Hankering after a taste of her dream life, SUE SMITH heads to the honey-coloured villages just across the border

HAVING for some time harboured a desire to move to the north Cotswolds when I either retire or win the lottery, the latter obviously being the more exciting prospect, I never pass up an opportunity to take a trip up the lovely Roman Fosseway.

This particular section of the road from Cirencester used to have my children squealing with delight when they were young as we drove up and down the long, undulating roller-coaster of smooth tarmac.

It’s a fitting gateway to the magical, almost fairytale, chocolate box villages dotted along there between Gloucestershire and Warwickshire.

Stow-on-the-Wold is probably one of the best known of these small towns, famous for Scotts of Stow - yes that Scotts, the glossy magazine that drops out of the Sunday newspapers con-vincing all and sundry that life without magnifying flip up lids on our spectacles, a Portmeiri-on cake slice or an avocado cuber is a life less lived.

It’s the highest of the Cotswold towns standing exposed at 800 feet high at its peak with cobbled streets all squeezed with fine antique shops and art galleries.

One such example is Sheep Street, the location for The Sheep, a quintessentially English building with its honeyed Cotswold stone and mullioned windows.

But that’s where old-style stops. Inside this has been turned into a stylish, contemporary affair where bleached wood meets mood lighting with up-to the-minute interior design.

Previously known as The Grapevine Hotel, The Sheep re-opened in June 2016 with the aim of bringing ‘a slice of London’ to the Cotswolds.

Revamped by the Brakspear group which specialises in ‘doing up’ country pubs in contemporary style while sacrificing none of their historic appeal, this restaurant with its boutique rooms is ideally placed for a meander around some of the best the south west has to offer.

Made up of three knocked-together cottages it has a spacious, funky entrance leading into a bright but relaxing bar area featuring a wood-fired oven and an open kitchen, that flows seamlessly into the courtyard.

The sun happened to be out on our arrival so it seemed rude not to bag one of the lovely loom chairs and peruse the cocktail menu.

All 22 bedrooms are typically boutique hotel with soft muted colours on the walls and simple, clean lines that manage to look classy but retain a cosiness.

One Bramble (Hawthorn gin, Chambord, blackcurrant jam, fresh lemon juice) and White Russian (Stolichnaya vodka, Tia Maria, cream and milk) later and we had worked up quite an appetite.

The menu has a strong Mediterranean influence and the wood-fired oven is perfect for popping out a selection of pizzas.

Gambas Pil Pil with Bloody Mary Mayonnaise and salt and pepper squid kept us going until whole seabass Thai-style with garlic, chilli and greens and a superfood salad with quinoa, kale, avocado, almond and ginger dressing, roast beetroot, feta, orange and grain salad – yes it was a bit late to try and rein in the healthy stuff, granted, but I already had my eye on an Espresso Martini.

The stay and the food were faultless barring one breakfast the next morning which was billed as smashed avocado, bulgar wheat and poached eggs.

My friend said it was more guacamole than smashed avocado and I agreed but then I didn’t really care as I tucked into my breakfast from heaven, eggs Florentine.

Stow is the ideal starting point for many Cotswold Walks and if you are there in May or October the famous Gypsy Horse Fair is a sight to behold.

It’s ideally placed for three of the country’s most famous gardens Hidcote, Kiftsgate Court and Sezincote and home to the Cricket Museum with a dazzling collection of artefacts from all over the world.

There’s a farmers market on the second Thursday of each month and St Edward’s Church dating back to the 11th Century is worth a visit for its amazing stained glass windows.

For a weekend jaunt there are plenty of places to be fed and watered. We popped into The George Townhouse at Shipston-on-Stour the following day, just a short drive away.

Chipping Campden, Broadway and Moreton-in-Marsh are also close as is Stratford-upon-Avon and Warwick Castle.

It was easy to spot we were back in a Brakspear establishment as there is definitely a theme running through these revamps. We recognised the plush velvet chairs and the general air of simplicity we had just left behind in Stow.

However each place had its own bit of quirkiness, the designers here managed to mix Grade II with a smattering of upcycled and recycled antique and modern pieces.

There’s plenty of food on offer here and plenty of places to get comfortable including the snug and the parlour.

Beef comes from the local Todenham Manor Farm while Blackman’s artisan bread has its own bakery around 11 miles away.

Incredibly our forays into the many Scott’s of Stow shops had left us feeling hungry again and twice-baked soufflé with spinach and salmon and herb fishcakes hit the spot before a mooch around the tiny lanes and alleyways uncovering an electic mix of small independent shops.

There was a butchers, a bakers and a …gingerbread maker as well as a tailors and fishmongers.

The Cotswold Distillery has its base here and Blenheim Palace is just a regal roll up the road.

Both The Sheep and The George have recently reached the finals of the Publican Awards 2017, a national competition run by the leading industry magazine, The Morning Advertiser.

There will no doubt be more awards to follow because despite the fairly formulaic refurbishments they are definitely on to something here.

Just because a place has history it doesn’t have to stay stuck in a time warp. Both these places have been dragged into the 21st Century and are currently relaxing from a vantage point on some lovely padded seats.


Rooms at The Sheep, in Sheep Street, Stow-on-the-Wold, start at £90 per night for cosy/snug to £150 for a premium room. Two of the premiums have hydrobaths while another has its own private patio garden. Call 01451 830341 or visit thesheep.co.uk.

At The George, 8 High Street, Shipston-on-Stour, cosy/snug rooms start at £80 per night to £170 for a superior. Call 01608 661453 or visit thegeorgeshipston.co.uk.