This weekend, R & I escaped to the Cotswolds. I was invited to stay at The Old Swan & Minster Mill, in the tiny village of Minster Lovell about half an hour or so from Oxford. And when I say tiny, I mean it – in Minster Lovell, there’s a post box, a church, a row of cottages, this hotel and… that’s literally just about it. It’s incredibly idyllic; when we arrived, there was a cricket match going on in a field opposite a chocolate-box thatched cottage and a couple of guys fishing along the river. Picture perfect.
The Old Swan & Minster Mill is incredibly pretty. American tourists would fawn all over it. It’s split into two parts – the Minster Mill, where the rooms are slightly more modern, and The Old Swan, which is over 600 years old. We stayed in The Old Swan, where everything is higgeldy-piggeldy, with low beams, uneven creaky floors and leaded windows. It’s eclectic, with a random assortment of pictures and old photographs on the wall. There are no ugly antiques, and it’s not trying to play into any sort of vintage shabby chic feel either. It is what it is and certainly not pretentious which sums it up. It’s comfortable.
The Old Swan & Minster Mill is set in over 65 acres of gardens and meadows, which is pretty remarkable. There’s a river running through the grounds with tiny bridges so you can cross over at different points. I saw a bunch of 20-somethings playing croquet on the lawn. It’s like something out of The Great Gatsby. Around the back of The Old Swan is a big vegetable garden (there were some berries in our room, which I presume came from here) and a pretty summer house surrounded by sweet peas. There are chickens and hens and ducks wandering around. It’s a cliche, but we really did feel a million miles away from London.
In the evening, we ate in The Old Swan’s restaurant – as with most of these kind of country-gastro places, the menu was incredibly red-meat heavy (not much choice for vegetarians, which is always a shame) but we settled for soup and salad for starters followed by fish and chips; a bit greasier than necessary and a tad over-priced at £15.95. We hadn’t eaten for 18 hours and we were understandably ravenous, so it was a little off-putting that the waitress kept commenting quite loudly at intervals how much we’d managed to eat between us as if we were heffers – “No one gets through this much food!” – but we just smiled politely until it was time to leave. We were hungry – give us a break!
The next day, we pottered around the village, and cycled over to the neighbouring and bigger village of Burford where there’s a lot more to do (lots of little shops to poke around in) but after getting caught in a couple of chilling downpours, we decided to head back home.
The Old Swan & Minster Mill isn’t like the kind of places I normally choose to stay, mostly because I like places a little smaller, slightly less cottagey and perhaps more contemporary in style. But, that said, it didn’t disappoint and I’m glad we got to stay there.
I’ve been in places, similarly set in old historic buildings, that feel snobby and where staff make you feel out of place – but I didn’t feel that here (except for the waitress who provided the running commentary on our champion eating abilities). This is a gentle sort of luxury (hello, White Company bathroom products) without any off-putting ostentatious grandeur. With the cheapest rooms starting at £165, it’s not somewhere we could afford for more than just one or two nights, but for a weekend away, it’s not that prohibitively expensive, say, compared to a weekend away in Paris or some place. So if you fancy completely unwinding (there’s no mobile phone reception here, so you have no choice), pack a few good books, go on a bike ride and while away a few hours along the river here – it’s a nice little escape.