Discovering an English paradise
STEVE HOWARTH visits a picture-perfect Coswolds hotel
THERE is a line in a famous hymn that refers to ‘England’s green and pleasant land’... and I think I may have just found it.
Together with my wife I visited a charming Georgian hotel in the Cotswolds market town of Shipston-on-Stour – The George Townhouse – which is just 10 miles south of the tourist hotspot of Stratford-upon-Avon.
Located in the heart of the picture postcard perfect Warwickshire countryside this fantastic boutique hotel was totally and tastefully refurbished last year by brewer Brakspear and now boasts 16 bedrooms, all restored to their Georgian splendour but with modern facilities that included, in our case, a huge period style bathroom with both a ‘wet room’ large glass shower cubicle and lovely big period reproduction bath plus toiletries by Temple Spa.
Our top grade room also boasted a fantastic view through the huge bow front window of Shipston’s bustling main street with its period properties and quirky shops. And despite it being so close to Stratford there were no signs of the over commercialisation which the Bard’s former home now suffers so badly from.
The George has twin and double rooms which all come with luxurious en-suite showers and/or roll-top baths. Brakspear’s in-house design team chose calming shades of green and grey by Farrow & Ball, dramatic graphic print wallpapers and linen-covered headboards plus king-size beds by Feather & Black.
Soft velvet curtains and cushions by Linwood, Romo and Warwick, mohair and woollen throws on beds, Egyptian cotton sheets and duck down pillows and duvets all add to that luxury feel.
And there are quirky and stylish touches including antiques painted in contemporary colours, vintage GPO telephones and industrial-style, wall-hung, brass bedside lamps. All rooms feature free wifi, digital radio, flat screen TV, coffee machine and tea-making facilities.
We went exploring and came across the nearby Brailes Village Fair, which transported us back to the English countryside of decades ago. There were classic cars and farm machinery, lots of stalls and even a gymkhana. We enjoyed a cuppa in the very 1950s village hall and were taken straight back to childhood days!
This summed up the countryside around Shipston – it is like stepping back to the romantic view of leafy England from decades past... and we loved it.
Shipston itself is a great place to browse around. Crammed with beautiful architecture and historic alleyways, this small traditional market town was for a long time an important working sheep and wool area, renowned for its woollen skills and tapestry making.
Shipston features an eclectic mix of small shops showcasing unique independents including family businesses, some dating back to the 1800s; butchers, bakers, including a gingerbread maker, tailors and fishmongers, farm shops and galleries. Shipston is also a member of the Totally Locally Campaign, which uses a range of initiatives to keep its high street thriving and the village church is picture perfect.
Also don’t miss the town’s tiny but fascinating free to enter museum, which is tucked away down an alleyway off the main street and manned by enthusiastic and knowledgeable volunteers.
Other historic Cotswolds towns including Moretonin-Marsh, Chipping Norton and Stow-on –theWold are all about 20 minutes drive away, with the city of Oxford 40 minutes by car. More local attractions are within a half hour drive including the Cotswold Distillery (where you can sample or buy Cotswold Gin infused with local ingredients) and Whichford Pottery – where you can watch potters work.
The pottery was commissioned to make 97,500 of the ceramic poppies that stood in the moat for the installation at the Tower of London in 2014 to mark the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of World War One. There are other nearby attractions like Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park, designed by Capability Brown, Hidcote Manor, Neolithic and Bronze Age megalithic monuments near the village of Long Compton, the Gloucestershire/ Warwickshire Steam Railway and Warwick Castle.
Back to The George and we enjoyed great food in The Pantry restaurant, which seats 40 and offers simple British classics. The kitchen takes its food seriously led by head chef, Matthew Hiscoe and executive head chef, Antony Ely. Both Matthew and Antony are passionate about sourcing British and local, seasonal produce wherever possible.
Expect outdoor-reared pork and beef from Todenham Manor Farm, four miles away, eggs from nearby Hazelwood Manor Farm, Cotswold Gold rapeseed oil and locally baked Blackmans Artisan bread on the weekly changing menus.
The restaurant, like the rest of the hotel, features interesting art works and curious bric-a-brac, reflecting the Georgian era. There is also a private dining room for 12 while the Garden Room overlooks a sun-drenched courtyard garden, shaded by huge parasols.
The George’s large, open Bar offers an extensive range of cask ales including (unsurprisingly) Brakspear Bitter and Brakspear Oxford Gold, both brewed in nearby Witney. North Cotswolds Shagweaver, craft beers, lagers, guest beers and ciders are also on offer.
There are 20 wines available by the glass and a list of 60 by the bottle. Spirits include a speciality gin menu featuring 10 iconic and award-winning gins including that Cotswold Gin, Tarquin’s Cornish Gin and Martin Miller’s.
Both the bar area and Pantry restaurant feature reclaimed oak floors, open fireplaces, bright, contemporary colours and bold patterns teamed with quirky antiques and curios. On some nights there is live music featuring talented local musicians and dogs are also welcome in two of the rooms for an additional £15 a night with dog beds, biscuits and water bowls provided. The hotel also has limited parking at the rear.
No surprise then that The George has already been nominated for several awards including Best Pub in Warwickshire by the National Pub & Bar Awards 2017 and Best Boutique Stay and Destination Pub in the Muddy Stilettos Awards.
The George Townhouse at Shipston-on-Stour
The bar at the George Townhouse