Watlington: small but perfectly formed
I haven’t had a Muddy day out in one town for a while – the last one was Chipping Norton last summer – but they’re good fun to do and always surprising too, because what you see from the car window on the main road never tells the story.
That’s definitely the case for Watlington, the south of Oxford that’s I’ve always used as a ‘through road’ to Benson, Streatley and Goring, the tight road pushing drivers through the old market square, with little opportunity to pull off and park up.
Watlington is actually an ancient (and tiny) town – the smallest town in the UK, fact fans – of which the beautiful 17th century brick Town Hall is proof. But actually, Watlington does have much more of a village feel, with a cute town-house library, narrow streets, and a gorgeous ‘Midsomer Murder’ Norman church (well worth a swing off the main thoroughfare.) It does feel quite ‘bricky’ – like Wallingford, there’s a predominance of brick buildings that naturally feels heavier than, say, a Cotswold stone, but it’s a handsome place, and worth a stop if you’re that way.
I struck it lucky with a park down the bottom of the high street, and slowly walked my way to the top of the street, via my favourite chocolate shop, Tutu Delicious. I’m not kidding, this shops is awesome. The coffee and cardamon and the salted caramel choccies are unbelievably delicious, and I love the packaging too – reallly pretty for small gifts for parties etc.
There was a very cool looking interior shop, HEH, that was closed but I’d like to go back for a proper snoop another time. I took this shot through the window, and have since heard that it’s turning into more of an interior design space, so I’ll look into that and get back to you.
What else? Well, continuing on the same street there’s a cafe, The Granary at No 18, whose main calling card is its frankly stupendously well-equipped deli. They hold special events there – tasting evenings, pop up restaurant nights etc – and it’s no wonder really because this place is dinner-party heaven. The cheese counter is huge, and they sell over 100 UK and continental cheeses in the shop and online. As is the trend, they also keep it local where possible, with cakes home-baked 3 miles away, bread flour from Wantage, cheese from Berkshire, Oxfordshire wines, etc.
A little bit further up the road is K is for Kitchen which I wrote about a few months back as it’s a little piece of cooking and entertaining heaven – you can even buy a kitchen in there! They too have started running special events – Muddy Award winner Cici Coco Cookery School is holding a pasta-making workshop there on 11 Feb if you fancy learning how to make tagliatelle al cioccolato with a savoury sauce (or even learning what it means in English).
So that was a pleasant meander for an hour or so. I’d heard from a friend that she’d had some amazing bottles of wine from Peter Osborne fine wines so I drove five minutes to Watcombe Manor Farm on the outskirts of the town. I’m becoming increasingly anti-supermarket with my wine buying (yes Waitrose, even you *s0b* ) because the more I meet local indie wine merchants the more I realise that they’re not just a more expensive version of a supermarket offering (my original misconception) but they are really, truly passionate and knowledgeable and fair about wine and offer versions of wines not available in the superstores as fairly priced as possible.
Peter’s been trading for decades, and was runner up in the IWSC Independent Retailer of the Year 2010 Award, so he knows what he’s doing, and has long-standing relationships with the best vineyards around the world. I have a dinner party coming up in the next month (when the fun ban has been lifted – oh god, it’s taking so LONG) and I’m definitely going to use him for the wine, so I’ll show you what he suggests nearer the time.
I ran out of time (those pesky kids…) to see Jones & Jacob auctioneers but I’m going back next week. I have a thing about auctions at the mo, it’s my new plan for picking up fantastic pieces at incredibly low prices, so we’ll see if that one is a fantasy or not!
Finally, if you make it to Watlington with kids, there’s a fantastic playground with adult exercise equipment (no excuses, start those pull ups lady), a skate park, zip wires and all that malarkey on the edge of the village heading towards Shirburn, and there are two pubs I haven’t tried yet but are apparently safe local options if you’re in need of nosh – The Chequers and The Fat Fox .
And finally finally, don’t forget that Watlington Hill and Christmas Common are knockout gorgeous for views, walking dogs, getting kids in the fresh air, disposing of elderly relatives (JOKE!) and eating. The Fox and Hounds pub has been recently refurbed. I’m yet to review but as soon as I make it you’ll be the first to know.
Know a great village or town you think I should review? Email [email protected]