GIVEN a choice between a life in the country or one in the town, the town will always win hands down for me. Supermarkets on my doorstep, restaurants within walking distance, Deliveroo for when you’re feeling lazy; I just like the convenience of having everything right there, at my beck and call, 24/7.

But every so often even the most enthusiastic townies among us get a yearning for the country life. For fresh air and a lack of mobile connectivity, for trees and hedges and open fields with cows that look at you like they want to kill you and then start to advance menacingly in your direction so you have to leg it before you get trampled to death (see, I told you I was a townie).

So it was that we set off for the delights of the Cotswolds one Saturday morning, Minchinhampton to be exact, armed with a walking route downloaded from the internet, enough layers to make an army sweat and two pristine pairs of wellies that last saw a muddy puddle back in 2013.

It was the coldest day of the winter, -4 degrees, and there had been a sprinkling of snow overnight. But nothing, absolutely nothing, not even that cosy Cotswold stone pub with its roaring fire and impressive selection of ales, was going to keep us from our six-mile hike (oh, go on then, just one to warm us up before we set off).

Now, townies and the kind of maps that rely on landmarks rather than sat-nav don’t really mix. Nor do townies and two pints of Badger's Elbow 6% abv, if truth be told. Three hours later, with the light fading fast and our walking route reduced to a soggy pulp in my pocket, we were forced to admit we were hopelessly lost.

And if it weren’t for a local llama we’d probably have ended up spending the night out there. Yes, I did say llama.

In the middle of nowhere, walking down a lane that looked suspiciously like one we had walked down 45 minutes earlier, we spotted a llama in a nearby field. And as we stopped to work out whether it really was a llama or whether hypothermia had confused our brains, the most wonderful vision appeared – and her name was Hilary. Hilary, who confirmed that we were, indeed, at least four miles off course and a good hour from where we needed to be; Hilary, who went on to say she was heading in that direction - after feeding the llama, of course - and could give us a lift; Hilary, whose car heater thawed us out in no time and who turned out to be right when she said her little Jack Russell (teeth bared, snarling in anger, straining to get at the intruders in the back seat) was actually quite harmless.

We salute you Hilary. The countryside needs you.

Back among the stone buildings of the town rather than the wide open common that surrounds it, we decided we’d had enough exploration for one day and headed for our hotel, The Ragged Cot. The 17th century former coaching house is now a pub with nine posh rooms but all we noticed for the first half hour was how wonderfully efficient the central heating was, blasting out a welcome as warm as any from the staff.

Being so close to Gatcombe Park, we’d heard that the pub is often visited by royalty and has even had some pretty major film stars to stay recently, but in the late afternoon and with the weather closing in again outside, the place was fairly quiet with only hotel guests having pre-dinner drinks and two or three hardy locals propping up the bar.

Our room was small but beautifully furnished, with plush cushions and heavy fabrics giving an air of luxury. With more than 300 years of history, it was inevitable that this place would have a resident ghost and, lo and behold, the guest book held the gruesome details of a former landlord who pushed his wife and baby child down the stairs in a drunken rage and then hid their bodies in a trunk. The apparitions of mother and child are still said to be seen occasionally in the building, but thankfully during our visit they were somewhere else, probably keeping warm.

The snowy weather didn’t stop the restaurant filling up later though. When we emerged for dinner, the low-level noise of people enjoying their company and their food made for a pleasant atmosphere; even the coachload of raucous rugby lads who stopped off for a pint on their way home from a match added to the ambience (although it was much quieter once they’d gone).

There were no huge surprises on the menu – steaks, burgers, sausages and the like – but the ethos seems to be doing the simple very, very well. Goat’s cheese bon bons for me and a butternut squash soup for my partner were followed by Barnsley lamb chop (£16.95) for me and a trio of local sausages (£12.95) for him. My thick slab of meat was cooked beautifully and seasoned to perfection, and the thick chips alongside were to die for (as you probably would if you ate them too often). Of the pork and apple, beef and horseradish and venison sausages devoured across the table, the traditional pork was said to be the best accompaniment to the chive mash and braised red cabbage upon which it sat, but nothing much was left behind in the pursuit of that verdict.

We retired to bed - on the look-out for ghosts as we went - feeling very, very full but very, very satisfied.

We tried to keep breakfast light as our grand tour of the Cotswolds wasn’t over yet and we were booked in somewhere else for Sunday lunch. Cereal and scrambled eggs for me and the English ‘lite’ of one rasher of bacon, one sausage and one egg for him set us up for the day before we headed off on our travels. The journalist in me couldn’t a parting question about recent celebrity or royal visitors, but the landlord politely and discretely declined to answer with a diplomatic ‘we prefer not to discuss our guests’. That was me told.

Scarred by the previous day’s outdoor antics we headed east for an hour mooching around Cirencester followed by another mooching around Burford (once a shopper, always a shopper), before landing up at The Rose and Crown in Shilton, a tiny village almost indistinguishable from all the other pale stone villages we’d passed through en route, each as pretty as the last.

This place is renowned for its Sunday lunches, so much so that booking in advance onto one of the two sittings is essential, and when we entered the little stone building it was packed to the rafters.

Arriving at 2pm, the roast beef was already gone for the day and we were left with a choice of slow roast shoulder of lamb (£15.50), lambs liver (£11.50), aubergine parmigiana (£10) or a fish risotto (£15.50). With my heart set on a roast dinner, I went for my second serving of lamb in 24 hours while my partner had the cod fillet on a prawn and mussel risotto.

Completely different in texture if not taste from the night before, this hunk of meat fell apart at the touch of a fork and melted in an intense hit of deep flavour. The accompanying vegetables were pretty standard stuff, but the meaty star of the show overshadowed everything.

Not normally a fish eater, my partner thoroughly enjoyed his risotto and fleshy fillet, allowing himself a warm chocolate and walnut brownie to follow (£5.75) as a reward for his virtuosity.

Vowing not to eat for at least another week, we rolled out of the pub and into the car to make our way home. As the Cotswold stone gave way to red brick and the David Murray John tower loomed into view, we reflected on a successful weekend in the countryside, albeit that the indoor eating bits were more enjoyable than the outdoor freezing ones.

We might even do it again soon. I think we have a weekend free in 2021.


Michelle Tompkins was a guest of The Ragged Cot Inn, Cirencester Road, Minchinhampton

GL6 8PE. Tel: 01453 884643 Email: Prices start from £80 per night and include a full English breakfast.

The Rose & Crown is in Shilton, Burford, Oxon, OX18 4AB. Tel: 01993 842280 or see