My UK journey continues and concludes in Lechlade, the southern edge of the Cotswolds and home to the ever magnificent Thyme hotel. It's a bittersweet couple of days as I wrecked over the idea of saying goodbye to this most beautiful part of England, but at the same time, comforted by the promise of my return . . .
THYME IN SOUTHROP
How do I love thee, Thyme? Let me count the ways. The love and care that has been poured into the Southrop Manor Estate is strikingly obvious the minute you drive up the pastoral property. The self proclaimed "village within a village" is the result of a decade-long renovation project by Caryn Hibbert, a retired physician who relocated from London to the Cotswolds in 2002. Caryn and her husband bought Southrop Manor and its 100-acre farm as their new family home and soon after, when an adjacent group of derelict barns came up for sale, as did the idea of a hotel. The barns and its neighboring manor houses have been tediously restored and transformed into the hotel reception, bar, cookery school, restaurant and guest rooms. 31 gorgeously appointed rooms are spread out throughout the property - each uniquely designed with classic and modern English charm and aptly named after local flowers and plants. My favorite was the English Rose, an all pink suite with a grand, roll-top tub that looks over a lush green field. The Ox Barn, headed by Caryn's son Charlie Hibbert, serves inventive dishes using seasonal produce sourced from their kitchen garden and farm. While the restaurant is closed for dinner service half of the week, guests are welcome to dine across the street at The Swan, the village's one and only quintessentially British local pub. Not a single detail is overlooked here - for example, bikes and wellies are available to borrow on adventures throughout the village and farm, lanterns hang outside each bedroom to help light the way through the property at night, and a boozy nightcap is placed bedside each evening as a bedtime treat. Honestly, two nights here is not nearly enough time. I recommend staying awhile longer if you can. And if not, at least you get to experience a little taste of heaven as I did.
WHAT TO DO
If you're looking for a little day trip while staying at The Thyme, I highly recommend visiting The Cotswold Distillery, purveyors of English whisky and gin. Recently established in 2014 in Shipton on Stour, in Warwickshire, The Cotswold Distillery is only one of six distilleries in England producing English Whiskey and the first of its kind in the Cotswolds. Their single malt whiskey features Costwolds-grown barley and their award winning gin (my personal favorite) features local botanicals including lavender from neighboring Snowshill. Be sure to sign up for the tour, where you can see how all the magic happens with an impressive tasting at the end. Taste everything. If you're responsibly driving, they're kind enough to pack up some tastings to take along with you. It's an exciting time for this young distillery as the last finishing touches to their new tasting room, cafe and workshop were being completed when we were there.
On the drive back from The Costwolds Distillery, we popped by the Cotswolds Woolen Weavers, which has been keeping the Cotswolds wool heritage alive since 1982. Although they're no longer a functioning mill, you can still visit the museum, see the old milling machines and shop the boutique, which is chock-full of tweed, plaid and herringbone blankets, throws, scarves, blazers and sweaters.
After resting up at Thyme, we headed 15 minutes north to Bampton to spend the rest of the evening at The Cotswold Plough, a 16th century hotel and restaurant, for the ultimate gin experience and dinner. This was, hands down, some of the best fun we had all week. If you even slightly enjoy gin, this is an absolute must-do. The Gin Pantry is the brainchild of owner and gin-lover Martin Agius and home to an impressive 400+ bottle collection of the best gin in the world. Before dinner, we were lucky enough to participate in a private gin blending session, where we learned about the history of gin and how it's made. Then, we got DIY our own. I'm all in! We choose from a selection of over 60 botanicals to mix and create our very own blend. The process was fascinating, enlightening and exciting. After your gin blend is perfected and approved by Martin, the gin connoisseur himself, he'll bottle it for you with your very own label and serial code so that it could be re-ordered at any point in the future. I must say, for a moment there, I seriously considered a second career in gin making. Afterwards, we moved into the dining room for one last meal in the Cotwolds. I couldn't think of a better way to conclude our week long adventure.