Review by Fiona Duncan, published 24th January 2010.
"We'd like to know about more places like that," wrote a reader after I reviewed the excellent Anchor Inn at Lower Froyle last year. "What about Greene King's Old English Inns?" he continued. "Could you investigate?"
Dutifully, I consulted Greene King's portfolio of traditional inns and chose a fetching looking one in the Cotswolds. "Well, if you make it, you'll get a good pint at any rate," said my friend Richard encouragingly, as I set off from his lunch party in a snowstorm. I got there, just, though I remain unqualified to comment on the merits of Greene King's Old Speckled Hen.
The handsome Old Manse, built for a Baptist pastor in 1748, stands a few feet from the River Windrush that flows through the centre of Bourton-on-the-Water. A recent refurbishment of the ground floor has created a spacious, if predictable, area for casual dining on one side of the entrance and pubby bar, with open fire, on the other.
I'm afraid that comparisons with the Anchor were uppermost during my stay, but they weren't fair unless one also compares the room rates. The Anchor's rooms cost from £90-£120. They are charmingly decorated and include books and pictures, cafetière coffee and a choice of teas, well-stocked minibar, Bush radio, flat-screen television, antique beds with first-class mattresses and oversized pillows, monsoon showers, warm towels and bathrobes.
There's hope, however, at the Old Manse, which was plainly a disaster a few months back, with a series of holding managers before Julian, from South Africa, took on the permanent role. He's stabilised the staff (South African and Australian mainly, so the place has the breezy air of a beach café) and is committed, hospitable, hard-working and ambitious. Meanwhile, a friendly young Aussie, just arrived in this country, served breakfast wearing his outdoor jacket (it was still snowing outside). It somehow said it all.
Next morning, John, a local postman famed for wearing shorts in all weathers and for his acts of kindness, appeared in his van over the brow of a steep, snowbound hill and found my car skidded on ice across a remote lane. As I'd lost my nerve, he told me to hop in, drove my car to the main road well over a mile away, and then cheerily set off on foot back to his van. If you ever decide to come in from the cold, John, you'd make the perfect landlord of a perfect old English inn.
Victoria Street, Bourton-on-the-Water (01451 820082; www.oldmansehotel.com) Doubles from £60, including breakfast. Not suitable for guests with disabilities.