Cottages in the Cotswolds: Old Minster Lovell

Thatched cottage in Old Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire Cotswolds © Laurel Kallenbach

Thatched cottage in Old Minster Lovell, Oxfordshire Cotswolds © Laurel Kallenbach

As it snows outdoors, I’m reminiscing about sweet, sunny August in western Oxfordshire.

The beautiful old cottages in this part of England’s Cotswolds are lovely beyond belief. A stroll through its villages takes you back in time to the 11th and 12th centuries.

I love half-timbered houses—especially when they have rose trellises. ©Laurel Kallenbach

I love half-timbered houses—especially when they have rose trellises. ©Laurel Kallenbach

My favorite for cottage-spotting in this area is Old Minster Lovell, a picturesque, one-road village along the River Windrush. (Could there be a more poetic name for a river?)

Half-timbers and thatched roofs greet you as soon as soon as you cross the one-way bridge. My husband and I found a parking space near the parish church on a sunny day and walked down the lane snapping photos of hollyhocks and roses.

We put in our name for a lunch reservation at the Old Swan Inn. With an hour to explore before we ate, we walked the footpath up to Minster Lovell Hall, a ruined, 15th-century manor house that’s right by the river.

Remnants of towers and arched windows made a pretty setting amid the lush grasses and trees. On this Sunday afternoon, families with young children picnicked on the lawns among the ruins.

Sunday at Minster Lovell Hall ©Laurel Kallenbach

Sunday at Minster Lovell Hall ©Laurel Kallenbach

Teens kicked soccer balls to one another. I just couldn’t imagine a better place for relaxing and drinking in the beauty of the Oxfordshire countryside.

After our exploration, we enjoyed a lunch of potato-leek soup and delicious goat-cheese salads. The Old Swan has been around for more than 500 years, but this gastro-pub has a 21st-century kitchen that serves seasonal, local ingredients creatively combined for full flavor.

We ate lunch in the Old Swan Inn, more than 500 years old. © Laurel Kallenbach

We ate lunch in the Old Swan Inn, more than 500 years old. © Laurel Kallenbach

The pub’s interior was as charming as its ivy-covered stone exterior: its Old-World half-timbers, cockeyed windows, and stone walls made me feel every century of its heritage.

Though the meal was fantastic, what I will always remember about Old Minster Lovell is its cottages—and dreaming of what it would be like to live in one of them.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my travels in England:

A hollyhock in Old Minster Lovell, England. ©Laurel Kallenbach

A hollyhock in Old Minster Lovell, England. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Sweet Dreams at “Downton Abbey”

Highclere Castle is the film location for the "Downton Abbey" television series. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Highclere Castle is the film location for the “Downton Abbey” television series. ©Laurel Kallenbach

If, like me, you’re addicted to British costume drama Downton Abbey, why moon around watching past episodes? Just go for a visit and live it for real! You can see Highclere Castle’s gorgeous rooms and experience its real-life history through the eyes of your favorite TV character. You can’t help but visualize Mr. Carson presiding over the dining room or Cora Grantham having tea in the library when you’re there.

(You can also live vicariously by reading about my own personal Downton Abbey pilgrimage a couple of years ago.)

If you really want an immersion into the estate where the Downton Abbey TV series is filmed, you can now also spend the night on the property—not at the big house, but in London Lodge, accommodations built into the imposing arched entryway to Highclere Park.

London Lodge, on the Highclere estate, is built around a grand, arched entryway. Photo courtesy Highclere Castle.

London Lodge, on the Highclere estate, is built around a grand, arched entryway. Photo courtesy Highclere Castle.

London Lodge is decorated like a casual, contemporary cottage—with a sitting room, bedroom and full kitchen on one side of the archway, and the comfortable double bedroom, bathroom and dressing area on the other. London Lodge just opened in early 2015—and it’s already booked for the year!

Simply elegant, a stay at London Lodge offers a chance to stay on the Highclere grounds where there are acres of forests to ramble and lovely, expansive views of the castle from a distance. Guests can meander to Dunsmere Lake, The Temple of Diana, and tour the house and King Tut exhibit (ticket required).

Built in 1793 by the first Earl of Carnarvon, the London Lodge arch is made with Coade stone with heavy iron gates, and it frames the grand entrance used by family and visitors Highclere Castlle. The individual lodge rooms to either side were added later, probably around 1840. Over the past two years they’ve been restored by the current earl and his wife to provide unique and luxurious accommodation for two.

I haven’t been to London Lodge, but it sounds just smashing!

Written by the Countess Carnarvon, "Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Read Downton Abbey" chronicles the history of Highclere Castle during the 1920s and '30s.

Written by the Countess Carnarvon, “Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Read Downton Abbey” chronicles the history of Highclere Castle during the 1920s and ’30s.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

P.S.: If you can’t get reservations at London Lodge, you might enjoy Highclere’s 20th-century history in the books written by the Countess Carnarvon: Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey and Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey.

The second book tells the story of one of Highclere Castle’s more famous inhabitants, Catherine Wendell, a glamorous American woman who married Lady Almina’s son, the 6th Earl of Carnarvon. Catherine presided over the grand estate during the tumultuous 1920s and ’30s, a period when many of England’s great houses faded as their owners’ fortunes declined. As WWII loomed, Highclere’s survival as the family home of the Carnarvons was in the balance.

Read more of my Downton Abbey posts:

Contemporary Vegetarian Dining in Historic Bath

 

The decor is as light and clean as the food. Photo: Demuth’s restaurant

I have to admit that during three weeks in Scotland and England, I ate more pork than I usually do in a year—possibly two. It’s hard to resist when the traditional English or Scottish breakfast includes locally raised bacon or sausage.

So, it was a delight to discover in downtown Bath an elegant yet down-to-earth vegetarian restaurant: Demuth’s. This contemporary-casual eatery, located just a few doors down from the iconic Sally Lunn’s, serves innovative, sophisticated vegetarian and vegan food. No meat required for flavor and character.

A beet salad with fresh, local goat cheese. Photo: Demuth’s

It was clear from the first bite, that head chef Richard Buckley assesses each vegetable and fruit for its flavor and then pairs it with unique sauces, grains, and cheeses to create a complete, tasty, and memorable dish.

And the food at Demuth’s is primarily locally sourced, fair trade, and organic. Even the wine selection offered a number of vintages made from organic grapes (though a number of them were imported from Chile and Argentina).

The wait staff was quite informed about the menu and knew the provenance of every item on it. Yet talking with our waiter was anything but stuffy; ours was kind and helpful and gracious.

Photo: Demuth’s restaurant

Whether you’re a strict vegan or just happy to take a break from meat-laden menus, Demuth’s is truly a treat.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about my travels in England:

 

 

 

Bath + Brindley’s = A Brilliant British B&B

Brindley’s boutique B&B, in Bath, England, is just 10 minutes’ walk from the city center. Photo courtesy Brindley’s

Having a charming, quiet place to stay while visiting a bustling city can really make a visit special, and Ken and I were lucky enough to get to spend our nights in the town of Bath at Brindley’s,  a boutique B&B with French flair.

Although this classy Victorian family house is an easy walk from the center of Bath, Brindley’s is in a residential neighborhood with old trees and gardens, so it’s a welcome retreat from traffic and tourists.

The bedrooms—there are just six, ranging from spacious to cozy—are furnished with an eclectic mix of French-style furnishings, and the beds are luxurious with fluffy duvets. We stayed in Room 5, a smaller third-floor room that had a king bed that could be separated into two twins. Our bathroom was compact, but efficient.

Breakfast at Brindley’s

Before a full day of sightseeing, a good breakfast is essential, and the fare at Brindley’s was delightful—and a welcome change. Yes, you can order the traditional English breakfast featuring local, free-range eggs and bacon and sausage from pigs raised on what I’m sure is a pastoral Wiltshire farm not many miles away. Yet it’s a bit radical to find smoked salmon with scrambled eggs or eggs on toast as alternative breakfast entrée choices.

Bon appétit!     Photo courtesy Brindley’s

Other delicious breakfast surprises: hot croissants and pain au chocolat instead of the obligatory toast, and fresh berries or other fruit.

With some Edith Piaf songs playing in the background and a few French decorating touches, breakfast was playful and invigorating…which was just what we needed before a full day of viewing Bath’s grand, but stoic, Georgian architecture.

Happy Home away from Home

If all this weren’t enough, Brindley’s is owned by two exceedingly friendly couples, who are also très helpful with offering sightseeing and dining advice. And the B&B is also eco-conscious. In addition to the usual policy of not changing the towels and sheets each day, they’re good about recycling, serving seasonal local foods, and providing REN toiletries (free from fragrances, synthetic colors, parabens, sulfates and other harmful ingredients).

We truly appreciated having a calm place to relax—one with character, and Brindley’s has that aplenty. This lovely B&B gave us the perfect excuse to come back for a restorative nap one afternoon when our feet were tired after visits to the Circus, the Assembly Rooms, Royal Crescent, the Museum of Fashion, and Bath Abbey.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

P.S. If you’ve stayed in a small B&B or hotel that made your trip special, share your find by clicking on “Reply” below.

For more information about visiting Bath, England, browse Visit Bath.

Read more about my travels in England:

We loved staying in the residential neighborhood of Pulteney Gardens in the city of Bath.     Photo courtesy Brindley’s