From Members' Clubs To Celebrity Hangouts: The Enduring Popularity Of The Cotswolds
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From Members’ Clubs To Celebrity Hangouts: The Enduring Popularity Of The Cotswolds

Why we just can't get enough of the Poshwolds

By Sophia Money-Coutts | 1 month ago

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Why are the Cotswolds so popular, and will they ever lose their allure? Not likely, chirps Sophia Money-Coutts

Cotswold Hotspots: The Pubs, Hotels & Members’ Clubs To Have On Your Radar

The Cotswolds has long been quite a silly patch of the country, but here’s a quick story to illustrate why, recently, it’s become even sillier. I went that way for a romantic weekend a couple of months back to stay in a bougie new pub called The Bull. The food is sensational, tipped a pal, and it’s where all the cool kids are hanging. Imagine my dismay, therefore, to arrive at this fashionable pub in Charlbury only to be told that they didn’t have any such reservation. No booking, no room. I frowned at the manager and insisted they must be wrong. Could they look again? They did. No luck. Would we like to have a drink at the bar while they tried to sort this out?

We would, I said grandly, and with as much dignity as my boyfriend and I could muster, we sat in the corner and waited for their embarrassing oversight to be put right. Eventually, the manager returned. ‘Might you be staying at The Bull in Burford?’ he asked slowly, as if talking to a very small child. ‘This is the Bull in Charlbury.’

I felt sick – the kind of instant stomach plunge that happens when you know you’ve made an embarrassing mistake. Yes, I think possibly that’s what’s happened, I replied quietly. ‘Don’t worry, happens all the time,’ he consoled. ‘We get people who’ve booked into The Bell, too.’

The Bell is Lady Bamford’s new pub, also in Charlbury. The Bull (in Burford) is Matthew Freud’s much-lauded new pub. The Bull (in Charlbury) is run by the enterprising team behind Notting Hill’s fashionable boozer, The Pelican. All relatively new, all within a scotch egg’s throw of one another in this extremely silly place. You see how confusion could arise?

Bar at The Bell pub, Charlbury

The Bell at Charlbury

It’s not just new pubs that have opened down here. The Cotswolds have always been popular, but, in the past year, what was already a sort of countryside Disney – Soho Farmhouse, Jeremy Clarkson’s Diddly Squat farm shop, Daylesford – has become even nuttier. Take the 108-bedroom Estelle Manor, opened last May as the Cotswolds outpost of the Mayfair members’ club, Maison Estelle. It’s an old Jacobean hall that took five years (and a gargantuan sum of money, although everyone’s being quite tight-lipped on the figures) to renovate. Blimey, it’s swanky. Imagine country house meets Paris brothel – that’s the vibe (in a good way). Sensational art on the walls, sofas as big as cruise ships and lighting so dark it would be an excellent place to conduct an affair. My room, on a quick flit there in November, was much like the one I assume monarchs slept in at Versailles – four-poster bed, lacquered furniture, an open fire and a view of the perfectly manicured garden (and 24-hour heated pool, steaming in the winter cold). Downstairs, the members’ bar was heaving, a DJ on the decks, and it felt more like Westbourne Grove on a Thursday night than rural Witney. Breakfast includes the option of eggs with lobster and caviar for £60, and, in the very smart crèche, I’m told that the clothes in the fancy-dress box were ‘handmade’. Its spa has just opened – a 3,000 sq/m, neoclassical palace ‘inspired by the bathhouses of the Roman era’ where you can have a hammam, and relax after all that arduous eating and drinking.

Alternatively, there’s Kate Moss’s spa not far away, yet another glitzy opening last year at the sprawling Lakes by Yoo estate (where the likes of Jade Jagger and Mark Owen reportedly have houses). Thanks to a collaboration with Moss’s wellness brand, Cosmoss, you can now sign up there for a ‘Dawn’ or ‘Dusk Ritual’, which doesn’t sound remotely like the supermodel’s previous early mornings or late nights because they involve herbal teas and massages. As to where the locals actually hang out, well, one tells me that she likes Restoration Hardware at Aynhoe Park, or ‘RH England’ as it’s technically branded. What was formerly a big posh house owned by a chap who’d made a lot of money in raves, and let out for raucous celeb parties, has been taken over by the luxxy American interiors brand and declared open last summer with a big party attended, slightly incongruously, by the likes of Idris Elba and Ellen Degeneres. You can go there now for a juice or a wagyu ribeye sandwich (£48) while picking out a £12,000 onyx kitchen table.

‘And I hate to say it,’ adds another resident, who’s moved down not so long ago from west London, ‘but [Soho] Farmhouse still has it.’ They have a crèche, she says, where you can drop your kids for a couple of hours if you want brunch in peace, or to do a class in the gym. ‘So long as your child has membership which, by the way, has an 18- to 22-month waiting list even if you’re already a member. Obviously, it’s still rammo at the weekend, but if you live there you just go during the week.’

Estelle Manor bedroom featuring a four poster bed, a dining area and red armchairs

Estelle Manor

The other place they exercise is the Bamford Club, the members’ offshoot of Daylesford, which opened last March. They have a gym, a biomass-heated pool, ice-barrels for wannabe Wim Hofs, but Padel’s the craze. ‘We’ve all dived in in the most major way,’ one member told me excitedly last year. ‘Many have never done more exercise in their lives.’ She added that racquets kept selling out in the club shop, which was quite telling given that they’re being flogged for £400 a pop.

Chichi sorts pick up their sourdough or have a quick browse of trench coats and boots at Dunkertons, the new posh shopping and food hub just outside Cheltenham, created by power couple Julian Dunkerton and Jade Holland Cooper. Idris Elba has been known to DJ so it kicks off. 

Existing pubs – the Lamb at Shipton, the Double Red Duke in Bampton and the Bell in Langford (another Bell!) are popular for those who living down there who want to avoid sceney interlopers from London. ‘As is DJ night on a Thursday at The Fox in Oddington,’ says Katrina Kutchinsky, co-founder of AKA Communications and another newbie to these parts. ‘They do pizzas, it’s great. I’m usually there with my toddler bopping along. Mama’s still got it!’

Are you considered an arriviste if you’ve only just landed there? ‘No,’ says Katrina, because there are still so many people flocking into the honey-coloured villages. ‘It’s super sociable. When I moved in, my neighbours threw a champagne and canapé party to welcome us, when in London you can go for a year and not even meet your neighbours’.

I’m told by another spy about the existence of a WhatsApp group called The Cotswold Grapevine, with dozens and dozens of 30-something residents on it. ‘Yummy mummy types,’ says the mole, ‘who’ve usually moved from London and are trying to find nannies or a local seamstress. Somebody asked if anyone knew a party entertainer that could bring ponies to your house dressed as unicorns, and within a minute there was a photo of a pony dressed as a unicorn and the name of the company that do it.’

Since the Cotswolds are so popular, will the hysteria ever calm down? Has it, in fact, become so popular that it’s now a cliché? Friends moving out of London now talk of Somerset and Herefordshire, ‘places where you actually need a pair of gumboots’, one says sniffily, in reference to the Cotswolds. ‘Look, it’s incredibly beautiful, incredibly fun, and incredibly accessible,’ says a Burford resident. Another, who lives just outside Great Tew, points out she has five train stations within reach, all offering access to London in an hour or so, which means the lure for many remains strong.

Although there is one teeny tiny problem, which a friend who recently bought a house in Charlbury discovered. ‘Both times I went to see the house, there was a helicopter buzzing overhead. So I said to the estate agent, “Is this going to be a regular occurrence?” And he said, “Well yes, it’ll be either Lady Bamford or Sir Tony Gallagher.”’ But if you don’t mind a bit of helicopter noise, the silliest patch of Britain is still booming.