As her Cotswold escape continues, Jessica Baldwin finds a spot to reminisce on blissful childhood holidays in archetypal English summers…
Sentimentality; it’s never really been my thing. Perhaps it’s down to my infamously bad memory or maybe it’s simply my heart of stone, who knows. The few childhood memories that I do have are wistfully seen through a sepia lens, transported to a bygone era of good clean fun on sunny days, navigating rockpools, building dens and secretly collecting corn kernels for my decidedly bland midnight feast (well, with no local shops it was slim pickings in rural Norfolk – it was that or parsley). I can only presume that we subconsciously cherry-pick these recollections – it must have rained once, surely?
Looking at my daughter now, defiantly demanding my iPad and humouring me as I foolishly attempt to hide my phone from her, I often wonder if I imagined these wholesome times. Yet, as I pulled up to elegant Bruern Cottages, buried deep in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, I felt a strange sense of nostalgia – unsurprising, really, considering this Area of Outstanding National Beauty has inspired countless childhood classics over the years, from Lord of the Rings to Peter Pan.
A short drive saw London’s unforgiving tower blocks transform into creamy stone cottages and the motorways melt in to spring pastures; we had arrived. Greeted by a delicious homemade lemon drizzle cake and a tea set ready to spring in to action, it soon felt like home. A nosey around and we found the impressive welcome hamper, bursting with local and artisan products, from thick-cut bacon and homemade marmalade to the sunset yolked Cracklebean eggs, which made even the most vibrant Burford Browns look anaemic.
Dating back to 1882, Bruern Cottages were, in fact, once the equestrian stables for neighbouring Bruern Abbey. The grand baroque-style stately home was built for General Sir John Cope MP, and is rumoured to have been designed by William Townsend, who also put his stamp on nearby Blenheim Palace. In Bruern’s heyday it had an estate cricket team and club in the Abbey’s courtyard, attracting a colourful cross-section of post-war English society, with a bias towards politics, literature and the arts – with David Cameron, Jeremy Clarkson and Alex James all frequenting the local pub, frankly it is all just a little bit of history repeating.
Today these luxury self-catering cottages are a dream come true for well-heeled parents that cannot fathom the prospect of CentreParcs. Marrying stylish period properties with 5* hotel amenities, a fantastic range of children’s facilities and a spa, they literally do have something for all the family.
There are twelve properties in total. The smallest is the sweet one-bedroom Cope Cottage; previously an old mill, today it exudes the elegance of a breezy chateau. The largest is Weir House, sleeping 10 it has everything from its own gardens and grand dining room to a dedicated games room.
We were bound for Aintree Cottage. Once a stable the three-bedroom cottage seemed like the ideal choice for an extended family adventure, grandparents and all. For the grown-ups, there was a stately sitting room, with antique furniture and hand-stencilled walls by Jocasta Innes herself. And for little Rosie, hidden away beneath the staircase there was a genius secret play den bursting with new toys to discover – as I took in the elegant lounge I wondered how our sitting room had become shamelessly engulfed by her colourful plastic and began planning cupboard conversions!
The front of our home led to the grand main courtyard, with views towards the abbey, and to the rear our coffee table overlooked neatly manicured lawns fringed by tapered hedges and a fairy-tale arbour. At the end of the garden, craftily tucked out of sight, there was an outdoor play area, a full-sized walk-in Wendy house and a huge toy shed. However, most of our time was spent in the tropically warm indoor pool, which we enjoyed in total privacy all weekend – stick that, lazy river! Oh, did I mention it has a Tatler rated spa? After an hour floating alone in the silent pool, followed by a blissful body massage it took me a few minutes to come around and remember that I was on a family holiday and not a girlie spa break.
Surrounded by rolling hills, plaited together by miles of footpaths, Bruern is in a prime position to explore many of the Cotswold’s most famous towns and villages, but frankly we had everything we needed on our doorstep and I am not sure Rosie would have forgiven us for dragging her away from her den.
Each evening, after sunset champers, we ventured off the estate in search of good gastropubs – we didn’t need to travel far. Our first evening saw us return to our beloved Chequers in nearby Churchill. The waiter instantly recognised us from our visit weeks before and asked if we wanted our usual – a nice touch for out-of-towners. We also had two great meals at The Angel; just two minutes from Bruern it has a similar dark and moody interior but with more local accents in the air than The Chequers. Specialising in seafood we enjoyed a hearty stuffed seabass one evening and a delicate sole the next.
As I write this, I am recalling memories of that weekend, admittedly with a touch of sentimentality. Our parents are laughing away in the stately lounge having ravaged the games cupboard (and the drinks cupboard, it sounds like – scrabble isn’t that funny!). My partner is reading with a coffee in the courtyard, drenched in the morning sun. I am floating alone in the pool, aimlessly absorbing the first moment of pure silence that I have experienced in almost two years and my daughter Rosie is having the time of her life; stomping through puddles and sneakily picking the wild spring blooms – who knows, maybe they were for a midnight feast.
Premier Cottages have almost 1,000 four and five-star self-catering cottages across the UK, many of which are pet-friendly and accessible, with onsite family facilities. A week’s stay in Bruern Cottages’ Aintree property, which sleeps six, starts from £1488. A two-night weekend break starts from £1214. For more information, or to book, visit www.premiercottages.co.uk or call 01993 830415.