Fancy a family weekend of R&R?
De-frazzling in bucolic surroundings while scoffing homemade brownies? Sounds like our perfect weekend. Muddy's Jo buzzes off to Noke, South Oxfordshire, to investigate.
There’s out in the sticks and then there’s Noke, a diddy, tranquil village which is only five miles north-east of central Oxford but feels entirely remote. It’s bang in the middle of a 1000 acre RSPB nature reserve and according to the twitchers we met in the nearby pub it’s the best place to see the locally famous starling murmurations – no, me neither but it’s apparently quite a spectacle if birds are your thang. The village itself has a 13th century church, the prerequisite honey-coloured cottages and, um, that’s about it. And there, down a long driveway you’ll find Lower Farm and Oxford Country Cottages.
The six cottages are off to the side of the farmyard and surround a pretty courtyard garden with a Wendy house full of toys for small kids and a hot tub for bigger kids. You have to book your slot in the Jacuzzi but there’s lots of availability. We were desperate to give it a go but as it was one of the coldest weekends of the year and we just weren’t brave enough. Pathetic, I know!
We stayed in Blenheim Cottage that sleeps up to six in three bedrooms, and from the minute we walked in we felt at home. It was light, airy, full of stone and wood and cosily done out in a modern country style, all coloured metro tiles, a green AGA and a wood-burning stove.
As we’d decided that the main aim of our stay was just to chill out en famille a huge wall-mounted TV generated a lot of excitement and meant that we could watch films from our own Amazon and Netflix accounts. This was worked out by the more tech savvy members of my family while I busied myself fixing an enormo G&T and snack platter, before plonking myself on the large squishy sofa.
In the master bedroom we had a comfy bed with good quality sheets, linen and towels. It was all very understated but nicely done and very cosy. There was a room with bunk beds which is ideal for little ones but our teenagers slept in the twin room and used the other room as a separate dressing area.
There’s everything you’ll need – dishwasher, coffeemaker etc, plus excellent finishing touches. We scoffed the complimentary bread, brownies and jam made by Felicity, who owns the cottages with husband James, and enjoyed the farm’s eggs (food miles = zero). There’s also a handy farm shop with local organic fruit and veg, meat etc which was a godsend when we realised we had no butter to slather all over that delicious bread.
An honesty box also adds to the feeling that you’re actually staying with thoughtful friends. I would suggest, however, a pre-arrival supermarket raid (or get them to deliver to you on-site) for all your essentials – gin, wine, crisps, more snacks in my case – otherwise you’ll be jumping back in the car again after you’ve arrived.
OUT & ABOUT
We ate an excellent lunch at community-owned gastropub, The Abingdon Arms in Beckley. It’s two miles in the car or a 40 minute walk across the fields. You could easily spend the weekend checking out all the local pubs in surrounding villages. Then obviously, there’s Oxford for shopping and historic buildings, plus Blenheim Palace, the aforementioned nature reserve for bird-lovers, plus it’s an ideal base to explore the Cotswolds.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Families who just want to spend time together and reconnect in homely surroundings. We went in January and it was all about being cosy in front of the telly but I’m sure in the summer the lovely terrace with BBQ would be a great place to spend a balmy evening, plus the garden would be in full bloom. It’s especially good for younger children – they can join in with feeding the chickens and pigs. The cottages sleep 24 in total so if you were planning a big family or friends gathering with space for little ‘uns to run around, you could book out the whole thing. It’s dog-friendly so Rover is very welcome too.
Not for: I think teenagers would get bored within a couple of days once they’d caned Netflix. So if you were here for a week, you’d definitely be on parent taxi duties to run them into Oxford. And the feel is homely and wholesome rather than glam and modern so it wouldn’t be my first choice for a romantic break or a partying weekend away with girlfriends. Reluctant drivers (or just those who’ve drunk too much to get behind the wheel!) would struggle with the remote location.
The damage: £550 per week for a 1 bedroom cottage up to £950 per week for a three bedder (which sleeps up to six people), but you can negotiate rates for shorter or longer stays.
Oxford Country Cottages, Lower Farm, Noke, Oxford OX3 9TX
Words: Jo Sutherland