If you’re off to Old Blighty, I can highly recommend two things to get you in the mood:
1. The tv series The Tudors. If Jonathon Rhys Meyers can’t get you in the mood then you may be clinically dead; and
2. Hilary Mantel’s book “Wolf Hall”.
Both deal with the same infamous period of history: the bloody, head-strewn reign of Henry VIII. The Tudors is a visually stunning (although only partly historically accurate) soap operatic portrayal of the period whereas Wolf Hall, while still a work of fiction, is a far more dense but less dramatic account told from the perspective of Henry’s advisor Thomas Cromwell.
They are both brilliant and deeply evocative and so I was pretty much beside myself when I learned that our hotel in the Costwolds, Lords of the Manor, was a former rectory that once formed part of one of Henry VIII’s properties.
It’s a charming, atmospheric building with lots of period features; exposed wooden beams, tiny casement windows, creaky floors.
This is Upper Slaughter Manor which is next door and was the main building of the larger estate way back when.
Can you not imagine Henry thundering down that driveway on his horse? Looking all the while like Jonathon Rhys Meyers thanks instead of the slightly paunchy, pale fellow made famous by Hans Holbein.
We took these photos very early in the morning so the light really brought out the depth of colour in the lichen-splattered stone and illuminated the golden lettering.
Dinner in the Michelin starred restaurant within the hotel was a revelation. To be honest, I did not have the highest hopes because the photos I saw on their website made me think there might be a bit too much foam and tricky stuff going on. In fact, our dinner here was one of the best of my entire life. Clever but without being tricky for tricky’s sake, every single mouthful was a study in balance and flavour.
We started with canapés in the garden.
After that we moved inside to the restaurant proper and had dishes the highlights of which were lobster, quail, pigeon and turbot. To describe the food with just those four simple words is criminally reductive but I could never do justice to the sublimity of their taste and complexity withy mere words.
The cheese course was yet another highlight. We had a choice of over 20 cheeses, most small-batch and locally produced. Among other things we chose a Stinking Bishop. Wouldn’t have mattered if it was aged in a cow pat, there’s no way I could have gone past a cheese with a name like that. And it was stinky and delicious. The other standout was called May Hill Green, another Gloucestershire cheese, with a rind covered in chopped nettles. I’m a tad obsessed with nettles and this too was a study in balance; the mineral tang of the nettle offsetting the creamy cheese perfectly.
Chamomile tea rather than a post-prandial coffee was the order of the jet-lagged day and we had that sitting out on the lavender-ringed terrace with a small and perfectly formed macaron (as if we needed anything after the cheese AND dessert) at 10pm just as dusk began to creep in. What that meant, in keeping with general perfection of the day, was that the stone walls glowed with an amber hue, the grass and sky took on a deeper green and blue and I sighed pretty much the most enormously contented sigh of my entire life.
You can’t quite see the terrace in this shot but this is the aspect we were looking over as we sipped our tea and contemplated our great good fortune.
Next morning, I rounded out my perfect English countryside experience by having kippers for breakfast (much to the chagrin of the otherwise worldly Italian water who told me he had to hold his nose as he brought them to the table).
My childhood literary experiences were littered with vignettes of kettles boiling on the hob, mugs of hot, sweet tea brewing, kippers in the pan and toast browning slowly on a fork over the fire. So no trip back for me is ever complete without kippers. It’s a nostalgic nod to the England of my young imagination. Smothered in brown butter and chopped parsley, they were bloody delicious.
The other pictures that punctuate this post are from Upper Slaughter; the church, picturesque churchyard and surrounds.
Although the Tudors tv series features lots of shots of beautiful countryside as Henry makes his way hither and thither, if it’s a novel set in the Cotswolds you’re after then it’s hard to go past Miss Read’s Thrush Green series for evocative descriptions of a fictional but immediately recognisable Cotswold idyll. This is very much a novel from a different time and world; lots of “terribly”s, “horrid”s and tea-times interspersed with descriptions of babbling brooks, scented Spring meadows, wild rose-strewn stiles and cathedral-cool woods . It makes a charming escape.
I know this is a long post – forgive me – I hope it hasn’t bored you and might even have brought you a speck of pleasure of the arm-chair traveller variety. It was just SO.VERY.PERFECT.
Next stop: Bath then on to London. I’ll try to keep them shorter, I promise!