Since moving back to the UK, it's been understandably difficult to maintain this blog: after all, I'm no longer a Brit abroad. Fortunately, I travel enough to make the occasional post possible. But what all these weekend trips overseas have made me realise is how little I've seen of my own country. Unless I have a friend who lives somewhere, chances are I won't have been there. It's embarrassing really; I've probably been to more provinces in Spain than I have English counties. This needs to change: after all, who knows how long I'll be based on this island?
When I was recently offered the chance to visit Woodstock, I accepted gladly. After all, the pretty little Cotswold town is only 8 miles outside of Oxford, my current home. Despite this, I'd only ever driven through Woodstock once, en route to Blenheim Palace on the outskirts. 'A big rock festival was held here in the 60s', my mum announced as we drove through the sleepy streets. My 15-year-old self looked back at her witheringly and said, 'That was in America'. So I knew there wasn't going to be any rock and roll on the agenda for this visit, but I was hoping for some relaxation, good food and a touch of luxury.
|A watercolour of Woodstock by local artist Rod Craig|
The word 'England' conjures up many different images, but I imagine that if many of those overseas were asked to picture an English town, they'd think of somewhere like Woodstock. Located in the beautiful Cotswolds area of southern England, Woodstock is one well turned-out town: think honey-coloured sandstone buildings peeping out from under a veil of ivory, cute local shops with painted wooden window frames, cosy pubs and a church so picturesque it's a listed building. Low-key and easy to navigate, it's an ideal weekend escape for city dwellers. Those seeking a bit of culture with their mini-break can tour grandiose Blenheim Palace, Winston Churchill's birthplace and the home of the current Duke of Marlborough. With stately rooms and acres of gardens designed by Capability Brown to explore, the palace could keep you occupied for hours. Intensive sightseeing's optional though: a stroll around the central streets, popping in and out of cafés, pubs and shops is more than sufficient for many visitors. For me, the main attraction of Woodstock wasn't to be found in palatial surroundings or out on the streets, though: it was on my plate.
For somewhere so small, Woodstock isn't short on dining options. To stock up on the finest English produce to take home, whether it be local bread and cheese or gourmet charcuterie, Hampers Food & Wine Company can cater to your cravings. There's also an on-site café if waiting until you get home just isn't an option. Traditional afternoon teas can be found at Harriet's, which has a dangerously tempting array of sweet treats, while more hearty British fare is on offer at Woodstock's many pubs. For casual dining, there's also Brothertons Brasserie, which serves a range of well-prepared British dishes (such as wild boar casserole with mash). If you're looking for something upmarket, it's got to be The King's Arms, which was recently awarded an AA Rosette. I opted for traditional Sardinian fare at Italian restaurant La Galleria: it may look like someone's lounge in the late 1980s, but the quality cooking was timeless, and the restaurant's popularity undeniable: every table was occupied. Woodstock's pick of places to dine only looks set to increase: top chef Marco Pierre White has recently obtained a hotel in Woodstock, which will also house one of his Wheeler's gastropubs.
Quality cooking is equally important at Hope House, as I discovered over breakfast the next morning. The ancestral home of the Money family was converted into a boutique B & B in 2009, and with just three swish suites, it's an exclusive address. With roll-top baths, sofas you can sink into and ludicrously comfortable beds with designer bedlinen, a stay at Hope House certainly provided both the luxury and the relaxation I'd been hoping for. The locally-sourced breakfast was second-to-none, with a huge variety of cereals, fruit, yoghurt, home-made pastries, cheeses and meats – and that's before you get to the cooked breakfast options. With all the components of a full English (plus a few extras) served in any combination of your stomach's desire, even the fussiest of customers can't go wrong at Hope House.
My weekend in Woodstock taught me something: instead of getting out of the UK, I need to get out in the UK. When I'm lucky enough to have beautiful towns like this on my doorstep, there's really no excuse.
I was a guest of Hope House. You can read my full breakfast review here.
Images courtesy of Wake Up To Woodstock.