It was a hot and airless morning when we began our journey; the roads a queue of cars and exhaust fumes. With the windows wound down, I listened as the tyres rolled over the hot tarmac, each rotation making a sticky sort of noise. Up ahead, someone was listening to a call-in about the state of the nation’s bumblebees.
After an hour of driving – and just as the dreaming spires of Oxford appeared – we turned right, the city falling away behind us. We were headed along the A44, driving deeper into the Oxfordshire countryside. Looking out of the window, I watched as a signpost for ‘Fairytale Farm’ passed on our left.
The first town to greet us was Woodstock: the birthplace of Winston Churchill and neighbour to Blenheim Palace. Colourful bunting criss-crossed the streets and a small crowd gathered around a morning market, each stall hidden under flapping gingham canopies. A man lumbered past holding a box piled high with potatoes, his flat cap perched on their summit. ‘Product of the Cotswolds’, his crate read.
Easing out of Woodstock and the roads narrowed, dry stone walls running the length of each lane. They were covered in moss and surrounded by cow’s parsley – the sort of place you might find Peter Rabbit hiding. Signposts for villages called ‘Little Rollright’ and ‘Over Norton’ leaned lazily into the road, and a lonely red phone box peaked out from behind a beech tree. I half expected to see a horse-drawn carriage trot by.
Eventually, we arrived at our destination: the little idyll known as Long Compton. It was the village’s soundtrack that I noticed first. In the distance, church bells were peeling: a wedding taking place and confetti hanging in the air. A little chorus of wood pigeons had also joined in, a crowd of them sat on the thatched roofs of the village’s honey-coloured cottages. It was so peaceful – so quiet. Passing doorways decorated with creeping roses and lilac lavender, I spotted a small building with bicycles propped outside. ‘Village Stores’ its sign read. Crates of tomatoes, carrots and spring onions were propped outside, and a black and white border collie lay lazily next to them.
I wondered if we’d strayed into a different century.
Rounding the bend and our own golden cottage appeared, its door almost hidden behind a tangle of climbing plants. ‘Ivy Cottage’, its little sign read. Trying to take in the chocolate-box scene, I wondered if we’d slipped into our own chapter of a Beatrix Potter book; an alternative universe hidden between the folds of middle England. Long Compton seemed to be a place where time stood still. Breathing in the smell of freshly cut grass, I heard Claire mutter something. “Let’s just never go home, OK?” I nodded in agreement, opening the car door and dragging our suitcases out behind me. If anyone asked, Ivy Cottage was all ours.
Our new home – a recently renovated vision of exposed wood and brass bathtubs – came courtesy of Beachspoke, a company dedicated to reimagining the humble ‘staycation’. Rather than a self-catering holiday in the UK having to mean a sad caravan and a pan of lukewarm baked beans, Beachspoke are transforming the self-catering ordeal into a luxury, boutique and restful experience. With a portfolio of immaculately presented properties scattered throughout the Cotswolds, Devon and Cornwall, Beachspoke are offering holidays that would rival any stay in a Mediterranean villa or creaking French chateau. With prices for some properties beginning as low as £108 per night (in the low season), they are also incredibly affordable.
As former Visit England Ambassadors and with a soft spot for local ‘microadventures’, it hadn’t taken long to tempt us to Ivy Cottage. With Claire also a self-declared Cotswolds veteran (read her guide here), we were more than a little excited to spend the night in this small corner of unspoilt England.
Opening the door to the cottage and we were met with a rush of cool air: the kitchen’s flagstone tiles ensuring that the house was a cool, calm oasis. Dropping our bags, it was immediately clear that Ivy Cottage was the posterboy for bijous living: offering an open plan kitchen and living room downstairs, and two Pinterest-worthy bedrooms upstairs.
Inside the front room, the midday sun sparkled off a trio of crystal decanters that had been left in the corner; little home made tags for ‘gin’, ‘whiskey’ and ‘vodka’ hanging from each. Walking over to them, I noticed that above the glasses hung photographs from Ivy Cottage’s long history. It seemed that from 1930 – 1953, a ‘real’ Ivy had lived here: her husband, Bill Boardman, affectionately naming the cottage after her. Over twenty-three years, it was in this house that Bill, Ivy and their small family lived out their Cotswolds dream; pictures of long summer afternoons spent in the garden filling the walls.
It was a lovely touch and a reminder that the cottage was not simply an anonymous or impersonal rental property, but a home.
Alongside thick, woolen throws and sumptuous furnishings, the living room and kitchen were filled with yet more personal touches. A jar of dog treats on the windowsill; a dozen fresh eggs on the kitchen side; a jar of sticky marmalade and a loaf of floury bread on the table; a stocked stove in the front room. It was clear that Ivy Cottage was not only beautifully designed, but the product of a bonafide homemaker. I briefly wondered what would happen if I refused to leave.
Upstairs and the little house had yet more surprises. Both rooms (featuring king size beds) were incredibly stylish, with white luxury linen on the beds, designer lighting and stripped back floorboards. They even offered a selection of luxury Bamford products, each bottle filling our rooms with the heady scent of geraniums and roses.
However, one room in particular boasted perhaps the piece de resistance of the property: a glittering, shimmering bathtub. In my room (at 31, Claire and I still do the ‘bagsy’ thing), sat the enormous tub: free standing and bathed in natural light from the little window. Despite the soaring temperatures outside, it was impossible to resist – and within an hour I was enjoying a mid-afternoon bath on the hottest day of the year.
With the luxury Bamford products in one hand, and a complimentary bottle of champagne in the other, I regret absolutely nothing about my summer’s day soak (even if I did have to keep running the cold tap). It represented everything that a Beachspoke staycation should be: slightly decadent, luxurious and incredibly relaxing.
After a cup of coffee in the cottage’s little garden, we decided to drag ourselves out to explore the local area: the coveted Cotswolds. A tangled web of golden limestone villages, the Cotswolds spans 800 square miles, crossing five counties. Made up of endless rolling hills (or ‘wolds’), a visit here is the chance to step into a former chapter of England’s history: one of sheep farming, village fetes, ringing church bells and afternoon tea. It’s an unbelievably beautiful part of the country, and is the biggest of England and Wales’ 38 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Understandably, it can therefore be a little difficult to know where to begin your adventure here.
Long Compton itself is ideally located close to some of the Cotswolds’ bigger cities and towns, including medieval Oxford, ‘Chippy’ or Chipping Norton and Shakespeare’s Stratford-Upon-Avon. The National Trust owned Chastleton House is also close by (an imposing Grade I listed Jacobean building), as is the well-heeled Soho Farmhouse (the country escape of David Beckham and Co.)
However, now nicely settled into pastoral life, we didn’t want to stray too far – enjoying the quiet of the village life. If I’m honest, I also harboured a tiny hope that I might spot David Beckham cycling past on his Pashley; Victoria behind him on some sort of black, sleek Roadster. With this in mind, we therefore decided to take the short twelve-minute drive over to the award-winning Daylesford Organic Farm, in the nearby village of Kingham.
Known as one of the most sustainable organic farms in the UK, the Daylesford brand is now nationwide, with cosy cafes throughout London. However, not just content with producing piles of organic veggies, Daylesford now also lays claim to a spa (complete with Bamford products), a cookery school, overnight accommodation, gift shops filled with grey cashmere jumpers, a fantastic restaurant and space for eclectic and creative workshops (I clocked a ‘crystal healing’ session beginning just as we arrived). Conveniently, all of this can be found on site at their Kingham farm.
Arriving in the early afternoon, Daylesford appeared suddenly from behind its 2,350 lush, green acres. Already, the car park was full with people arriving for lunch and a spot of shopping; neat queues of sunhats bobbing up and down. Nearby, I could hear a tractor rumbling past and a dog barking. It all felt slightly surreal: an immaculately presented ‘micro town’ hidden deep in the Gloucestershire countryside.
Walking into the Farm’s Deli, we quickly picked up food for dinner later that night. Filling our basket with rich cuts of meat, seasonal vegetables and a bottle of wine, I noticed that I was settling into country life very well. In fact, I was a natural. Watching as the Farm’s resident florist tied huge bouquets of purple hydrangeas and pink peonies, I wondered what it would take to become a permanent lady of leisure: living out my days here in the Cotswolds. Maybe I’d grow sweetpeas in the garden. Maybe I’d drive a Land Rover.
After some shopping and a peak into Daylesford’s onsite spa, we sat down for lunch at the Farm’s café: enjoying pizza directly from its glowing clay oven. Surrounded by the sound of birdsong, the gentle clatter of cutlery and gentle jazz music, it was a beautifully relaxing place to while away the hours. Having left behind the angry hum of the motorway just hours before, we felt a world away from the realities of modern life.
My best impression of a lady of leisure now complete, we left Daylesford behind to visit one of the Cotswolds most famous little villages: Bibury. Described by landscape aficionado, William Morris, to be England’s prettiest village, Bibury has taken centre stage in a number of glittering Hollywood films. From posing as the village of ‘Wall’ in Stardust, to providing the backdrop to Bridget Jones’ Christmas day, it’s perhaps not surprising to hear that Bibury has an almost watercolour quality to it; a beautiful canvas hidden amongst stone walls and rolling hills.
Running alongside the clear waters of the River Coln, visiting Bibury is yet another chance to time travel: to experience English village life as it was. A haven away from busy roads and frenetic shopping centres, the village features a small collection of narrow winding streets, a hotel, a little primary school, a trout farm, and a Saxon church. However, it’s not these that most visitors come for, but something else: a small row of cottages.
Following the river downstream, it didn’t take long to spot Bibury’s jewel in the crown: Arlington Row. Owned by the National Trust, this cluster of seventeenth-century cottages are some of the most photographed in the country. Once home to the village weavers (like much of the Cotswolds, Bibury was engaged in the wool industry), the lane is a puzzle of leaning stone cottages, curving chimneys, and sugary pink rose bushes. Walking around the bend of the river, the sun now beginning to set, Arlington Row appeared ahead of us. It looked unimaginably beautiful.
The early evening sunshine glinting off the cottages’ lead-lined windows, we walked up the gentle curve of the lane, past wooden front doors and wheelbarrows piled high with runner beans. Indeed, although owned by the National Trust, residents are still able to live in these beautiful homes. As we passed one particular cottage, an elderly man sat outside, painting the scene in front of him. Squinting into the distance, his palette was awash with different shades of green, as he depicted the rolling water meadows that lay ahead. Following his line of sight – watching as the wild flowers swayed in the evening breeze – the scene seemed almost too idyllic: a Truman Show inspired glimpse into English pastoral life.
After following the river back into the village – watching as a gaggle of ducks gathered around little children armed with bread – we decided to head home to Ivy Cottage, the last of the evening light now almost gone. Passing through the similarly idyllic Cotswolds villages of Lower and Upper Slaughter, I wondered if Ivy and her family had ever visited these places -spending their summer evenings wading through the River Coln. I liked to think that they had.
Arriving back at our very own country hideaway, Ivy Cottage looked prettier than ever. The windows of the house now gently glowing, we pulled the gate shut behind us and settled in for the night. Lighting the candles that waited in the kitchen, we poured the remainder of Beachspoke’s complimentary champagne as our dinner warmed in the oven.
With the gentle hum of the tractors drifting in from the fields behind us, we sat in the cottage’s beautifully lit kitchen and imagined life here with Ivy and her family. I wondered how many dinner times they’d spent here together, talking about their day or doing the washing up. Maybe a dog had lay in front of the fire.
Later that night, as we climbed up the creaking staircase to bed, I realised that although Ivy Cottage may no longer belong to the Boardman family, staying here did not feel as though we were visiting an anonymous or unfamiliar place. Instead, it felt like coming home – back to the unmistakable warmth of Ivy’s Cottage.
Thank you to Beachspoke for inviting us to stay in the Cotswolds in one of your beautiful properties, we’ll definitely be back.