Slow Cotswolds

  • The name's Swan, Old Swan

    The Old Swan & Minster Mill (page 110) in the beautiful Oxfordshire Cotswolds village of Old Minster Lovell, has linked with nearby Blenheim Palace (pages 139-141) to offer James Bond fans the ultimate getaway to celebrate the launch of Spectre.

    Throughout November, this characterful inn's 'Bond at Blenheim' package invites guests to live like the suave spy for a day (hopefully without a nemesis hunting you down!) whilst discovering more about the new Bond film and the filming that took place at the World Heritage Site in Woodstock. Guests enjoying this exclusive weekend break will be driven to Blenheim Palace, in true Bond style using a classic car, where they will go behind the scenes of the latest Bond blockbuster and learn the secrets of filming and what happened when the A-list film world descended on this natural treasure. Many other films have also been shot at Blenheim Palace and visitors will be privy to all sorts of insider information, learning how the palace has been set on fire and been the scene of mass dancing, feasting, intrigue and murder over the years, all in the name of film.

    After a visit to the palace, also the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, guests will head back to the hotel to enjoy a gourmet, locally sourced, three-course dinner for two before sauntering to the bar for a martini making masterclass - shaken not stirred, of course.

    The Old Swan & Minster Mill sits at the heart of the Old Minster village (page 115) and, sited alongside the bubbling River Windrush, offers a lovely spot to escape and explore the Cotswolds. There are cosy quarters, roaring fires and rugged flag-stone floors in The Old Swan while next door is Minster Mill with more modern and fresh rooms. Both are set in 65 acres of private gardens. I describe the village in Slow Cotswolds, "Following the Windrush east, it's the village furthest east that I enjoy most. For Old Minster, on the north side of the river, does more than offer character. The old village is an inspirational place where the gentle river provides a backdrop to cricket on Wash Meadow, overlooked by a quintessentially English timber-framed pub adorned with cascading flowers (that's The Old Swan), a narrow street lined with the most appealing cottages and the spectacularly eerie ruins of a once grand manor house. Minster Lovell Hall tries to stand up next to St Kenelm's Church, on the banks of the Windrush, with ancient fishponds evident and an immaculately layered-stone dovecote close by. The hall was built by Lord William Lovell in the 1440s but dismantled, in part, by 1750. Now the remaining blackened walls whisper tales of yesteryear, arched doorways hang in mid-air, empty windows whistle with the wind and moss grips the foundations trodden down with 300 years of footsteps.

    There's a fine walk across the water meadows too, where you can brush with the weeping willows and wild mint that mount the banks of the river and where, if you're lucky, you'll catch sight of a swooping barn owl. Either come back the way you came along the river or take the circular walk via the village of Crawley and return across the northern meadows and Ladywell Pond.

    The easiest way into the village is across the 15th-century bridge from the Burford to Witney road south of the river. But I love approaching from the northeast where fields are laid bare, where the Romans once trod along the course of Akeman Street and the views across the water meadows to the ruined hall and church make it all the more mysterious, especially when a mist hangs through the trees."

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