Review by Fiona Duncan, published 4th October 2011.
Overlooking the Stour Valley and equidistant between Stratford-upon-Avon and Moreton-in-Marsh, here’s an address that’s as useful for taking in a Shakespeare play as it is for the Cotswolds. If, however, you follow the Apple Walk devised by Class Three of Ilmington Primary School, you may not want to go anywhere else at all.
The Apple Walk was inspired by Ilmington’s Apple Map, displayed in St Mary’s Church and created in 1922 to mark all the orchards in the village at the time, when it could claim 42 kinds of apple, plus pears, plums and damsons. Many of them have disappeared, but there are plenty of other points of interest in modern-day Ilmington, according to the children of Class Three. “The post lady has 11 whippets,” we are informed; “there are Morris Men with bells on their ankles; streets called Grump Street and Frog Lane; 11 mice carved in the wooden pews in the church; the shop only closes on Christmas Day; we have the highest fields in Warwickshire and lots of horses and cows.”
Why go anywhere else? If you stay at The Howard Arms, you may not even bother to stir for the Apple Walk but just stay indoors, eating and drinking merrily, and then sleeping. Only the sound of birdsong will wake you in the morning.
The best walks
Obviously, you have to do the Apple Walk (ask for the sheet of directions) and there are printouts available for other walks around Ilmington, including points of special interest to look out for (for example, on Walk 2, you will come across the school, a chalybeate pool, hurdle maker, Norman church and the grave of folk dancer and fiddler Sam Bennet).
What to do
Staying in Warwickshire rather than straying south into the Cotswolds, consider a visit to beautiful Farnborough Hall (01295 690002;www.nationaltrust.org.uk), near Banbury, still occupied by the Holbech family but run by the National Trust. Also within reach is the absorbing Warwick Castle (0871 2652000; www.warwick-castle.com) and of course Stratford-upon-Avon (www.stratford-upon-avon.co.uk) with the theatre and Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust.
Where to eat
In Stratford, I like Edward Moon (Chapel Street; 01789 267069;www.edwardmoon.com) and 9 Church Street, (01789 415522;www.no9churchst.com). But if you prefer a pub, The Bell at nearby Alderminster, is good.
The food is exactly what one wants in a 400-year-old stone-built inn, with pretty arched windows and a mix of old furniture, giant polished flagstones and a fire burning in the hearth. “The best duck I have ever eaten” may be a bit of an exaggeration on the part of my cousin, Mark, but with comforting dishes on the menu such as steamed suet pudding and osso bucco, sticky toffee pudding and lemon posset, all at sensible prices, it’s hard not to get carried away.
In the Fifties, The Howard Arms was a famous gastronomic destination, presided over by a larger-than-life character called Jimmy Last – you can see photographs of him on the wall. I’m not quite sure who owns the place now, but it’s managed by a nice bunch of people including Quentin, the manager, and Denis, the handsome Frenchman, who demonstrates the Gallic belief, unlike the English, that being a waiter is a distinguished job. Locals drink beer at the bar and the place has an easy-going charm.
But there’s professionalism too: my bags were carried upstairs and when I couldn’t get the television to work in my room, it was dealt with pronto. The guys are evidently proud of their place.
My only regret is that the rooms weren’t cheaper. A tariff of £145 per night can buy you a serious room in a full-service hotel, so it seems steep for a pub with few facilities (there’s a pretty garden but no guest sitting room), however well equipped. There are two rooms above the pub and six in a low-key new garden wing. They are excellent, if done out in somewhat formulaic contemporary style and a little anodyne because of their newness. But you’ll sleep well, and you won’t complain. And the post lady with 11 whippets awaits, somewhere in the village.
- Lower Green, Ilmington, Warwickshire CV36 4LT (01608 682226;www.howardarms.com). Doubles from £145 per night, including breakfast. Access possible for guests with disabilities