The Swan, Ascott-under-Wychwood
Did someone say quintessential Cotswold pub with a twist? Let us in, right now. We go deep into the Oxfordshire countryside to have a gander (sorry) at the Swan.
No patch of England is more idolised than the Cotswolds. I know this well, having waved farewell to London with two kids and a terrified husband five years ago, to live in the middle of Hobbity-ville myself. But glorious as Gloucestershire is, every Cotswold-er worth their organically foraged honey knows, the ‘Ox-wolds’ is where great getaways really enter another stratosphere.
The Swan is set in West Oxfordshire, a wonderland of honeypot houses, dainty churches and yes, rolling hills. But it’s also the side of the ‘Wolds most notorious for celeby-ness. The Beckhams have an estate in Great Tew, there’s Lily Allen, La Moss et al, heck, even royalty can’t stay away, with the Sussexes frequenting the achingly cool Soho Farmhouse. So, I was intrigued to see if the newly revamped Swan in Ascott-under-Wychwood would break the mould and bring something different to the party.
Originally a charming 16th century coaching inn, The Swan opened in May 2019 after a massive design revamp thanks to homegrown hoteliers, husband and wife team, Sam and George Pearman. The style credentials of the pair (co-founders of the Lucky Onion hotel group and Country Creatures brand) precede them, already owning the gorgeous The Talbot in Yorkshire and The Chequers in nearby Churchill.
I kid you not, the countryside leading up to The Swan is literalllyyy the most jaw-droppingly beautiful I have ever seen (and I live here), fanning out like giant, curvy, slabs of yellow and green Battenburg, and dotted with hay bales and sheep. It’s just ridiculously pretty. Pulling into the sleepy village of Ascott itself is equally impressive, nestled between the limestone cottages is an Intercity train station (no really) just doors away from The Swan, perfect for leaving the car at home and lowering your carbon thingamyjig (impressively, I must point out, you don’t actually notice the trains from the hotel, which is lucky).
Everything about The Swan is understated yet stylish, we completely missed the check-in ’desk’ (err, it’s the bar basically) it’s all so low key. Inside it’s incredibly charming, with stunning, open Inglenook fireplaces, reclaimed wooden floors and a leather-meets-velvet furnishings vibe. A mash-up of antique and modern art adorns the walls – all UK sourced – and there’s enough on-trend, Downpipe and Card Room Green on the walls to keep Instagram sated for days. If you like your country pubs authentic, but with a dash of luxury, you’ll love this.
Being a sunny, late summer’s evening we settled into the outside courtyard with its wisteria-covered, oak pergola, recently reimagined by hip garden designer, Rachel Murphy. Think welcoming fire pits, chunky, rustic wooden benches twinned with industrial metal chairs, all mingling with fragrant English lavender, swishy bushes (a technical name, I’m a rubbish gardener) and wooden planters. We picked a lovely, quiet corner with giant scatter cushions and whiled away several hours sipping local brewery beers and Sipsmith G&Ts (there’s a fantastically stocked bar btw).
The crowd was eclectic and seemed to cover all ages, from well-to-do, Barbour clad locals in for a glass of wine and local dog walkers to family weekenders, and lots of couples having a night off (I discovered they have Aperol Spritz on tap too, I meannn …what a place). Indeed, all very much in tune with the Pearman’s mission to keep it real.
The Swan has eight bedrooms, all of which have had a swish of Sam and Georgie’s redesign wand. There’s also a large family room with a courtyard, an attic hideaway room, and Room 5 with its Pearman signature pea-green walls overlooking the pretty village church. Our chic Garden Room lead out on to a semi-private courtyard with deliciously-retro deckchairs. A perfect spot for sitting out and sipping a sundowner. The rooms themselves rock a country-luxe feel, without coming over too Mrs Tiggy-Winkle. Think exposed brick draped with natural linens, crisp white cotton sheets, fabrics from local Stroud-based Lewis & Wood and Parker & Jules, and some gorgeous, printed cushions and fabrics from Fermoie.
Our room wasn’t huge, but I’ve certainly stayed in smaller. The bathrooms are equally beautifully designed, and I can’t get enough of Georgie’s very own 100 Acres Apothocary products, all made with natural botanicals from, yes you’ve guessed it – the Cotswolds!
Oh, did I mention we brought the dog on our cheeky weekend away sans kids? I know … what were you thinking woman, but it’s always a good hotel test I find. We found dog treats in the rooms, handy bowls and a lovely pouffy dog bed in accessorising fabrics, oh, and the staff seem to adore pets (bonus, just kept sending him off). The homemade cookies and real leaf teas were a lovely touch, and the sink-into bed was right up there with some of the best I’ve tried in big London hotels. It just feels like they’ve thought about things here. Even the door keys are nice – metal swan-shaped keyrings, hand crafted at the local forge.
SCOFF & QUAFF
This may sound very ‘crazy dog lady’ but, we took the dog to dinner. In my defence, the welcome book requests dogs aren’t left unsupervised in rooms (fair dos), so out he trotted. But (well behaved) dogs are allowed in the main restaurant – what a joy. Pimped-up pubs in these parts often ban pets, but muddy Hunters and leashes are part of the fabric of life around here, so I was all over this.
The 100-cover main restaurant with its ancient beams and deep green colour palette feels both elegant and homely at the same time. It also boasts the wonderful sounding ‘Feasting Room’ for 18, which is definitely in my eating goals for the future. Today, it was quiet, with just a couple of other diners, but then it was a Bank Holiday.
Sam Pearman, alongside Head Chef Adam Abbott, of The Wild Rabbit and The Slaughters Manor House fame, has designed a new menu starring the best of British and European produce, with a heavy focus on seasonality, including rare breed meats from Huntsham Farm and English sparkling wines from Poulton Hill Estate.
Once we got over the hilariousness of repeatedly saying ‘Cotswold Nduja’, to each other (it was funny), and then having to ask what it was (a spicy paste btw according to the ever-polite and lovely staff), we set about trying a Sharing Plate of dreams – a big features of The Swan.
I had the Hung Local Yoghurt with Cappezana Olive Oil, Toasted Seeds & Mark’s Sourdough (£6), which was utterly fresh and delicious, followed by a plate of Blue Monday Gougeres – basically a plate of fluffy, savoury, profiteroles, oozing with cheese. My Muddy companion thought these were the best things he’d actually ever tasted. In his whole life.
Feeling the need to try every course – just for you guys – we headed next for starters. I went for the Broad Bean Hummus, Spiced Aubergine, Heritage Carrots, Hazelnuts & Cappezana (£8) and the other half ordered BBQ Native Prawns, English Peas, Chipping Norton Nduja & Garlic Butter, Spelt Toast (£15). Both were completely delicious. Exactly how to do classic pub food with an experimental twist. And – be still my beating heart – oh the stoneware plates! The presentation! Helloo, rustic dream. The husband basically had dinner with the back of an iphone all night.
Unfortunately, the Crab and Sea Bream were out, so I opted for the Adlington Farm Chermoula Chicken (£14) which was simple but great (nothing wrong with simple) teamed with moorishly minted new potatoes and a juicy Heritage Tomato Salad. The husband opted for the Triple Ham Burger with Savoy Slaw, Toffee Apple Sauce, Blue Affine and Tabbacco Onions with Alabama fries (£12). Nope, we had no idea what any of that means either. But the patient staff happily translated. Handmade only for The Swan by local butchers, according to our waiter. The other half was initially sceptical of the whole ham and burger thing but in truth it was delicious, tender and bursting with seasonal flavours and crunchy onions.
Desserts were Pimms’ Poached Peaches with Lemon Cream Amaretto Crumble (£8) which was to absolutely, bloody die for, I mean, dessert to end all desserts if you’re into jazzed-up fruit. And the husband’s Lemon and Strawberry Pavlova, although slightly chewy, was a strong 9 out of 10 and incredibly moorish.
All in all, eating at The Swan is a feast for the senses. We quite literally rolled each other back to our Garden Room we were so full, I think even the dog looked disgusted, (who I should add, was knocked up a wonderful black pudding sausage pie by the amazing kitchen after we forgot his food like bad parents – that’s what I call going above and beyond.)
Breakfast is a humble affair at The Swan, but after waking up vowing I would never eat again, it was ok with me. A nice range of fruits, pastries, juices, jams and cold meats lined the bar, although hungrier guests can upgrade to a blow-out breakfast of full English (think hot smoked salmon with scrambled ducks eggs and Mucky Toast which just sounds amazing, sourdough with blobs of toffee apple puree apparantly). I left clutching a kiwi, before I was unable to fit through the cottage door.
OUT & ABOUT
The Swan is close to all the main haunts if you want to join in with the well-heeled Ox-Wolds set for the weekend. You could tick off David Cameron’s charming market town, Chipping Norton, 10 minutes north. Or, laze about for a few hours at the Wild Rabbit in nearby Kingham (home of rock star turned cheese-dude Alex James from Blur, and his annual Feastival).
No one can come to the Cotswolds (by law actually) without a mill around the divine if bank-breaking Daylesford Organic Farm, with it’s incredible cafe, rustic knick-knacks, and cookery school where you can drop in to hone those artisan bread making skills (of which I have none).
Then there’s Stow on the Wold, Burford with it’s famous garden centre and organic cafe and the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens for the kids with 260 animals species to ‘ooo’ over, and of course the stunningly pretty (if totally touristy) Bourton-on-the-Water with it’s idyllic stream, ice cream parlours and tea shops.
Go a bit further afield, and you’ve got the gorgeous Roman capital of the Cotswolds Cirencester (I’m not biased, I promise) on your doorstep, and the spires, shops and general funkiness of Oxford. The Cotswold Water Park with its cool pop-up beach is another great day out with kids, pooches or however you roll, with miles of lovely lakeside walks and a great cafe for hot chocolate and homemade cake. If all else fails Zorb, paddle board or go-kart them into total exhaustion at this fun-packed park.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: British to the tippy tip toes of it’s Hunter boots. The design-fabulous Swan is perfect for couples wanting a chilled, authentic, Cotswold getaway with a hip-but-homely feel. But kids and dogs are made very welcome here too, and with so much to do nearby, it’s on the money for a family break too. City foodies looking for a rural escape under two hours from London will adore it. (Some goss – local resident Elizabeth Murdoch liked it so much, she bought two, she’s now pub landlady of both The Swan and The Chequer’s it turns out.)
Not for: Lovers of loud and ironic t-shirts, anyone who owns a selfie stick and is prepared to use it, celebs who are too, err, celeb-y, obsessive maximalists, obsessive minimalists, anyone with personal space issues (even big spaces are ‘cosy’ in the Cotswolds). Oh, also not one for the hedonistic spa seeker, because there isn’t one. Oh, and anyone who hates jostling with dogs for bar space or vintage V8s for car park bays, yup, also not for you.
The Damage: Rooms rates start at £90 for B&B per night.
The Swan, Ascott-under-Wychwood, Chipping Norton, OX7 6AY. Tel: 01993832332.