Cozy Landmark get-away you can trust
A dark night sky and no TV - the magic of the Cotswold.
Historic accommodation: Ditch the phone and enjoy a rural stay at the Landmark Trust-owned and fabulously named East Banqueting house
Is there anywhere in England more beautiful than the Cotswolds? And is there anywhere more Cotswoldish than Chipping Campden? Its very name has an irresistibly bucolic ring, evoking images of milkmaids and swains, village greens, and pubs serving foaming tankards of ale. And, while it can be relished for its own sake, Chipping Campden is encircled by such radiant villages as Broadway, Moreton-in-Marsh, Stow-on-the-Wold and Shipston-on-Stour, not to mention such splendid, historic towns as Evesham, Cheltenham and Stratford-on-Avon.
The village does have an elegant, antiques-and-claret side but, if you want a truly rural stay, then take advantage of the Landmark Trust-owned, East Banqueting House.
If that conjures up visions of goblet-bearing flunkeys dancing attendance on tables sagging under the weight of innumerable dishes, decanters and an orchard's worth of exotic fruit, let me disabuse you: this is a place for the more intrepid, self-catering visitor.
You will need your wellies, a torch or two and, if you must cling to the city's umbilical cord, a radio - mobile-phone reception is poor and there is no TV.Not that the East Banqueting House lacks grandeur. Dominated by a long and luxurious drawing room of welcoming armchairs, board games and solid, polished furniture, and blessed with inspiringly verdant views, this is the most distinctive of weekend retreats.
East Banqueting House, Old Campden House, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, sleeps up to six. Price: three-night weekend from £448 to £874. Also available for four-night midweek stays and by the week. Telephone 01629 825925, www.landmarktrust.org.uk
Along with another, smaller banqueting house a hundred yards or so to the west, it is the last remnant of Campden House - an exceptional, grand Jacobean home that was burnt down during the Civil War.
It was built and owned by Sir Baptist Hicks, a wealthy friend of James I. Its larger, eastern banqueting house is now not only a Landmark Trust holiday venue but also a listed ancient monument.
In the 17th-century , a "banquet" was not the feast that the term indicates today, and the banqueting house was where the family and their guests would go after meals to have dessert and wine. Now, visitors prepare their own meals in a modest but modern kitchen while gazing out across an acre of grassland.
The house is approached through a gate adjoining the picturesque grounds of the ancient village church. The gate is kept locked (a housekeeper supplies the key) and there is parking for two cars.
From there, you must cross a field of grass to the property - hence the need for those wellies. And when it's dark, you'll need that torch.
As you venture across the field, the chimneys and parapets stand out in magnificent isolation on what appears to be a single-storey building, containing just that long, rectangular drawing room.
But behind the stony edifice, the ground drops down to allow for two more floors. Centrally placed on the lowest ground floor is a delightful, vaulted bathroom. Go through it, and you are in the main bedroom - which in turn opens out on to the wild, outdoor expanse. To the left before the bathroom, up a short flight of well-worn steps, is the kitchen and another bedroom.
Idiosyncratic? Certainly. The house can sleep six but coming at one bathroom from two directions means you'd probably all need to be family - or well acquainted. As the East Banqueting House can be booked together with the smaller, West Banqueting House and "Almonry", enough crockery is supplied for 10 people.
It's all part of the adventurous-yet-cosy style of the Landmark Trust, an organisation that offers an intriguing range of properties of singular character, from converted towers, windmills and Victorian follies, to Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning's home in Florence.
If you are escaping city life, you will appreciate the silence and darkness of the Cotswold night and, depending on the time of year, the incomparable wake-up experience of throwing open your bedroom door to the weather. There is central heating, and a fireplace - logs are supplied for a small sum.
Chipping Campden's buildings are made of local golden stone. The "town" centre is the old market place, around which are pleasant pubs and tea-rooms and the agreeable King's Hotel with its cosy restaurant and sleek bar.
Reflecting a well-heeled local populace, the village offers more upmarket restaurants than simple ones, along with basic shops and a charming second-hand bookshop. For a more bustling country atmosphere, Broadway is a 10-minute drive away with its long thoroughfare, art-and-craft history - and plenty of tourists.
Of the two seductive National Trust locations in the area, Hidcote Manor garden, a smaller version of Kew, is a must. Designed and bequeathed by American horticulturalist, Lawrence Johnston. Just beyond Broadway, is Snowshill Manor, the former home of eccentric collector Charles Wade, whose mass of objects is on view inside while the serene, terraced garden offers views of the Cotswold landscape. Hidcote has a decent restaurant with vegetarian options and Snowshill's café is in a delightful setting at the edge of a wide sweep of lawn and trees.
Chipping Campden has a romantic and slightly dark charm. It is the site of an annual tournament known as the "Olimpick" games with contests in such unlikely activities as shin-kicking (competitors are allowed to stuff hay down their trousers to soften the booted assaults). Graham Greene lived here in the 1930s and, three centuries earlier, right on the doorstep of the East Banqueting House there occurred a bizarre, real-life mystery involving disappearance, death and deception. Known as the "Campden Wonder", its main protagonist was a servant of Sir Baptist Hicks. It is a chilling tale.
Such local lore, as well as the banqueting house's ancient, flagstone floors and twisting, narrow staircases suggestive of Jacobean plots and intrigue, conveys a sense of history, while the calmer pace of life and fresh air, will help to dissolve all that metropolitan stress.
If you want to ease your way back to city life, stop off at Woodstock, or Oxford, or even the Bicester Village Retail Outlet where, among the vast selection of designer and high street brands, you can happily blow all the money you have saved communing with the countryside.