The Cotswolds at Christmas
Christmas is a time to relax and so I was determined that was actually going to happen this year. I booked a cosy cottage in the Cotswolds at Homeaway.co.uk and surprised my family by announcing that we were going on a festive break.
It meant that Caroline’s mum and dad, Lin and John - who really are doting grandparents – could spend some quality time with little Harriett.
A couple of hours after leaving home near Southampton we arrived at the sandstone coloured Candlemas Cottage nestled in the quaint village of Bourton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire.
The freshly painted 19th century property complete with Christmas tree and decorations made for a fantastic base during our week away. Arranged over three floors this charming cottage had many original features including exposed Cotswold stone and wood panelling as well as modern touches such as flat screen televisions as you can see from the video at travelwriter.biz. While it was persistently cold and wet outside we snuggled up in front of the fire enjoying entertainment provided by our mischievous daughter.
Lin and John slept in the second bedroom, in the converted loft with its exposed wood beams while Caroline and I opted for the master bedroom, large enough to also fit Harriett’s travel cot. Comfy beds provided a good night’s sleep for all. We all took our turns with the chores and mucked in together but it was always difficult to get out of the cottage before midday.
However, when we did finally manage it we strolled around Bourton-on-the-Water. The Venice of the Cotswolds has five bridges under which flows the river Windrush – fast and high due to treacherous downpours. At this time of year there’s a long tradition of a tall Christmas tree being placed in the river and when lit up at night made for a magical scene.
We were a little apprehensive about what might await us in the outlying village of Lower Slaughter. But thankfully at the end of our one-mile amble we arrived at a supremely picturesque village, nestled on the banks of the river Eye. Slaughter actually originates from ‘Slohtre’ in old English meaning muddy place. Records show that it has been inhabited for over 1,000 years. Today, it is home to The Slaughters Country Inn, an imposing and grand 17th century luxury hotel. This charming house has had many incarnations and was formally a Crammer School for Eton College, certainly some great characters have been associated with it over the years. Traditional beamed ceilings, stone mullioned windows and the magnificent fireplaces combine with contemporary styling. There is nothing better on a damp dreary day than to sup a pint in front of the roaring open fire peering out of the window at the picture postcard landscape. John and I each sampled a pint of Hobgoblin ale, brewed in nearby Wolverhampton by Marstons.
There were plenty of good quality dishes from which to choose, too. “The minted lamb pie was full of good quality meat and really enjoyable,” said Lin.
No matter that we couldn’t visit Cirencester (the capital of the Cotswolds) because much of it was badly flooded, there were many other places of interest in this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We made for Cheltenham, only 20 miles or so from Bourton. “We’ve never been there,” revealed Lin and John as they appreciated the splendour of the Regency buildings, many adorned with Christmas lights. Here, in 1995, sculptor Sophie Ryder produced The Minotaur and the Hare out of bronze. It was originally displayed as a temporary exhibition. When the general public learnt that it was to be removed they raised £50,000 to make it a permanent fixture in the town centre.
Harriett was badly in need of another pair of shoes and so we all trekked to Clarks. The understanding and considerate assistant patiently dealt with his little customer who enjoyed strutting up and down the shop in a plethora of shoes. When he went to the warehouse Harriett focussed her attention on improving the store’s shoe display…
By now we had developed quite an appetite which was satisfied at TGI Friday’s, the family friendly American style diner in Cheltenham. It wasn’t always family friendly though because when TGI Friday’s opened its first restaurant in New York in 1965 it was the meeting place for single adults. Today, families and couples enjoy the all American food and party atmosphere, too. Harriett particularly liked the balloons. While we waited for our order she was occupied with a create your own superhero book with stickers and crayons. It wasn’t long before I was coated in those stickers but then a Classic American 7oz burger arrived for Caroline, diverting little one’s attention. John, Harriett and I enjoyed Chicken Finger BLTs while Lin opted for the BBQ Smokehouse Aberdeen Angus.
For me Christmas isn’t Christmas without attending church and so I dragged Caroline and Harriett to St Lawrence’s in Bourton-on-the-Water for Christmas Day Family Communion and found it to be an enriching experience. If only all vicars could deliver an engaging and thought provoking easy to understand service like Rachel Rosborough. During the service Rachel gave Harriett a balloon.
We headed back to the cottage as Harriett had an urgent meeting with a certain Mr S Claus.
Some days later at Gloucester we visited the cathedral and recalled how a few years ago this city felt like the poor relation to Cheltenham. Since then the Gloucester Quays regeneration programme has radically transformed its fortunes. This multi-million pound venue is home to a host of good quality brands including luxury leather retailer Osprey, London and shoe specialist L.K. Bennett all offering discounted stock. Window shopping certainly generates an appetite and so it was pleasing to find a selection of restaurants here. A most warm welcome awaited us at Pizza Express where a family friendly environment was complimented by exemplary service from waitress Jo Martin. This resulted in us spending the best part of the afternoon there. Harriett – our little rascal with a short attention span (her father’s fault) – to our surprise actually allowed us to indulge in a three-course meal. For starters we tried Dough Balls “PizzaExpress” and the New Recipe Bruschetta Con Funghi. Jo recommended that we “really should try New Polenta Chips”. This couldn’t have come at a worse time for Lin, though because she had just embarked on a gruelling Slimming World (Christchurch) regime. But she was delighted to find that she could have an enjoyable low calorie main meal. “I was impressed by the 500 calorie Padana Leggara pizza with goat’s cheese, caramelised onions, spinach, red onions and garlic. If you’re dieting this is very good,” she said. The rest of us weren’t bothered about our figures. So we opted for a combination of pizzas. The restaurant will happily replace or remove any ingredients from their dishes for awkward customers, too like my wife! Harriett actually ate a good portion of spaghetti Bolognese from the Piccolo Menu, too. Our drinks, consisting of light and dark Peronis for John and me, and soft drinks for the rest, accompanied the dishes well. I thought that I’d have to give dessert a miss but then discovered Dolcetti or mini puddings. Oh joy, it meant that I could have that Chocolate Fudge Cake after all and a cup of hot chocolate to boot. Caroline had Banoffee pie with decaf latte while Lin had Tiramisu. You should have seen Harriett’s face light up on receiving a Bambino Chino (the frothy milk from a cappuccino) and a bowl of fresh strawberries. This feast was certainly a highlight of our delightful holiday and was thoroughly enjoyed by all three generations thanks to the mellow atmosphere created by the soothing background music and relaxing lighting.
Our time in the cottage quickly drew to a close but there was still more to see. Fortunately we were travelling in a Marquis Majestic 180 six-berth motorhome complete with everything including the kitchen sink as you can see from the video at travelwriter.biz. This meant that we could extend our holiday, enabling us to park up by a quiet roadside, cook a family meal, have a shower and a comfortable night’s sleep.
But in the end we really did have to say goodbye to the wonderful Cotswolds. We arrived back at our respective homes suitably refreshed and ready for the great challenges of the new year, which for us include a second child and the launch of a new business (www.creativecoverage.co.uk).
Lin reports that despite all her Christmas indulgences she still lost an extra three pounds and has shed almost one-and-a-half stone since starting her Slimming World programme four months ago. This has resulted in her receiving a Club 10 Award (meaning she has lost 10 per cent of her weight). According to doctors this makes a tremendous difference to health.
TGI Friday, Cheltenham
Pizza Express, Gloucester Quays
The Slaughters Country Inn, Lower Slaughter
Watch the videos at www.travelwriter.biz
Arrive Candlemas Cottage, Bourton-on-the-Water
Country walk to Lower Slaughter
Monday, Christmas Eve
Strolling around Cheltenham looking at the Christmas lights and shopping in the boutiques
Tuesday, Christmas Day
11am Family Communion, St Lawrence’s Church, Bourton-on-the-Water
Wednesday, Boxing Day
Browsing for art and antiques in Moreton-in-Marsh and Stow-on-the-Wold
Gloucester Quays and a walk to the cathedral
Watch a video tour of Candlemas Cottage at www.travelwriter.biz
Tim Saunders is the former Business and Motoring Editor of the Bournemouth Echo in the UK.