The picture postcard villages of the Cotswolds are a delight, finds Pamela Moffat
Short breaks are the perfect opportunity to recover from a hectic working week, but as a designer I’m always hoping a weekend away will also provide a healthy dose of creative inspiration. My husband and I have family living in the Cotswolds and know the area is as pretty as a picture (officially it’s an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) so we jumped at the chance to stay for a night at the Five Alls hotel in Filkins and a second at its new sister inn The Plough in Kelmscott.
Both establishments are owned by chef Sebastian Snow and his wife Lana, who sold their acclaimed London restaurant Snow’s on the Green in 2008 to run the Swan in nearby Southrop – where they won the Good Food Guide’s UK restaurant of the year in 2010 – before buying their own place which opened in 2012. Five Alls is an 18th century coaching inn, so called as the original pub sign features five social groups (alls), the lawyer who pleads for all, the parson who prays for all, the soldier who fights for all, the farmer who works for all and the devil who takes all.
We are staying in one of the hotel’s cottage-style bedrooms at the rear of the hotel. Our room is light, bright and tastefully decorated; sisal floors, wood cladding and a massive bed with crisp white bedding, textured cushions and throws. I have never worked out how to maintain this look at home, perhaps this is the inspiration I need to learn more about good housekeeping.
We find the bar packed with families enjoying gastro pub grub; this is clearly a popular place with locals. My attention is drawn to the decor and the quirky details such as light shades which were once gramophone trumpets. Keep your eyes peeled too if you’re a star spotter as there are more than a few famous locals who could pop in; there’s a framed picture and note of thanks for lunch in the reception from David Cameron – the devil who takes all?
The menu in the restaurant has a Mediterranean influence. Choosing a starter takes some time as we have a huge selection of 16 to pick from (five can also be served as a main) but in the end we opt for purple sprouting broccoli on toast with anchovy, chilli and garlic, and shellfish and seafood linguine with chilli, tomato, basil and capers. Both are huge portions and served with fresh focaccia. Mains are equally as delicious both to read and eat and as difficult to narrow down – 11 options plus the five starters. We choose the blackened fillet of cod with bok choi, glass noodles, ginger, chilli and scallions, and roast rack of lamb, aubergine parmigiana, spinach and baked garlic. By the time we get to desserts we’re stuffed, but can’t resist trying coconut creme brûlée with shortbread biscuits and banoffee tart.
Filkins itself is a small village, but on a stroll the next morning we ogle some not-so-small residences as we wander along to the Cotswolds Woollen Weavers, where cloth and blanket are made on traditional looms. It’s a workshop/museum/ coffee shop and store packed with inspiration.
Soon we are heading for the Plough Inn at Kelmscott. Driving along the country roads we feel we are travelling back through time and our busy city lives seem just as remote. The cosy and bustling bar provides a warm welcome and the Plough’s brewed beer is a hit with hubby. Described as a ‘country inn with restaurant and rooms’ this is a destination inn, somewhere you can arrive and immediately relax. The building is 17th century Grade 2 listed and has been renovated using a mix of original features, recycled timbers and vintage, antique and salvaged pieces to create an informal, country cool vibe.
The restaurant, styled with flagstone floors and open fireplaces, serves meals inspired by modern British comfort cooking and the menu feels quite different from Five Alls. We tuck into steak and ale pie with seasonal vegetables and fish, chips and tartar peas. My husband spied Pam Ayres and I suspect she’s not the only famous face who will be spotted here.
Next door is Kelmscott Manor, the country retreat of artist and craftsman William Morris. Unfortunately it’s closed during the winter months but this provides an inspired excuse to return in the summer.
Our final sight-seeing excursion is to Arlington Row in Bibury described by Morris as “the most beautiful village in England” but with so many to choose from nearby it’s well worth a visit to decide for yourself.