Dis­cov­er­ing an English par­adise

STEVE HOWARTH vis­its a pic­ture-per­fect Cos­wolds ho­tel

Accrington Observer - - TRAVEL -

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

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