“We’ve gone on holiday by mistake”: Withnail
If, like me, you think of the 1986 classic film ‘Withnail And I’ when someone mentions “getting away for a weekend in the country”, then, fear no more, because the members club Soho House has opened its gate in Oxfordshire. It’s an extraordinary place, and it hasn’t even finished being built yet. The investment in the 100 acre farm in Great Tew must be of the eye-watering variety, but it’s going to be worth every penny.
We spent a very pleasant Saturday evening there with our friends the Molloys. It’s exactly the experience that you want to have when you go to the country: you can wear all those chunky jumpers, Barbours and Hunter boots that you bought over the years, in the hope that you might have an excuse to wear them one day.
The facilities are amazing; but just sitting with a drink by the huge outdoor roaring fires is satisfying enough, before you head off for something to eat in one of the excellent restaurants. Anyone who doesn’t benefit from either having a family seat in the country, or friends that have made the move out of town, can now go and enjoy the country whilst feeling totally at home, and not worrying about leaving the gate open.
Soho Farmhouse is in an area of quite outstanding beauty, with towns like Burford and Upper Slaughter close by, and of course the great Blenheim Palace less than 14 miles away in Woodstock. The Cotswold stone gives every building a comforting uniformity and aesthetic in a way that complements the surrounding countryside: a red brick building really sticks out like a sore thumb up here. There are modern interesting houses too, the best ones adhering to the natural materials and palette of the Cotswolds.
The Obsessive’s great friends and supporters, the Molloys, moved their entire extended family to this area on the Oxfordshire-Gloucestershire border, from various locations in London. They’ve restored Trinity Barns (see Livingetc Dec 2015) to become an idyllic oasis away from the madding crowd, but close enough to all the places to go, like Soho Farmhouse, and Daylesford: an essential destination if you need to do some sophisticated shopping.
Daylesford is the organic farm owned by the Bamford family, and it’s one of those places where it’s just lovely to spend time. The food–particularly the selection of vegetables and cheese– is wonderful, and the quality of the meat is simply outstanding. The butcher’s deserves a special mention, as the meat comes from an organic abattoir that is one of the last non-Halal abattoirs in the country; which means that if animal welfare and good husbandry are important to you, you know you’re safe buying there.
Everything is organic: it’s a foodie paradise. The non-food goods at Daylesford are all of a high quality, but understated and thoughtful. The staff are excellent too.
A trip to the country also meant an opportunity to take 249 on a road trip to its natural habitat. Jane Molloy’s partner, Jonathan West, is a photographer, and agreed to shoot 249 for The Obsessive. What a weekend of shooting it turned out to be, the warmest ever since records began. The autumnal light was magnificent as we trundled happily around lanes and fields, taking shots of 249.
Neighbours of the Molloys, Henry and Kat, allowed us to meander all over their estate, which gave 249 the chance to perform some exceedingly mild off-roading and get a little muddy, whilst enjoying some beautiful views from the manor house.
All in all, a truly outstanding weekend in the country, and nothing to fear for a Londoner–so, go and visit an exceptionally beautiful part of England.
The Obsessive asked Jane Molloy what a weekend in the country should include, when visiting this corner of England:
A cream tea: Lords of the Manor hotel in Upper Slaughter, which is perhaps the most picturesque of Cotswold villages.
A delicious dinner: The Swan Inn at Swinbrook is owned by the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire’s estate. She was the last of the Mitford sisters (they all grew up nearby) all of whom are buried in the churchyard, just along from the inn.
Shopping for antiques in Burford: Burford was named as one of the seven top places to live in Europe.
Sunday lunch - The Wild Rabbit, which is owned by Lady Bamford, makes a very good Sunday roast and the rooms there are excellent too.
The Molloys’ Trinity Barns include one that you can stay in, and are all are available for location shoots.
Stay at Donnington Manor with Henry and Kat.