In Part Deux of his Cotswoldian trilogy, our intrepid hero wanders through warm-stoned streets and finds peace, relaxation – and a certain class of motor car user. NICK HAMMOND reports…
That ocean of tranquillity in the bosom of the Cotswolds, where fudge-coloured houses patiently watch the years go by.
Where supposedly 99 yew trees grow in the rambling green grounds of the 11th Century church and locals make you reverse down suicidally steep streets.
Cars are an issue in Painswick. It just wasn’t made for ‘em.
The streets are narrow and windy and Painswick sits atop a hill with precipitous drop offs all around to descend to other nearby destinations. If I lived here, I guess I’d get a bit cheesed off with all the visitors but then again, when they’re coming to stay at places like The Painswick – which no doubt employs a lot of locals and is enjoyed by them as much as interlopers – then I reckon their curmudgeonly approach does them little justice.
Once I’d gotten out of the car to calm down a hand-waving, horn-beeping lady who apparently wanted me to extricate my vehicle from her pathway by means of some form of teleportation and squeezed the old wheels into the last available parking space in the hotel car park, I was able to breathe freely once more.
We were blessed with golden sunshine, which appeared quite nonchalantly, as if it hung about in Painswick all the time while the rest of us suffered under a grey fug of depression. It was perfect mooching weather. The village, once you’re on foot, is quite delightful, packed with antiquey places, cafés, interesting pubs and the like.
The aforementioned Church is wonderful, the grounds large and packed with history and intrigue. I nipped into a hostelry for a pint of something local while the girls lost themselves in a secondhand clothes shop. Shudder.
But what of The Painswick itself, I hear you cry? It’s a triumph.
A judicious blending of new, very chic, skiing set modernity with the leisures and pleasures of a time long since passed. Our suite was fantastic; more than big enough for two young girls to lay about in, distributing debris as they went. There’s a fabulous balcony which gives us Lord of the Manor status over other mere mortals staying at the hotel; I imagined them looking up and wishing, quietly, that they had our room. They were probably wondering what an oik like me was doing up there.
Glorious views over the sheep-speckled fields and woods around and huge, comfortable beds; a bathroom as big as my kitchen and much better decorated; every mod con one would wish for. The kids even had marshmallow sticks and instructions to dial reception to have hot chocolate transported up to dunk them in (the sticks, not the kids, although it was hard to tell the difference in the end).
That night, we sneaked out for an annual treat – the visit of Gifford’s Circus. We’ve been following Nell Gifford’s travelling circus for years and it never disappoints. There’s as much good, (mostly) clean fun as adults and kids can take, cute animals, acrobats, live music and the omnipresent star of the show, Tweedie the Clown. If you haven’t seen it, you’re a fool. Worth making a weekend of.
When we came back it was late, but we stayed up for a naughty one from the brilliant bar on the first floor. Old-Fashioned was the weapon of my choice and it was made with such exacting detail that I was almost afraid to drink it. Delicious.
Breakfast the next morn was extravagant in the extreme, especially if you’re a couple of kids on holiday and you fancy a sugar rush of gargantuan proportions. Cue a pancake concoction that furred the arteries just reading about it.
I enjoyed exploring The Painswick, for there are loads of nooks and crannies, whatever mood you’re in. There’s a leafy terrace in a quiet corner, or a pool table; board games by the log fire, beanbags on the lawn. Private dining, feasting, weddings – it’s all here for the taking and while the place was understandably busy, we never felt like the last anchovy in the tin.
On our meandering way out of the village, we visited Slad and the Woolpack Inn – Laurie Lee’s bolthole, opposite the old schoolhouse where he grew up. Within a few yards is the church where he’s buried. Quite a moving thing actually, moving from one to the other. The pub is magnificent in an old, don’t-care-what-you-think way. The view behind the bar is one of the best I’ve seen in any pub, anywhere. The beer is good too.
Lee’s grave is understated and tucked in a quiet corner of this forgotten village in the Slad Valley. Clever old stick, Laurie Lee. He was born and raised, lived and died here and realised it was the best place out of all those he had travelled to visit.
We can all learn a lesson from that.
For more information about The Painswick hotel, visit www.thepainswick.co.uk.
The first part of Nick’s Cotswold Caper can be seen here.