SARAH SINGLETON drives down the A419 to Fairford for a night at The Bull Hotel

In the depths of dreary winter, little cheers the heart more than the prospect of a blazing fire, good food and comfortable accommodation in a traditional hostelry.

Perhaps this all sounds a little Dickensian, but the Bull Hotel in Fairford, an imposing, rambling old place, formerly a coaching inn and built of Cotswold stone, has a touch of Dickens about it – though clearly the more well-to-do end of the Dickens scale.

The building has a long and complex history. It was made up of two neighbouring pubs, The Bull and the George, though apparently, the Bull was once a Monk’s Chanting House. In the 18th and 19th centuries it served as a coaching inn on the London to Gloucester Road, with stabling for dozens of horses. It must have thronged with travellers, and in the Januarys of those days, how welcome the warm fires and good food must have been.

The hotel overlooks the Market Place, in this picture-perfect town just over the border in Gloucestershire and only a short drive from Swindon. Inside, inviting rooms extend to left and right, offering an appealing blend of old world and new, blending natural materials of exposed wood and stone with luxurious touches in the form of rich colours, velvet furnishings and ornate gilt mirrors. Fires burn in old stone fireplaces, and candles burn on mantels and tables.

Old black and white photographs of country characters decorate the walls, and the coppery top of the long bar gives a warm gleam. A feature wall is decorated with an enlarged still life painting of flowers, a bold, theatrical touch. Staff are helpful and welcoming.

The hotel was taken over by Sebastian and Lana Snow in 2016. The couple also run the Five Alls at Filkins and the Plough at Kelmscott. They invited BAFTA nominated set designer Corina Burrough and interior designer Jo Titchener, working in partnership, with Lana, to create the refurbished interiors, including the 21 bedrooms.

We are escorted to a room on the top floor of the hotel. It is low-ceilinged and simply furnished, in soothing pale tones, of white and grey, with a modern claw-footed bath in the large en-suite, spotlessly clean with glistening silver. The whole place is appealingly higgledy-piggledy – none of the walls or windows seems entirely true – and the bed is large and comfortable, blossoming with cushions.

With an afternoon to explore, we set off into Fairford, which has plenty to offer the casual tourist – with a host of beautiful Cotswold stone cottages and houses, old farm buildings and footpaths leading away to fields, along the River Coln and to the lakes of the Eastern Cotswold Water Park.

The church of St Mary, just up the road from the Bull Hotel, is certainly worth a visit. A famous medieval ‘wool’ church, it possesses the finest complete set of 28 medieval stained-glass windows in England – and they are a sight to behold. None of the gentle, consoling faces of the saints and angels of Victorian stained glass here - these windows seem to bustle with energy and passion, swarming with ecstasy and violence. Look out for the boiling red devil swallowing souls, or the vividly coloured demons burning in the high windows. You can also find superbly executed scenes from ordinary rural life in medieval times, carved in wood on the misericords – people eating, squabbling and working.

After all this excitement, and as night tightens its frosty hold, the prospect of dinner is particularly welcome. The range of linked rooms downstairs at the hotel make dining a pleasantly intimate experience. The menu has plenty to offer, whether you fancy a simple pizza or something more elaborate.

The starters menu is particularly appealing, with such classics as prawn, cucumber and avocado salad (£7.95) as well as Coln Valley smoked salmon (£8.50) and riboletta – a soup of Tuscan beans, vegetables and bread (£6.95). The warm salad of roasted squash, dates, lentils, pumpkin seeds and pomegranate (£7.50) is a delight – a perfect blend of contrasting flavours and textures.

Beef is a strong feature in the main courses – perhaps not surprising in a hotel called The Bull – with ribeye steak (£23), and beef hotpot (£17.50) – as well as calf’s liver and bacon with bubble and squeak (£18). Two fish dishes and a vegetarian option widen the offer and while my partner relished the chance to sample some rare and very tender ribeye, the chef generously prepared a delicious animal-free main course for me, with roasted shallots, chestnuts, celeriac mash, salad and vegetables. This impromptu preparation was beautifully presented, tasted delicious.

The desserts are more conventional but expertly undertaken – the profiteroles (£6.50) are soft and indulgent, the tarte tatin (£7) a palette-pleasuring combination of soft and crisp. The hotel’s house red is also superb.

We sleep well, relishing our surroundings and the luxury of a night away in a world that seems far from home and ordinary life. After breakfast, we step outside as the church bells are ringing and set off on foot from the hotel, we find our way easily to the lake and enjoyed a walk in the wintery landscape of greys and tawny browns, with swans on the dark water, flooded meadows and hosts of birds in the bare trees. A couple of keen birders even offer us a chance to see a kestrel, perching on a tree, through their telescope. Maybe January has more to offer than I think.

The Bull is running a Winter Warmer Offer for two-night stays. For more information, visit