Slow Cotswolds

  • A stay at The Lion Inn, Winchcombe

    If your thoughts are already turning to longer nights, I'd recommed settling into an armchair beside an open fire in The Lion Inn's Snug when the weather turns auburn. But meanwhile, enjoy summer with a refreshing thirst-quencher in the enclosed, sunny courtyard garden scented with lavender before retiring to your boutique bedroom at this recently refurbished north Cotswold country pub. There's no television in any of the rooms so a digital detox is considered the norm here. Besides, with a day's walking in the surrounding countryside, you won't need a telly to drift off to sleep by.

    The Lion Inn is situated in the centre of Winchcombe (pages 151-3), an unpretentious Cotswold town that dates back to the Saxons. Cafes, tearooms and foodie outlets abound and the romantic must-see Sudeley Castle, once home to Catherine Parr (widow of King Henry VIII), is a ten-minute walk from the cosy pub.

    Winchcombe also has Walkers are Welcome status (www.winchcombewelcomeswalkers.com), with six long-distance footpaths converging on the town, including the Cotswold Way and Gloucestershire Way. There's an annual walking festival held every May that offers an enticing selection of walks too.

    But after a day exploring on foor or in the sadlle, it's always good to come back to somewhere you can call 'home', however briefly, and The Lion Inn has a very relaxed, homely feel. Board games are piled high in the Snug, guests mingle with local residents in the bar while the restaurant occupies an old, converted barn painted in soft powder grey and lit with candles and wall lamps. Though on a day sprinkled with sunshine, step outside into the enclosed courtyard garden where shrubs climb the mellow Cotswold stone walls of the inn and giant bushes of lavender erupt with scent as you brush past.

    I wasn't so fortunate with the weather during my stay. Cats and dogs spring to mind, but still the lavender bushes perfumed every raindrop as I climbed the short flight of steps from the garden to my overnight room in a converted hayloft.

    Room 7 (my hayloft) is like a personal apartment with a trio of rooms. Overlooking the courtyard garden (with a private balcony from which to enjoy a drink) is, first, a living area with sofa (bed), chaise longue and an area for making tea (Clipper) and fresh coffee (Grumpy Mule). It's a space where you can truly wind down. While screen-free relaxation is encouraged, free WiFi is available.

    Through the open, stone doorway, I step up into a boudoir bedroom where the cosiest room with a soft, plump feather duvet awaits my slumbers. The room is dressed in a soft purple and tender grey, softened further by the quiet light from a pair of bedside laps. A French-style armoire and a window-side plush armchair complete the interior design.

    Beyond is my boutique bathroom, with a roll-top, enamel bath/shower, and presented with organic lotions and potions. Three individual spaces in which to drift away!

    There are eight bedrooms in total at The Lion Inn, each individually designed; no two are the same shape or size. But every room is soothing and a little Cotswold haven. You'll also receive fresh milk to go with your tea and coffee and, for those that struggle with a feather duvet, hypoallergenic bedding is available. Other than my hayloft boudoir, all rooms have an ensuite shower.

    Downstairs - beneath the hayloft in fact - the restaurant occupies a long, timber-beamed room overlooking North Street with flag floors, rugs, mirrors and rustic wooden tables. Stoneware crockery (though, unfortunately, not the town's own Winchcombe Pottery) adds to the rural ambience. But you will be dining with locally produced Robert Welch cutlery (page 85) from nearby Chipping Campden.

    The restaurant has been awarded an AA Rosette and food is of an excellent quality. The menu changes frequently to benefit from seasonal produce and, frankly, I could have munched all evening on the introductory herb-infused rye bread. Best ever tasted? Probably.

    With the cool summer rain thumping the North Street pavement outside, I opted for roasted red pepper and tomato soup; slow roast pork belly, creamed potatoes, pancetta, apple sauce and Agen prunes followed by a divine honey and almon panacotta with homemade cinder honeycomb and candied almonds.

    I could have had a pear, walnut and chorizo salad with honey and lemon dressing, or confit duck leg, chorizo and borlotti bean cassoulet. I was tempted, too, by the wild mushroom tagliatelle with basil pesto and parmesan. And, after my dessert, had I not opted to sink on to that chaise longue in my own living room with a good book, I could have rounded off the meal with a selection of eight coffees, five liquor coffees and ten types of tea.

    By morning, I was back in the restaurant for breakfast and, oh my goodness, what a choice. A cold buffet is beautifully presented to include cereals and homemade granola, fresh fruit salad, natural yoghurt, dried fruit and nuts, juices and miniature pastries. Hot food is cooked to order to include six dishes from a full English (though including, somewhat bizarrely for breakfast, garlic-infused grilled tomatoes); Eggs Benedict with roast ham and poached eggs; scrambled eggs with locally produced Coln Valley smoked salmon; or crushed avocado on toast.

    Had I been staying with friends and family, we could have booked The Club Room. Seating up to 20 guests at one long pine table for business meetings, dinner parties and weddings, the room is designed with a luxuriously informal country style to complement the rest of the pub.

    As it was, I could have easily stayed longer and become a part of the furniture, waiting until the fire required lighting in the Snug and settling down to a long winter in a leather armchair.

    The pub is family-friendly (Room 7 is particularly suited to families, though take care on the stairs with young children) with extra beds and cots beds available in all rooms. It's also dog-friendly, with dog beds available too.

    Room rates vary on a daily basis according to demand, with direct booking prices from £99 to £165 for a double/twin room including breakfast. Non-residents may also drop by for breakfast (priced £14.50). What a treat before setting out on one of Winchcombe's six major walking routes!

    The Lion Inn is part of The Epicurean Collection, with other Cotswolds pubs in the same select group including the Seagrave Arms (page 80) at Weston-sub-Edge, The Horse and Groom (page 135) at Bourton-on-the-Hill and the Trout at Tadpole Bridge on the banks of the River Thames near Faringdon, in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds. All are thoroughly recommended for food, drink and accommodation.

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