I don’t know if I am alone in feeling this but I have an invisible thread, in fact a strong rubber band that yanks me back at Christmas, to the place where I was born, to the farm where my family still live and have done for nearly a hundred years.
I can be tempted all over the globe at any other time of the year, but Christmas is another matter – so entrenched in my DNA is the traditional English Christmas. I am like a child, I love Christmas, everything about it and I go completely overboard every year.
I think its childhood memories of galloping my pony through the woods, icicles, decorating the Christmas tree which always caused a family row, carol singing to patient neighbours, giggling in church , covered up by loud out of tune singing , being glared at my mother, more giggles. Gripping my father’s corduroy trousers as my grandfather lumbered in dressed up as Father Christmas with a sack of presents.
The best of all as a child, was when my mother called our school with the following statement “sadly the children can’t come to school, we are snowed in, “Heaven”, no dragon headmistress could argue with that. We would pray to the ‘god of snow’ to reign all year and out we would rush to toboggan and throw snowballs at each other. I loved to skate across the lake at Adlestrop with the crackle of splintering ice behind our blades – we had the thrill of near death.
Another excitement would be power cuts which never lasted long enough, but to live by candlelight and be warmed by roaring fires made it easy to imagine how life had been in bygone days.
Cotswold villages have remained untouched for centuries. My favourite ones have a traditional structure, usually dominated by a large church, (churchgoing was much stronger then) a rectory, a village shop, a village pond and cottages built from the local golden stone, many of which still have their traditional thatched roofs. Often the owner of the large stately home owned the whole village.
Sweeping landscapes, distant views, horses grazing under ancient oaks, these are sights that I never tire of.
The Cotswolds is a relatively new term for us locals. It was only used by Americans and was a touristy, olde worlde term to us. When I was growing up, there was Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire and Glos was definitely smarter than Oxon, but the Cotswolds tag has changed all that and consequently house prices have soared. The area is now called the ‘golden triangle’ and the constant references by the press to the ‘Chipping Norton’ set has given the area even more cachet. People never talked about the countryside, just “we are going to the country”.
The concept of weekenders or renting country houses just didn’t exist when I was a child. My father sold several cottages, as farming became more industrialised so houses lay empty as no-one wanted them. Village shops closed, the grotty supermarket reigned. A few antique shops spluttered along in Burford and Stow on the Wold but many went out of business.
Now several things have changed that have completely regenerated the area and its mainly ‘food’ .
Carole Bamford can take a lot of credit for that. Daylesford made it possible for people to live in the country as if they were in London. I suddenly could buy fresh pesto, truffle oil, delicious rose’, lemongrass and get a cappuccino with a friend in beautiful surroundings. Yes, Daylesford changed everything: massage, facials and pilates classes became available and people came flocking in droves.
Pubs suddenly got new owners and upped their game, we now have three fantastic, award-winning pubs within three miles of us: ‘The Wild Rabbit’, ‘The Plough’ and ‘The Chequers” and now Nick Jones has lifted the bar higher opening Soho Farmhouse, six miles away, which is so fabulous you will want to check in and never leave.
There are as many diversions as you want. However, I live very much the way I always have – usually in my wellies or snuggled up reading a book by the fire and trying to beat my mother at scrabble, which never happens.
- Best bookshop Jaffe O’Neal in Chipping Norton and the ‘Borzoi’ in Stow on the Wold.
- Book to put you in the mood Nancy Mitford’s ‘The Pursuit of Love’ tells of an exuberant childhood in the area.
- Best antiques Upstairs at the ‘Station Mill’ in Chipping Norton.
- Best pub I love to go to’ the Swan’ owned by the late Duchess of Devonshire’s family in the beautiful village of Swinbrook where the Mitford family lived for a while you can rent the original Mitford house at Asthall through AVENUE and have dinner at ‘the Potting Shed which is going to open next year, with chef Fiona Cullinane.
- Best walk My favourite walk is to start at Adelstrop and walk across the fields to Chastleton (where Wolf Hall was filmed), get there in time to see the house. Also I love the walk from Asthall along the Windrush river to Widford, a tiny church accessible only by foot. Find the ‘Darcy Dalton Way’ follow the wind of the Evenlode river.
- Best fun don’t miss the pantomime in the beautiful 19th-century theatre at Chipping Norton – lots of sweet throwing!
- Best curiosities Snowshill Manor: I love collecting strange objects. Charles Wade travelled the world, constantly adding to his incredible collection of curiosities, call to find out when it is open 01386 852410
- Best hairdresser Josh Wood at the Soho Farmhouse if you are a member or Simon Smith in Chipping Norton on 01608 647007.
- Best fishmonger Roger’s is a well-kept secret in Chipping Norton-01608 646786
- Best place to get your turkey Slatters in Chadlington, -01608676350 there is also a lovely farm shop next door.
- Exercise want to get fit and fight off Christmas excess? call Callum Taylor on 07717125326
- Beauty treatments Amanda Harrington at www.inparlour.co.uk will get you looking sparkling for New Year’s Eve.
For more info, see Churchill Manor