The worst part of any weekend break when you live in London is the Friday night traffic as the big exodus takes place; it’s impossible to judge whether to leave early or late for minimum delays. We sat in traffic for a long time, along with many others, and our satnav pushed us from the M4 to the M40, through residential and industrial areas plus a huge array of mini roundabouts and junctions. It was almost like being in a rally event as the instructions changed quickly in response to Google Maps’ efforts to beat the blockages.
Finally, in that pitch dark that only country dwellers really know, the signs to Chipping Campden started to appear; we were nearing our destination, a mere hour later than we’d hoped. It’s a pretty small Cotswold town and the street lights sparkled, showing off the glow of the Cotswold stone buildings to perfection.
The King’s Hotel was easy to find, right in the centre, and looked very welcoming; we parked speedily behind the hotel and decamped to the bar for a well-earned large G+T or two in the buzzing bar. Our friends were long since there, and we eagerly scanned the restaurant menu while catching up.
The King’s is just what you hope of a country hotel – cosy, with real fires and a huge fireplace in the restaurant. Quirky décor includes all-too-desirable cast-iron candlesticks and an array of charming hare sculptures, plus attractive local paintings and a huge antique high-backed settle amidst a mish-mash of wooden tables. We relaxed, exhaled deeply to rid ourselves of the week’s worries at the office coalface and watched the restaurant team in action while keenly awaiting our supper.
Informal service at its best kicked in. Water and wine were discreetly topped up, the team was friendly and described the dishes well – they had obviously sampled the menu personally – and the food was simply delicious. It was well crafted by the young ambitious chef – one to watch, I’ll wager.
Now on a different planet from the one we’d inhabited on arrival, we tottered out of the restaurant into the fresh country air, ambling along a gravel path to our chic bedrooms in a cosy house at the bottom of the gardens. Windows flung wide open, and gorgeous oval bath designated for a luxurious soak come the morning, we slept deeply in the very comfy bed.
Waking slowly, wondering dozily where we were at first, the sunshine crept into our room and urged us to get going. Sniffing the air, it was crisp and cool outdoors, but invigorating. Unbelievably we managed a full English breakfast, then we got togged up in our walking gear and set out with a route map in hand (thanks to the very helpful receptionist!) to discover Chipping Campden. First stop, almost immediately, was a country fair we spied in a small hall – carved wooden spoons being crafted in front of us, jewellery designs glittering and other desirable gift ideas a-plenty. This was just pre-Christmas, and the temptation to buy multiple gifts was intense!
The buildings were all golden Cotswold stone in the sunshine, fresh flowers spilt on to the grassy verges from the local florist’s shop, a cheese emporium could be savoured from some distance away and brass knockers gleamed from centuries of polishing. So many details caught the eye – a sun dial, a carved design repeated in stone – how long would that have taken to create? – plus huge chimneys, stable doors ajar, old glass glinting in windows, a friendly dog relaxing and watching us walk by from his cosy window seat. The pace of life felt relaxed, the locals had time to talk, the art galleries tempted us.
Leaving the village, we slipped silently into countryside surroundings. The top of a church steeple glinted, a delightful museum barn offered still more exciting retail opportunities (irresistible!) and we slipped into the church to explore, looking over our shoulders as we entered to admire the view of fields near and far and many sheep. This part of the Cotswolds was where the woollen merchants of the Middle Ages lived and prospered, and their trade is still plied locally. The church interior was proof of local wealth in centuries gone by – intricate carvings, marble tombs and plaques naming generous sponsors vied for attention. We explored the church yard, photographed some unusual gravestones and decided to stretch our legs by following a footpath that climbed the hill opposite, across ploughed fields with vistas in all directions.
A tractor, not unlike a child’s toy model, puttered up and down, striping the field a deep brown corduroy. Birds wheeled around. Stiles and signposts were well maintained. Sheep regarded us suspiciously and, before long, looking back the way we’d come, the church was some distance away, its spire catching the sunshine still. After a couple of pleasant miles of muscle-stretching uphill walking, we encountered another church, another village – this one with ambitious topiary surrounding its little green – and a perfect village pub with Inglenook fireplace. Time for a delicious local brew and a sit down, boots abandoned outside, in front of the log fire!
We returned to Chipping Campden from the other end of the village, explored the shop windows (and one or two interiors), enjoyed an excellent hot chocolate at a busy central café, and found our way back to the King’s. Tired but happy, we relaxed in the bath with a book and then changed for a relaxed supper, feeling we’d earned our calorific pleasures with our very pleasant walk in the unseasonal sunshine.
The worst part of a weekend break is actually when you have to leave your country bolthole and drag yourself back to normal life, ready for work and back to life’s normal routine on Monday morning. We must return to Chipping Campden soon – the daffodils and primroses will be out in the hedgerows, and the lambs will be leaping around the fields in their friendly little gangs.
A two-night stay at the King’s Hotel in Chipping Campden in spring costs from £218.00 per ensuite room, for two nights, two sharing, B&B. Three-course dinner £45.00 per person including tea / coffee. Visit www.edenhotelcollection.co.uk for more information and a look at the King’s stablemates, from Warwickshire through the Cotswolds, Somerset and Devon, where flagship Bovey Castle can be found on its huge country estate.