The Cotswolds region has always been my favourite part of England and, when seeking a necessary couple of days and a night away, I had no hesitation in selecting its delights for around 36 hours. The plan was simple: to find activities to occupy the day, mainly to keep the children amused (with any luck, to tire them out satisfactorily), to secure pleasant, family-friendly accommodation, in which to relax in the evening, while also proving a necessary respite to mum and dad.
Mindful of the fact that we only had an overnight potential, we headed first thing in the morning towards Burford, which lies midway between Oxford and Cheltenham and is known as the ‘Gateway to the Cotswolds’. Our destination for the day was the Cotswold Wild Life Park, which is located just two miles south of the bustling market town.
Set in around 160 acres of parkland, there is plenty of space for both visitors and the wonderfully arranged enclosures for the array of mammals, primates, reptiles and birds numbering around 1,700 breeds in total. There is enough space available that, unusually for an animal park, dogs are welcomed too.
The impressive rhino paddock at the front of the manor house is a huge attraction, especially since two young calves have been on show. My own favourite was at the wolverines enclosure, at feeding time, towards the end of the day. However, our children argued the case for the charming siamangs, a black, furry gibbon, in the primate enclosure and the elegant giraffes that stride it out in the large mammal enclosures.
We had arrived fully prepared with a picnic lunch, although the on-site Oak Tree Restaurant appeared to offer a good selection of hot and cold food, at very reasonable prices. There are also several refreshment kiosks, a dedicated picnic area and a tremendous adventure playground, where the children could burn off excess energy.
At closing time, we headed to The Kingham Plough, our residence for the night, which is just 25 minutes away from the park, in the small village of Kingham, adjacent to the larger and better known Chipping Norton. After a brief check-in, we were shown to our rooms in the main house. Huge excitement followed as our children realised that they would have a whole room to themselves, complete with TV and Mini Bar (all alcoholic drinks were removed but not the sweets). Our roomswere accessible from a small shared lobby giving the impression of a two-room suite, which was perfect for our family. Each room has its own en-suite, one with a shower, the other with an inviting roll top bath. Both rooms were furnished impeccably, in contrasting styles.
Having unpacked and refreshed ourselves in time for dinner, we took seats in the bar area but soon discovered why innumerable accolades have been granted to the Kingham Plough, since it opened under the current owners Emily Watkins (chef) and Miles Lampson. Emily delivers a menu packed with inspiration and flavours. All courses are prepared to order and make use of locally sourced produce and ingredients. Our starters of crisp cacklebean egg and Tamworth port terrine, were followed by a delicious venison Wellington and chicken breast and dumplings, accompanied by black cabbage and a devilled sauce. The children picked the chicken goujons, with chips and peas, from their own menu. Having witnessed a dessert of millionaires’ shortbread being served on an adjoining table, all four of us plumped for the same final course.
After a peaceful sleep in comfortable accommodation, I partook of a lovely morning soak in the roll-top bath. We headed for the restaurant area and enjoyed a truly delicious breakfast. In line with the evening meal, most elements were prepared from scratch, including the bread, muesli and even the baked beans.
It is clear that this principle is very dear to the proprietors‘ hearts. We returned to our rooms to pack before departure, promising to return in the future. The Cotswolds remains a charming destination and a casual drive around its back lanes before heading home served to reinforce the view.
Rates: from £110 to £165 per room
Dinner: from £31 to £45 pp
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