In the first of a Cotswoldian trilogy, NICK HAMMOND and family meander across the region to the Welsh borders, where dripping forests, friendly cats and fine food aplenty await…
IT’S with a hop, a skip and yes – mayhap a jump – that I cross the invisible boundary and travelled into The Cotswolds.
I love this part of the world. Rolling hills, thick beech and oak woods, cream-stoned villages and fantastic eateries around every corner; it’s a fine land to meander.
This year, Family Hammond decided to make the most of a few days traversing some of its nooks and crannies and we kickstarted the adventure by driving to Tudor Farmhouse Hotel, nuzzled up to the Welsh border and surrounded by verdancy as far as the eye can see.
A former working farmhouse, it’s now a boutique hotel of quite some order, a series of beautifully established rooms across a couple of buildings. There’s a friendly farm cat who raises a nonchalant eyebrow as you pass; a very pleasant restaurant which doubles up for breakfast service; a flock of bedraggled former battery hens getting an al fresco recharge; wandering ponies – and acres of gorse and scrub atop a steep hill overlooking the valley.
The village of Clearwell itself is sleepiness personified. It’s part of the Royal Forest of Dean and it has that slightly ghostlike air of villages further to the south west; not many locals around in the day – no doubt earning a crust – and a weight of forgotten history.
We spread our wings during our short stay and visited nearby attractions by car. There’s a Gothic castle just up the hill, now a spectacular wedding venue, but once an unlikely recording home to the likes of Pete Frampton, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple.
We also practised more prosaic relaxation, strolling up the hill behind the main buildings to follow a narrow sheep track to the top. Spectacular views across the Forest and a chance to blow away the cobwebs (although the girls moaned a bit about the steep climb).
They were happier when we bumped into the three ponies that were always eager for a treat – we’d snaffled apples for them from the breakfast bar earlier. And a circular ramble brought us back through the village to a hidden spring fountain, which once had a tin cup for thirsty travellers and a clear, cold trough for their livestock. Alas, the cup has long since gone, so we made do with a pint in the next door pub. There was an excellent selection of Scotch, too.
On our travels, we stopped off at nearby Puzzlewood – the inspiration for Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The wood itself is eerie; dripping vines, garganutuan moss-covered tree boles, trickling water and the silence of Mirkwood, it’s Entish in the extreme. There’s a great collection of ducks, chickens, rabbits et el for the kids to gawk at, a little café and some cracking little holiday cottages here, too.
Food at Tudor Farmhouse is one of its major selling points; older walkers and foodies were the main clients when we visited – not many children were around. But it’s a great place for young ‘uns to explore and we got a friendly welcome wherever we popped our collective heads.
Bravo to the powers that be here for not settling for the bland kitchen usuals – the menu is inventive and well executed. When I mention my dinner of Roasted Gloucester Old Spot Pork Belly with Apples, Cockles, Vanilla and Ginger Jus, you’ll get the picture.
We slept like fresh air-sated logs (which, on the whole, we were) in a cleverly designed mini suite, complete with bunk bed compartment for the kids and every amenity one could wish. Of course, it rained a far bit – it’s British Summertime, after all – but the sound of spattering rain on the skylight was transcendental.
Upon waking, the girls gorged themselves on waffles for breakfast, the adults topped up fortitude levels with indecent doses of tea, coffee and sausages – and together we’d loosely plan the day ahead. It’s a very relaxing way to live, if only for a few short days.
And so we mooched and munched our way through the first part of our Cotswolds foray, stopping here to admire the view, stepping out there to potter around local sites of interest. Tudor Farmhouse is the ideal base for such shenanigans – clean, civilised, with a hot bath or shower awaiting at the end of the day before a jolly good meal, bottle of wine and sleep – in that order.
More power to their elbow.
Tudor Farmhouse Hotel – Prices available from £130 based on two sharing a Hatchling Room on a B&B basis (just £65 per person). Book via their website www.tudorfarmhousehotel.co.uk or call 01594 833046.
For more information about Puzzlewood, including details of the ‘Butterfly We Are’ production of MacBeth in the woods on 3rd-8th October 2017, visit www.puzzlewood.net.