Slow Cotswolds

  • Feasting autumn eyes on Fairford

    There are many places in the Cotswolds that warrant a visit in autumn. That's unsurprising when one of the trees most synonymous with the region is the beech, which offers all the shimmering copper one can ask for. Yes, the Cotswold countryside is perfect for crunchy autumn walks. But what of the towns?

    One that particularly lends itself to autumn is Fairford (pages 191-2), an unpretentious out-of-the-limelight town with all the hallmarks of the Cotswolds without actually fitting into the AONB proper. Fairford sits on the River Coln (a tributary of the Thames and the very same river that flows through overly-touristy Bibury) and there are glorious walks to be had in and around the town, with a tremendous display of autumn flair, even in the town centre churchyard.

    Notable medieval stained glass

    For some Fairford means the RAF airbase as the location for one of the world's largest annual air displays, the Royal International Air Tattoo. And yet this quiet town is the antithesis of all this show of strength and force, the only strength shown in the town from the wool-trade wealth invested in the 15th-century church of St Mary the Virgin.

    The church, with its giant walnut tree at the entrance, dominates the very attractive High Street. Its near-complete set of medieval stained-glass windows are world famous, depicting scenes from the life of Christ, culminating in the Last Judgement. I also like the fact that the bell ropes hang right in the centre of the church where the bellringing is clear for all to see. Don't forget to pay your respects at the memorial for Tiddles, the church cat, in the churchyard. For the best view of the church, wander along the footpath to the west of the River Coln.

    Pumpkin soup at The Oxpens

    Northwest of the High Street, close to the river, are the oxpens, ancient stalls where cattle once fed after a hard day's ploughing. They've been fully restored and the sunny courtyard is the perfect place to pull out a flask of pumpkin soup. You can also begin a riverside walk from here - via Back Lane. Following the river until it reaches the Cotswold Water Park (pages 214-16), it returns alongside a lake and back into the East End of town towards the Walnut Tree Field where the annual Fairford Festival takes place every summer. Or being along the High Street, following a browse in the various independent shops, and follow the signs for the River Walk.

    There's also a footpath for a walk to the neighbouring village of Quenington, north by the river and across water meadows for approximately one mile. The river flows through Fairford Park, a 4,200-acre estate and, though private, there's a permissive footpath that joins up with a public footpath to Quenington allowing you to walk along further stretches of the river and the little Pitcham Brook. A route map can be downloaded from the website ernestcooktrust.org.uk.

    Eat and sleep in Fairford

    If you're looking for a place to eat - or get your head down for a relaxing night or two - I can recommend The Bull Hotel. It's a very attractive Grade II listed coaching inn built of Cotswold stone and situated right in the centre of Fairford, on the Market Place at the southern end of the High Street. Internally, the decor is welcoming with cosy lounges and an informal dining room while the bedrooms are comfortable and spacious.

    The chic copper bar is a focal point, as is the open fireplace (with giant bull's head above) that dominates one of two cosy bar lounges with sofas and armchairs. For eats, you can select between informal dining in the large lounge bar or, for a little refinement, in the separate dining room where the smouldering blue decor and moody, low lighting provides an intimate atmosphere.

    There's an Italian and Mediterranean influence to the menus with a choice of stonebaked pizzas and 'Bull Club Classics' (sirloin of beef focaccia club sandwich with fries) or an imaginative À la Carte selection (lamb tagine with couscous, chickpeas and harissa and warm salad of wood pigeon with dandelion, lardons and croutons as two examples).

    Should you be staying overnight, breakfast is excellent with a multitude of cooked dishes to order plus high quality fruit juices, a choice of soaked dried fruits, compote and yoghurts with granola, bircher muesli, cereals, charcuterie, fresh bread and pastries plus homemade jam.

    Twenty-one double/twin bedrooms are decorated individually with a muted grey theme running throughout the hotel accommodation as a basis upon which splashes of colour are showcased. Attic room 14, for example, is in soothing pale grey with Quake Grey Shaker-style wood panelling while blue velvet and Cinnabar red patterned cushions and attractive swan-neck chrome/glass bedside lamps lift the tone. The good-sized en-suite bathroom has a double-sized shower and roll-top, claw-foot bath.

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