The Cotswolds. An area of south-central England renowned for its ability to attract American holidaymakers who are looking for ‘traditional’ England. Little do they know that ‘traditional’ England is a tourist attraction for the British too. I expect far too few of my countrymen will know the villages of Castle Combe or indeed Painswick. Small, limestone-filled, chocolate-box houses line the small cobbled streets, surrounded by roving hills and farm fields. Having lived in Bristol now for over six years, driving up to the Cotswolds for a flagon or nine with motoring editor Oliver Smith has become a regular occurrence. This perhaps may have desensitised me to the outstanding natural beauty that the rural affair that is the Cotswolds has to offer.
Believe it or not, my upbringing was far from a typical affair. For a brief period I did live on a farm, or at least from the vague memories of an 8-year-old, it felt like I did. There were chickens, cows, a barn full of pottery, and of course giant inflatables complete with nomadic-looking arts folk. Okay, so it was far from traditional, but it had the constituent parts.
So, having lived in the city for six years, I decided that a little escapism was in order. Not the sort that requires a visa and a backpack though; the type that involves a leisurely countryside drive and a spot of orienteering. We’re talking about that kind of remote and naturally-fortified location that makes it totally plausible to host the G7. (FYI – The full video of this wonderful property can be watched by clicking the page.)
Dryhill Farm is a former farmhouse built on the site of an ancient Roman villa and vineyard that dates back four-hundred years. It has that historic allure that has the National Geo crowd packing their tiny brushes and miniature trowels. Located near Ullenwood in the Cotswolds, Dryhill is far enough from the real world to be considered a black ops site, but close enough to be able to secure a nice piece of onglet or foie gras from Cheltenham within twenty minutes, should the need arise (‘when wouldn’t it?’ I ask myself).
I remember driving down the lane towards Dryhill thinking, ‘If I don’t convey the directions to the rest of the group accurately, they might never be seen again’. It isn’t that the property is remote, you just need to make that paradoxical shift out of your city mind and into a countryside-alliance posture. After all, it is surrounded by fourteen acres of woodland and gardens.
The gardens surrounding the property on approach are pristine and it’s clear that the property is kept with absolute attention to detail and a deep sense of pride. Having parked my metal steed in the stables (garage), I began unloading my long-suffering Aspinal luggage and made for the warm embrace of one of the farm’s many open fires.
The first thing that strikes you about the property is how jolly-well-appointed it is. I later found out that the interior was curated by the wonderful lady of the house. An eye for fine furnishings is far from a whim. From the beautiful dressers to the four poster bed and the fixtures and fittings, the farm has been furnished with much warmth and care.
The farm has five bedrooms, five bathrooms, and sleeps ten. I spent the better part of a day at the property before anyone arrived, so was lucky enough to have the run of the place to myself. That entailed opening the rather perfect hamper filled with local produce and lighting all the fires I could find. The view over the Malvern Hills is quite spectacular. The house must have looked like a bastion on the treeline with the fires ablaze, welcoming the armies of the West home. It was the sort of vista that you could behold from a warm armchair and completely lose track of time.
I spent the evening gliding between the reception rooms and the cellar bar. Many a cocktail has been sipped in that area, I can assure you. Beautifully upholstered cushions festooned the seating areas around the main bar. Deciding to gallantly give up the master suite, in favour of it’s equally well-decked-out little brother meant that I was under the covers in moments and out cold within about 15 minutes. There is something about a countryside style bed that will put you out quicker than a locum.
The following morning, I awoke with a sense of vigour, restocked the fire, ensured there were enough supplies and partook in a small H. Upmann out in the garden.
Slowly the group began to arrive. There were five of us altogether, much less than the farm can accommodate, but a perfect group nonetheless. As is so often the case with groups, despite the opulent reception rooms, we all gunned towards the well-stocked kitchen. Later that afternoon, once the champagne and cider had started to flow, we all watched the sunset over the Malvern Hills as the clouds lit up and toasted the Cotswolds. Had we been a little less lubricated, we would have taken advantage of the Valoriani Italian pizza oven. However, we all seemed keener to enter the music room and try our hand at the baby grand. Some of us were definitely more musical than others (cough, Tom).
The following morning, we all awoke and made our way to individual corners of the house for a little extra quiet time. You only realise just how quiet the countryside is when you come to it at around 10:30am and realise that you can’t hear anyone for miles, let alone the people you came with.
I was exceedingly pleased to arrive downstairs in search of tea to find chef John Farrow cooking up a storm on the AGA. If you happen to have grown up with an exceedingly well-qualified chef, bring them along, otherwise Dryhill’s owners will be happy to arrange a culinary specialist for you. With a proper countryside breakfast eaten, it was time for a stroll. After all, it would be a sacrilege to holiday in the Cotswolds and not take in the scenery. We had 14 acres to cover.
The surprises kept on coming. Meandering down the hill, you will find a spring-fed pool, a gated glade, and a barbecue area. I haven’t invested in children yet, but I think the whole house could be hired and the kids could be confined to quarters in the garden in a safari-style tent. If your kids don’t instantly find this idea appealing, chances are you should ration their Voss water and replace their entire iPhone contents with pithy lectures that start “In my day”. If they are really against a camping trip, you could always have them stay in the one bedroom cottage next to the property, which does come with its own hot tub. I should point out that you could just as easily have them stay with you in the main house, but they may hamper your ability to consume fantastic red wines and local cheese.
One thing I have yet to mention: dogs are welcome. This is a former farmhouse after all, but there aren’t many properties that are dog-friendly in my experience. If you don’t have a dog, I am entirely convinced that the owners can find you one to call your own whilst at Dryhill.
I don’t know if local estate agents in the Cotswolds (sprinkles holy water) have a better sales tool than inviting interested parties to just come and see the local area. If you’re considering a mini-break, or staycation as the populous has taken to calling traveling in one’s own country, I strongly recommend taking a week out at Dryhill. Recharge the batteries, sip cocktails in the Moroccan Bar, run a bath and read the beams signed by World War One poet Ivor Gurney, or just enjoy catching up with old friends in the warm embrace of the beautiful farm.
Greenstone FHL Limited
11 Silver Street