The Bay Tree Hotel in Burford holds a particular affection for me due to being the place my father would always pause at during an outing to the Cotswolds over the Christmas holidays. This charming limestone building dates from the 16th century and its crackling log fires still create an irresistible smokiness which fills the air outside and makes for a welcome greeting on a cold winter’s day. All you need for it to be the perfect Christmas card scene is to sit by the fire in a wing back armchair and see a flurry of snow, and that sometimes happens too.
Once the country home of Sir Lawrence Tanfield, Chief Baron of the Exchequer to Queen Elizabeth I, the property was converted into a hotel in relatively recent times (1935), and quickly became a popular choice by visiting bachelors due to the house policy of only employing pretty young ladies. Whilst this would have made for a good Jeeves and Wooster plot, the Bay Tree is now owned by Cotswold Inns & Hotels who have honoured many other traditions, save this one. And although I usually dread hearing that a favourite place has undergone a total refurbishment, so many of my old haunts having been spoiled by ‘makeovers’, I love it here more and more, so characterful and in keeping has the recent transformation proved.
Aside from the furnishings having been updated, the ambiance is thankfully very much the same as it always was, and continues to bring back memories of my father who, having tucked into a clotted cream tea in The Library, (after all Christmas is the time for eating, drinking and merry-making) would select a book from the Bay Tree’s collection of left-over reads and fall asleep for most of the afternoon like a field animal enjoying winter hibernation. This did not go down well with my mother, whom I would then proceed to rope into playing Scrabble, a game she has always played under duress. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, I can’t ever remember being happier.
Therefore, it was only natural that I couldn’t wait to share the experience with my husband of only a few days. And boy did he get into the swing of things, that is, knowing how to do absolutely nothing for hours on end. For, who needs a temple for contemplating your naval when you can go to The Bay Tree? Our pretty Garden Room boasted views of the snow dusted lawn and we rose in time for a full English breakfast, showcasing the finest Cotswoldshire ingredients. And then it was just a matter of counting down the hours to a pub lunch, a candlelit dinner in the restaurant, and then back again to the Woolsack Bar for a wee dram by the inglenook. Well, it was Christmas!
When you crave a walk in between all that gorging and supping, Burford High Street offers a wealth of quaint shops in which to ‘mooch’, such as Mrs Bumbles delicatessen and the Cotswold Cheese Company, and when you simply can’t hack the sight of any more food, you can browse the many antique shops and country clothing retailers, ideal for us townsfolk who never seem to dig out the right attire for places like this; boots, thick socks, Barbour jackets and tweed, all of which you’ll find in the Tardis-like Oxford Shirt Company, shirts being just a small percentage of their enormous stock.
After exhausting the shops, but rather stupidly failing to purchase the required pair of wellies, we buttoned up our coats and headed to the 160-acre Cotswold Wildlife Park, housing the largest privately owned zoological collection in the UK. It’s an unusual backdrop for a Georginan-Gothic manor house you might think and the front lawn is now the territory of a family of galumphing rhinos, thankfully vegetarian, so my husband reminds me when I spot one of them running towards me in the distance and imagine they’re after their Christmas dinner in the form of yours truly (don’t worry folks it was all perfectly safe really).
We followed this with a stroll around the idyllic town of Bourton-on-the-Water, self proclaimed ‘the Venice of the Cotswolds’ and which is replicated in its very own one-ninth scale model village, the rooftops of which glistened with frost in the winter sunshine and the sound of a church choir, emanating from the model of St Lawrence’s, capturing the quintessentially British nostalgia of this charming winter break. As it was by no means peak season for the attraction, we pretty much had the place to ourselves and I recalled having last visited aged 7, when the residences seemed almost the perfect size. You really have to see this place to believe it, but then you could say that about much of the Cotswolds, not least The Bay Tree Hotel.
The Bay Tree Hotel, Sheep Street, Burford. OX18 4LW. A three-night Christmas 2015 break starts from £640. A two-night New Year break from £425. For reservations and more information visit the website.