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It was on the hottest day of the summer – so sweltering that the kids ripped off their clothes by 10am, and Mr Muddy refused to come to the Cotswolds on account of the large Pimm’s he’d poured himself early in the day and the prospect of doing naff all in the garden all day.
So my mum, who was supposed to be looking after the kids, was drafted in as last-minute beneficiary to dinner and an overnighter at The Wheatsheaf Inn in Northleach (about equidistant between Witney and Cheltenham, and maybe 20 mins past Stow on the Wold).
But looky here, silly silly Mr Muddy at what you missed…
The Wheatsheaf Inn has a very good reputation locally and I’d heard from quite a few reliable Muddy sources that it was really something, particularly the food. A Mr & Mrs Smith hotel, it’s had a steady stream of glossy magazine and national newspaper editors and food reviewers (including Jay Rayner in June) gratefully filing through since its launch in 2011. In which case, what’s all the fuss about?
Its big calling card is that it does the tick-off-box stuff brilliantly. It’s elegantly refurbished, plenty of confident Farrow & Ball shades mixed with trendy vintage (the leather chairs, stand-alone baths), and modern touches where we’d expect them (glorious walk in showers, Bang & Olufsen TVs). It has a lovely outside tiered courtyard area with al fresco bar attached – much needed on the day we visited. Service is deferential without being smarmy – it’s a casual check-in with the increasingly common ‘mobile’ ipad system rather than Reception desk, which I’m not mad keen on in some ways as I always wander around a bit aimlessly looking for someone to help, but more formal with the meal, which I liked. We’re in the Cotswolds, in a pretty village, not far from Bourton-on-the-Water, Bibury and Burford.
And the price. The price is the clincher – from £140 for what they term a ‘Good’ room to £180 for an ‘Excellent’ room, with continental breakfast thrown in. For a night away from the kids, or work, or every day life, it feels like very good value. Obviously you have dinner on top of that, so you can add £90 by the time you’ve had a three course dinnner and bottle of wine, but I reckon that’s still a steal for a bit of R&R and sanity.
The dinner, by the way, was very good without quite being knock-out. I loved my champers of course – and I have a massive weakness for those wide flutes; the prawns were a bit squidgy for my taste; but the hake with creamed samphire, tomatoes, new potatoes and leeks and the pud were both delicious. My mum hoovered hers up like a prototype Dyson.
It being the hottest day of the year – and remember it was nudging Greek temperatures at this point – it might not surprise you to know that I craved slightly for the coast, or at least a large garden with a river meandering through it and the shade of a willow rather than the enclosed courtyard we found ourselves in.
But in fact, if I were to return to The Wheatsheaf Inn it would be around now, and through Autumn, Winter and early Spring because, like The Porch House in Stow on the Wold, it has the kind of interior that will come alive with a log fire, and it will be absolutely fantastic for a cold crisp weekend – walking or shopping in the day, hunkering down with a beefy glass of red and a warming meal at night.
Bedrooms can take Z-beds for a price (£25 for U16s, £50 for adults, £20 for a cot), and dogs are also allowed in the downstairs bedrooms if that’s the clincher for you. There are 14 bedrooms, not all with baths, so it’s worth talking it through with the mobile Reception guy before you book. Best rooms based on my snooping are Room 1 where I stayed, all muted grey herringbone and whopper bathroom; and Room 11, more girly and pretty.
I’m afraid I didn’t have much time to check out Northleach other than to have a quick whizz around to the lovely church, which was just behind the market square where I parked but it’s hard to find any Cotswold village that doesn’t have its own honey-stoned charms so I’m betting you’ll find pretty country walks and tea rooms as well here as anywhere else.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: couples escaping for a weekend; families up for some dog-walking and Cotswold-village visiting. There’s a fab private dining room and also small onsite spa facilities, so could make a very good central party venue.
Not for: those who crave the ‘big hotel’ experience, it’s a small boutique Inn, and it’s quite higgledy up and down stairs. The outdoor space is limited, parking is difficult (we ended up in the market square).
££: Good value, £140-180 per night with continental breakfast included (cooked is extra).
The Wheatsheaf Inn, West End, Northleach, Gloucestershire, GL54 3EZ. Tel. 01451 860 244. cotswoldswheatsheaf.com