This feature marks the launch of a new column at The Arb. Peripatetic journalist and Mum-on-the-run, Jess Baldwin, set out to uncover the world’s finest homes for hire. Here, then, we bring you her take on where one can find the ultimate ‘home from home’…
Neighbours, they’re funny old things, aren’t they (sorry, Paul, not literally)? A postcode becomes a shortcut to knowing someone’s age, salary, style. Think about it, I only need to say ‘Chelsea’ to you and your head is filled with Mulberry-clutching trustafarians sipping a perfectly timed lapsang souchong in Bluebird Cafe. Yet, have you ever really had anything in common with your neighbours? After living in London for a decade I had only ever met one – and we added an extra set of locks to the door after that encounter. Indeed, neighbours can be worlds apart.
Now, think of the Cotswolds and a picture-perfect postcard image of rolling hills, honey-coloured houses and endless ancient stone walls springs to mind, right? True, this is the backdrop but ebbing and flowing its way through six different counties it reveals a different personality with each rise and fall, from wild meadows without a soul in sight to the historic market towns, castles and even the odd palace, busy with tourists from near and far.
Although not obvious at first, The Cotswolds is a land of contradictions and, keen to experience this schizophrenic area for myself, I booked two weekends away, just a few miles apart from one another – they share the same postcode, how different could they be?
My first stop was the tiny village of Churchill, just a few miles from much publicised Chipping Norton – ‘Chippy’ to the locals. Its picturesque scenery and upmarket dining scene has attracted a bizarre mix of well-known figures to ‘up sticks’ and move to its much-talked about streets. The ‘Chipping Norton Set’ includes everyone from David Cameron and Jeremy Clarkson to Blur member-cum-journalist-cum-cheesemaker, Alex James – rock star to Roquefort, that’s what pure country air does for you, folks. See, I told you neighbours were a strange bag.
Dominated by its impressive church (modelled on Oxford University’s, so I’m told), Churchill’s narrow roads are lined with a string of quaint cottages bearing dreamy floral names – we were bound for Yarrow Cottage.
From the outside, this 300-year-old stone cottage seamlessly blends in with its sweeter than sweet neighbours, with a lavender-lined path slicing through its teeny front lawn, to a hobbit-sized front door. Inside, however, this luxurious, contemporary designer pad was worlds away from our initial expectations. The chintzy sofas and fading watercolours that the exterior had hinted at, were replaced by a snug warren of low-beamed rooms with statement modern art, luxurious fur throws and quite possibly the most decadent bath that I have ever had the pleasure of soaking in.
Like excited children we crept past the dimly-lit lounge’s sofas sprinkled with Arran-knit cushions and the cosy fireplace which was stocked high with logs; past the upcycled coffee table drowning in arty photography and travel books and through the dining room with its worn wooden table and trendy wire chairs overlooking a small inglenook. Once in the kitchen we were greeted by a bottle of champagne and various complimentary spirits, which sat alongside the homely range.
To be fair, this saucy interior shouldn’t have come as a surprise – after all, we had booked through designer pad pros and Arb favourite, Beachspoke. Their exciting portfolio of chic boutique UK self-catering properties works to a winning formula; take a distinct and desirable location, find an interesting property with a quirky interior and a sprinkling of 5* hotel amenities…et voila, a new breed of self-catering properties for the discerning guest is born.
Upon arrival, Churchill was covered in a blanket of snow, making it look like something from a Christmas fairy tale, so we wasted no time lighting the log burner. Surrounded by twinkly fairy lights it made the perfect spot to set up camp with a glass of the complimentary bubbly and some background jazz as we toasted the weekend ahead. Outside, all was silent.
The surrounding hills are littered with fantastic restaurants and gastropubs but, feeling lazy, we walk all of two minutes to the local; The Chequers. As we approached the two-a-penny stone building we couldn’t help but feel a little unadventurous. Stepping inside, to the sound track of American folk music, we stared at each other, befuddled. “Are we in Shoreditch?” my partner remarked, amused, as we took in the curiously dark venue, buzzing with an eclectic mix of champagne-sipping trendies that looked like a mash-up of impeccably dressed GQ, Tatler and FT readers, with the odd rock-star thrown in for good measure.
After a fireside champers we moved through in to the double-height restaurant and took our seat, next to Amanda Holden. That evening we dined on a plate of perfectly sliced jamon iberico, a deliciously fluffy twice-baked cheddar soufflé and a hearty steak pie. Needless to say, that visit was the first of many. Not a bad start, Churchill, not a bad start.
Walking home to our misleadingly quaint thatched cottage, I couldn’t help but wonder what lurked within our flowery neighbours’ idyllic exteriors – if Yarrow Cottage and The Chequers were anything to go by, it could be anything.
The next morning, after a soak in that enormous copper bath, it was off to Daylesford Organic; a glass-fronted sassy sage green building rising like an upper-class phoenix from the fields. Offering everything from a restaurant, spa and creche to yoga and a floristry school – oh yeah, and a farm – it has become the one-stop shop for well-heeled locals. A trip to its grocers is quite an education; turmeric smoothies and rosemary water sit alongside kefir milk and sea buckthorn shots – and that’s just the first fridge. Confused, I fled to the café. As I perused the menu, I saw Carol Vorderman casually float by, “I’ll have what she’s having,” I said in shock, “she only looks about twenty – gosh, she really is good with numbers, hey”, I joked, before clocking a £6 glass of milk on the menu – ‘‘Scrap that, I’ll have a flat white”.
The days which followed saw us dip in and out of the area’s famous villages and towns. Stow-on-the-Wold’s handsome boutiques, smart pubs and traditional tea rooms made the mornings fly by. As the highest town in the Cotswolds, the journey there alone is a pleasure, with sweeping vistas at every turn. I loved the off-piste courtyards which easily tempt one towards various craft workshops and hidden drinking holes.
The medieval town of Burford’s steep high street made for an enjoyable afternoon of retail therapy. Fronted with golden stone shops the town’s buildings reflect a sunny disposition even on the darkest days. And straddling the River Windrush, Bourton-on-the-Water, fondly referred to by locals as the ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’, is the perfect spot for a photo of two – thanks to the chain of sweet bridges which marry the river’s banks.
Before leaving, we wandered once more around the village’s extraordinary church. Built in 1837, All Saints is a striking Georgian gothic revival masterpiece, which feels wonderfully out of place in this sleepy village. Its neat walled graveyard is seemingly free of graves…well, I’d live longer if I had Daylesford’s turmeric smoothies on tap. We spotted a local chap tending to his horses in the neighbouring field. Having regaled us with stories of his deaf and blind dog and his excruciatingly expensive dressage horse (which fell instantly lame upon purchase), the subject of the local pub came up.
“Yeah, it’s a nice place, I guess” he intoned, “my mate called me the other day and told me to rush down as he was dining with Curiosity Killed the Cat in there. Makes a change from Jeremy Clarkson and David Cameron, I suppose– oh, and that chap from Coldplay.”
Oooh my, violent boy racers and outspoken righties? Well, you can’t choose your neighbours I guess.
Beachspoke offers three nights at Yarrow Cottage from £600. For more information, visit www.beachspoke.com or call +44 (0)208 740 3097.
Photography (c) Nick Isden.