Unless you’ve been living under a rock or have just emerged from the Burmese jungle, the beauty of the Cotswolds probably isn’t lost on you. You’ll have been briefed on its sleepy pubs and honeycomb-coloured grand piles, so you won’t need my all-encompassing sales pitch to convince you of its restorative charm. In my experience, though, one does need a good sherpa of sorts: a wise man to guide you through the alpaca fields and the orchards to the decent pubs and eateries.
With little time left in the diary late last year, and my significant other spending Christmas with her family overseas, it was the last chance we would have to celebrate the festive period together. I decided that the most British thing to do would be to find a sizeable country estate, resplendent with tree, trimmings and no distractions whatsoever.
I placed a call to some friends that live in the land of Lewis Carol, and they recommended Luxury Cotswold Rentals in Tetbury. The company’s portfolio is handpicked, so doesn’t involve scrolling through hundreds of options. They have a small team running the outfit, which means you’re likely to deal with a single point of contact; refreshing when faced with the maddening hordes of sales reps that seem to staff travel firms these days. They can arrange almost anything with enough notice, including a white Christmas. Indeed, with some good set design and industrial grade light and magic, they can blanket your property in a thick layer of snow for that authentic Christmas scene. I know it’s April and your sights are set on a tropical paradise somewhere, but these sort of properties are highly sought after and booked way in advance, so one really shouldn’t dilly dally.
Having considered with glee for over an hour, a decision needed to be made. It’s a tough call, though: do you opt for rural Cotswolds, where the nearest pub will call for a 4×4 and some Dutch courage? Or village Cotswolds, where there might even be a 24-hour garage somewhere up an A-road? In the end, shock and awe was the order of the day.
As a party of two, we opted for a property that can seat 14-plus for dinner. “Slide the salt down would you, darling”.
We arrived on an uncharacteristically-dry day at the edge of Guiting Power, a village that’s about 25-minutes drive from the beautiful Cheltenham. The wooden gates opened to reveal two very lackadaisical looking golden labs who were clearly in charge of the estate when the owners were away. Your choice of course, like most elements of a hand crafted trip, you can have them hurried away if dogs aren’t your particular penchant.
Barton Farm is a renovated farmhouse that occupies 13 acres of lush gardens, pasture and woodland, and all in a manner that doesn’t betray the traditional stylings of its origin. From the heavy-set stone floors to the quintessentially British fixtures and fittings, Barton Farm is about as traditional as the Cotswolds gets.
Someone has spent a considerable amount of time ensuring that the property lives up to expectations. If you are that rare breed who has never cast eyes on the Cotswolds, start here, with Barton Farm. It’s guaranteed not to disappoint.
The first order of business was to meet the staff and take a stroll around the estate. The property has five bedroom suites in the main house on the first floor, and a mezzanine bedroom in the main barn. The smaller barn houses a gym and media room come additional bedroom, and if there wasn’t enough barn-related property, there is also a barbecue barn at the side of the house, just in case you run out of space to entertain.
The first thing that struck me was the scale of the party barn. A decent sized pool table, bar, dining table and jam area complete with guitars, not to mention a media system that would rival many of my cohorts’ installations. If it looks like anyone might not make it to sunrise with a glass in hand, the upper deck of the barn houses a well-appointed bedroom. And should anyone opt to escape the frivolity, having had too much fun, they can easily be stowed upstairs to recharge and rejoin the party at a later time.
Once we had taken a tour of the myriad of outbuildings and the grounds, it was time to open a bottle of wine, light a fire and forget the outside world existed. I managed to maintain my inability to stay still for almost two hours before I made my case for moving onward. Location-wise, you are spoilt for choice. You have Cirencester, Cheltenham, Upper Slaughter, Stow on the Wold, and many more towns and villages to meander through at your leisure. If you come unstuck and need a guide on where to go and what to do, you can download the Luxury Cotswold Rentals app. It’s packed with ideas on fine dining and cosy watering holes, not to mention all manor of suppliers and providers of Cotswold finery. Visit the Ian Coley shooting school or the Sibling Gin Distillery. Guns and alcohol, what could possible go wrong.
After a night at a Christmas recital (I know I know), we made for home. One thing worth reminding the city folk of, your sat-nav is a good tool for guidance around cities. In the Cotswolds, it can and will take you into a small lake. All the major roads leading to Barton Farm were passable in a Defender at the very least. I, however, managed to find myself down a rather precarious lane that eventually opened up into a To-Kill-A-Mockingbird-grade watering hole. Not undeterred by the low levels of water, I was convinced that the house could be reached by continuing up the rutted track. We’ll never know if it did, as my will didn’t hold fast.
About thirty minutes later after some careful manoeuvring, we returned to the warm glow and safety of Barton Farm. With a bottle of Bollinger on ice, we settled into the media nook for a film. I could easily see a group taking some time out after a country side walk to sojourn here. Of course, it seemed much more likely that you would lock the children in and escape with the rest of the adults to the party barn.
Despite the lateness of the hour, we racked up a few games of pool and put the impressive media system through its paces. Stone floors and period wooden beams to one side, the entire house is media enabled, allowing for Apple Play in any room.
As the hour approached 2am, we decided to adjourn to the master bedroom. Once again, the room was well-styled: Alligator trunk, Cartier clocks, beautiful drapes and enough heavy-polished wood to fell a forest. I sleep like the dead, I always have, but I certainly woke up feeling rested and rejuvenated. Against my better judgement, I felt that this energy should be used to instigate a workout. After entering only two of the wrong buildings, we eventually found the gym above the media barn. I haven’t gone at a heavy bag in the gym for years, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to establish some new Queensbury Rules.
After a rousing workout, a half-hour of yoga and a steam, I was ready to venture out of the farm gates. This time to the working farm of Daylesford. Established over thirty-five years ago as a sustainable organic farm, you can (and will) get lost amongst the variety of treats available in the cheese room alone. I had seen a Daylesford catalogue in the Kitchen at Barton Farm the day before and decided it was too good to miss.
Sure, the team at Luxury Cotswold Rentals could have arranged a daily banquet for us if we’d asked, but given our short stay, we opted to make our arrangements. It’s about a twenty-minute drive through some beautiful countryside and there are zero screaming children to behold. You can even use the onsite spa if shopping just becomes too much for you.
With a car full of delicious treats, we made our way back to our Cotswold bolthole for supper. Of course, we called ahead to ensure the fires were lit and that the wine was breathing. You may need to call upon an army of staff, you may be happy with the occasional modicum of assistance – it’s entirely up to you.
After supper and some conference calls, it was time for a well-deserved soak in one of the house’s several baths. You might opt to use the pool and adjoining barn to while away the day, or even the tennis courts. It was December, however, so the prospect of a few sets didn’t fill me with joy. I was much more at home with champagne in hand and candlelight flickering out towards the endless acres of garden before me.