white printed fabrics on the sun loungers in the spa.
The chefs at the hotel’s Fig Restaurant are fortunate: the Cotswolds is an abundant larder, so they are able to source almost all of their seasonal produce nearby. Tasting one of the dozens of gins kicked last night off in style, and I then indulged myself with succulent lamb and a mouthwatering dessert bedecked in so many edible flowers that it’s best described as a culinary bouquet!
Wishing you were here,