After spending last Christmas and New Year travelling the East Coast of America on our honeymoon we decided to make a New Year break our new tradition. For whilst missing out on family celebrations over Christmas was tough we really enjoyed escaping for those days between Christmas and New Year where nobody really knows what to do with themselves. There was no feeling guilty about sitting around eating a tub of Celebrations whilst watching films, no temptation for Mr B to log on and do a few hours work and certainly no pressure to arrange a big night out for New Year’s Eve. After a short search I came across a beautiful cottage in Winchcombe which looked perfect for our needs. It’s possibly one of the most impulsive bookings we’ve ever made but it turned out to be a great one.
Months later, walking boots at the ready we arrived at the cottage to be greeted by the owner Emma. It was a freezing cold evening so it was very welcoming to see the fire already lit for us and to our surprise there was Christmas tree which made downstairs feel very homely indeed. I’d ordered an online shop for the basics, but I needn’t have bothered as the kitchen was well stocked with the essentials and even some delicious homemade mince pies. Despite being fully renovated to a high standard many of old features such as the wooden beams and flagstone flooring have been retained giving the cottage a charming character. The sun room overlooking the pretty garden, which was completely enclosed and safe for Flo to run around in, provided a great space to dry wet walking boots and had it been a little warmer would have been a lovely space to enjoy a morning coffee. The kitchen although small was adequate enough for preparing meals and the cupboards were well equipped with utensils, pots, pans and crockery and I was very happy to see a washing machine which came in handy for washing muddy walking clothes. The open plan living/dining space was a lovely area to chill in during the evening with comfy sofas, fairy lights and a log fire giving a very cosy feel. Upstairs both bedrooms were very spacious and the beds were extremely comfortable. The location of the cottage on Vineyard Street was perfect with easy access to lots of walks and the lovely Sudeley Castle in one direction and the town centre a mere 200m walk in the other. Mr B and I rarely visit a place twice, preferring to explore new areas but I would certainly return here and I will be recommending the cottage to others who enjoy similar holidays. (https://www.independentcottages.co.uk/cotswolds/no-5-vineyard-street-ref2589)
Winchcombe itself is fairly typical of many of the larger Cotswolds towns featuring several pubs, a few restaurants, a couple of cofee shops and a handful of boutiques. In addition it also offers a butcher and greengrocer, both of whom sell locally sourced quality, seasonal products with the butcher being famed locally for its sausages that are also sold in the White Hart. Food Fanatics (http://www.food-fanatics.co.uk/) is a fantastic deli with a great selection of wines, local gin & beers and the takeaway coffee provided us with much-needed caffeine at the start of several walks.
All of the pubs are very dog and walker friendly, most have roaring open fires and the range of real ales was excellent in all. The Lion and White Hart have very contemporary interiors whereas the Corner Cupboard and The Plaisterers Arms have a much more traditional feel. Having spent time in each we found it difficult to agree on a favourite, with the The Lion being my preferred choice for drinks whilst for Mr B it was the Corner Cupboard – I think it was the price of drinks during happy hour that swung it for him! However, we both agreed that the best for food was The Plaisterers Arms (http://www.plaisterersarms.co.uk/). We watched eagerly as the landlady chalked up the specials board late one afternoon and decided there and then that we’d be back for dinner. The menu sounded ambitious and it certainly delivered. Mr B started with a crab and lobster tortellini which could have easily been served in a high-end restaurant whilst I opted the tasty local game terrine. My main of ballotine of turkey served with seasonal roasted beetroot and sautéed sprout tops was a great modern take on a traditional roast and Mr B devoured his spicy pork curry. We both remarked at the reasonable price given the high quality and I would highly recommend a visit.
In advance of the trip we had purchased the Winchcombe way walking guide with the intention of planning out some routes, but that’s as far as it got so whilst we had packed our walking boots and warm coats I don’t think either of us quite expected to walk so far each day. However, we were extremely lucky with the weather with cold frosty mornings turning into bright sunny afternoons so it seemed a shame to waste the opportunity to enjoy the countryside at it’s best.
Walk 1 – Winchcombe –Alderton – Gretton – Winchcombe (27km)
After a lazy start we set off around 1030 from Winchcombe with the aim of making Alderton for lunch. The first section of the walk up Langley Hill was fairly strenuous but the views across the Cotswolds from the top made it worthwhile and after a quick breather and we continued with the descent into Gretton. The path was easy to follow but walking was tricky in parts due to heavy mud, you definitely need good walking boots for this route. We were making decent time so decided to stop for a quick half at the Royal Oak in Gretton (http://royaloakgretton.co.uk/), Flo was very muddy at this point so we opted to stand outside and enjoy the views before continuing to Alderton for lunch. The hour walk to Alderton was a very easy one and Flo was able to enjoy plenty of off lead time. We hadn’t passed a soul all morning and it was lovely to feel the fresh country air fill our lungs. Stupidly we had forgotten to pack a towel for Flo but the bar area at the Gardener’s Arms (http://www.gardenersarms.biz/) was very casual so we were able to eat the delicious doorstop sandwiches in the warm. Defrosted it was time to make our way back, as we reached Gretton the sun was starting to set across the fields and sky was lit up in the most beautiful shades of orange. By this time we realised that walking back via Langley Hill wasn’t going to be an option so we stopped at the Royal Oak for another quick warm before walking down Gretton Road back to Winchcombe.
Walk 2 – Prestbury – Cheltenham Racecourse – Cleeve Common – Winchcombe (30km)
Mr B is a huge horse racing fan and attending the Cheltenham festival is the highlight of his calendar, so naturally a walk around the racecourse was high on his list of must dos . Walking to and from the course would have been a little too far for a winter’s day so we caught the bus from Winchcombe to Prestbury and after a stroll around the racecourse we joined the footpath to Cleeve Common. We didn’t take the easiest route to the top and we found ourselves on the bridle path which was extremely muddy and a little tough going in parts but when we reached the actual footpath the ground became far more stable and the final ascent was easy. We chose a good day to visit and the views from the top (the highest point in the Cotswolds) were magnificent. Distracted by the views we missed the marker sign so instead of walking directly back to Winchcombe we followed a different path to Charlton Abbots! Typical that our phones should both decide that moment not to have any signal but luckily we passed a local dog walker who pointed us in the right direction and after a couple of miles of walking down country lanes we managed to pick up the path again. The view of Winchcombe and Sudeley Castle had never been so welcome. Once again we arrived home weary with one very tired border collie, it was a relief to sit down in front of the fire with a cup of tea.
Walk 3 – Laverton – Hailes – Winchcombe (24km)
Learning from our errors of the previous days we carefully planned our next route from Laverton to Winchcombe to ensure we made it back well before dusk. As is normal in rural locations buses can’t be relied upon so instead we booked a taxi with Taylor Private Hire (a friendly driver who offers a great service to walkers). We arrived in the pretty village of Laverton just after 10am and managed to locate the path very easily, soon we were on our way to Stanton. The initial stretch of the walk took us through farmers fields where there were lots of sheep so Flo had to kept on a very short lead as being a collie she likes to herd! We were a little ahead of schedule so it was too early to stop at the local pub in the charming village of Stanton so we continued the walk to Hailes were we stopped for a delicious slice of cake and cup of coffee at the farm shop. On leaving Hailes the temperature dropped substantially and the conditions under foot really deteriorated, in parts the mud was almost clay-like making walking very difficult. Thankfully that only lasted for about a mile until we reached a country path which took us into the town centre of Winchcombe where a change of shoes was required before we headed to lunch at the White Hart to start the New Year Celebrations.
We all absolutely loved our time in the country, it was the break Mr B and I needed after a stressful end of the year and Flo really enjoyed the freedom of the countryside. The January blues kicked in whilst driving back down the A40, the thought of crowded tubes and 9.5 hours a day spent in front of my computer screen really don’t have the same appeal as winter walks and quiet drives down country lanes. I tried to console myself by starting the search for 2017 holidays but to no avail! The Cotswolds have certainly captured a place in my heart and the New Year break is definitely a tradition that is here to stay.
Mrs B xx